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'Caesar' and Bashar’s Delusions of Victory

'Caesar' and Bashar’s Delusions of Victory

Friday, 19 June, 2020 - 09:30
Elias Harfoush
Lebanese writer and journalist

Erroneous policies have a price that the people usually pay, especially when they are unfortunate enough to live under regimes and governments that manage such policies. In regimes such as this, “victories” are measured by the regime’s capacity to survive, regardless of the suffering that the people have to endure as a result.

The Syrian people, or what is left of it, is now under threat of paying a price as huge as the one they paid over the last nine years. The US’s new “Caesar Act” will tighten the grip over the regime’s economy to force it into implementing international resolutions, especially Resolution 2254 that calls for the formation of a transitional government and a peaceful political process that replaces the Syrian authorities. Now, Syrians have to choose between two catastrophes: Submitting to the oppression of this tyrannical regime, and all the killing, oppression and starvation that entails, or endure the implications of the sanctions in the hope that the regime regains its sanity or is forced to surrender to popular pressure and the decisive position of the majority of international powers.

On the other side of the border, the Lebanese face a similar choice. A country that is suffocating from financial distress on one hand, and Hezbollah’s dominance over its political decision, on the other. That the latter two are related is not a secret to anyone except for those who do not want the Lebanese to see the truth. Although the financial crisis is indeed partly the result of the systematic looting of the public treasury and rampant corruption, but it is also due to the linkage between the resources of the two countries and the ongoing smuggling across the borders of basic resources that are subsidized by the Lebanese central bank, draining its monetary reserves, with the state, notoriously incapacitated, unable to prevent it. On top of that, Syrian funders are withdrawing their deposits from the Lebanese banks while Lebanese depositors are unable to withdraw a small portion of their money.

More importantly, the new sanctions on the Syrian regime will make it even more difficult for the Lebanese government to access the aid that it needs from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the international powers that influence the IMF’s decision, given how closely related the interests of several high state officials are with high officials in the Syrian regime, placing the former under US monitoring.

Consequently, the formula that the late president Hafez al-Assad had set for his vision of Lebanese-Syrian cooperation, i.e. “One people in two countries”, is now manifesting very clearly. The “one people” are now suffering the same financial distress, paying the price for the “resistance axis’s” so-called “victory”. The magnitude of the uprising that the implementation of the new US sanctions will cause cannot be imagined except as a violent reaction to those who will be harmed by it: The official Syrian media considered the sanctions to be in “contravention of international law” and a “new form of terrorism”, adding that these sanctions will exacerbate the suffering of the people, as if it cared for the Syrian people’s suffering.

The Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has realized that the battle of sanctions will be harsh this time, harming his popular base and threatening his ability to defend his weapons. As a result, he escalated, in rather exceptional fashion, a few days ago when he said: “We will kill anyone who tries to force us to choose between dying by arms or starvation; we will not give up our weapons and we will kill you”.

Bashar al-Assad’s regime attempted to insinuate that it was “victorious” against what it described as a “global conspiracy”, especially after being rescued by Russian intervention in 2015. The fact that the price of that victory was the death of no less than 300,000 Syrians, the destruction of Syrian cities, and the displacement of half of the population was irrelevant to it ‒ what mattered was that Bashar remained in al-Muhajirin palace.

Many promoted this notion of “victory”, not only the regime’s allies. Many Arab and international politicians and businessmen were tempted by the reconstruction project in Syria where very lucrative projects were estimated at no less than 400 billion dollars. Nobody cared for the crimes and atrocities that were committed on the way.

The sanctions that the Syrian regime and its allies are facing are a shock that aims to awaken everyone from the delusion that they were living in. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is facing accountability now and it is certain that its network of support, especially Moscow and Tehran, are no longer sufficient to help it against the economic crisis and tightening siege that will impact anyone who deals with it – especially that those who support the regime, not doing so much better than the ruler of Damascus, are now looking for someone to support them.

The Syrian crisis is now entering a new phase of US sanctions. The bet on the US and its western allies “surrendering” before “Bashar’s victory” turned out to be misinformed. The sanctions that the Syrian regime and its allies are going to suffer in the coming phase are much harsher than those that it has faced in the last nine years.

Although Assad’s regime and its constellation of politicians and militants are currently subjected to sanctions that have frozen the assets of the state and hundreds of companies and individuals, and that Americans are already banned from dealing with Syrian companies and businessmen, the new sanctions will now impact all regimes and entities that even think of dealing with the Syrian regime. This will force them to recalculate their interests and appreciate the high costs of supporting this regime.

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