“Assad’s words about Arab leaders are a high school student’s speech and a farewell message.”

publisher: المستقبل Mustaqbal

Publishing date: 2006-08-28


“Khaddam: The Syrian regime is short-lived and will fall.

Its goal is to drag Lebanon into a sectarian war to bury the international investigation file.”

Former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam emphasized that any Arab war against Israel is “impossible unless there is a partnership between Syria and Egypt,” considering that Israel “has achieved its main goals” from the 43-day war with Hezbollah, which resulted in “the destruction of Lebanon.” He viewed the recent speech by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in front of the Syrian Journalists Union, where he described some Arab leaders as “half men,” as a “high school student’s speech.”

Khaddam revealed that the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad made a decision after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 not to activate the front of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and instead “drain Israel in Lebanon” through supporting the resistance. He stated, “Assad Senior issued instructions to the Syrian security apparatus not to allow any resistance operation from the Syrian Golan Heights area to prevent Israel from responding within Syrian territory, which could destabilize the regime.” He affirmed the “significant concern in Syria that Bashar’s recklessness might lead to a conflict (with Israel) prematurely.”

He called on the Lebanese to preserve their national unity, as it is the “only guarantee for the stability of the Lebanese,” emphasizing the necessity for the Lebanese state to be the “decision-maker and responsible.” He pointed out that the Syrian regime aims to drag Lebanon into a sectarian war to bury the international investigation into the assassination of the late President Rafik Hariri. He revealed that the Syrian President’s anxiety “expresses the feeling of someone who committed the crime and fears its exposure.”

He reminded that the late President, along with President Nabih Berri and the head of the “Democratic Gathering” party, MP Walid Jumblatt, were the ones who toppled the May 17 Agreement. He said, “These are the ones who brought down the mentioned agreement; one of them is a martyr, the other is a potential martyr, and the third (Berri) is marginalized,” announcing that “Berri has received threats from the Syrian security agencies.” He indicated that the Syrian regime’s lifespan is short and it will fall, and that Bashar’s speech is a farewell message.”

“The Conflict with Israel”

Khaddam stated in an interview on the program “Al-Istikhaq” on “Al-Mustaqbal” TV yesterday: “Determining the results of the war cannot be done now because the war has not ended. A war ends with a complete victory for one of the parties or with a peace agreement. We cannot speak of victory or defeat, and this also does not mean that the war will break out in the coming days.”

He added: “The conflict with Israel is not a Lebanese-Israeli matter but is linked to the overall situation in the region, which witnesses conflicting regional and foreign interests. We can say that the Islamic resistance achieved an important accomplishment by preventing the Israeli military machine from destroying it, but Israel, on the other hand, achieved one of its goals which is the destruction of Lebanon, as stated by the Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who said that Lebanon has been set back by 20 years.”

He affirmed that “this attack imposed additional burdens on the Lebanese. The economic loss, which amounted to 15 billion dollars, will be paid by the Lebanese, and the aid will not match the scale of destruction.” He pointed out that “no one can separate the conflict between Lebanon and Israel from the overall crisis in the region.”

He said: “If we consider the statements of Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah that the war was planned, and the statements of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that the war was prepared in advance, we wonder why Israel is preparing for war? There are no wars without a political goal. I do not want to say that the round of events happened due to Iran’s role, participation, or incitement, especially since I heard that Nasrallah said that if he knew the outcomes, he wouldn’t have kidnapped the soldiers. Therefore, political matters are settled by their outcomes,” questioning: “Is the severe crisis in the region heading towards a political solution for the Iranian nuclear issue, or is it taking another path?”

As for whether UN Resolution 1701 provides a real guarantee to prevent a second round, he emphasized that “the guarantee to prevent a second round is the Lebanese national unity and the acceptance of all Lebanese parties that the state is the decision-maker and responsible. If things remain as they are, every fearful or concerned party will transfer the problem to the interior and among the Lebanese, which they managed to avoid during the war.”

