Sara Taha Moughnieh - Eslam al-Rihani
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad reassured in an interview to Al-Manar on Thursday his confidence in victory in the global war waged against his country, pointing out that Hezbollah’s intervention in Al-Qusayr battle was not to defend the Syrian state, but to fight the Israeli enemy and its agents there.
“If we didn’t have the confidence in victory, we wouldn’t have had the ability to remain steadfast and continue in the battle after two years of international and global aggression. It is not a tripartite aggression as it was in 1956, but in fact, it is an international war launched on Syria and on the resistant approach, for this our confidence in victory is definite,” he said.
Assad also stressed that “Syria will remain as it was, and even more than before supportive to the resistance and the resistance fighters in the whole Arab world,” and indicated that Arab people are becoming closer to the choice of resistance against Israel.
In another context, the Syrian president pointed out that there has always been arm deals between Russia and Syria, and neither Zionist PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow, nor the ongoing crisis would affect their implementation, refusing to assure or deny Syria's possession of balance-breaking weapons such as S300 rockets.
Question # 1: We are now in the People's Palace. Two years on the Syrian crisis and the bet was that the president, the regime will be ousted within weeks. How did you frustrate the enemies and opponents' schemes? What is the secret of this steadfastness?
Answer: There is a Syrian side which frustrated the scheme, and there is a side related to the planners who frustrated themselves. They frustrated themselves first by their ignorance of the Syrian situation and not reading the Syrian situation accurately, so they began at first with the revolution's titles. But a revolution needs objective factors, it cannot be introduced with money, so they failed in attaining these circumstances which pave the way for a real revolution.
They moved to posing sectarian concepts and symbols in order to create a rift in the Syrian society. They succeeded in penetrating some of the angles in the Syrian society, and these are present in any society, the angles of ignorance and unawareness. But the outcome was that they failed in creating a real rift. If this actually took place, Syria would have been divided since the beginning.
They used another title which they fell in its trap, it was that what happened was a struggle for staying in office. In reality, it was clear that the case was not related to an office, and that the battle was the battle of a nation not of an office. Nobody fights and gets martyred in order for someone to stay in office.
Question # 2: In the battle of a country Mr. President, the Syrian leadership seems after two years and a half to be advancing on ground, and here lies the question. Why after two years and a half, you chose to shift from the state of defense to the state attack, and don’t you think that you were late in taking the decision of attacking, hence the cost was high like the case in Al-Qusayr?
Answer: In our defense or attack, we did not rely on the military tactic used separately in small battles. We were dealing with the situation, not only through the military aspect, but through several aspects, such as the political and social.
Many Syrians were deceived at the beginning. Many friendly countries did not realize the problem. Internally, it wasn’t possible to act in the same way while there wasn’t consensus about a certain cause. Undoubtedly, development of events helped the Syrians to realize what was taking place, to realize the truth, and this helped the Armed Forces more in performing their duties and achievements. What is taking place today is not a shift from defense to attack, but a shift in the balance of power for the benefit of the Armed Forces.
Question # 3: How did the balance of power shift? Syria is being criticized for resorting to foreign fighters, let's say things as they are, it is blamed for resorting to fighters from Hezbollah. Knowing that in previous interviews, you have said that we are 23 million in Syria and we are not in need of anyone. What is Hezbollah doing in Syria?
Answer: The first reason for the shift in the balance of power is the shift in support. There was support in some regions for the militants, and I assure to you that was not the result of a lack in patriotism, but a lack of awareness.
There are many stories about individuals who submitted to terrorist groups thinking it was a revolution on the negativities. This support shifted and many militants left these groups and went back to their normal lives; this is the basic reason. For me, what is being raised regarding Hezbollah and the participation of foreign fighters is a very big issue, and has several elements. If we wanted to explain it, we have to explain these related elements:
We cannot separate between what was recently raised about Hezbollah from Al-Qusayr battle and from an Israeli attack. Three elements in one case. Let me speak frankly, recently, especially after the last speech for (Hezbollah Secretary General) Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Arab and Western media brought up that Hezbollah fighters were fighting in Syria and defending the Syrian state -- of course in their language they say regime, but we say state, there isn’t a regime.
