On June 17, the United States will tighten its grip even more on the Syrian regime with the entry into force of the Caesar Act, a bipartisan law that aims to sanction any government or any private entity that assists the Damascus regime or con-tributes to the reconstruction of Syria. While the pro-Syrian camp in Lebanon is increasingly calling for normalizing the country’s relations with Damascus, this law may affect Lebanese or Lebanon-based people and businesses.
Any international company that invests in the energy, aviation, construction or engineering sectors in Syria, as well as any person dealing financially with the re-gime, will be subject to the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019.” Caesar is the code name of a former Syrian military police photographer, who fled Syria in 2013, carrying 55,000 photographs showing the bodies of tortured people.
“The law aims to prevent any normalization by countries like Lebanon, China or the United Arab Emirates with the Syrian regime and to hinder reconstruction ef-forts with a regime that has turned 14 million of its citizens into refugees or dis-placed people,” said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a group of of Syrian advocates in the United States that helped draft, pass and now implement implement the Ceasar bill.
“Any country that hosts people or companies doing this (helping Syria) is target-ed" by the law, which will take effect in several phases, the activist told L’Orient-Le Jour. The sanctions are expected to affect, in addition to Syrians, companies or people in Lebanon, Iraq, Russia or Iran, he added.
On June 17, a first batch of sanctions will target individuals and companies, likely to be Syrian, and the list will not include Lebanese names, the activist said. But during the summer, the next rounds of sanctions to be announced by the United States in three or four stages “will include Lebanese or Lebanon-based personali-ties or entities.”
“It will be a clear warning to any personality or entity in Lebanon cooperating with the Syrian regime,” he added, lamenting the fact that “prominent figures in Lebanon support the Syrian regime.”
These sanctions will affect Syrian personalities or businessmen living in Lebanon and dealing with the regime, Lebanese companies trading with these companies, and all Lebanese individuals or entities providing any assistance to the Syrian re-gime – for example by selling fuel oil, which is being smuggled from Lebanon into Syria as it is well know.
“Many companies or banks in Lebanon are working as intermediaries for the Syr-ian regime and will be punished,” Moustafa said.“Anyone dealing with the Syrian regime in Lebanon must be worried.”
“The recent crisis has shown how the Lebanese and Syrian financial systems are linked in a legal and illegal way. Those dealing with the Syrian regime need to real-ize how dangerous the Caesar Act is for them,” said Assaad Hanna, also a member of the lobby.
Funds of Syrian regime-linked figures in Lebanese banks may also be af-fected. In the absence of precise figures, Lebanese banking sources told our sister economic publication, Le Commerce du Levant, that deposits of Syrian nationals in Lebanese banks are estimated between $10 to 20 billion.
Another problem is the branches of Lebanese banks in Syria, according to Bassem al-Chab, a former lawmaker for the Future Movement. He pointed out that the Lebanese government may be punished if it resumed buying electricity from Syr-ia, as it has done for years.
“What about the Lebanese-Syrian Higher Council, coordination agreements be-tween the two countries, cooperation between the Lebanese army and security services with the Syrian regime?” al-Chab asked, noting that the Lebanese gov-ernment may face sanctions because of these ties.
Even if the process of rebuilding Syria is still at a standstill, Lebanese companies waiting for this juicy market will have to revise their plans.
As for calls by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and other Lebanese politicians to normalize relations with Damascus to pave the way for Lebanese ex-ports to Iraq and other Arab countries through Syria, it is not yet clear whether the transit of goods through Syria – for which tariffs have to be paid – will be con-sidered aid to the Syrian regime.
“The Caesar Act is yet another tool that reinforces the logic of sanctions and the idea that the Lebanese economy cannot act as a support economy for the Syria-Iran axis,” said a Lebanese politician close to US circles. "This is clearly not the time to call for normalization with the Syrian regime.”
For this politician who requested anonymity, the entry into force of this law only makes it more urgent for Lebanon to be consistent in choosing economic partners it is asking for assistance, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and its political positioning. “The more we position ourselves according to the logic that aid to Lebanon will benefit the regional Syria-Iran axis, the more difficult it will be to get help from international donors,” he said.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 30th of May)
On June 17, the United States will tighten its grip even more on the Syrian regime with the entry into force of the Caesar Act, a bipartisan law that aims to sanction any government or any private entity that assists the Damascus regime or con-tributes to the reconstruction of Syria. While the pro-Syrian camp in Lebanon is increasingly calling for normalizing the country’s relations with...