He said, “President Hafez al-Assad and President Anwar Sadat practically reached the same conclusion, which is that a conventional war with Israel is not feasible. Consequently, President Sadat opted for negotiation and a peace treaty with Israel. However, President Hafez al-Assad and the leadership in Syria chose a different path, which is to continue escalating political discourse primarily to keep the issue unresolved. Secondly, for internal reasons, as creating an atmosphere of war in the country masks the internal mistakes being committed. Additionally, the regime in Iraq was competing with the regime in Syria, which raised their voices loudly. It became part of daily politics in Syria, and thus the concept of conventional war ended. We came with the evolution of events in Lebanon. Israel entered the picture in Lebanon while we were present there. The conflict between us and Israel started in Lebanon. The military conflict intensified on April 27, 1981, when Israeli aircraft shot down two Syrian helicopters over Mount Lebanon during the siege of Zahle. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, and direct warfare between us and Israel took place on Lebanese territory. We fought in Beirut, in the mountains, and in the Bekaa. We stopped the Israeli advance in Ain Zhalta and Sultan Yacoub in western Bekaa, then a ceasefire was declared. At this point, the Syrian decision made by President Hafez al-Assad aimed to drain Israel in Lebanon. Basically, when the decision was made that a conventional war was no longer feasible due to the circumstances that emerged during the October War, strict instructions were given to the armed forces and military intelligence to prevent any resistance operations in the Golan Heights because Israeli reactions would occur inside Syrian territory rather than in the operational area. Therefore, in 1982, this decision was taken, and we practically began encouraging Lebanese parties to engage in resistance activities.”

He added, “During the war, Iranian forces came to Syria. A portion remained in Syria, and another portion came to Lebanon. At that stage, Hezbollah was born in the atmosphere of the war in Lebanon. Israel withdrew from Beirut and then from the mountains towards the south. In the south, Lebanese parties participated in the resistance, but the primary resistance efforts were carried out by the Amal movement. Later on, Hezbollah entered the scene, and practically, the parties shifted towards political activities in the country, while Hezbollah became the main and essential force that carried out resistance activities. Naturally, Syria and Iran supported Hezbollah to ensure the success of the attrition process. Therefore, the Syrian decision not to engage in warfare operations and also not to allow resistance activities in the Golan Heights, which changed later, after the death of President Hafez al-Assad, took on a security-oriented direction in Lebanon. The aim was, of course, for Lebanon to be part of the political process in the region if negotiations took place.”

He was asked, “Under Syria’s wing?” and he answered, “Naturally, in the 1990s, Nabih Berri requested from Abdullah Al-Amin, who was a minister at the time, to propose sending the Lebanese army to the south. It was brought up in the cabinet, and the council was close to making a decision. One of the ministers contacted Ghazi Kanaan, who informed President Assad. President Assad called me and asked me, ‘What are they doing? They want to send the army to the south?’ At that stage, the Madrid Conference had just begun, and there was an emphasis on maintaining unity in the tracks. Sending the army to the south would mean disrupting the resistance process and consequently hindering the pressure on Israel.”

He believed that “the situation now is different. In the past, internal peace was starting to prevail. The army was reluctantly returning, unable to remove the resistance. Yet, its presence symbolized a factor that couldn’t be disabled. During that period, the resistance also lacked the capabilities it possesses now. I contacted several Lebanese ministers, asked them what was happening, and requested the project to be halted, and it stopped. During that time, the late Rafik Hariri accused him of being behind the decision and launched a campaign against him. In a meeting of the Higher Council, Nabih Berri said to President Hafez, ‘You’ve wronged Rafik. It was I who requested the army’s entry into the south because there was chaos, and the presence of the state is necessary there to control it and safeguard the people’s interests.’ So, the southern issue was also part of the Syrian strategy in pressuring Israel and in obstructing the possibility of the Lebanese government sliding into a peace agreement with Israel, as happened on May 17 back then. Naturally, the Lebanese government complied, and I believe there was no fear for the unity of the tracks. Why isn’t there a fight now? I think Bashar al-Assad fears that the war could escalate and reach Syrian territory.”

Regarding the reason for his apprehension, he said, “The same concerns apply. It’s possible for a war to take place in Lebanon without Syria bearing any military burden. Here, you ask me about the value of the military agreement between Syria and Lebanon within the framework of the Lebanese-Syrian Treaty. It has been proven that the treaty is just ink on paper. Some officials close to Bashar al-Assad used the excuse that what prevents us from intervening is the Separation of Forces Agreement in the Golan Heights, and thus this prevents us from clashing with Israel. Israel violated this agreement when it struck Ain al-Sahab. They said if the Israeli forces approached the Syrian borders, we would enter. Israeli forces are present in Syrian territory in the Golan Heights. In Bashar al-Assad’s speech, he said Israel was defeated in the early days. Well, if it was defeated in the early days, why didn’t they take advantage of this defeat and enter the Golan Heights and liberate it?”

As for whether these are just rhetorical positions, he said, “Any confrontation between any state and another state, the first thing it requires is the stability of the internal situation. A country devastated by corruption and tyranny. A country with a complex and very poor economy. This country cannot bear the burden of war, and there is great concern among the citizens in Syria that Bashar al-Assad’s recklessness might lead to a conflict at an inappropriate time in this stage.”

