Daily Briefing: THE US TURNS ECONOMIC SCREWS ON SYRIA (July 21,2020)

Bashar Hafez al-Assad, aka Bashar al-Assad, is the President of Syria. (Wikipedia)

Table Of Contents:

Trump’s Syria Policy Is Working:  Jonathan Spyer, Foreign Policy, July 1, 2020

Is Regime Collapse on Syria’s Horizon? Evaluating Assad’s Grip on Power:  Joel Rayburn, Oula A. Alrifai, and Sam Dagher, Washington Institute, June 22, 2020,

Can Iran Boost Syria’s Air Defenses to The Detriment Of Israel?: Farnoosh Ram, Radio Farda, July 13, 2020

Syria Is Tempting, But Will China Bite?: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, July 17, 2020


Trump’s Syria Policy Is Working
Jonathan Spyer
Middle East Forum, July 1, 2020

Two years after celebrating victory in the Syrian civil war, the regime of Bashar Assad is facing renewed unrest. A mini-insurgency is under way in Daraa province, the birthplace of the 2011 revolt. Stormy demonstrations are under way in adjacent Suwayda. The economy is hurtling toward the abyss.

What has changed, in two short years? How has Assad’s triumph turned to disaster?

The answer is the Trump administration’s Syria policy. The application of quiet but unrelenting pressure is transforming the Syrian president’s victory into ashes. What it has yet to do is persuade Russia to cease backing the Assad regime, which means the strategy remains at a stalemate.

Quiet but unrelenting American pressure is transforming Assad’s victory into ashes.

When James Jeffrey, U.S. special envoy for Syria, said on May 12 that his job was to make Syria “a quagmire for the Russians,” the remark went largely unnoticed. Jeffrey’s words were not merely, it turns out, intended to convey a general sense of opposition to Russian designs in Syria. They headlined a series of measures intended to prevent the return of normality to regime-controlled Syria, to foment renewed crisis, and thus to turn Syria from an asset to a burden for both Moscow and Tehran.

The main method for achieving these goals has been the strangling of the Syrian economy. Assad urgently needs money for reconstruction. The United Nations estimates the cost of Syria’s rebuilding at roughly $250 billion, which is four times Syria’s prewar GDP. Assad’s main allies, however, have no money to give. Iran is currently reeling from U.S.-led maximum-pressure sanctions; Tehran’s disastrous response the coronavirus pandemic; the cost of imperial commitments in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza; and the loss of the man who managed those commitments, Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike early this year. Russia is facing collapsing oil and gas prices, as well as sanctions.

Assad urgently needs money for reconstruction, but his allies have no money to give. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Is Regime Collapse on Syria’s Horizon? Evaluating Assad’s Grip on Power
Joel Rayburn, Oula A. Alrifai, and Sam Dagher
Washington Institute, June 22, 2020

On June 17, the United States announced thirty-nine Syria-related sanctions designations, most of them under the Caesar Act. The act is named after the Syrian photographer who courageously released thousands of photographs documenting torture in Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, providing the U.S. government with a powerful way to promote accountability for such crimes. The passage and implementation of the Caesar Act represent cooperation between the legislative and executive branches on a common policy of holding the regime liable and peacefully resolving the Syrian conflict.

It is important to focus on the reasoning behind this legislation. As two recent UN reports show, the Assad regime’s responsibility for war crimes is a matter of international consensus, not just an American opinion. On April 6, a UN Board of Inquiry issued evidence indicating that the regime and its allies have launched devastating attacks against hospitals, schools, and other civilian infrastructure. Additionally, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons recently attributed responsibility to the Assad regime for using sarin and chlorine gas in three separate attacks in 2017. These are just two of many examples from the brutal war that the regime has waged against the Syrian people with help from Russia and Iran, at the cost of at least 500,000 innocent civilians dead.

