#The_Lebanese_government, already facing tough political and economic challenges and a coronavirus pandemic, appears to be in an unenviable position as it gears up to cope with the potential dire consequences of a new American law that seeks to sanction the Syrian regime and those dealing with it.
“The last thing Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government needs is a US law sanctioning the Syrian regime and institutions and individuals doing business with it,” a political source told The Daily Star.
“Definitely, the so-called ‘Caesar Act’ will have a negative impact on Lebanon’s already struggling economy. Branches of Lebanese banks in Syria, as well as Lebanese businessmen doing business with their Syrian partners will be affected by the US law as they face the risk of sanctions if they fail to comply with it,” the source said.
The Syria sanctions bill, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2019 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, the 2020 defense budget, will go into effect on June 17.
Seen as a stern warning to Syria’s allies and economic partners in Lebanon, the Caesar Act also sends a clear message to the Lebanese government against normalizing ties and restoring economic and trade cooperation with the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose country has been expelled from the Arab League and remains boycotted by the majority of Arab and Western countries.
The US law is bound to deepen divisions in Lebanon, which is sharply split between political parties, such as Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement and their allies, which call for normalizing ties with Syria, and other groups, like the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, which oppose dealing with Damascus as long as Assad remains in power.
“The Lebanese government is in a dilemma on how to deal with the Caesar Act. Complying with this act means severing all links with Syria and, subsequently contributing toward starving the Syrian people and also besieging the resistance [Hezbollah]. But refusing to comply with the US law entails the risk of Washington imposing political and economic sanctions on Lebanon,” the source said.
An-Nahar newspaper reported on June 4 that since the Caesar Act burst into the open, “pressure has begun by Hezbollah on the government and its head and some of its members to prevent it from dealing with the US law as if it is a de facto matter.”
Deputy premier and Defense Minister Zeina Akar was reported to have distributed a summary of the bill to ministers during a Cabinet session last month to examine the repercussions of Lebanon’s dealing with Syria once the act goes into effect.
Asked about the government’s stance on the Caesar Act, Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad said a ministerial committee would meet Monday to discuss Lebanon’s “official position on this law.”
“The foreign minister is supposed to present a proposal on the issue to the Cabinet in light of the foreign policy to be adopted by the state,” Abdel-Samad said after a Cabinet session Thursday.
Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti told Al-Joumhouria newspaper: “Naturally, we will look into it [Caesar Act]. There is a ministerial committee that will study that law before it is put to Cabinet … We hope that it will not have an impact, but indirectly we might be concerned with it and probably there are sides to be affected.”
Hezbollah denounced the #US_sanctions law as “a dictatorial measure” that would not make Syria bow to escalating American pressure.
“The so-called Caesar Act is nothing but a dictatorial measure revealing the insolence of the fake democracy in the United States. This measure will not make Syria and its people succumb, in the same way all US sanctions had failed to make Iran’s Islamic Revolution and its people yield. Rather, [U.S. sanctions] had pushed [Iran and its people] for self-reliance, self-sufficiency and toward building high-quality national capabilities in various fields,” Hezbollah’s parliamentary Loyalty to the Resistance bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting Thursday. It added that the U.S. law would not achieve its goals.
Called “Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2019,” the bill authorizes additional sanctions and financial restrictions on institutions and individuals doing business with the Syrian regime or help it in postwar reconstruction. The act is named after a Syrian military photographer who leaked tens of thousands of gruesome pictures of 11,000 victims who were systematically tortured to death by the Bashar Assad regime.
The act will also compel the Lebanese government to tighten measures to prevent the smuggling of fuel oil and wheat to Syria through the illegal border crossings since Washington strongly believes that the Assad regime benefits from this smuggling to boost its revenues that have drastically dropped as a result of US sanctions.
The act seeks to hold those responsible for the killings civilians, impose sanctions and travel sanctions on those who support the Assad regime as well as denying the regime financial resources used to fuel his campaign of violence.
Syria has been ravaged by a vicious civil war since March 2011. The conflict has left hundreds of thousands of people killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to the United Nations.
US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea was reported during her meetings recently with Diab and some ministers to have underscored the need for the Lebanese government to comply with the requirements of the Caesar Act.
Similarly, the Lebanese Ambassador in Washington Gaby Issa, after seeking clarifications from the U.S. State Department about the Caesar Act, felt “American insistence on the need for Lebanon to abide by this law.”
MPs from various blocs warned of the dire consequences entailed by the Caesar Act on Lebanon’s collapsing economy.
“The [U.S.] law is not binding in terms of official compliance, but it has grave repercussions on those whom America considers to be convicted of attacks on the Syrian people in one way or another,” MP Marwan Hamadeh, who belongs to the PSP’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc, told Nidaa al-Watan newspaper. “This broad concept exposes complete sectors and many personalities to sanctions. We might see branches of [Lebanese] banks and contracting companies [in Syria], owners of commercial agencies, service and trade brokers, and engineering offices involved in financial, oil, electricity or other operations with the Syrian regime from 2011 until today that are vulnerable to prosecution.”
Future Movement MP Mohammad Hajjar called on the government to deal carefully with the bill.
“The Caesar Act has been drafted by the US administration to punish, in its view, the regime in Syria. Therefore, our position on it will not change anything and Lebanon must approach this law with regard to dealing with the Syrian regime in a way that conforms to our national interests first because the prospects of violating it will have negative repercussions on it,” Hajjar said.
MP Yassine Jaber from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc said the U.S. law has put all of Lebanon in a dilemma. “The government is not required to adopt the Caesar Act. Lebanon is a sovereign state and has diplomatic representation with Syria. I think the [US] law is directed against companies and individuals doing business with Syria and those must rethink their position,” Jaber told Nidaa al-Watan newspaper. “All of Lebanon is in a fix and not only the government, especially since Syria is its gate to the Arab world.”
If anything, the Caesar Act will put a damper on any attempt by Lebanon to normalize ties with Syria at a time the US is seeking to tighten the noose around the Assad regime. It also raises questions about the fate of cooperation contracts between Beirut and Damascus, including one that calls for Syria to supply Lebanon with electricity. Lebanese industrialists, farmers and merchants see Syria as a vital route to ship locally made goods to Iraq and Gulf states.
Last month, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Narallah called on the government to restore Lebanon’s relations with Syria as the only way to stop cross-border smuggling and help the cash-strapped country export its industrial and agricultural products to Arab countries. Nasrallah’s call came as Lebanon decided to close illegal border crossings with Syria to halt cross-border smuggling, a key demand of the international community.
The Caesar Act also comes as US officials have said they will impose new sanctions on Hezbollah, long labeled a “terrorist organization” by Washington, and some of its Lebanese allies.
Jessika Rizk El Maalouf
The number one place online that you should sign up to try and sell your photography content is the TOP platform. This is the best space where you can meet a wide range of clients. Once you get started you can begin with a 1-star rating but that will change with the more photos that you are able to sell.