Assad’s speech

Regarding Assad’s speech, he asked, “Was Assad against the new US project for the Middle East? If so, why did his foreign minister send him to a conference in Bahrain about the new Middle East, attended by the US Secretary of State? Why? I mean, in the Bahrain conference about the new Middle East called for by the US, he is now against it.”

On Assad’s description of Arab leaders as “half-men,” he responded, “Bashar al-Assad lacks a policy and lacks perspective. He is an emotional man with an internal state of turmoil. He wanted to make a revolutionary leap to cover up the existing oppression internally and to address people’s demands to improve their living and economic conditions. He made this leap, what was the speech? It sounded like a high school student’s speech. When he accuses or attacks Arab leaders, he first forgets how Hafez [Assad] came to power.”

He expressed gratitude for the Arab Islamic parties that praised Syria’s stance “because they consider Syria as a people-centered country that serves the interests of the Arab nation. However, considering the current regime as a regime of resistance and steadfastness is either due to ignorance of the actual internal conditions in Syria and the requirements of resistance and steadfastness, or the purpose of this stance is to please one side or another.”

He questioned, “How can there be resistance if the Syrian people consider themselves prisoners? If an intellectual speaks three words, they get imprisoned. If the Syrian people are deprived of their freedom, humiliated, and plundered by the ruling family? This is part of the malfunction in the regime; the head of state is corrupt, and the ruling family is corrupt.”

He emphasized that “the Kurds are part of the Syrian national fabric and partners. They are currently facing isolation, persecution, displacement, and denial of basic rights, leading to the emergence of a Kurdish movement. This regime has created a state of oppression against the Kurds, which has generated reactions.”

He observed that “Bashar committed a grave mistake in his campaign against Arab leaders,” emphasizing that “the conflict with Israel is governed by the logic of solidarity, mutual support, and unity among Arabs, allowing them the opportunity to exert pressure on the international community, in addition to internal trust with the people.” He asked, “If the strategic institutions in the country are forbidden to the majority of Syrians, how can we achieve resistance and counteraction?”

He said, “Assad’s adoption of a confrontational policy with the West is a grave mistake,” questioning, “If he was against America, why did his intelligence cooperate with US intelligence? And why did the brother of the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein surrender to America?”

He considered that “discussing the Iraqi model in Syria is completely irrelevant, because the national fabric in Syria is cohesive and different from Iraq’s, and there is no Syrian who sides with either the opposition or the Assad family except for the narrow group that protects President Assad, which contemplates reaching this conclusion. Furthermore, no one wants to fight and die for a regime they see as corrupt.”

The Syrian opposition’s

He clarified that “the Syrian opposition’s goal is not to dissolve the state, but to change the regime and build a state based on democracy, which means transferring power from the ruling family to the people. This is the real guarantee,” emphasizing that “there is no scenario where the army and security apparatus would be dissolved.”

He pointed out that “our guarantee in Syria is the national spirit present among the Syrians, and there is no fragmentation in Syria’s national fabric that Bashar al-Assad attempted to create.” He noted, “Among the Alawite community, no one is considering engaging in a national conflict for the sake of the Assad family.” He stated, “I challenge anyone to stand up and say that the leadership of the Baath Party makes decisions. It is not the ruler in Syria.”

Regarding the objection of a Lebanese woman to his television interview because it reminded her of the Syrian army’s shelling of homes and neighborhoods, he responded, “I tell this woman that I am ready to host a special program about Lebanon and its issues, its developments, complexities, intersections, and where we made mistakes and where others made mistakes. I have no problem with this topic.”

He stated, “I didn’t represent the decision as a whole; I was part of the decision. There are two types of decisions: political decisions and security decisions. I had a significant role in political decisions, and I can identify where mistakes were made and where the right choices were made. I had no involvement in security decisions, and I mostly learned about their outcomes through the media, Ghazi Kanaan, or on a personal basis. I don’t want to absolve myself because that’s not the focus now.”

He affirmed that he believed in an independent Lebanon, asking, “Why wouldn’t I believe in an independent Lebanon? What is the difference between Lebanon and any other Arab country? This stage is not about achieving unity between Syria and Lebanon at all; this was not in our minds. It could have been unity between Syria and Mauritania before reaching Lebanon, for objective reasons related to Lebanon’s situation and its social composition. Based on my experience and understanding of the Lebanese situation and its details, I say that the relationship between Syria and Lebanon should be transparent and serve their interests. Why shouldn’t there be diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon?”

