President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview given to Tishreen newspaper on occasion of October Liberation War that the most important thing about October War was the victory of Arab will and mind over the fears and illusions placed in the minds of Arab citizens in the stage following the 1967 war.
President al-Assad said that the Syrian people made the October War with their steadfastness and their embracing the Armed Forces, affirming that the primary and biggest victory today would be to eliminate terrorists, terrorism , terrorist mentality and the plot concocted by some foreign countries and contributed to by other countries in the region with the aim of destroying Syria.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Tishreen: Mr. President, forty years ago Syria fought the October war of liberation. In your view, how does Syria look today? How has the general landscape changed internally and externally?
President Assad: Many things have changed during the past forty years with the changing generations and circumstances. If we were to make a quick and brief comparison between that period and this one, – forty years ago the Arab states were united: culturally, ideologically, morally, politically, militarily and media wise against the Zionist enemy. Today, the Arab states are united, but against Syria.
So, we are talking about two completely different things. At that time, the Syrian and Egyptian armies fought one battle against one enemy – the Israeli enemy. Coincidentally, in the last few weeks the two armies have been fighting against one enemy, but the enemy is no longer Israel. Today, the enemy fighting the Syrian and Egyptian armies is an Arab and Muslim enemy. Forty years ago, treason and collaboration with the enemy were hidden, while today they are openly declared and have become a choice for individuals, governments and for Arab officials: the choice of being a collaborator or not. They are no longer considered as taboos.
I think that the most important aspect though is Arab identity, which was clearer. Today, the Arab identity is torn between two extremes; forty years on, the Arab identity is torn on the one hand between being illogically and unreasonably fascinated by the West and even completely surrendering to it, and between extremism, closure and takfiri ideology on the other. Of course this doesn’t mean that there are no positive aspects. In the last few months we have started to see a state of national awareness in the Arab street as a result of what the Arab world went through during the last decades and as a result of changes related to the current crisis in the region.
Tishreen: Mr. President, the Syrian Arab Army was able to achieve victory in the war of October 1973. Today, it is fighting a different kind of war. Is it possible for us to see a repetition of the October War victory?
President Assad: Like most people, we often talk about victory in the military sense. We often measure victories by the number of meters on the ground that have been won or lost. The October War has often been judged on this basis. In fact the concept of victory is much more comprehensive. The most important aspect in the October War was the triumph of will and the triumph of the Arab mind when it was able to understand where its real interest lies.
The collective mind of the Arab society or the Arab countries was able to put this vision into practical implementation, which in turn led to the October War victory. It was a victory over fear and illusions implanted in the Arab mind in the period following the 1967 war and preceding the 1973 war; the Arab mind defeated that illusion.
Today, if we want to talk about victory, particularly that we are in a different kind of war and face a different kind of enemy, we cannot look at victory in the same way. If we want to talk about victory or work towards achieving it, we should have a more comprehensive vision that goes beyond daily military operations in which the armed forces are making good progress. The question is: do we possess that kind of thought, which enables us to achieve victory? The first step in that direction is for us to know our interests as Syrian citizens and to get united, to distinguish between political differences and differences over the homeland. We began to triumph when we united against the main problem, which is terrorism; part of it comes from inside Syria and the larger part of it is exported to Syria from the outside world. Only then did we start to achieve real success because a unified society is the main factor that enables the armed forces to achieve victory as quickly as possible.
Returning to the question, yes, we can achieve this victory. The first and most important victory today is to get rid of the terrorists, terrorism and terrorist ideology. By doing that, we defeat the plot designed by foreign countries and in which other countries in the region participated in order to destroy Syria. What is more important for us is to believe in this victory, when every one of us believes that we are capable of victory, we will certainly achieve it.
Tishreen: Mr. President, the Syrian people were behind their leadership and their army in the October War, a fact that strengthened the entire national fabric. It seems that some people have changed their choices regarding the enemy, Israel. Have the state, state institutions and civil society failed to play their role? Or is it just the influence of globalization and intensive media wars? Or have they been trapped by a conspiracy that uses freedom and democracy as a ploy?
President Assad: When there is a failure at a national level, the whole country and its citizens are responsible, to varying degrees. Of course, the first to be held responsible for any failure is the government, any government. In the second degree you have existing political parties, then civil society and private organizations, followed by the role of every individual at home and in society. Here we need to ask ourselves: when we have a certain failure, – like a Syrian mercenary, a Syrian extremist, or a Syrian criminal, – are these people the product of the outside world? No, they are produced inside the country. If there have external influences, then these influences have succeeded, because of our internal failings. So, we must hold ourselves collectively responsible for this failure. We need to acknowledge that we have a crisis of morals in Syria.
As for some of the local causes, we have failed to communicate with each other in order to preserve moderate Syrian history in the social, political and religious sense. This has been Syria’s history for centuries, so how can we lose it in a few years or a few decades? This means that we have not been able to preserve this heritage which we have inherited generation after generation for a very long period of time; this is our responsibility. Part of the problem is lack of communication with the new generation, the increasing pressures of living conditions, consumerism and too many temptations. We also have external influencing factors such as satellite TV stations contributing to the education of the young generation and social media and the Internet, which have been more influential than the government, other institutions or even individuals.
In other words, yes we are partly responsible for this moral degradation, which was one of the main reasons for this crisis. Had we been seriously aware of the dangers, of the requirements of modern life and technologies and their negative impact on the new generation, we would have been able to avoid the crisis completely or reduce its impact on the country.