The Caesar Act sanctions will be mandatory against targets that facilitate the regime’s production of oil or its acquisition of aviation-related goods, services, and technologies used for military purposes. These are the first Syrian sectoral sanctions that the United States can apply. Sanctions normally require a high evidentiary hurdle, but the Caesar Act lowers the bar for application. For example, authorities do not need proof that a company entering the Damascus region to carry out reconstruction projects is directly benefitting the Assad regime, only that it is investing in a certain sector. The act also targets any entities caught supporting mercenaries, as well as foreign actors who perpetuate the conflict on behalf of the regime and its allies. Likewise, it targets those involved in war profiteering, including entities who would provide significant reconstruction or engineering services to the regime.

In the long term, the Caesar Act aims to foreclose any economic or financial benefits the regime might accrue from an ultimate military victory in Syria. The overarching U.S. goal is to promote accountability and deny the regime access to the international financial system until a political solution to the conflict can be reached. The new sanctions are part of this goal, meant to help ensure that the parties to the conflict resolve it under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the internationally accepted roadmap for a political settlement. Further, before the current or future Syrian government can be allowed to join the international community and take part in the global economy, it must do the following: hold perpetrators accountable for war crimes; cease sponsoring terrorism; create conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees; verifiably and permanently dismantle its chemical weapons program; sever its ties with Iran’s military forces and Iranian-backed groups; and drop its hostility toward regional neighbors. …. [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Can Iran Boost Syria’s Air Defenses to the Detriment of Israel?
Farnoosh Ram

Radio Farda, July 13, 2020

Tehran’s new military agreement with Damascus has strengthened Syria’s chances of receiving Iranian designed and produced air defense systems to boost the war-torn country’s inefficient and weak anti-air networks.
As a part of the new agreement, Tehran and Damascus confirmed that they have pledged to upgrade Syria’s air defenses. The confirmation was officially announced last week, when the Islamic Republic’s Chief of Staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri (Bagheri), visited Damascus.

However, the details of the agreement remained confidential.

Immediately after inking the agreement, Baqeri, a member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), also held a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Defense Minister. Evidence suggests that Baqeri and the Syrian Defense Minister, General Ali Abdullah Ayoub, achieved the agreement after a series of highly confidential negotiations.

In recent times, the Islamic Republic has repeatedly presented three domestic air defense systems named as “3 Khordad”, “15 Khordad” and “Bavar 373” as its “glorious” examples of progress. The possibility of supplying Syria with these systems seems to be on Tehran-Damascus’ agenda.

While unveiling the “15 Khordad” in the second quarter of last year, the Iranian military boasted that it was more potent than the American Patriot system. Shortly afterward, the “3 Khordad” system, with a range of 200 km shot down the wide-body and expensive American surveillance drone, RQ-4A Global Hawk BAMS-D, on June 20, 2019, near the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. Some experts consider this a big achievement for Iran’s air defense technology.

The new Iran-Syria military agreement was signed six months after a U.S. drone killed the Chief-Commander of the IRGC’ Qods Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani, on January 3, 2020, outside Baghdad international airport.

Meanwhile, Syria is under heavy pressure from the United States and Israel. Washington has recently implemented the Caesar Act to exert more pressure on Damascus.

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, also known as the Caesar Act, is legislation that sanctions the Syrian government, including its president, Bashar al-Assad, for alleged war crimes against the Syrian population. The bill has not been passed into law. Instead, parts of it were incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, making it unlikely that the original bill will be revisited.

Iranian First Vice-President Es’haq Jahangiri (R) and Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis attend a meeting in Tehran, January 13, 2020.  Furthermore, field evidence shows that Syria’s long-standing weakness in air defenses has not been allayed even by the Russian S-300 system installed in the war-torn country. Despite the Russian S-300, Israel has continued striking targets deep in Syria by using the Lebanese air space. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Syria Is Tempting, But Will China Bite?
Dr. James M. Dorsey
BESA, July 17, 2020

On the eve of the Syrian Civil War, Muhammad Jarah’s and Ahmad Bustati’s warehouse in Damascus symbolized China’s emergence as Syria’s largest supplier of industrial and consumer goods. The dilapidated warehouse was stocked with everything from Chinese laser cutting machines to plastic toys for children.