He believed that the issue of demarcating the borders between Lebanon and Syria “requires political will. Our borders are defined with Jordan and Iraq. The borders between Saudi Arabia and Yemen are drawn despite the disputes that have lasted for more than 100 years. Why can’t they be drawn between Syria and Lebanon? Occupation has no relevance. In practice, border demarcation is a convenient excuse for the continuation of the resistance movement in the south. Shebaa Farms was not initially a target of the resistance. No one spoke about Shebaa Farms; it was only discussed after the Israeli withdrawal. This direction came from Damascus.”

Regarding Assad’s statement about the “March 14” movement being an Israeli product, he stated, “It is clear that the Syrian regime has two objectives. First, to drag Lebanon into internal strife in order to bury the investigation into the assassination of President Rafik Hariri. This is clear. After Hariri’s assassination and the issuance of Resolution 1595, Farouk Sharaa stated that it is not in the interest of the Lebanese to reveal the truth because it would lead to an explosion in Lebanon. He believes that this explosion would provide an opportunity to close the file. The second objective is that he also believes that if an explosion occurs, his allies will be able to tighten control over Lebanon, allowing him to return to Lebanon. The issue is not about interests but about the benefits derived from Lebanon and the corruption that was taking place there. Therefore, he has insulted “Hezbollah” with this statement. Firstly, “Hezbollah” was calling for national unity while he accuses a fundamental faction in Lebanon of being an Israeli product. None of the people in this faction were in the political arena on May 17, 1983.” He affirmed that those who brought down May 17th were “three individuals: number one, Walid Jumblatt; number two, Nabih Berri; and number three, Rafik Hariri. One was killed, and another was placed on the hit list, while the third, Nabih Berri, is marginalized now but still plays a role. I know well how Abu Mustafa from the Syrian security apparatuses was dealt with, just like how President Rafik Hariri was dealt with. Through threats, yes, and he might deny it now, but he knows, and I know.”

International investigation

As for whether the international investigation into the assassination of the late President Rafik Hariri deviated from the official Syrian path and the pillars of the regime, he said, “Bashar al-Assad knows what he did, he knows how the decision was made, how the crime was executed, and who participated in it. His concern reflects the feelings of someone who committed the crime and fears its exposure. There is a difference in the investigative approach between Detlev Mehlis and Serge Brammertz. Brammertz has a different professional approach, and he greatly benefited from Mehlis’s phase, how? Mehlis would make statements, leak information, and launch a political and media campaign accusing the investigation committee of being biased. Brammertz completely avoided this approach. The report he presented to the Security Council is a professional reading, and this report reached Bashar al-Assad, the regime, and the officers.” He affirmed that “any security operation in Syria cannot take place without a decision from the President of the Republic. A thousand kilograms of explosives, can Rustom Ghazaleh take them out of the army’s warehouses? This group that planted, monitored, and executed, can Rustom Ghazaleh bring them? My answer: this is a decision from the head of state. No Syrian citizen is imprisoned without a directive and decision from the head of state, and this applies to Syrian intellectuals and politicians. There are hundreds of people in prisons now. What crime have they committed? What have they done except demanding freedom and democracy? I reiterate to Bashar al-Assad: my conviction is that the investigation will reach him, and he knows this. He shifted directly from a position where he was trying to open a dialogue with the Americans to a position of a revolutionary leader in the region. He believes that if he assumes this role, he will become a victim if accused. He wants to use this role to incite the Arab street to protect him.”

Regarding his opinion on the relationship between Damascus and Tehran, he said, “In the initial stage, there was serious cooperation between Damascus and Tehran against Saddam Hussein, but this relationship did not come at the expense of our Arab relations. Today, the situation is different. Bashar isolated Syria in both Arab and international arenas.” He saw that “while Assad blames Arab governments, Iran is working to improve its relationship with these governments.”

He pointed out that “cooperation occurs between countries with strategies. Iran has a strategy, but Bashar doesn’t have a strategy.” He considered that “Iran controls the Syrian regional role to the least extent.” As for what connects him and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, he answered, “The interest of Syria. In Syria, there is a broad Islamic current, and the Brotherhood is a part of it.” He questioned, “How can we talk about democracy and isolate a political faction in Syria? When you isolate a faction, it pushes them towards extremism. Syria’s interest dictates openness to the Brotherhood as a moderate current. It was a big mistake to label Islamic currents.”

He affirmed that “the Syrian regime will fall, and we continue our work to avoid many negatives. We don’t want to take any step without being sure of its success.” He emphasized that “the lifespan of this regime is short, and Bashar al-Assad’s recent speech was a farewell message.”