Let's talk rationally, if Hezbollah wanted to defend Syria or the resistance, it would send a number of fighters. How many would it send? Hundreds, 1000, 2000, we are talking about a battle which includes hundreds of thousands of the Syrian Army, and tens of thousands of terrorists, if not more than 100 thousand, for they are still increasing. This means that sending terrorists from neighboring countries and countries supported from abroad is still taking place. So the number which Hezbollah could send to defend the state in its battle, compared to the number of terrorists and army, and compared to the size of Syria, does not protect a regime or a state.
This is one side. If they said it was defending the state, why today? Why this timing? The battles began after the month of Ramadan in 2011, and escalated until we reached the summer of 2012, and they started the battle of liberating Damascus. They specified a first and second zero hour, and the four officers were assassinated. Many escapes from the Syrian country took place, and many believed that the Syrian regime would fall then, but it didn’t fall. Yet, Hezbollah did not interfere at that time, so why is it interfering today?
There is another important side. Why didn’t we see Hezbollah in Damascus and Aleppo? The largest battles took place in Damascus and Aleppo, not in Al-Qusayr. Al-Qusayr is a small city. Why didn’t we see it in Homs? All this data is inaccurate. Al-Qusayr is strategic. All the borders are strategic for the terrorists. All the borders are used to smuggle terrorists and arms. So all the titles posed about Hezbollah's participation are irrelevant. All the wail and grief we heard on Arab media, in Arab officials' statements, in Western officials' statements, and even (UN Secretary General) Ban Ki-Moon said he was scared of Hezbollah in Al-Qusayr, all this aimed at strangling the resistance. It did not have anything to do with defending the Syrian state, as the progress you mentioned had many achievements in Aleppo, Damascus, Damascus Countryside, and other places, but we did not hear wails then.
Question # 4: Regarding the nature of the battle you are engaged with Hezbollah in Al-Qusayr, you are blamed that these battles aimed at building a safe road which joins the Syrian coast to Damascus, Hence, it is an arrangement, that if division or geographic changes were imposed on the region, there would be a Alawi state. What is the nature of these battles and could you relate them to the struggle with "Israel".
Answer: First, the Lebanese and Syrian coast does not pass through Al-Qusayr from the geographical aspect, so this is irrational. Second, Nobody is engaged in battles in order to reach division. If they wanted division let them go towards division, not engage in battles all around Syria to reach division, but to get to a certain point. The course of the battles does not reveal that there are parts that seek division. On the contrary, these battles are for the sake of preserving Syria's unity, not the opposite.
Third, our ancestors tried this issue with the French when France proposed dividing Syria, but our ancestors were cautious about this. So could we, the grandchildren, be less cautious centuries later?
I reassure that the battle, the developments in Al-Qusayr, and all the wail we hear are related to "Israel". They want to strangle the resistance. This old-new battle takes in each time a different shape. Now, the important thing is not Al-Qusayr as a city, but the borders. They want to strangle the resistance by land and sea, and here lies a question. It is said that the resistance should direct its arms at the enemy, hence at the South. This was said in May,7 when some agents for Israel in Lebanon tried to meddle in the resistance's communication network. They said that the resistance shifted its weapons to the inside. They said the same thing about the Syrian Army. They said that the Syrian Army should fight on the borders with Israel. We clearly said that the army is fighting the enemy wherever he is present. When the enemy is in the North, or comes to the North, we move towards the North or the East or the West. The same applies to the resistance. Why is Hezbollah present on the borders in Lebanon or in Syria? Because the battle is against the Israeli enemy and its agents in Syria or in Lebanon.
Question # 5: Regarding Israel's engagement in the Syrian crisis equation lately through the Israeli raids waged on Damascus suburbs. Israel immediately said it did not want an escalatory war and it did not want to interfere in the Syrian crisis. What does Israel want, and what type of interference in the Syrian equation does it want?
