The Syrian and Lebanese meltdowns go hand-in-hand as the race to collapse continues in Venezuela and Iran

By Raghida Dergham

All roads lead to Tehran according to the pattern of American sanctions extending from Venezuela to Syria through Lebanon - but this does not negate the importance of targeting senior figures in these nations, led by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Syrian Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

Russia and China have analyzed the options available to them in Venezuela, given the complete American encirclement of Venezuela’s capabilities to sell its oil through a sanctioned regime that terrifies the leadership of large and medium-sized companies - so Moscow’s and Beijing’s options have fallen back to self-protection, waving farewell to Venezuela and their old friend Maduro who rushed to Iran to give him a hand of aid instead. The United States was ready for this, keeping a watchful eye after Maduro bartered tons of Venezuelan gold for tankers filled with Iranian oil, imposing sanctions on 125 tankers and cordoning off a single port in its move against Caracas and Tehran, with the countdown to a complete collapse in Venezuela beginning as the country moves towards removing Maduro from power.

Bashar Al-Assad's punishment is named ‘Caesar's Law,’ which pledges to stop Assad and all those who help him to commit crimes with impunity - including Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Washington's goal may not be to topple Assad as much as to force him firstly to remove Iran from Syria and secondly to submit to a domestic Syrian constitutional political process that leads to either a power-sharing arrangement or his removal from office if he refuses.

Hassan Nasrallah, meanwhile, is prepared to ransom the whole of Lebanon for the Islamic Republic of Iran and its mullahs, the Revolutionary Guards, the Velayet-e Faqih ideology and culture, and stands ready to ensure the collapse of Syrians in Syria and Lebanon along the lines of Damascus’ orders, bringing the Syrian and Lebanese negotiating methods into synergy with those of Israel. Nasrallah has resorted to a mythical plan based on saving Lebanon from collapse through Iranian intervention to abolish the dollarization of the economy and replace it with a frivolous dalliance with Iran to shore up the Lebanese pound. This is, in fact, the fast way to turn Lebanon into Venezuela, but perhaps also to connect the three presidents in Lebanon - the President of the Republic Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister Hassan Diab - to Nicolas Maduro's inevitable fate. Certainly, neither Russia nor China will rush into the partnership that Hassan Nasrallah is marketing as a guaranteed alternative because Moscow and Beijing's priorities are fundamentally the same as America’s, rather than suicidal - with Venezuela being an example.
The Hezbollah leader’s words came on the eve of the start of the implementation of the "Caesar Law" that was launched by Washington to impose sanctions at the highest level of Syria’s leadership, starting with Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad, along with his brothers among the 39 other prominent figures who were placed on the blacklist.

Nasrallah defied the law adopted by the US Congress and pledged to continue the opening of the crossings between Lebanon and Syria and not to allow Syria to fall victim to the economic war against it, vowing that Lebanon would provide ammunition to Assad to resist "Caesar".

Nasrallah expanded " He who offered blood and martyrs to keep Syria united and not subject to America and Israel will not allow Caesar’s law to defeat Syria." not only dragging Lebanon to confront America, but also vowing"resistance" on its borders with Syria to defeat the Caesar’s Law.

"If they want to force us into the equation of ‘bread versus the weapon of the resistance’, we too will have an equation that we will not reveal now," he warned.

"We have an important and dangerous equation - and I will not talk about it - if the Americans continue their efforts to starve the Lebanese," Nasrallah asserted, stressing that "Whoever makes us choose between the option of killing with weapons or hunger will keep our weapon in our hands. And we will [use it to] kill him." He emphasized that the issue of Hezbollah’s weapon is "in relation to the resistance environment, part of a strategic culture and ideology that is much deeper than what some people suggest."

Brian Hook, the US special representative on Iran, suggested that Hassan Nasrallah's positions are evidence of his "weakness" because of the sanctions, saying Nasrallah was "shedding crocodile tears" and that what he did was "undermining the security, prosperity, and well-being of the Lebanese people in the same way that the Iranian regime did to the Iranian people."
Hook pledged to clamp down on Iran and Hezbollah in Syria and said, "The United States will withhold all aid for reconstruction in Syria until all forces under Iranian command and control leave the country. Iran must leave Syria and I now see that there are incentives for [Vladimir] Putin and Assad at some point to push Iran to leave. "
The bottom line of this position is that the United States will push for more instability in Syria, through stifling economic sanctions and withholding reconstruction, to force Russia to reconsider because an unstable Syria also affects Russia in Syria. Washington's strategy now is to push Moscow, albeit coercively, to secede from Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. Otherwise, it will in turn be a candidate for accountability, sanctions, and blacklisting its companies under Caesar’s law.

