Skip to content
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Bashar el-Assad Seeks to End the Isolation of the Syrian Regime

Filed under: Syria

Bashar el-Assad Seeks to End the Isolation of the Syrian Regime
President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma al-Assad, visited injured victims of the earthquake in Aleppo. (SANA, Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • The recent earthquakes in Syria revealed how isolated the Syrian regime is from an Arab and international perspective.
  • President Bashar Assad is desperately trying to take advantage of the terrible disaster and bring about the lifting of the heavy sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union on his regime.
  • Aid that arrived in Damascus in recent days from several Arab and European countries was taken by the regime and transported to markets for sale.

Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife Asma lowered their media profile when news of the great earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria was known. They completely disappeared from the media scene, even though Asma Assad controls the humanitarian organizations in Syria.

Four days after the earthquake, following criticism on the Syrian street, President Assad and his wife went to visit the city of Aleppo, which was hit by the earthquake, and visited people who were injured in local hospitals in Latakia and Aleppo.

The Syrian president refrained from declaring a state of emergency in Syria or declaring it a disaster-stricken area and did not even declare a national day of mourning for the thousands of Syrian victims killed in the earthquake.

It seems that President Assad, who had massacred hundreds of thousands of Syria’s Sunni Muslims during the civil war, was not shaken by the approximately 4,000 additional Syrians who were killed during the earthquake. He seeks to take advantage of the disaster to receive international aid, despite the heavy sanctions imposed by Western countries on his regime, and he is trying to gain international sympathy that will lead to the complete removal of the sanctions on Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken revealed that several Western countries offered aid but Syria rejected it. Assad’s government set a condition that any aid to the Syrian people would go through the Syrian government, including aid to earthquake victims in areas not under the control of the Assad regime. On February 10, 2023, Deutsche Welle reported that Assad, “in a surprise move,” would agree to permit aid to flow to regions not under state control, which would mean through rebel-controlled and Kurdish areas.1

The Biden administration is being very careful and insists on sending the aid directly to those who need it in Syria and not through the corrupt regime of Bashar Assad.

Syrian Social Media Documents Theft of Aid

Residents of Syria report that foreign assistance to earthquake victims from Arab and European countries is being hijacked from the airports by government agents, and, in some cases, is being sold on street corners. Twitter Hashtag “#Assad_Loots_Aid” presented reports of piles of food basics marked “not for resale” or meat donated by the United Arab Emirates for sale on the streets, far away from devastated regions.

Emergency food aid is sold on the streets far away from the stricken regions
Emergency food aid is sold on the streets far away from the stricken regions. (Twitter)

Residents in Syria reported that aid arrived directly in Damascus in recent days from several Arab and European countries and was taken from the airport by the regime’s agents and transported through mafia organizations linked to the regime to markets for sale.

The official Syrian media accused the international community of preventing the legitimate Syrian government from treating the victims of the earthquake because of the sanctions it imposed on the regime. Syrian personalities and artists launched a campaign on social media calling for the lifting of sanctions on Syria. The Syrian regime also used the same method during the 2020 Corona epidemic.

According to Syrian sources, President Assad claimed that the United States is exerting pressure on Arab countries and the European Union not to transfer aid to the victims of the earthquake in Syria for fear that the aid will reach the regime and strengthen it.

Assad is looking for international legitimacy and claims that the American and European sanctions paralyze the regime and do not allow it to effectively treat the victims of the disaster, which is why their treatment is so slow.

However, the U.S. Treasury Department issued on February 10, 2023, a six-month sanctions exemption to provide humanitarian aid to Syria despite the sanctions imposed on it.2

Before the earthquake, UN reports stated that 90 percent of Syrians live beneath the poverty line,3 needing economic, medical, and humanitarian aid. Approximately 12.4 million people – about 60% of Syria’s population – suffer from food insecurity,4 made worse by grain shortages because of the war in Ukraine. Syrians live in a state of horrible poverty and a shortage of medicine.

Some four million people rely on aid5 that cannot enter the earthquake area because of the closing of entry routes due to physical damage or political obstinacy.

Sanctions vs. the Narco-State

Syria lives under a strict regime of sanctions, and the regime has developed a dangerous economic alternative of large-scale smuggling and drug trafficking, especially of the Captagon stimulant. General Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother and commander of the Fourth Division of the Syrian army, is considered the largest drug dealer in Syria,6 with Captagon now Syria’s largest export.

Drugs captured from smugglers entering Jordan from Syria.
Drugs captured from smugglers entering Jordan from Syria. In May 2022, in a clash at the Syrian-Jordanian border, the Jordanian army seized 637,000 Captagon amphetamine tablets, 39,600 opioid Tramadol pills, and 181 sheets of hashish, along with weapons. (Jordanian Armed Forces)7

The Syrian regime does not control the areas of the Idlib and Aleppo governorates

which are the main areas affected by the earthquake. Some Muslim countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iran, and some European countries have already transferred aid to Syria, but it is not clear if it will reach those who need it.

The earthquake in Turkey and Syria revealed how isolated the Syrian regime is from an Arab and international point of view. President Assad is desperately trying to take advantage of the terrible disaster after he expelled about five million Syrian citizens during the civil war. The earthquake created the possibility of politicizing the disaster and the opportunity for manipulation so that the Assad regime will survive financially.

The United States and the European Union countries are doing everything so that aid reaches those in need, but Bashar Assad and the corrupt gang surrounding him are the ones who control the country.

This is one of the greatest tragedies of the Syrian people. The real danger to the citizens of Syria is not the earthquake that claimed the lives of several thousand people; the far greater danger is the continuation of Bashar Assad’s rule.

* * *