Answer: This assures what I said about an operation related to strangling the resistance primarily. Even the Israeli interference with the terrorists or its support of the terrorists aimed at two things:
First to strangle the resistance, and second to hit the Syrian air defenses. This affirms that Israel has these two goals, and does not care about anything else.
Question # 6: Mr. President, since Israeli's goals are clear, the Syrian leadership and state were blamed for the weak response. Everyone was expecting a Syrian response, but the Syrian government said it retained the right to respond at the right place and time. Why wasn’t the response direct and automatic, and are the leaks of a high-leveled source saying that rockets were directed at the Israeli enemy and any attack will be met with a response without returning to the leadership, enough?
Answer: We informed all the sides that called us, the Arab and Western, mostly Western, that we will respond in case of a second attack. Of course, more than a response and Israeli violation attempts were made, and the response on them came directly, but a temporal response has no value, it would have a political characteristic. If we want to respond to Israel, it should be a strategic response.
Question # 7: How about by opening the Golan front for example?
Answer: The relies first on the public state. Is the public state heading towards resistance or not?
Question # 8: How are things going now in Syria?
Answer: There is clear public pressure towards opening the Golan front for the resistance, in brief. There is even Arab enthusiasm, as Arab delegations have visited us and said: Where does young men register? They want to come and fight Israel. Of course, the resistance operation is not a simple one, it's not just about opening a front geographically. It is an ideological, political, social, and consequently it is a military case.
Question # 9: Mr. President, if we take into consideration the Golan developments from the aspect of targeting military vehicles that crossed the engagement line. Does this mean that we are in front of a change in the rules of the game, the rules of engagement, and if so, what is this equation?
Answer: The real change in the rules of engagement is when there is a public state heading towards resistance. Any change is temporal, unless if there was war. Any response of any kind is moral, or just from the outside, a change in the rules of engagement. But I don’t believe it is so. Real change is when people head towards resistance. This would be the radical and dramatic change.
Question # 10: Don’t you think that these words came late? Why after 40 years of pacification and truce in Golan, there are statements about opening the front, about new equations, and new rules?
Answer: They always talk about Syria opening and closing the front. A state doesn’t found or create a resistance. If the resistance wasn’t spontaneous and public, it is not a resistance and it cannot be created. The state either supports or obstructs, like some Arab countries did. But I believe that the state which stands in the face of the resistance is a reckless state. So the case is not that Syria decided after 40 years to take this path. There is an army which is performing its duty, hence, for me, the moral state among citizens is that there is a side which is performing its duty and working on liberating the land.
If there weren't an army, like the case in Lebanon when the army was divided and the state was divided during civil war, the resistance would have emerged long time ago. In these circumstances, there are several elements that push towards this direction. First, the continuous Israeli attacks, and this is a basic element in creating this desire and motive. Second, the army's engagement with the Armed Forces in several parts of Syria. This creates in many citizens the feeling of duty to move in this direction in order to support the Armed Forces on the path of Golan.
Question # 11: Mr. President, (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu said that Israel will not linger in striking Damascus if balance-breaking weapons were spotted being moved to Hezbollah in Lebanon. If Israel implemented these threats, I want a direct response from you, what will Syria do?
Answer: As I said, we have informed other countries that we will respond to a strike with a strike. Of course, it is hard to specify what type of equipment will be used militarily, this returns to the military leadership. But, we put a number of possibilities, and this depends on the situation during the timing of the strike. What is the situation which allows following a certain method or a certain weapon in a more efficient way than other weapons or methods.
Question # 12: Mr. President, after the last Israeli raid on Damascus, there were talks about S300 weapons, which are balance-breaking weapons, and based on that, Netanyahu visited Moscow. The direct question is: Are these missiles on their way to Damascus? Does Syria own these missiles now?
Answer: We usually don’t announce about military issues, what we receive and what we already have. But for Russia, contracts are not related to the crisis.
