If the current trajectory of Syrian street protests continue at their current, bloody pace, last Friday (July 22) may be remembered as the epic day Syria’s Assad dictatorial dynasty began a fateful, accelerating process of unraveling.
Finally, after over four months of country-wide protests, every major Syrian city witnessed massive simultaneous demonstrations against the regime. From Aleppo in the north to the capital Damascus, hundreds of thousands of Syrian citizens defied the live fire aimed at them by Assad’s security forces chanting the newly-minted forbidden revolutionary anthem “Come On Bashar, Leave!”
Hey Bashar, hey liar. Damn you and your speech,
Freedom is right at the door. So common on, Bashar, Leave!
It is an appalling travesty that because of the media blackout the world cannot witness the wanton killing of innocent Syrians at the hands of their own government. Last Friday, over 32 people were shot dead, bringing the total number of Syrians murdered by the regime to . No one has a credible estimate how many more have been abducted or injured.
Numbers are abstract. Casualties in raw numbers do no justice to the mayhem Assad has condoned against his own people.
Visualize this eyewitness report. A solemn funeral procession for a young, married Syrian protestor en route to burial at a cemetery on the outskirts of Homs. Suddenly, Syrian security forces point-blank into the procession. Within seconds the grieving mother and the son of the protester were struck and instantly killed. Six more grieving relatives were killed, as well.
If Assad’s power base is unraveling how long will it take for the coup de grace?
Unfortunately, if Iran has its way, Assad won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
Iran has reportedly provided an emergency financial lifeline to the regime in the amount of $5.6 billion as billions pour out of Syrian banks by nervous depositors seeking safe haven in Beirut or Istanbul-based banks.
As I reported earlier, intelligence analysts have irrefutable proof that Iran has dispatched advisers from its domestic secret police forces (The Law Enforcement Service or LED) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) to take over direct supervision of anti protest suppression.
The savage repression being committed by the joint Syrian-Iran strike forces is being directed by leadership elements of Iran’s so-called volunteer marauders squad known as the Basij (those civilian clad thugs who roamed the streets of Tehran beating Iranians senseless and kidnapping protesters).
Confirming the Iranian intervention, the European Union imposed sanctions against the leadership of the IRGC and certain Syrian security forces, charging IRGC commander Mohammad Al Jafari and Al-Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani and IRGC deputy commander for intelligence Hussein Taeb for directly providing command and control as well as logistic and equipment support to aid the Syrian regime suppress demonstrations. Not too long thereafter, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped further sanctions on key Iranian commanders aiding and abetting the crackdown against Syrian civilians.
In addition to its shock troops, Iran has also provided Syrian commanders with sophisticated road-side bombs to take out any defecting Syrian military vehicles (which Iran has also provided to Shiite militias in Iraq to be used against Americans), as well as Iranian-built sniper rifles.
According to other Middle East media reports, Iran also in Syria an advanced Nokia Siemens Network (NS) devices for disrupting internal internet communications which permit Syrian forces to identify activists using social media — the same type of telecommunications interception equipment Nokia was forced to admit in 2008 that hit had sold to Iran.
Given the magnitude of Iran’s direct intervention in Syria and Assad’s deference to his Iranian riot-control masters, it would not be too much of a stretch to assert that Iran, rather than Syria, is largely overseeing the repression given the extensive role Iranian forces now have in putting down the revolt.
For good measure (and despite the usually untruthful protestations to the contrary), the free-for-all being directed against Syria’s citizens also includes elements of Lebanon’s terror group and Iran proxy, Hizbullah.
This morning, Syrian/Iranian forces a new, more massive crackdown on the eve of Ramadan, which the Assad regime fears will transform every day into a Friday of demonstrations.
If the regime is not being pounded militarily into submission, like in Libya, what will trump its Iranian-funded rescue and cause it to erode and collapse from within?
Surely, it will take more sure-footed, hard-nosed leadership from the Obama Administration — whose approach toward Syria until now has been — to put it as charitably as possible — disappointingly callow and erratic. Even the New York Times Secretary of State Clinton in a July 18th editorial of diluting her own message to Assad after finally declaring him illegitimate in an unscripted aside.
While foreign military intervention against Assad is a non-starter, the U.S., along with the European Union have not fully unsheathed their economic swords.
Unfortunately, the longer the protests continue the more likely Assad will provoke grim sectarian strife to save itself, a fear the White House has expressed on numerous occasions. That is why urgent, additional economic sanctions are needed now to accelerate the regime’s demise and forestall the very sectarian strife the Administration fears.
So what more can the U.S. and its allies do short of military intervention?
Andrew Tabler, one of our country’s leading experts on Syria, wrote an instructive essay in Foreign Policy on July 19 declaring that the U.S. and Europe should begin boycotting Syrian oil exports — setting forth 6 specific rational steps which could be taken to hasten the regime’s downfall.
According to Tabler, Syria produces 390,000 BPD, of which it exports 148,000 BPD — accounting to 1/3 of state revenues. If the European Union were to slap sanctions on the sale of Syrian crude to Europe (imported by Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands), no more foreign currency from oil imports.
How many more body counts must the US and EU receive before turning off the oil spigot?
The U.S. could also pressure the United Kingdom to halt the operations of Gulfsands Petroleum — a former Houston-based refiner/extractor, which is tied at the hip to Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf. And the U.S. could also pressure the EU to cease all banking ties with the Commercial Bank of Syria, which is used to convert oil sales into hard currency. Finally, the U.S. and the EU should selectively target imported refined gasoline and diesel products — a sanction already leveled against Iran.
Admittedly, there are no silver bullets by which to topple the Assad regime. As the unorganized protest movement morphs into a more coherent, representative and legitimate National Salvation Council the U.S. has a unique opportunity to put behind it its past regrettable policy missteps and play a far more constructive (and not a tell-tale obstructionist role), in expediting this transition.
Iran has much to lose should Assad & Co. topple. The U.S. has much to gain by their loss. Syria’s fate and future (unlike Libya’s future) have far-reaching consequences to the region. Assad is not indispensable. He is merely the devil we know and that does not make him the better choice in that equation. The people of Syria deserve better and it is high time before the very violence we most fear tears Syria apart and help accelerate an end to their suffering and plight.
If the Syrian people have risked their lives to muster the courage to proclaim it, Madame Secretary, there is FAR more this Administration can do to leverage additional painful economic sanctions against Syria to hasten its demise. For good measure join them in declaring “So Come On, Bashar, Leave!”
First published in HuffingtonPost.com.
Marc Ginsberg is former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco.