With the implementation of the first bundle of Washington’s strangling sanctions against Damascus as part of Trump’s so-called Caesar Act, Syria, its allies and much of the Middle East region is bracing itself for more tension and escalation. Their response comes as the fresh war of economic as well as political attrition is now officially underway.
Although the batch of sanctions announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Sunday appeared to be intended to primarily target Syrian President Bashar al Assad personally by placing him, his wife Asma al Assad, his influential brother and arguably most powerful Syrian Army General and Commander of the elite Fourth Division Maher al Assad top on the list of targeted Syrians, the prevailing common sense among Syrians and their allies is that the end goal of America’s new sanctions goes much further than the 29 politicians, businessmen and companies included in the list so far.
What Does Washington Really Want?
Trump and his hawkish aids in Washington want sanctions to achieve what 10 years of armed confrontations in Syria have failed to accomplish; that is to bring the whole axis from Lebanon and Syria to Iran to its knees through a series of stifling sanctions that are bound to hit ordinary citizens more than the regimes themselves. This is the general view here in Syria, with people linking the timing of putting the first batch of the Act into effect with Israel’s intention to annex new parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley, encouraged by Trump’s unwavering backing and adoption of Tel Aviv’s expansionist schemes.
Is the Timing of the Act a Mere Coincidence?
Trump’s full support for Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial schemes, and what happened regarding the holy city of Jerusalem as well as endorsing Israel’s occupation of Syrian Golan Heights were two prime examples that served as proof for supporters of such theories. Moreover, the fact that this new escalatory step by Trump came only a few months before the US presidential election in November, and the Syrian presidential elections six months later, seems significant. Many analysts and observers go along with the viewpoint that sees the Caesar Act as no more than a new front for the ongoing war and conflict of interests in this vital part of the world, with neither party ready to concede defeat, and all involved willing to take the battle to its bitter end.
Nasrallah: ‘We Shall Not Be Starved Into Submission’
“We shall not be starved into submission … Those who want to make us choose between being killed by arms or being killed by hunger will only make us hold on to our arms, and we will kill them.”
These were the very words uttered by Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah on the eve that the Caesar Act went into effect. In a 90-minute televised speech, Hezbollah’s spiritual leader covered every single aspect of the economic situation and increasing hardships and suffering in Lebanon which has seen widespread riots and protests against the government, corruption as well as sharply rising prices and cost of living. It is common knowledge that the man speaks on behalf of Iran, Syria and his own party when it comes to such crucial issues.
Nasrallah appealed to the Lebanese people to refrain from violence, acts of arson and sabotage warning of those who plan to spark off a new and destructive civil war in the country. Commenting on Washington’s tightening sanctions which have culminated in Caesar Act, Nasrallah appeared to lose his calm throughout the speech and warned :” For those who want to disarm us, and starve and kill us into submission by putting us vis a vis with the equation of ‘either lay down your arms, or starve to death’ we say: Our arms shall remain intact, we shall not be starved and we’ll kill you”!, He repeated the last phrase three times in a row raising his hand in the air.
“Should we reach that stage, we do have our own counter plan, which I do not wish to elaborate on right now,” he added
Can Syria Survive Caesar Act Sanctions?
The Syrian population and government are bracing up for tough times ahead. It is no secret that the country’s economy has been battered by over nine years of unabated conflict, sanctions as well as corruption. Assad sacked his Prime Minister, Imad Khamis last week, (a precedent since Assad took over as president 20 years ago), amidst a popular turmoil over sharply-rising prices and a quick and drastic drop in the value of Syrian Lira against the dollar. The Syrian currency survived much of the decade-long war keeping a reasonable balance, only to fall by almost 500% over the past few months only. The Caesar Act could hardly have come at a worse time for the Syrian population.
Apart from some inevitable austerity measures, Syrians seem determined not give their enemies victory through sanctions which they have failed to get through nine years of war. They admit that the situation is unbearable, and is likely to continue for some time, but many Syrians derive a reasonable measure of optimism from a similar crisis they have gone through and beaten in the 1980’s. Syria then face stringent sanctions following years of combatting and defeating radical Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood Movement. Late President Hafez al Assad turned into and encouraged local as well as national farming and small businesses. Syrians were creative and responsive enough to manufacture almost all of their basis needs.
Syria’s main allies, Iran and Russia, have openly stated that they shall not comply with America’s sanctions against Damascus. Iran resumed Friday a badly-needed credit line to Damascus, with an initial value worth 1.5 billion USD. Moscow, meanwhile, reiterated its intention to keep cooperation, including the military one, with Syria and that Russia will not forsake its friendly nation in difficult times. Iran, Syria’s staunch ally, reaffirmed its commitment to provide its brotherly country with all its needs, including fuel, medicine as well as basic commodities.