We negotiate with them on different types of weapons since years, and Russia is committed with Syria on implementing these contracts. I want to say that neither Netanyahu's visit, nor the crisis itself or its circumstances affected weapons importation. All we agreed on with Russia will be accomplished, and a part of it was completed in the last period. We and the Russians are going on with implementing contracts.
Question # 13: We talked about the Syrian leadership and state's steadfastness, we talked about the progress on ground, about the reinforcement of the alliance between Syria and the resistance. All this is on one front, on the other front there is a diplomatic movement taking place since two years and a half. Before entering the Geneva file and the red lines Syria has imposed. There was a simple proposal by the resigned coalition chief Maath Al-Khatib, saying he allows the Syrian president, along with 500 figures chosen within 20 days to leave the Syrian territories and the crisis would end. Why don’t you respond to this request, and so the crisis would end?
Answer: I have always talked about a basic principle, the presence or absence of the president is related to the Syrian people. Anyone who talks about this issue should state who he represents from the Syrian people. Is he authorized by the Syrian people or not? I didn’t read this initiative. I heard about it on TV, and I was very happy that they gave me 20 days and 500 people, but I'm not sure about his proposal. Is it his or someone else's, I don’t know and I don’t care about names.
Question # 14: Mr. President, he had proposed it and said that 20 days and 500 personalities without guarantees. This means there will be a leave to outside, but we can’t ensure how the judiciary will follow up the case. Anyway Mr. President, thats what takes us to the negotiation section; we are tackling Geneva-2 conference. The Syrian leadership and government have declared the initial approval to participate in the conference. The word negotiation means in the end that we are sitting to a table where the Syrian flag is placed along with the flag of the opposition groups. How would you convince the Syrian people after two and a half years that you are sitting to a negotiation table side by side with those groups?
Answer: First of all, with respect to the flag, I believe that the flag has no sense but to the people it presents. When we place a flag on anywhere on the table, we signify the people related to this flag. We can ask this question to those who want to raise Syrian flags under the sky of Syria other than the Syrian official flag. This flag has no value when it doesn’t represent a people.
On the other hand, we are going to Geneva 2 in an official capacity as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Whom are they representing? When the conference ends, we will return to Syria, to our homes, to our people; but to whom will they return? To the five-star hotels or to the foreign ministers of the states they represent - which is not Syria of course - to submit reports, or to the intelligence agencies of those countries?
Thus when we go to the conference, we must realize that a part of those who will sit to the table, I say "part" because the conference formula hasn’t been made clear yet. What is the position of the national Syrian opposition? What is the position of opposition and other parties located in Syria? There are many other questions. However, the outside opposition you are talking about and about its flag, we know that we are going to negotiate with the states that support it, and not to negotiate with the opposition itself. When we are negotiating with the servant in shape, then we are actually negotiating with the master. This is the truth, and we know it, and we must not hide behind our fingers. This is the truth.
Question # 15: Do you, the Syrian leadership, believe that the negotiation table will be inevitably held and negotiations will kick off next month?
Answer: Yes we believe so, unless other states hinder it. For our part in Syria, we declared two days before that we have agreed - in principle - upon attending ...
Question # 16: This term "in principle", the initial approval, why is there always a backward possibility?
Answer: Because the principle of Geneva 2 is right, but what are its details? Are there any details? Will there be conditions developed prior to the conference for example? If they demand conditions, we may reject them and refuse to participate. Yet; the principle of the conference; i.e. the meeting formula is good one. That’s what we mean by "in principle".
Question # 17: Mr. President, let us move to the conditions developed by the Syrian leadership. What are the conditions of Syria?
Answer: Simply, the only condition is that every single point to be implemented, following any local or outside meeting including the Geneva conference, should be submitted to the will of the Syrian people and to the Syrian popular referendum. This is the only actual condition, anything else is non-valuable. Because of this, we are going while being relieved. We don’t have any loops. They can propose anything, and we can propose anything, but nothing will be implemented without the will of the Syrian people. And since we are legitimately and legally presenting the Syrian people, there is nothing to be afraid of.
