Economic Warfare on Syria

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Ayman Ahmed

Dhu al-Qa'dah 10, 1441 2020-07-01

News & Analysis

by Ayman Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 5, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1441)

Since 2018, it has become clear even to those pushing the imperialist agenda on the proxy war in Syria that NATO has failed to achieve its military and political objectives. This does not mean that Western regimes have abandoned their destabilization efforts. This is where the latest economic war policies against Syria enter the scene.

What is different about the current wave of Western sanctions against Syria? In substance, nothing much, a position expressed by Western Syrian experts as well. The author of this column worked in the human resources field of financial services in Dubai long before the proxy-war on Syria was launched and witnessed firsthand how numerous business companies when hiring employees for senior positions, would specify not to hire Syrians, Shias or Iranians. Western recruitment companies, while highlighting workers’ rights on their websites, would comply with this discriminatory policy, without questioning it.

Syria has been under sanctions for years prior to the proxy-war. Therefore, the latest media barrage of sensationalist headlines about devastating sanctions is a desperate attempt by NATO regimes to try and compensate for their political and military defeat in Syria.

Nevertheless, it does not mean that sanctions will create no short-term obstacles. In the long run, however, sanctions will backfire and might benefit the resistance axis if they put forward a coordinated and people-centric economic response to NATO’s economic warfare.

The authors of the latest sanctions regime called Caesar Act utilized the corporate media hoping to undermine the confidence of the Syrian community abroad and that of foreign investors so that they would not invest in the rebuilding of Syria. However, this is not the primary goal of the latest sanctions. The main objective is to starve the Syrian people to a point that would provoke them to rise against the Syrian government. Washington and its proxies hope that as the economic situation in Syria deteriorates, people all over the country will hit the streets as they did on June 8 in the city of Sweida.

NATO regimes calculate that extreme poverty caused by the latest sanctions would galvanize Syrians from all walks of life to unite into one anti-government front, something the Wahhabi militias failed to achieve in nine years with vast foreign support. This is unlikely to materialize as the latest protests in Sweida have shown.

The Syrian government learned not to respond to protests using brutal tactics and as highlighted by the Middle East Eye “the people of his [Sweida] city, who are predominantly Druze, participated in the Syrian revolution in 2011, but as it developed into a civil war and the influence of hardline factions expanded, Sweida preferred to stand neutral.”

The Syrians learned from the terrible experience of the past nine years that people’s dissatisfaction can be easily manipulated by external powers and make the situation even worse. It is highly unlikely that after nine years of war, the Syrians would want to go through another externally instigated rebellion. Thus, Washington’s plot is based on unrealistic assumptions.

Currently, the main battleground of economic warfare on Syria is Lebanon. It is not by accident that just as the US was giving final touches to its recent sanctions, the Lebanese currency was depreciating. The response to this attack on Lebanon did not come merely in the form of President Michel Aoun announcing a temporary measure of injecting US dollars into Lebanon’s money circulation, but in quite a practical economic strategy outlined by the General Secretary of Hizbullah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah during his speech on June 16.

The Hizbullah leader’s latest speech was remarkable for its focus on the internal socio-economic situation. It outlined a strategy to tackle the economic warfare. Sayyed Nasrallah’s speeches usually focus on geopolitical and societal matters, as Hizbullah is not heavily involved in micromanaging the internal affairs of Lebanon. It is a resistance movement first and a political party second. The fact that Hizbullah was able to immediately outline a practical economic strategy in response to Washington’s economic warfare, shows that the movement has been preparing for this stage of the struggle for some time.

