Haaretz Exclusive: Syria Documents Show Iran Helping Assad to Sidestep Sanctions

Documents leaked following cyber-attack by hacker group Anonymous, show Tehran has given Assad more than $1b in effort to overcome oil embargo.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Iran has been helping Syria bypass the international sanctions imposed on it for massacring civilians, according to documents from the Syrian president's office obtained by Haaretz.

The documents show that Iran has given the Syrian regime more than $1 billion, which would help it overcome the oil embargo and other moves including restrictions on flights and sanctions against the central bank.

To read the original document in Arabic, click here

The documents were leaked following a cyber-attack by hackers known as Anonymous against the e-mail server of the Syrian president's office. Seventy-eight employees in President Bashar Assad's office had their e-mail hacked. One of these accounts belonged to the minister of presidential affairs, Mansour Azzam; it included two documents signed by him that dealt with relations between Syria and Iran.

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The two documents were authored two months ago and detail discussions by senior Iranian delegations visiting Syria. The documents are written in ambiguous language and only in a number of places do they detail ways Syria would be aided to bypass sanctions. The document repeatedly refers to Syria's wish to "learn from the Iranian experience in this area."

The United States, Turkey, the European Union, the Arab League and other countries have imposed severe sanctions on Syria due to the regime's attacks on civilians. As part of the sanctions, all Arab League members have ceased contact with the Central Bank of Syria, and commercial flights from Arab countries to and from Syria have stopped. The European Union has imposed an oil embargo on Syria.

Around 20 percent of Syria's gross domestic product derives from oil sales, with 90 percent of Syrian oil being exported to the EU.

On December 8, Azzam sent Assad and other senior figures a document entitled "Memo on the visit of the Iranian delegation to Syria." The delegation included 10 senior members of the office of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and representatives of the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian ministries. The delegation met with Syrian Prime Minister Adel Safar, the head of the Syrian central bank, and the ministers of finance, trade and oil.

As a result of the disturbances around the country and the sanctions, the Syrian regime is undergoing an economic crisis. The regime needs revenue, in part to pay the armed forces and the gangs of thugs - the Shabiha - it uses against the demonstrators. It also needs to pay the salaries of the tens of thousands of officials whose loyalty is vital.

According to the document authored by Azzam, the Iranian delegation announced that it has allocated $1 billion so Iran could buy basic supplies from Syria. Most of the items are very basic and include meat, poultry, olive oil and fruit. It is unclear if Iran actually needs these items or if this is a way to pump up the Syrian economy.

In parallel, the Iranians agreed to export to Syria fertilizer and raw materials for the petrochemical industry; it would spread out payments over a long period.

The Iranian delegations also discussed ways the Syrians could bypass the embargo on oil exports. The Iranians, who have large petroleum deposits, promised to examine the purchase of 150,000 barrels of oil from Syria per day for a year "to use it domestically or resell it to others." This way Syria would be able to continue to export oil despite the sanctions.

In return, Iran would supply Syria spare parts for the petroleum industry that are hard to come by due to the sanctions.

The document also shows that the two countries discussed ways to bypass sanctions on flights and air cargo. Turkey, for example, has closed its airspace to aircraft traveling to or from Syria, and most Syrian flights cannot land in most airports in Europe and the Arab world.

One option discussed is the creation of a hub in Iran for Syrian aircraft, bypassing the current hub in the United Arab Emirates. The Iranians also offered to service Syrian Air's planes.

The Iranians also proposed the creation of an air-and-ground corridor for transferring goods to and from Iran. This would be done through Iraq, bypassing Turkey.

As for banking, they discussed setting up a joint bank for transferring money through Russia and China, which are not taking part in the international sanctions against Syria and Iran.

"Iran has promised to relay to Syria its know-how on ways for transferring funds from the country abroad and back, based on the experience Iran has accumulated in this field," it says.

The second document, dated December 14, 2011, states that "the central banks of Syria and Iran agreed to use banks in Russia and China to ease the transfer of funds between the two countries, in view of the current conditions in Syria and Iran."

Read more from this series of Haaretz exclusives:

Haaretz exclusive: The Clinton-Assad meeting that never happened

Haaretz exclusive: Organizer of Gaza flotilla sought assistance from Assad's office

Haaretz exclusive: Bashar Assad emails leaked, tips for ABC interview revealed

Read this article in Hebrew



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