Question # 18: Mr. President, let us clarify. There is wide confusion about Geneva 1 and Geneva 2 regarding the transitional phase and the role of the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in this stage. Are you ready to assign all your powers to the transitional government? And how do you understand the term "confusion" if so to speak?
Answer: That is what I elaborated in the initiative we launched in the first month of this year. They say they want a transitional government in which the president has no role. Of course, the president doesn’t head the government. In Syria, we have presidential system, where the president is only interested in the Presidency of the Republic and does not head the cabinet. There is a premier. They demand a government of broad powers. The Syrian constitution grants the cabinet full powers where the President is the General Commander of Army and Armed Forces and the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, while other institutions belong directly to the government.
However, changing the President’s powers is subjected to the constitution. The president cannot abandon his powers. He doesn’t own the constitution. The constitution needs popular referendum. When they want to propose these points, they must be proposed in the conference, and when we agree upon something, in case we agree, we must propose it via a referendum and wait for the view of the Syrian people; then we walk that step. But calling for a constitution amendment in advance, neither the president nor the cabinet can implement it. We are incapable of doing so, and we are not constitutionally authorized to do it.
Question # 19: Mr. President, frankly, all the opposing positions, all your political rivals said that they don’t want any role of Assad in the upcoming stage or in the future of Syria. That’s what Saud Al-Faissal, the Turks, the Qataris and the Syrian opposition said. Will President Assad run for the next 2014 Presidential elections?
Answer: I know that Saud Al-Faisal is specialized in the American affairs and I don’t know whether he knows something about the Syrian affairs. It’s not wrong if he wants to learn them, it’s not wrong. However, regarding the others’ desires, I reiterate that there will be no will but the will of the Syrian people. As for standing for elections, some have suggested that President is preferred not to run for the 2014 elections. I replied that the issue will be determined at that time. It’s still early to tackle it, but when the time comes and I feel the need to stand for the elections, this need will be again identified by my communication with citizens and my consciousness that they hope for this candidacy, I won’t hesitate. Yet, if I feel that the Syrian people don’t hope for it, it is axiomatic that I will not run for elections. They are wasting time through this dialogue.
Question # 20: Mr. President, you pointed at the Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faisal. That led me to wonder about the relation of Syria with the Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, especially if we take into consideration their recent stance in the Arab Ministerial Committee. It was semi-moderate. They didn’t call openly and explicitly for President Assad departure. Do you see any change or support by those countries for the political solution of the Syrian crisis? Is Syria ready to deal again with Arab League noting that the Syrian government has recently demanded an apology from the AL?
Answer: As for the Arab states, we see temporary changes related to the rhetoric and not to the practices. Countries supporting terrorists have not been changed; they are still supporting terrorists at the same level. Turkey has expressed nothing serious also. As for Qatar, it stands on the same side; it stands in the taxpayer position, the bank that offers money for terrorists through which Turkey offers its support. In fact, there isn’t any change. As for the Arab League, we didn’t build hopes on it even in the last decades. We were barely able to succeed in demining in the different meetings held, whether at the Summit or at the foreign ministries levels. Should we expect that it will play any role especially after the latest positions? We are communicating and dealing with everyone. We don’t shut the door. But in fact we must be realistic, we must know that this party is unable to offer anything, especially that the majority of Arab states is dependent and is dictated orders from abroad, some of them stand by our side morally but not in practice and decision. For this reason we don’t build hopes on the Arab League. Let us be clear.
Question # 21: This leads us to wonder that if the Arab atmosphere is like this, amid the developments on ground, the steadfastness, Geneva conference and the negotiation table. It is essential here to ask what will be the repercussions should the political negotiation fails.
Answer: This possibility is very likely. I mean there are countries trying to hinder this meeting basically, and if they weren’t embarrassed they wouldn’t go. They oppose any dialogue outside or inside Syria. Even the Russian party has tempered expectations for this conference through more than statements. Thus we should be also precise in defining this dialogue and its relations with what happens on ground. Most of these powers that run to speak first about what is going on in Syria, have nothing to do with the Syrian domestic affairs or with the terrorists directly. Terrorists are directly related to those countries in specific cases, and in other cases they are gangs afforded money according to the acts of sabotage they carry out. I don’t think the failure of the conference will leave significant changes in the reality inside Syria. Whether with or without holding a conference, those countries will not stop their support and the gangs will not stop vandalism.
