Khaddam: Israel supports President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

publisher: الجزيرة .نت

Publishing date: 2006-06-02



Former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam stated that Israel supports the Assad regime and works to ensure its continuation.

In an exclusive interview with Al-Jazeera Net a few days before the Syrian Opposition Salvation Front’s meeting in London, Khaddam expressed that he doesn’t regret his decision to join the opposition after a long time of working within the regime.

He anticipated a change in the governing system in Syria before the end of the current year. He considered the alliance between Syria and Iran in using the “Southern” cards of Iraq and Lebanon as a fireball dragging the Syrian people into it.

Q: What progress has the opposition achieved since your involvement up to this day?

A: We have made significant progress through the formation of the Syrian Opposition Salvation Front, which includes key forces within the Syrian opposition. This front has managed to express its policies and positions, becoming a serious entity in Syria’s political landscape. In the upcoming Sunday and Monday meetings in London, the front will organize its internal mechanisms to prepare work programs in all areas to achieve its goals – changing Syria and establishing a democratic system in which the people are the source of authority. Syria needs to overcome the harsh phase it is going through, strengthen its national unity, and protect its future.

Q: What do you mean by the suffering?

A: The suffering is coming from all directions. Firstly, there’s suppression and the confiscation of freedoms, with daily security measures sowing fear and suppressing speech in Syria. Secondly, there’s the severe crisis caused by the regime’s wrong and haphazard policies. With over 60% of the Syrian population living below the poverty line, more than 5 million unemployed, rising prices, falling living standards, lower wages, and scarce job opportunities, the suffering is pervasive on an economic level. Additionally, the economic crisis has led to economic stagnation, declining markets, dwindling treasury resources, and the reality that Syria, in three years, will turn into an oil-importing state that currently fuels about half of the state’s budget. When Syria becomes an oil-importing country, the government won’t be able to pay its employees’ salaries. Therefore, the regime’s threat is real and continuing to pose a significant danger to Syria’s future.

Q: Considering the relationship between Damascus and Tehran, don’t you think that the more Tehran’s negotiating position improves, the more Damascus’s ability to resist external pressures increases?

A: Not at all. For us, it’s a matter of national interest regardless of the existence or absence of pressures or the existence of any connection between two issues or any alliance between Bashar al-Assad and Tehran. These matters are not fundamental for us. What’s fundamental is Syria’s future, the suffering of the Syrian people, and Syria’s need to build a new system. The current regime is still using the Cold War mechanisms that existed during the Soviet Union’s era, which used to be a significant and essential support in various fields. This support is gone now, and the regime is facing the new world and Syria’s needs and requirements with mechanisms, ideas, and standards that are not relevant to those needs. As for the improvement of Bashar al-Assad’s ability to face pressures, I don’t think it’s possible because the primary pressure is currently within Syria.

Q: You’re talking about international support cards in the past during the Soviet Union’s existence. This support has ended now, but there are other support cards we call the “Southern” cards, referring to southern Iraq and southern Lebanon. Can Syria, whether independently or in alliance with Iran, utilize them to strengthen its position against external pressures?

A: Absolutely not. This alliance is a fireball that puts Bashar al-Assad’s Syria inside it. The message of such an alliance is that I’m mortgaging Lebanon and tying Syria’s fate to Iran’s decision. This is the most dangerous thing for Syria, as it threatens Syria’s future and security. We should never again play with the fate of others. Lebanon should rest and fully regain its national decision. We shouldn’t allow Lebanon to be hostage to vague and incorrect policies or recklessness. Why do we risk in Lebanon while refusing to take risks on Syrian land? Why use the Lebanese card when the Syrian regime is weak and shaky? Can any country face external requirements and pressures and fulfill national needs by weakening its people, undermining national unity, impoverishing its citizens, and looting its resources? All these factors weaken Syria and its future. So, if Bashar al-Assad adopts this reckless behavior by using the Lebanese or Iraqi card, the consequences will be extremely grave for Syria.



Q: In this context, how do you view and assess the arrest warrants issued by the Syrian authorities against Walid Jumblatt and Marwan Hamadeh?

