By: Faisal J. Abbas *
“Better late than never” is the only thing that could be said about The United States and the EU finally calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
In a written statement, President Obama accused al-Assad of “torturing and slaughtering” his people in what U.N. officials said may be crimes against humanity. As a result, the US president ordered Syrian government assets in the US frozen, banned US citizens from operating or investing in Syria and prohibited US imports of Syrian oil products.
Now, there are several ways this could be read. One of them is that the US is sending a clear signal that there won’t be a military intervention similar to what NATO is conducting in Libya. This has been further reinforced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s televised statement which emphasized that no outside power can or should impose on the transition of Syria to democracy.
However, one has to admit the complexity of this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If the US leads a NATO military intervention, conspiracy theorists would jump in saying that it is part of its imperialist aspirations, Assad’s own circle and allies would label it as a punishment for the Syrian regime’s stance against America’s favourite ally, Israel — while others will say it is an attempt to impose a puppet government on Damascus.
On the other hand, not interfering will leave questions asked as to why the US, NATO and the international community found it necessary to launch a military campaign against the Qaddafi regime in Libya but not against Al-Assad.
Some analysts already made the assumption that the almighty Pro-Israel pressure groups are actually lobbying against a US intervention in Syria. The argument here suggests that — contrary to what some people might think due to the long standing Syrian regime’s PDAs (Public Displays of Abomination) against Israel — the two countries have a ‘working relation’ which resulted in a safe Israeli border ever since the Israeli Defence Force occupied the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967.
Now — putting all these details aside, the fact remains that Assad must go. If no military intervention is going to happen, then the US, Arabs and the International Community must choose effective means to make sure that happens.
First of all — the US imports of Syrian oil are minimal. What really matters is Europe, so the EU must impose similar sanctions.
Arab countries have a responsibility as well — obviously, oil-rich nations should jump in to fill in the gap in the market which could result of an American/European boycott of Syrian oil. It also goes without saying that all Arab countries, if they haven’t done so yet, must follow Saudi Arabia’s lead in recalling their ambassadors from Damascus immediately. Furthermore, to be effective — it is a must to cut off the financial sources of the Syrian regime or the channels used to deliver them. It is no secret that Iran is avidly supporting al-Assad, and it is well known that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad isn’t quite keen on vacationing in London or Paris or really bothered if there was a ban on American products (if any are permitted into the Islamic Republic anyway), thus further direct sanctions on Iran would be ineffective.
However, it would be difficult for Iran to transfer money directly to Syria — so it is likely happening through an alternative in-direct route, most likely through Lebanon (where the current government is dominated by the pro-Syrian Hezbollah) and… surprise, surprise…Dubai.
Although it cited many difficulties facing the free-flow of Iranian banking operations in this glamorous service-based Arab Emirate, Time magazine also mentioned in a recent article that “Iran’s deep roots in Dubai’s economy poses a further problem for any more expansive sanctions regime.”
So — the key to toppling al-Assad, in the words of the infamous ‘Deep Throat,’ is to simply “follow the money.”
*London-based Mifddle East affairs specialist