Abdel Halim Khaddam’s lectures: Dangerous Friendships

publisher: LEBANON FILES

Publishing date: 2012-05-15


I recently read a book by the former Vice President of Syria, specifically the Deputy of the two former Syrian Presidents, Abdelhalim Khaddam. The book was published by “Dar Al-Shorouk” in 2010 and is titled “The Syrian-Iranian Alliance and the Region.” I did not find anything hindering its distribution within Syria itself or its translation into Persian and distribution in Iran.

The book essentially serves as a documented record of a large number of official session lectures attended by Mr. Khaddam, either as the head of the Syrian delegation or as a participant with Presidents Hafez and Bashar al-Assad. It also includes bilateral sessions where he participated as a Syrian official with other Syrian officials and official figures in the region. Although the book was published after his defection from the regime, it effectively serves as a historical account of some fundamental aspects of the regime’s policies from the regime’s perspective. The lectures are formal, and Khaddam’s explanations are relatively few, serving more as an analysis or justification of the logic of the ruling Syrian leadership at the time, particularly since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Abu Jamal considers this revolution “the most significant event in the second half of the twentieth century, surpassed only by the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

In presenting his material in the book, Khaddam seems to fully embody his old, extensive role as one of the prominent officials of the regime. Throughout most of the lectures, he does not show any negative distance, as if he wanted to present the “atmosphere” in its entirety, just as he did during his tenure as Foreign Minister and later as Vice President. Interestingly, some negative comments appear as if Khaddam suddenly remembered, during writing, the necessities of his new position as a defector after his final departure from Syria to Paris following the events of 2005. However, what stands out is the admiration he expresses throughout the book for Iranian politics after the Islamic Revolution.

What matters is that, as a reader, I benefited from this book in understanding many intricate and important details and exploring further the alliances between Iran and Syria. In this sense, Khaddam’s book does not overturn our knowledge of certain matters – and that was not its intention, as I presume – making it resemble the American “Wikileaks” documents. These documents don’t strategically inform us of unexpected upheavals in the issues they address, but they provide us with a very useful number of “internal” personal, political, and security-related information.

I will highlight examples of information and observations that I consider important and indicative, selecting them based on my discretion rather than their sequential appearance in the book:

¶ Abdelhalim Khaddam reveals that the major conference of the Iraqi opposition held in London shortly before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003, led by the U.S. Army and the international coalition, was sponsored by both Iran and the United States. The Iranian side was represented by a senior intelligence official and a delegation, while the American side was represented by three members of the Central Intelligence Agency. Both delegations oversaw the success of the conference, which resulted in a set of decisions used by the Americans to justify the war.

What does this information mean? It immediately implies that the American-Iranian coordination regarding the future governance formula in Iraq is deeper from the outset than observers on the surface of events might think. Neither the Americans “bluffed” in Iraq, nor did the Iranians merely act as pirates who “stole” the Iraqi situation. Moreover, more than eight years later, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who stands confidently alongside President Barack Obama in front of the White House, is not a coincidence in representing the most stable symbol of the Iranian-American understanding within the Iraqi formula. (Page 368)

Abdelhalim Khaddam reports in a meeting with Sheikh Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was the head of the Shura Council in 1985, that Rafsanjani said to him during the heart of the Iran-Iraq war: “Without a doubt, if Iran wins, your borders with Iraq, Turkey, and Israel will become secure. After Iran’s victory, all its capabilities will be at your disposal, and the equation will change in your favor. Russia will change its treatment towards you because there will be a space from Afghanistan to Lebanon as one piece” (Page 11).

Notice how Rafsanjani, one of the main expressions of the “mind” of Iranian strategy, uses the phrase “from Afghanistan to Lebanon, one space.” It is clear that he means a political and security “one space.”

Abdelhalim Khaddam also conveys an official transcript of a meeting between the late King Fahd bin Abdulaziz and the late Syrian Information Minister Ahmed Iskander on February 7, 1983. The king explains to Minister Iskander, to be relayed to President Hafez al-Assad, the Saudi perspective on how Saddam Hussein is pressuring Gulf countries not only to cut ties with Iran but also to assist Iraq. The king quotes: “Iraqis send their ministers to Gulf countries and ask them not to receive Iranian envoys. This forced us to tell them that you have no right to do so. Gulf countries are small, and most of their inhabitants are Persians or of Persian origin. By what right do you ask them for what you ask…” (Page 78).

¶ Abdelhalim Khaddam writes about a critical phase of misunderstanding between the Syrian leadership and “Hezbollah.” I will convey excerpts from a lengthy report:

“On March 3, 1987, I received the Iranian ambassador in Damascus, who said he requested the meeting to discuss… what happened in Beirut, especially in the area of Fathallah Barracks.”

Khaddam continued, quoting the Iranian ambassador: “Regarding the incident… about the killing of (Syrian security forces) a group of men and women… this incident had a severe impact on officials in Iran… The subsequent events involved the pursuit of bearded individuals, and until yesterday, they were holding and shaving their beards. As for veiled women, they remove their veils… The inspections even reached inspecting the car of the (Iranian) chargé d’affaires in Beirut.”

“After the Iranian ambassador finished his statement, I addressed him, saying: … If the Syrian soldiers surrendered to the armed men of ‘Hezbollah’ and did not respond to the attacks on them, we must imagine what the situation would be in Beirut. As is the case in all armies worldwide, a soldier who drops his weapon will be tried… ‘Hezbollah’ members should realize that they are mobilizing Syrian soldiers against them…

“The ambassador replied: ‘Hezbollah’ has proven more than once that it does not want to engage in internal matters… it wants to fight Israel…

“I responded: In practice, it got involved and kidnapped some Christians in Lebanon, the latest being Jean Obeid…

“The ambassador commented: On the same day – the day when the Minister of Foreign Affairs informed us about the Jean Obeid issue – I went to Beirut, ‘Hezbollah’ has no connection to this matter…

“I asked him: Is Imad Mughniyeh with ‘Hezbollah’ or not?

“The ambassador answered: I have not met him, and I do not know him. According to my information, he is not part of the formations, and he is not from ‘Hezbollah.’

“I told him: I accept your word…” (Pages 64, 68, 70, 71).

Abdelhalim Khaddam recalled the details of the dangerous confrontation that took place in 1987 when Syrian forces returned to Beirut due to the deteriorating security situation in the western part of the Lebanese capital. This was prompted by the abduction of Jean Obeid, a Lebanese politician and ally of the Syrian regime at the time. The Syrian leadership responded firmly to the incident, which ended with his release. The report suggests that Syrian security agencies were accusing the late Imad Mughniyeh of involvement in the abduction.

Many lines included in the book can be revisited. If “Abu Jamal” were to dedicate time to writing his memoirs not for political engagement but for the benefit of sharing his political perspective, we would certainly gain valuable insights. Political memoirs, regardless of the author’s standpoint, are always informative. However, political engagement tends to lose its relevance when one insists on not retiring in a time that has surpassed it in all circumstances, both inside and outside Syria.

Thank you, Mr. Khaddam, for the book, and we look forward to more documents about a region managed by its rulers – including Abdelhalim Khaddam – under the looming danger of its disintegration, which has now reached Syria