The article was published in Heise. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
BERLIN, (BM) – Food insecurity for 12.4 million Syrians; the Syrian government forbids all business with US dollars. The US government is taking its time with its Syria strategy.
No more cooking shows on Syrian TV. President Bashar al-Assad has told journalists when asked about recipes to counter the country’s plight of barely affordable food prices. This information is transmitted by the New York Times. A Syrian source with ties to the US newspaper was reportedly present during the president’s conversation with journalists.
It is now known that the New York Times is not a friend of the Syrian government, and it is also known that the newspaper has repeatedly attracted attention with its coverage in the Middle East due to a political agenda that has fueled the conflict. In terms of the objective facts that Syria’s economic situation is catastrophic, the hardship screaming, and the prospects poor, the reference to the partisanship of the newspaper changes little.
The UN World Food Program (WFP) reported a week ago that there are 12.4 million Syrians, almost 60 percent of the population currently affected by food insecurity. According to this, another 4.5 million Syrians are said to have found themselves in food insecurity within a year. “Food insecure” roughly means that it is not sure where the next meal will come from.
Over the past year, food prices have skyrocketed across Syria. Basic food prices rose 236 percent while the value of the Syrian pound fell sharply. On average, the oil cost rose from 1,000 Syrian pounds in January 2020 to 5,000 Syrian pounds in January 2021.
Parents now report making desperate choices to survive. They eat less to support their children, go into debt, and sell assets and livestock for an income. Also, almost 50% of the Syrian population reports that they have lost one or more income sources due to the economic downturn and the Covid-19 pandemic.
When asked how the need in Syria can be alleviated, there are weird, improvised, practical solutions in the style of an auxiliary channel laid around the corner, as is typical in the Middle East. This was recently demonstrated when Israel bought $ 1.2 million worth of Sputnik vaccine for the Damascus government through Russia.
That was part of a prisoner swap deal. It is so pointed: A woman from Israel moves too far into Syrian territory on her excursion and is arrested as a spy.
This is followed by negotiations that expose the harassment of the US sanctions, some of which can also affect drugs – and in any case, the state budget. The downside of the deal shows how harshly the sanctions are impacting the lives of the Syrian people. In Syria, too, it will be interesting to see who gets vaccination priority.
Fuel and Food, US Dollars and “Madness”
Fuel and food have been the primary needs in Syria for many months. This has been reported several times. However, what is new is that the occupation of the oil wells in northeast Syria, secured by the US military power, is not a minor matter, as was repeatedly commented since oil production there is negligible compared to production in neighboring countries.
The fact that a US oil company was entrusted with the takeover of the oil plants because of the best relations with the Trump administration is a political game, a provocative demonstration of power, and tangible economic consequences.
The value of the dollar is a significant crisis factor in Syria, as in Lebanon. In any case, the observer Ehsani22 is more or less appalled (“Stop the Madness”) by the new instructions from Damascus to ban all business involving the US dollar. That’s not going well, so his outlook.
As already described here, a lot depends on how the US under President Biden wants to develop its Syria policy. At the moment, the observers’ impression without illusions seems to be confirmed: that the Biden administration is quite satisfied with the hardship that the US sanctions are increasing and that Washington is waiting to wait and see. Damascus running out of breath?
The political path that the USA wants to take in Syria is determined by how one wants to deal with Iran and Russia in terms of regional politics. Russia does not appear economically at the moment or has the strong political will to give Damascus a helping hand in an extraordinary way the situation would require.
Influence politics with the Gulf States
The befriended US partners, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, with whom Russia is on good terms, play a crucial role here. With their political connections within the Arab world, their trade relations, and their wealth, the two Gulf states could help Syria a great deal with its reconstruction and political consolidation.
Both states have made rapprochements with the Syrian government, especially the United Arab Emirates, which has long had diplomatic relations with the Syrian government. The UAE embassy in Damascus is open. The fact that Bashar al-Assad has accepted rapprochement in the UAE’s case – the situation in Saudi Arabia is somewhat more complicated, but the tendency is similar – shows that he cannot make himself utterly independent of it. It’s not in his interest. At the same time, the two Gulf states are also rivals to Iran, the Syrian government partner who is closest to it.
From this perspective, the al-Assad government’s incredible pressure is currently under is suitable for the USA, also about negotiations with Iran. Like the previous government with Trump and Pompeo, the new Foreign Minister Antony Blinken also wants to start talks with the country on Iran’s regional policy on an “update” of the JCPOA. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are part of the political card game.
Second, Syria is not particularly important to the United States. Washington does not have to rush to find solutions. US Syria policy is currently shaped by Israel and by NATO partner Turkey, whose interests must be balanced with the USA’s Kurdish partners in northeast Syria.
Public relations worker
With the accusation of US politicians that they contribute to worsening the country’s humanitarian misery, public relations workers, such as those found in the Biden administration, in think tanks, or the sympathetic media, have an easy time of it.
In their chicken-and-egg logic, Bashar al-Assad is at the beginning of the evil. His police and secret service state practices are currently being tried in Koblenz fits this legitimation narrative. Beyond all objectively incriminating charges, it is a political process. He confirms Assad’s image as ultimately responsible for torture on a large scale and justifies the severe economic and power-political pincer in which Syria is being taken.
Excluded from this narrative of the torture regime in Damascus, which legitimizes violence, are other processes in Syria policy that have made a significant contribution to bringing about the catastrophic situation: the political agenda of the regime changes – “Assad will go, must go”, as a result, Turkey became a transit country for increasing the jihadist armed opposition – and a short-sighted policy towards Russia that still followed the block-building logic of the Cold War.
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