Khaddam to “Al-Siyasah”: Bashar al-Assad committed fatal mistakes, and one of these mistakes is the hostility towards Saudi Arabia and its leadership.

publisher: جريدة السياسة

Publishing date: 2007-08-20


Abdul-Halim Khaddam, former Vice President of Syria, joined those condemning the current Member of Parliament Farouk Al-Sharaa’s attack on Saudi Arabia’s policy. Khaddam affirmed in an interview conducted with him by “Al-Siyasah” at his residence in Paris that one of the fatal mistakes made by Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President, was his hostility towards Saudi Arabia.

Khaddam believed that Al-Sharaa’s statements, which were insulting to Saudi Arabia, aimed to sever Syria’s ties with the Arab system, as Bashar al-Assad had linked Syria to Iran.

In response to a question about the possibility of warmth returning to the relationship between Damascus and Riyadh, Khaddam simply reminded of the Prophetic tradition, “A believer is not bitten from the same hole twice.”

Here are the details of the interview:

Can we consider what Farouk Al-Sharaa announced as slip of the tongue? Are there political missteps?

Farouk Al-Sharaa’s statements to the journalists were directed and not a slip of the tongue. His statements came after a harsh campaign against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by some Lebanese individuals associated with Syrian intelligence. This campaign aims to sever Syria’s ties with the Arab system after Bashar al-Assad linked Syria to Iran.

Saudi Arabia has played two important roles. The first one was brokering the “Mecca Agreement” between the “Fatah” and “Hamas” movements to achieve Palestinian national unity, which undermines Bashar al-Assad’s use of this card in negotiations he hopes to have with the Americans and Israelis. The second role is aimed at preventing the collapse in Lebanon and preserving its unity, stability, and security. This goes against Bashar al-Assad’s policy, as he wants to use Lebanon as leverage in negotiations with the West to hopefully close the file of the international investigation into the assassination of President Rafik Hariri and several other Lebanese leaders. It is naive to claim that Al-Sharaa’s statements were a slip of the tongue.

War is a betrayal of the nation. 

Based on your strong relationship with Saudi Arabia and your recent visit to the country away from the media, how do you view Saudi Arabia’s current stance towards the Syrian regime? Do you believe that the rift between the two parties has become final?

Bashar al-Assad has committed fatal mistakes, and one of these mistakes is his hostility towards Saudi Arabia and its leadership. It is well-known that the Syrian people understand the importance of the relationship between the two countries and the extent of the financial, political, and military support provided by the Kingdom to Syria. Additionally, the fraternal nature of the relationship has allowed hundreds of thousands of Syrians to live and work in the Kingdom.

The mistakes made by Bashar al-Assad have been repeated and interconnected and are part of the regime’s policy, which has eliminated all reasons for the continuation of relations between his regime and the Saudi leadership. However, he has not succeeded in completely severing the ties between the two peoples. As for the possibility of the return of these relations, I must mention the Prophetic tradition, “A believer is not bitten from the same hole twice.”

Is the Syrian regime actually behind the ongoing sabotage operations in Lebanon, including the events in Nahr al-Bared? And is it true that it has prevented and continues to prevent the success of existing initiatives, especially the efforts of Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League?

If we return to Bashar al-Assad’s statements on various occasions, in addition to the statements of his aides, we find that he has clearly stated that Lebanon will explode if the international tribunal is formed. He also informed the Secretary-General of the United Nations that the region will ignite from the Mediterranean Sea to the Caspian Sea if it is established.

Here, the question arises: why did the ministers of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement resign during the discussion of the international tribunal agreement with the United Nations? Why were camps set up in the commercial center of Beirut, disrupting economic life and creating a tense political atmosphere? We must also question where “Fatah al-Islam” obtained such large and diverse quantities of weapons in Nahr al-Bared camp and who provided them.

Can a gang provide such weapons that the Lebanese army has been fighting with for more than three months? I believe it is not difficult to draw conclusions.

Some reports discuss a possible scenario of a Syrian-Israeli war that could lead to peace with Tel Aviv. In your opinion, how accurate is this scenario, and is Syria currently capable of starting a war with Israel?

I don’t believe in the accuracy of reports about possible scenarios for a Syrian-Israeli war. Contemplating such scenarios would be a betrayal of the nation because any ruler who wishes to engage in a war must first gain the trust of the people, and the Syrian people’s trust in the ruling regime is nonexistent.

The regime in Syria is built on three pillars: first, monopolizing power and pursuing a policy of isolation and exclusion, which has led to sectarian and tribal divisions and created problems like the Kurdish issue, ultimately weakening national unity. The second pillar is a policy of repression, curbing freedoms, blackmailing citizens, and subjecting them to the security apparatus, fostering a feeling among Syrians that they live in a prison rather than a homeland. The third pillar is wealth accumulation and impoverishing the citizens to the point where they are preoccupied with securing basic necessities, neglecting the welfare of the nation. This policy has led to widespread poverty, unemployment, rising prices, a decreased standard of living, and even depriving the people of Damascus of access to clean water.

The ruling family and its associates have used corruption and misguided economic practices to amass wealth, while the citizens have been burdened with poverty. Engaging Syria in a war under these conditions would be a betrayal of the nation and would exact a heavy toll on the country. Furthermore, it would not achieve peace because Syria is not in a position to give the Israeli government what it wants, nor is Israel capable of providing what might cover Syria’s needs.