Russia's experience in Venezuela is bitter because the US sanctions forced its major oil companies to leave. Thus, Russia lost a strategic location of great importance to it in Latin America, leaving only Cuba. Moscow, which has not been able to help its ally Maduro, like its ally China, does not want to face the fate of being forced to leave Syria as it was forced to leave Venezuela.

Elliot Abrams, the US special envoy in charge of the file of pressure and sanctions on Venezuela, speaking at the recent virtual roundtable session of the Beirut Institute Summit, which hosted him together with Brian Hook, said, "Russia has retreated in Venezuela. And what did Rosneft [Russian state oil firm] do under the pressure of US sanctions? It withdrew immediately. So, Rosneft has no working relationships in Venezuela. And Chinese investments in Venezuela for 2019 and 2020 are zero. So (Venezuela) ended in a small corner with Iran. It is interesting to note that neither Russia nor China are sending fuel [to Venezuela], only Iran."

Abrams' predicted that Iran, in turn, would stop, "and we will see if it has enough tankers to do so," referring to US sanctions on tankers transporting oil, gas and diesel from Iran. Abrams stressed that if it is proven that Turkish businessmen or Turkish politicians are involved in violating the sanctions imposed on Venezuela, "we will put them under sanctions."

Remarkably, Abrams’s comparison was between Nicolas Maduro’s leadership of Venezuela and Bashar al-Assad of Syria in terms of the number of refugees and displaced persons, as he said that “The dictatorship of Maduro created 5 million displaced people, which is a huge burden on Latin America and South America, and in particular the Caribbean, so this is the largest refugee crisis in the history of Latin America. This year, it will be greater than the Syrian refugee crisis, and all this is the result of the actions of men, not caused by an earthquake or a tsunami. It is the outcome of the rulers’ own corruption and brutality. And we say that the solution is simply: those should leave.”

Which will go first? Maduro is more likely, because the situation in Venezuela is very poor and because the US sanctions have already tied Maduro. American policy is based on the fact that the price that Venezuela paid is what Maduro imposed on it, and it is the only way to restore the country from corruption and dictatorship. Assad's fate is slower, and the sanctions on him and his surroundings will not end with the first round or the first wave of names.

Brian Hook confirmed that putting Bashar and the names of Assad on the list proves America’s "seriousness”, saying, "Everyone must understand that if we are ready to put Assad on the list, anyone who has anything to do with these atrocities that he committed should not feel safe." Hook emphasized that "more is coming" with the names of the candidates for sanctions and the black list, not necessarily from Syria alone, but also from Lebanon and others.

The Lebanese used to blame others either on the pretext of implicating them or on the pretext of not saving them while they - most of them - were either in the protection of their sectarian leader, or in a systemic idleness left by the selfishness of "the leader first". If this is their choice, let them stop pretending to be angry and overburdened by the corruption of their leaders, and let the Lebanese themselves review the terrible reality that is the following: The October 17 uprising was wonderful and promised change until the partisans seized it from all sides - those in power and those who dream of power like Communists and leftists in general. The "picnic" of the beautiful revolution ended when the men of the ruling class, who returned without shame - and without a little protest - stormed to the forefront without accountability. The Lebanese, distracted with concerns over money, quickly forgot that their country was on the brink of collapse at the hands of the same men of power who foiled the idea of change, suppressed the revolution, and chucked at the naivety of the Lebanese people, and resumed authoritarianism, looting and implication unabated.

O Lebanese, listen carefully to what Hassan Nasrallah said, so that he does not mislead you. He tells you. His decision is: the Syrian and Lebanese meltdowns go hand in hand, putting Lebanon in the custody of Iran, and waging war with the United States across Lebanon's northern borders. He said that he had "an important and dangerous equation - and I will not talk about it," leaving room for a ‘surprise’ that might be in a similar shape to the ‘surprise’ known from 2006.

Hear well what the Americans say; saving Lebanon is not an American mission, but rather an exclusively Lebanese mission that is called refusal to submit to what Hassan Nasrallah called "the culture, doctrine and strategy of the resistance environment", which clings to arms. So they chose to stop complaining and raise the slogan "There is no trick in hand".
Caesar's law not only threatens prominent figures, but is an American guide to accountability and confronting sanctions and punishment. It would be more beneficial, under the leadership of Hezbollah, to take a page out of the Venezuelan book to realize that the oil-for-gold gymnastics did not and will not save Nicolas Maduro and that this is not the time for gymnastics while Lebanon is plunged into collapse. It is more useful for the three Lebanese presidencies that secure the cover for Hezbollah to realize that they are also candidates for accountability, either under Caesar's law or because of their failure and their partnership in drawing Lebanon into the abyss.

And so that no one in the political class that dominates the whole country thinks that its affiliation with the ruling cartel in Lebanon will protect it from accountability, there is a simple reminder that the Pablo Escobar cartel died a terrible death even while he was convinced that his fate was impunity.

- Originally published by Elaph in Arabic.