How UK should foil Hizbollah and Syria

By Benjamin Weinthal, August 11, 2011
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The UK is uniquely positioned to lead the EU in severely clamping down on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's blood-soaked campaign against pro-democracy activists.

The pressing question is how, short of military strikes, the UK and Europe can dislodge the regime and end his alliance with Iran's rulers and Hizbollah, while showing solidarity with the Syrian democracy movement.

Sadly, the passivity of the UN echoes the general failure to stop Assad's killing spree. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned Assad that the "world is watching". While Pillay is just watching, her boss, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, articulated a "growing concern" over the "deteriorating" conditions in Syria. Awareness through action has hardly been a UN priority.

But there are forms of action available. Syria's main economic vulnerability is its energy resources. A broad-based, concerted EU effort to slash the consumption of Syrian oil, along with painful sanctions dramatically curtailing the activities of European energy companies in Syria, would deliver a one-two punch to the regime's economic nerve centre.

Take the example of the British-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell. According to the British environmental group PLATFORM, which monitors energy companies, around 17 per cent of Syrian tanks run on fuel derived from Shell's stocks. The UK government should pressure Shell to pull out of Syria altogether.

A Shell spokesman said: "We continue to monitor the situation in Syria closely. We condemn any violence and the human rights abuses it represents and we have deep concern over the loss of life. We comply with all applicable laws, including international sanctions."

Italy and Saudi Arabia have withdrawn their ambassadors. If the UK were to do so a dual message would be sent: Assad has lost his legitimacy and the EU stands behind the Syrian people.

Benjamin Weinthal is a Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

Last updated: 11:19am, August 11 2011