New US sanctions aim to ‘starve’ Syria, Lebanon: Hezbollah

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, a US law that aims to sanction any person who assists the Syrian government or contributes to the country's reconstruction, is to come into force on June 17. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2020

New US sanctions aim to ‘starve’ Syria, Lebanon: Hezbollah

  • ‘The Caesar Act aims to starve Lebanon just as it aims to starve Syria,’ Hassan Nasrallah says
  • The US law targets companies that deal with President Bashar Assad’s regime

BEIRUT: New US sanctions against the Syrian government aim to “starve” the country and its neighbor Lebanon, the head of the Lebanese movement Hezbollah said Tuesday.
“The Caesar Act aims to starve Lebanon just as it aims to starve Syria,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
“Syria has won the war... militarily, in security terms and politically,” he added, describing the law which comes into force Wednesday as Washington’s “last weapon” against Damascus.
The US law targets companies that deal with President Bashar Assad’s regime, which Hezbollah, Tehran and Moscow support in Syria’s conflict.
It imposes financial restrictions on the Damascus government to compel it to halt “attacks on the Syrian people,” and it is expected for the first time to target Russian and Iranian entities active in Syria.
The Syrian government and loyalist businessmen are already targeted by US and European economic sanctions.
After nine years of war, Syria is mired in an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crisis in Lebanon, a major conduit for regime-held regions.
A large chunk of Syria’s population is living in poverty, prices have soared and the value of the Syrian pound has hit record lows against the dollar on the black market.
Nasrallah also accused the United States of engineering the collapse of the Syrian currency, but vowed that Assad’s allies would stand by the regime.
“The allies of Syria, which stood by its side during the war... will not abandon Syria in the face of economic warfare and will not allow its fall, even if they are themselves going through difficult circumstances,” he said.
Lebanon too is experiencing the worst financial meltdown since the end of its own 1975-1990 civil war, as well as being rocked by months of anti-government protests.
Nasrallah called on the Lebanese government “not to submit” to the Caesar Act.
The United States on Tuesday warned Assad that he would never secure a full victory and must reach a political compromise.
Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the United Nations, urged him to accept a Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire, elections and political transition along with UN-led talks.
“The Assad regime has a clear choice to make: pursue the political path established in Resolution 2254, or leave the United States with no other choice but to continue withholding reconstruction funding and impose sanctions against the regime and its financial backers,” Craft said.


Tensions between Turkey, France pose threat to NATO alliance, warn experts

Updated 07 July 2020

Tensions between Turkey, France pose threat to NATO alliance, warn experts

  • Turkey ‘challenging’ international norms by breaking arms embargo on Libya, invading northern Syria, claims analyst

JEDDAH: Increasing tensions between France and Turkey were posing a threat to the cohesion of the NATO alliance, experts have warned.

Paris’ recent decision to suspend its involvement in the NATO Sea Guardian maritime security operation in the eastern Mediterranean following an incident between a French frigate and Turkish vessels, has highlighted the organization’s difficulties in maintaining order and harmony among its members.

Months of escalating dispute between France and Turkey came to a head on June 10, when Paris claimed that its La Fayette-class Frigate Courbet was targeted three times by Turkish Navy fire control radars while it was trying to approach a Tanzanian-flagged civilian cargo ship suspected of trafficking arms to Libya.

The cargo ship was under the escort of three Turkish vessels, but Ankara denied harassing the Courbet and demanded an apology from France for disclosing “improper information,” saying the ship in question had been carrying humanitarian aid.

The incident resulted in France pulling out of the NATO operation, partly aimed at enforcing a UN embargo on arms supplies to Libya, and accusing Turkey of importing extremists to Syria.

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “I think that it’s a historic and criminal responsibility for a country that claims to be a member of NATO. We have the right to expect more from Turkey than from Russia, given that it is a member of NATO.”

The classified report on the Courbet incident is expected to be discussed soon by member states of the alliance.

Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system has also angered some NATO members over concerns it could undermine Western defense systems and led to Turkey’s expulsion from the alliance’s F-35 stealth fighter jet program.

Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, told Arab News: “NATO faces increasing challenges from its member state Turkey which behaves contrary to NATO’s mission and values.

“Turkey’s government has begun to violate international norms by breaking an arms embargo on the Libyan conflict and invading northern Syria, backing extremist groups, and bombing northern Iraq.

“Ankara has tried to strong-arm NATO into supporting it through threats to hold up a Baltic defense plan and also through threatening and insulting other NATO members.

“Turkey insinuated to the US that Turkey would brush US forces aside in Syria in 2019 if the US didn’t leave, it has escalated conflicts rather than reducing them, and threatened to send refugees to Greece while staking counter claims to the Mediterranean against Greek claims,” he added.

Frantzman pointed out that the controversy with France was a byproduct of this.

“NATO increasingly looks like it is being called upon to appease Ankara’s monthly crises that involve new military operations in several countries. Once a key and helpful ally of NATO, Turkey looks increasingly like it seeks to exploit its NATO membership, using it as a cover for military operations that undermine human rights, democracy, and international norms,” he said.

Turkey is seen as an important and strategic member of the military alliance. On its website, NATO says that all the organization’s decisions are made by consensus, following discussions and consultations among members. “When a ‘NATO decision’ is announced, it is therefore the expression of the collective will of all the sovereign states that are members of the alliance.”

However, recent disagreements within NATO led Macron to say that the alliance was “suffering brain death” over Turkey’s cross-border military offensive into northern Syria last year.

On Turkey’s unilateral behavior, Frantzman said: “This is part of a global rising authoritarian agenda but appears to be counter to the NATO mission that once ostensibly was about defending Western democracies from the Soviet totalitarian threat.

“This calls into question the overall NATO mission and whether NATO is now enabling Ankara’s authoritarian trend. NATO countries are generally afraid to challenge Turkey, thinking that without Turkey and with a US disinterested in global commitments, NATO would become a European club with an unclear future. For Russia that is good news as it supplies S-400 systems to Turkey, further eroding NATO,” he added.

Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, felt NATO would be able to manage the spat between France and Turkey.

“Libya isn’t really a NATO issue. It is out of the area for the alliance. I see this more as a bilateral dispute between two rival powers in the Mediterranean.

“What I worry more about is how NATO members, including both Turkey and France, are letting these bilateral squabbles seep into the North Atlantic Council. They should keep their fights to themselves.”