Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Unintended Consequences


The Daily Star of Lebanon covers an unintended consequence of Israel's air-and-sea blockade of Lebanon: Sea cargo bound for Lebanese ports is having to be landed in Syria's ports and trucked over the border to Lebanon:

Thousands of shipping containers filled with vital imports have been turned away from Beirut Port by the Israeli blockade, causing commercial cargo bound for Lebanon to flow through Syrian ports. Containers destined for Lebanon have started arriving over the last few weeks at the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartous, where they are being loaded onto trucks and moved to Lebanon on roads bombed by Israel in the recent war, port officials told Reuters.

"We hope the Israeli blockade does not last but the number of containers for Lebanon is bound to rise if it does," said Bassam Fedda, head of traffic at Latakia, Syria's main port. "We have been under instructions from the prime minister to accelerate the clearing of cargo."

Not only does this make everything late, it allows Syrian middlemen to collect both official and unofficial fees for transshipment. This both enriches Damascus and raises the cost of goods—mostly foodstuffs, the Star reports—to the Lebanese consumer.

Back in the days when Syrian troops and intelligence agents more or less ran Lebanon, the country functioned as Syria's unofficial and most up-to-date port. It looks like happy days are here again, at least as long as the Israeli blockade remains in place. Considering the dithering that's going on in EU capitals over troop levels and rules of engagement for the planned multinational force in southern Lebanon, that could be quite awhile. If they were a stock issue, I'd buy futures in Syrian customs agents and trucking companies.

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