Question # 22: Mr. President, Syria events start to move to the neighboring countries; i.e. the Iraqi scene, Reyhanli bomb blasts in Turkey and the situation in Lebanon: we have Tripoli developments, Ersal and Hezbollah participation in Al-Qusayr. How does Syria approach the Lebanese file? And do you believe that self-distancing policy is still valid and acceptable?
Answer: Let us ask questions from the realities in Syria and Lebanon about the self-distancing policy to say whether I am evaluating it as correct or incorrect policy. We ask a simple question. Has Lebanon been able to prevent the Lebanese intervention in Syria? Has Lebanon been able to prevent smuggling terrorists and weapons into Syrian, or to give them the shelter from Syria to Lebanon? No he hasn’t.
In fact, everybody knows that Lebanon has negatively contributed to the Syrian crisis. Has Lebanon been able recently to protect itself from the repercussions of the Syrian crisis in Lebanon, in Tripoli and in rockets started to land on different areas of Beirut and its surrounding? Practically, neither this nor that. On what self-distancing we are talking? Lebanon distancing itself is something and the government distancing itself is something else. When the government distances itself from specific issue that matters for the citizens, affects them and is related to them, then it is distancing itself from the citizens.
I’m not talking to criticize the Lebanese government, I’m talking general principles. I don’t want anyone to say that I am criticizing the Lebanese government. If the Syrian government wants to distance itself from issues that matter for the Syrian public, it will fail when the problem occurs in neighboring country. When fire breaks out in my neighbor’s house, I can’t say that it is out of my business. That fire will move to my house. Thus we don’t believe this is possible realistically.
Question # 23: What do you say to the Resistance lovers? We are celebrating the victory anniversary, amid Sayyed Nasrallah’s promise of victory you are speaking in a self-assured manner. What do you say to the whole of this audience? Are we to get out of this dark tunnel?
Answer: I believe that the greatest victory achieved by the Arab resistances during years and decades is primarily an intellectual victory. Military success wouldn’t be achieved if it weren’t for the success and steadfastness before a campaign of concepts marketing and distortion in this region. In Lebanon, there was a motto of 'Lebanon’s strength lies in its weakness' prior to the civil war, which is similar to say that man is evaluated by his stupidity or that honor is reached through corruption. It is illogic contradiction.
The Resistance’s various victories achieved in more than one turning point came to stress that this motto is untrue. Lebanon’s weakness lies in its weakness and Lebanon’s strength lies in its strength. Lebanon’s strength lies in its Resistance. And Lebanon’s strength lies in those Resistance fighters that I talked about. Today, we need this mentality, this steadfastness and these acts carried out by the fighters in this stage more than any other stage, because the events witnessed by the Arab region within two years - or little more – have dropped the concepts to the extent that some Arabs have forgotten that the enemy is Israel. The hostility turned to be internal, local, sectarian, regional, national, etc.
Today, we are relying upon those fighters to remind the Arab peoples or the Arab people – through their achievements - that our enemy is still in the same place. Moreover, as for my confidence in victory,if we didn’t have confidence in victory, we wouldn’t have had the ability to remain steadfast and continue in the battle after two years of international and global aggression. It is not a tripartite aggression as it was in 1956, but in fact, it is an international war launched on Syria and on the resistant approach, for this our confidence in victory is definite.
And I ensure them that Syria will remain as it was, even more supportive than before to the Resistance and the Resistance fighters in the whole Arab world.
You are welcome. And I want to congratulate Al-Manar TV; this resisting channel in the anniversary of Liberation. I also congratulate the Lebanese people and every resistant in Lebanon. You are welcome.
Interview by Batoul Ayoub Naim