In another speech, the Hizbullah leader had stated: “We can’t confront America in America or around the world. But can we find a friendly regional country, Iran to sell Lebanese gov’t or companies oil, gas, fuel, petrochemical products, and other products without the dollar, with the lira…? Not just Iran… Maybe they won’t accept the Lebanese pound, but maybe we can find an interlocutor Iran or others, who would accept Lebanese products in exchange for the products we need. This will stimulate Lebanese production, demand for dollar will be reduced, it won’t go away entirely, and our national currency will go up. It will reduce American leverage over Lebanon. I’m addressing the Lebanese people to tell them there are options, and to pressure Lebanese officials if they say ‘no’ or if they are intimidated by American pressure. We will address this earnestly with Lebanese officials, to convince them to talk to Iran and other countries, I won’t name those countries so as not to put them on the spot. I have confirmed information that Chinese companies are willing to inject money into this country. Like on light rail from Tripoli to Naqoura, which would improve economy in Lebanon. I’m speaking to you, officially, Chinese companies are ready to help us.”

His speech outlining a concrete strategy, combined with Syrian government’s latest anti-corruption fight, which takes on even those close to the Syrian government, shows that the resistance axis is taking the economic warfare quite seriously.

Overall, the on-going shift of global economic framework due to COVID-19 crisis is on the side of the resistance axis, as the economic and political clout of Western regimes is declining. This makes finding alternative trade partners and investors a lot easier. If Lebanon, Syria and Iran can offer beneficial economic projects, various entities are far more likely to bypass the US and its proxies than a decade ago, since it is clear that the days of Western powers unilaterally enforcing their will on others are over.

Nevertheless, success of the economic battle depends on how determined Lebanon and Syria are in confronting local millionaires who looted their countries for decades, and policies which facilitated their corrupt practices. This will be easier to achieve in Lebanon than Syria since Hizbullah is now the main driving force in the country’s changing socio-political landscape. It has credibility in the Lebanese society unmatched by any other political entity. Sayyed Nasrallah lost his oldest son, Hadi as a martyr in the war with Israel. His children do not live a luxurious lifestyle in London or Paris, unlike that of his political rivals.

Also, if Western regimes unleash full-scale economic war on Lebanon, they will hurt their own proxies that make up the bulk of the super-wealthy corrupt political caste. Western proxies in the region have much to lose from economic warfare and unlike the resistance axis anchored in Islamic ideology, they are motivated by petty transactions. Hizbullah’s core constituency does not have bank accounts and properties in London or New York; it is a trait of pro-NATO groups in Lebanon.

In Syria, the economic warfare will be complicated by the fact that many regime officials are involved in corruption. Thus, the Syrian leadership’s recent anti-corruption drive will face sabotage from within. The situation in Syria will also be complicated by Turkey’s participation in Washington’s economic warfare. As the Caesar Act was being rolled out, Turkey was flooding Idlib with its own currency in order to weaken Syria’s currency. However, as pointed out by Turkish journalist Fehim Tastekin in, “any plan to fully sideline the Syrian pound in those areas appears unrealistic… 90% of Idlib’s sales go to government-held areas and only 10% to Turkey. So, the Syrian pound inevitably comes into play in commercial exchanges in cities controlled by Damascus where the Turkish lira is of little relevance. In other words, exports to Turkey have to increase to the level of imports so that the use of the lira could gain significance. And any expectation that Turkish-controlled areas could fully sever their economic ties with government-controlled regions is hardly realistic.”

Hitherto, economic policies were not the priority of the resistance axis, but the current situation will force it to focus more on economic issues and do so in a pro-active manner. Considering that Hizbullah, Islamic Iran and Syria came out stronger from situations far tougher than the current one, those who believe they will overcome the economic warfare obstacle would be making a far more rational choice. It should also not be forgotten that it is Allah (swt) who ultimately manages the cosmos and as the Qur’an clearly states:

“And [remember, O Muhammad], when those who were bent on denying the truth were scheming against you, in order to restrain you [from conveying the message] or to slay you or to drive you away [from Makkah]: thus have they [always] schemed: but Allah brought their scheming to nought—for Allah is above all schemers.” (Surah al-Anfal [8]:30).

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