A decade of fighting dashed the two Syrian entrepreneurs’ hopes. However, things seemed to be looking up for businessmen like Jarah and Bustati once Syrian president Bashar Assad gained the upper hand in the war through the assistance of Russia and Iran. China sees longer-term economic potential in Syria as a regional node of what the BRI will eventually look like, irrespective of the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating economic consequences.

Syrian officials have sought to drive home China’s competitive advantages and perceived interest in taking a lead in the reconstruction of their country. “The Silk Road is not a silk road if it does not pass through Syria, Iraq, and Iran,” said Buthina Shaaban, Bashar Assad’s media advisor, referring to the BRI.
Chinese access to the Syrian Mediterranean Sea ports of Tartus and Latakia is an attractive prospect for China’s multi-billion-dollar infrastructure, telecommunications, and energy-driven initiative, which seeks to link Eurasia to the People’s Republic. It would complement Beijing’s footholds in Greece’s Piraeus and the Israeli harbors of Haifa and Ashdod, and would anchor Syria as a key point on the ancient Silk Road.

Closely connected to Chinese interest in Syrian ports is the exploration by China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) of a possible upgrading of the deep seaport of Tripoli, Lebanon, to allow it to accommodate larger vessels. Unlike the Syrian ports, Tripoli would grant China greater freedom of action because it would not have to share control with Russia. Together with the Syrian ports, Tripoli would serve as an alternative to passage through the Suez Canal.

Last year, Russia appeared to be anticipating potential Chinese moves when it negotiated with the Assad government an extension of its access to military bases including what it describes as a “logistics support facility of the Russian Navy” in Tartus.

As the agreement has not been made public, it remains unclear what Russia’s intentions are. However, a modernization of Tartus for military purposes would guarantee Russia a role in control of the Eastern Mediterranean. Tartus would have to be upgraded to be able to accommodate all types of vessels, including aircraft carriers.

In a further move, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his foreign and defense ministries in May to reach an agreement with Syria on an additional expansion of a 2015 accord that governs Russia’s naval presence in Tartus and allows the Russian Navy to base up to 11 ships in the port for 49 years. Putin wants the life of the agreement to be extended by an additional 25 years. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

Israeli Airstrikes Hit Iranian Posts In Damascus, Says Syrian War Monitor:  WIN, July 20, 2020 –– The Syrian military said the country’s air defenses responded on Monday to Israeli air raids in south Damascus that caused material damage, and residents said loud explosions rocked the capital.

Modernized Syrian MiG-29s Won’t Stop Israeli Airstrikes In Syria: Paul Iddon, Forbes, June 30, 2020 — On May 30, the Syrian state-run SANA news agency reported that Russia had supplied Syria with a “second batch of modernized MiG-29 fighter jets” that “are more effective than their previous generation.”

Syria Goes to the Polls as New Sanctions Hit War-Ravaged Economy Reuters, July 19, 2020 –– Syria held a parliamentary election on Sunday, gripped by a collapsing economy and new U.S. sanctions after President Bashar al-Assad clawed back control of most of the country.

Syria Conflict: ‘Flagrant’ War Crimes Committed in Idlib Battle, UN Says:  BBC News, July 7, 2020 — Civilians endured “unfathomable suffering” when the Syrian military launched a campaign late last year to retake the area, according to a report.

Strange Similarities in the Declining Fortunes of Syria’s Bashar Al Assad and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein: Khaled Yacoub Oweis, The National, June 27, 2020 — Ten years ago, residents of Damascus woke up to a sight most Syrians had never seen. People were lining up at polling centres in the city to vote in free elections.

Generation Jihad Ep. 16 – Al Qaeda’s Never-Ending Problems in Syria:  Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio, Long War Journal, June 30, 2020 — Hosts Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio discuss al Qaeda’s problems in Syria, where a series of disputes have upset the group’s chain of command. They also discuss the State Department’s latest terrorism report and what it says about Pakistan’s sponsorship of the Taliban.