Iran’s Interests

The Taif Agreement, the Mecca Agreement, security understandings with Jordan, promises to Egypt regarding Arab solidarity… How does the Syrian regime handle these positions and others? Is it true that it is now implementing only Iran’s strategy?

Bashar al-Assad has tied his fate to Iran, so any promise he makes outside of this alliance cannot be implemented. He made promises, such as not assassinating President Hariri, and commitments before the Arab summit that he did not fulfill. I believe that all Arab and foreign leaders are aware that any commitment made by Bashar al-Assad holds no value.

Do you expect direct American or Israeli action against the Syrian regime based on the belief that getting rid of it has become a necessity?

I can say clearly that using external military force to change regimes is a double-edged sword, posing risks to those who undertake such actions and those who are targeted by them, as we can see in the case of Iraq. Furthermore, Israel supports the regime for a simple reason: this regime has weakened and impoverished Syria, spread backwardness and corruption, and made the country incapable of defending its rights, interests, and territorial integrity. Does Israel want a better situation than this while it continues to occupy the Golan Heights and is assured of the regime’s weakness and its verbal wars?

Do you believe that the Syrian regime will continue to escalate in Lebanon to the extent of dividing the country?

Yes, Bashar al-Assad will continue his policy towards Lebanon and escalate it. The Lebanese will not enjoy security and stability as long as he remains in power in Syria. It is expected that his allies will intensify their positions and disrupt the presidential elections, causing a power vacuum in Lebanon and resulting in turmoil that robs the Lebanese people of their dream of security, stability, and peace.

Is it true that Syria’s foreign and defense policies are now linked to the decision-making center in Tehran and the plans of the Revolutionary Guard? And how do you view Syria’s purchase of missiles for Iran?

Iran is a major regional power with its own regional interests and strategy. It considers itself the leader of the region and has expressed this sentiment, as President Ahmadinejad stated months ago, saying that the peoples of the region, led by the Iranian nation, are ready to help the United States withdraw from Iraq if it improves its behavior.

Iran’s strategy to defend its interests extends from the Mediterranean Sea to Central Asia. After the revolution, it worked to build pillars of this system using the means available to it. It established Hezbollah in Lebanon and supported it with money and weapons, and it now constitutes an advanced military and political base for Iran in the region. Iran deepened its relations with the Syrian regime, which has become one of its main pillars. While it was building these pillars in Lebanon and Syria, it also supported Islamic parties in Iraq.

Iran succeeded in dealing with the United States and participated in the London conference held in December 2002, the decisions of which provided a political cover for the U.S. war in Iraq. Consequently, Iran used the outcomes of the war to get rid of Saddam Hussein’s regime and put Iraq in a state of disintegration. Its allies took control of the Iraqi state’s institutions and agencies, making it the most influential power in Iraq.

Over the years, Iran succeeded in attracting some Palestinian organizations, including Hamas. Iran has thus established a regional bloc consisting of itself, its allies in Iraq, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Therefore, the Syrian regime has become part of this political, military, and to some extent, economic strategy.

As for Syria’s purchase of missiles for Iran, I do not have information on this matter.

What is your assessment of the results of the visit by Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki to Damascus? Is it true that he delivered a strong security message to the Syrian leadership?

I believe that what the Iraqi Prime Minister carried was a presentation of the security situation in Iraq and the information that the Iraqi authorities have regarding the infiltration of fighters from Syrian territories. In my estimation, the response given by Bashar al-Assad to Maliki was likely similar to the response he gave to President Talabani: an affirmation of support for the political process in Iraq, condemnation of terrorism, and promises that are unlikely to be fulfilled.

You mentioned that change in Syria is imminent. Do you believe it is time for this change to occur, and will it receive popular support?

All the internal conditions are now conducive to change, and there is a high level of tension and anxiety among Syrians. Millions of young people are unemployed, poverty is widespread, prices are soaring, and the standard of living is declining. Meanwhile, wealth is accumulating within the ruling family and its associates through corruption that has exhausted the state and society. Additionally, there is repression, with security agencies exerting pressure and blackmail on the people.

In this atmosphere, the “National Salvation Front” in Syria is working towards transitioning to a new phase of field work and building a civil democratic state where citizens are equal in rights and responsibilities, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or gender. We are confident that the Syrian people are longing for change and to be liberated from a regime that has only brought them poverty, oppression, and an assault on their freedoms, while spreading corruption.

The incidents of arrests by intelligence agencies of Gulf and Kuwaiti citizens in Syria have increased. Are these ordinary events or political messages, and what is their intended purpose?

Incidents of arrests also frequently involve Syrian citizens. This is typical of a regime that disregards human rights.

Is there a possibility of an Iranian-Syrian-Hamas-Hezbollah axis? How can this axis continue?

There is a regional bloc led by Iran that includes the current Syrian regime, Hezbollah, Hamas, and pro-Iranian Islamic parties in Iraq. Iran’s strategy aims to control the region and become the primary partner in dealing with the interests of major world powers. This alliance forms the main defense lines for this strategy in the face of any regional explosion that targets the strategy of this alliance, and it continues to cooperate closely among its parties.