The Biden administration wants to waive parts of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019 that sanctions the Syrian government, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for war crimes against the Syrian population. The Act was signed into law by President Trump in December 2019 and took effect on June 17, 2020.
The Biden administration has a vested interest in taking over from Hezbollah the task of supplying Lebanon with fuel, and to that end, as reported by Reuters on Wednesday (Lebanon to get Egyptian gas via Syria in plan to ease crisis), Egyptian natural gas will be piped to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria.
The plan, which Reuters cited Egypt’s petroleum minister Tarek El Molla as saying would be implemented “as soon as possible,” is backed by the US in order to address Lebanon’s power shortages. But the same plan is “complicated” by the Caesar Act sanctions on Syria, and Lebanese officials have asked Washington to waive them.
The Washington Free Beacon reported on Wednesday (Biden Admin Seeks to Waive Sanctions on Assad), citing Congressional Republicans, that Biden and Democrats in Congress have signaled their willingness to back sanctions relief.
According to the Telegraph, the British Treasury removed from its sanctions Tarif Al-Akhras—a cousin of Assad’s father-in-law and the founder of a commodities and trading company—without an explanation. It was the first time the UK lowered its sanctions since exiting the EU. The EU sanctioned Al-Akhras in 2011 based on reports of his support for Assad’s brutal crackdown on enemies of his regime. In 2016, the EU dismissed an appeal by Al-Akhras to lift the sanctions.
Joe Wilson (R-SC), a House Foreign Affairs Committee member, wondered, “Why in the world would the Biden administration lift sanctions on one of the most brutal human rights abusers in the world—the Assad regime?”
The reason is that otherwise, Assad would not permit Egypt to run natural gas to Lebanon through Syria. As can be seen in the map below, Egypt must send its pipe to Jordan and then Syria to bypass Israel, a country from which Lebanon would not accept any assistance.
A congressional source told The Beacon that the pipeline deal would supply the Assad regime with much-needed hard cash. The question is whether letting Assad recoup some of his losses is good or bad for the region. It may reduce his dependence on Iran.
Brett McGurk, who served in senior national security positions under presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, was picked in January to serve as President Biden’s National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.
The Republican source told The Beacon: “Assad is desperate for hard currency and that’s what they are going to get from this via the transit fees. The regime is literally starved for cash and Biden is saving them by the bell. A great new win for the human rights agenda after the Taliban taking over Afghanistan. So glad we have the geniuses in charge like McGurk.”
But it may turn out that McGurk knows what he’s doing in this case: by securing US-endorsed Egyptian natural gas to Lebanon Hezbollah would lose its control over the country’s energy supply which it receives from Iran. On the other hand, a rich Assad, while securing his regime in Syria, could afford to hold his Iranian patrons at bay.
Of course, it would undercut the Republicans’ human rights agenda. Pity. Also, this reporter has no idea what it means to be “literally starved for cash.” Do the folks in Damascus actually eat money?