I present this background information because it is important to be transparent when it comes to such investigative articles. Before anyone starts bashing the author though, I urge that you take a good look at his comprehensive set of footnotes. In short, if you're going to do the bashing, bash his work, not his background.
Tony, if you're reading this, I don't mean to hijack your entry or piggy back on it. It is just that I read the article, thought it was great and also realized that I had written about the financial impact of Syria's departure from Lebanon on the regime back in July when the border blockade was in full swing. The difference between the two pieces is that whereas Gary's main focus was on the underground economy and corruption at the level of the political elite, my focus was specifically on what I termed the "border mafia" - a much narrower field of vision which could be justified given the nature of developments at the time.
In the interest of complementing Gary's contribution I will paste certain portions of my entry which I thought were the most elucidating:
To the Syrian officer or soldier, the most sought-for posting was at border crossings. If they managed to get posted in one (especially a crossing that experienced considerable traffic), it meant that they were set for life! Only those with enough connections (wasta) however, could pull such a stunt off. Furthermore, the armed forces had institutionalized and strictly enforced short-term rotations, so that as many well-connected servicemen as possible could get a taste of that “border honey” as possible.
How did these state-sponsored border mafias make their money? Well, the list is quite long, and anyone who crosses the border with Syria can easily find out.
1. Passport Control: Put in a dollar or two inside of your passport for “express service.” Otherwise, the questions will go on and on, and five or six other passports will be stamped before yours
2. Car Registration: Every time, you enter or leave Syria, you have to register your car. Again, there’s the option of express service
3. Car Searches: You have two options: 1) comprehensive search 2) half-blind search. I don’t need to mention what the variable here is
4. Customs Laws for Goods: The real money is made when Syrian Customs officers search trucks carrying goods to or through Syria. These guys can make life really difficult for truck drives and transport companies especially because the laws in Syria are not exactly “business friendly”.
5. Smuggling of Goods: I’m not too sure what the scale of these operations is. However, considering the intensity of complaints from Lebanese agriculturalists in recent years, it is most-likely quite considerable. The three partners of these operations are (or were) the Syrian military, the Lebanese military and Arab/Bedouin tribes.
At the time, my analysis focused on looking at the Syrian soldier and officer as Assad's "most important constituents," rather than Syrian merchants who would not have perceived the border blockade economically punishing, in any sense.
But I do know that the regime in
is prohibiting Syrian officers and soldiers from accessing one of their major sources of (outside) revenue available to them. Unless Damascus can come up with an alternative gold mine, it is easy to conclude that such a policy is not sustainable. So my advice to Lebanese authorities is to keep up the pressure by prohibiting the smugglers from running their operations. If the authorities in Damascus won’t feel the pressure from Syrian merchants, then they’ll hear it from their officers pretty soon – a much more powerful constituent! Damascus
Gambill, however, takes the discourse to a whole different level. He focuses on several dimensions of the Syrian regimes financial interests in Lebanon:
- The underworld
- The corrupt dealings of the elite
- Syrian Labor
- Syiran Agriculture