A: These arrest warrants indicate that the administration in Damascus is a childish one. Firstly, they either don’t understand the international laws regarding Interpol or if they do, it shows their ignorance. If they are basing this on the 1950 judicial agreement between Syria and Lebanon, they should read it carefully. Even if we assume that the agreement is valid, if a citizen of one of these countries commits a crime in their own country against the other country, their own country is responsible for prosecuting them, not the other country. The ruling in Damascus has issued such warrants for media purposes and to intimidate people. This reflects the state of confusion within the ruling administration in Damascus.

Q: Do you think it’s time for Damascus to officially and publicly declare Shebaa Farms as Lebanese territory?

A: This is a natural step. If the administration in Damascus believes that Shebaa Farms are Lebanese, and they are indeed Lebanese, they should help the Lebanese by officially recognizing Shebaa Farms as Lebanese territory and sending a memo to the United Nations declaring that. This would allow Lebanon to work politically towards liberating Shebaa Farms. However, the administration in Damascus wants to keep Lebanon as a card for pressure, believing that they can use it to achieve certain objectives, whether domestically or externally. The administration in Damascus is making a significant national mistake by not officially recognizing the Lebanese ownership of Shebaa Farms. It is indeed Lebanese; it was entered by Syrian forces in 1952 after clashes with Israeli forces. At that time, a number of Syrian and Lebanese Jews fled the area to Palestinian territories. During that period, Lebanese Prime Minister Hussein Oweini protested, but he was told that this issue was connected to the conflict in the region and was thus beyond the scope of the problem. It is in the interest of both Syria and Lebanon that the Syrian government officially recognize the Lebanese ownership of Shebaa Farms.

Q: Don’t you think it’s not in the interest of Lebanon and Syria to dismantle these ties between them in the face of Israel?

A: The real cards that Syria should have are the Syrian cards. You cannot play with other people’s cards, and the card you hold is weak. Bashar al-Assad cannot engage in political, military, economic, or cultural conflict with Israel as long as he weakens the Syrian people and disintegrates national unity in Syria. In the past, Syria played with cards, but its back was protected by the Soviet Union and later by the international balance that existed at the time. Where is the support that protects Syria today? I remember in 1982, during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, we lost 80 planes in one battle. But within a week, the Soviet Union compensated for all our losses back then. Now, there’s no one to compensate. If Syria’s entire national income is $20 billion, an amount less than the Israeli army’s budget, and if the regime in Syria senses the danger, it should focus on building Syria and its economy, liberating it from oppression and tyranny, involving the Syrian people in determining their fate, abandoning the monopoly of power, accepting democracy, granting public freedoms, and repealing all exceptional laws and measures that have led tens of thousands of Syrians into exile.

Q: There was a prevailing sense that the United States warmly welcomed the growth and increasing capabilities of the opposition in the Arab world. However, it seems that the Americans have backed off from this supposed enthusiasm, perhaps out of fear of the alternative that might enter the region into instability, while not disregarding the Israelis who may not want to lose the stability of the prevailing regimes at this time. What do you think about this?

A: Firstly, Israelis support the Bashar al-Assad regime and work to sustain it. Secondly, the Israelis know that Syria is extremely weak, and they want it to remain weak. A strong Syria, with its people holding the reins of their affairs, represents the state of national and Arab resurgence. Opposition in Syria or any other Arab country should not be built based on external considerations but on national needs.

Q: Do you regret your current opposition stance?

A: Khaddam… Not at all. I am extremely relieved because I have lifted a mountain of burdens off my conscience that I bore during my time within the regime. This burden is not new; it dates back to the mid-1970s when the regime began to take the direction of autocracy in decision-making, governance, and dangerous practices in domestic politics. This led to the weakening of Syria and turning the Syrian people into a state of weakness, fear, and anxiety. I am extremely pleased and, in order to erase that period, I have worked and will continue to work with all my capabilities to change the regime and contribute to building a new liberated democratic system where Syrians are the masters, not an individual, a group of individuals, or a family. A system where Syrians are equal in rights and responsibilities. Do you expect this change before the end of the current year? By the grace of God, I hope so.