Beefed-up US sanctions are not expected to have a deterrent effect on Syria’s Assad regime in the short or medium term, but rather should be considered part of a long-term attrition strategy, according to a policy analyst.
US sanctions under the 2019 Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act are unlikely to be a decisive factor against the regime regarding its war crimes, Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of the Turkish-based Ankara Centre for Crisis and Policy Research (ANKASAM), told Anadolu Agency.
The reason is that besides Bashar al-Assad’s own will and actions, there are the acts of other countries and groups, especially Iran and Russia, behind human rights violations and atrocities, Erol said.
Erol said a few days ago Russian fighter planes targeted civilians in northern Syria’s al-Bab region, a region liberated in February 2017 by Turkish troops and the Syrian National Army (SNA) from the terror group Daesh, as part of Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield.
At least one person was killed and 11 injured Wednesday in two airstrikes on civilian settlements.
Also, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said on July 7 that Syrian and Russian warplanes committed war crimes by deliberately targeting civilians, healthcare organizations, and healthcare workers in northern Syria’s Idlib province, he said.
"Dramatically escalating their military campaign to recapture Idlib and parts of western Aleppo, Syrian Government forces alongside the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out air and ground attacks which decimated civilian infrastructure, depopulated towns and villages, and claimed the lives of hundreds of Syrian women, men and children," according to a report by the commission.
Idlib falls within a de-escalation zone forged under an agreement between Turkey and Russia.
The area has been the subject of multiple cease-fire understandings, which have frequently been violated by the Assad regime and its allies.
It is currently home to 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces throughout the war-weary country.
The 2019 sanctions law is an important step in breaking the resistance of the Assad regime and to deter forces that support it, said Erol.
Nevertheless, there has been no significant progress in realizing two primary goals of the act, namely the cessation of brutal attacks on civilians and a peaceful political transition process, he said.
Syria has been ravaged by civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protesters.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to UN estimates.
- Caesar Act’s impact on Syria’s economic crisis
Tough new US sanctions under the bill are also expected to hurt the Syrian economy and currency.
At the beginning of this year, 1,000 Syrian pounds bought $1, but recently it soared to as much as 4,000 pounds to the dollar.
Underlining that the law will further deepen the economic crisis in Syria, Erol explained: “The sanctions have already caused Assad to lose power in financial markets.”
Though the primary and ultimate goal of the sanctions is to weaken the regime and forces that support it, the economic fallout will inevitably hurt the Syrian people, he said.
The Syrian pound’s steep slide against the dollar, rising economic woes, skyrocketing food and medicine prices, and hunger show that people pay a heavy price when the country is sanctioned.
-Iran’s financial support
Despite Iran’s worsening economic situation, Erol said Tehran will continue to give Assad financial support to help him avoid further crisis.
This is because Syria stands as a security issue for Iran, and the loss of the Assad regime would deal a heavy blow to Iran’s strong presence in the region, he said.
So Iran will further deepen its strategic relations with Russia and China, while the two countries often reiterate support for Iran against the US, according to Erol.
“The support by Russia and China inevitably strengthens Iran's presence in Syria economically,” he said.
This June, under of the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2019, the US announced a new campaign of "sustained sanctions" against the Syrian regime and its allies for alleged involvement in war crimes.
The act authorized additional sanctions and financial restrictions on institutions and individuals doing business with the regime.
It is named after a military forensic photographer codenamed “Caesar” who leaked photos of people tortured to death in Assad prisons.
The pictures by "Caesar" were first published by Anadolu Agency in 2014 and made a tremendous global impact by providing evidence of war crimes committed by the Assad regime, including the systematic torture and starving to death of prisoners.
By Zehra Nur Duz