Nevertheless, this experience has been tough but maybe it is necessary for the Syrian society. Perhaps, if it came later its consequences would have been worse. What’s important now, since we cannot turn the clock back, is to learn from what happened and ask ourselves why it happened. If there are things that we failed to address previously, we should start to address them even before the end of the crisis because this is a region of crises throughout history; and if we overcome this crisis without learning from its lessons, future crises will be devastating.
Tishreen: Mr. President, have you bargained on a peaceful solution for the Syrian crisis in return for handing over the chemical weapons? What is your view of what is being said about the initiative being in response to American threats?
President Assad: To start with, Syrian chemical weapons were first produced in the 1980s in order to bridge the technical gap in the conventional weapons between Syria and Israel. It is not widely known, but Syria stopped producing these weapons in the second half of the 1990s, because by that time significant parts of the gap had been bridged, despite Israel’s continuous military progress as a result of American support.
At the beginning of the third millennium, Syria was still making significant and accelerated progress in the field of conventional weapons and we no longer needed these (chemical) weapons. It’s for this reason that we proposed to the UN Security Council in 2003 to free the Middle East of WMDs. It was the US that obstructed this proposal because it did not want to embarrass Israel with such agreements, since the proposal applied to all countries in the region, including Israel. Of course the proposal did not succeed.
Today, I think the chemical weapons issue is not clear for many people. Some feel relieved because this card has been used in order to avoid a crazy American war against Syria, which would have consequently destroyed the region. Those who perceive that by abandoning our chemical weapons and signing the chemical weapons convention we have protected Syria from war are naïve because the US – with its history of aggression and destruction for decades, particularly after World War II – does not need pretexts. It can create new ones every day, and if it loses one pretext, it will look for another in different areas.
We need to look at this issue in a more comprehensive framework, particularly in light of the changes that have started to evolve on the international political arena. Syria’s use of this card is in line with strengthening this new political landscape that serves and protects Syria directly. Here, I am referring to the Russian role, which started to emerge and become stronger during the Syrian crisis. As we noticed during the G20 summit, Russia entered the summit – as some in the West assume – lonely and isolated, but it emerged supported by the majority of these countries. The US was left isolated on the backdrop of the Russian initiative, which was made in the summit but not declared at the time. In fact, this initiative was put forward by Russia and agreed between Syria and Russia, to be announced later. For us, the environment that prevented us in 2003 from proposing the idea of removing all chemical weapons was now possible due to the Russian initiative; but the objectives and conditions were different. Consequently, using this card in order to strengthen the role of the Russians, the Chinese and other countries supporting Syria, strengthens the Syrian position in facing this crisis. In other words, Syria’s endorsement of this initiative has nothing to do with the American threats, because those threats were not practically related to abandoning chemical weapons. They came under the title of preventing Syria from using the weapons again.
In fact the initiative came as a surprise to the Americans. The proof being that John Kerry later proposed, on the background of the initiative being made in the G20 summit, handing over the Syrian chemical weapons within one week. He did not expect Syria to respond, and was surprised when the response came within hours when the Syrian foreign minister was in Russia. No state can determine such an important subject in one hour, particularly that the political team was in Moscow and not in Damascus; this shows that the whole issue was already prepared. It was not proposed by the US and it was not a concession to an American demand because the demand was not there to start with. This is the important point. It was a preemptive initiative in order to avoid war on Syria and the whole region. But more importantly, it helps having an international political map in the service of Syrian interests and stability in the region.
Tishreen: Mr. President, how can you assure the Syrian street that handing over these chemical weapons does not deprive the Syrian Arab Army from its ability to deter Israel? Has Syria received guarantees in this regard, if Israel launched an aggression after we hand over our chemical weapons?
President Assad: WMDs have not been used previously in Arab-Israeli wars; many say they are suicidal weapons. There is no doubt that the countries which can make significant leaps in conventional weapons have the better and more effective option, because it is the available option and can be used normally in any war. Now we are talking from a military perspective. All these conditions made us think in this way and to articulate that through the Russian initiative.
Our military strength as a state lies in the conventional side. What’s more important, if we go back to the beginning of the crisis and its context, we will remember that the Russian and Chinese used their veto three times against the resolutions prepared by western countries, particularly the US, France and UK, with support from Arab countries. If those vetoes were not used and if the Russian and Chinese positions were not tough at the Security Council and other international gatherings, Syria’s position would have been much more dangerous today. It would have meant an air embargo, an aggression against Syria launched by a number of countries, destruction and devastation on a much wider scale than the American threat. When we look at the Russian initiative of abandoning the chemical weapons in this framework, it becomes clear that Syria is already protected, but there is no doubt that responding to the Russian initiative will certainly strengthen the Russian position, and consequently provide more protection to Syria directly on the international level. Russian officials, led by President Putin, have stressed that Russia will continue to support Syria militarily and is committed to implementing all the contracts which enable it to defend its land.
This is part of the guarantees. Of course we cannot announce everything now, because it does not only concern us in Syria, but concerns the role of another country, which is Russia. We can say in general terms that we can be more reassured now, more than before the Russian initiative. But I want to stress one point: the real weapon of mass destruction that have been used against us, and which we should think of deterring, is the weapon of extremism that has entered the country and is destroying it. This weapon today is more dangerous than any other. Some countries, including Israel, are using it against us, and we should focus on it. We face a number of dangers and we need to think of finding the right deterrents, most importantly how to face terrorism. This is our priority at this stage.
Tishreen: A number of dates have been set for Geneva 2, but we never heard once that Syria has set a date. When, do you think, Geneva 2 could be held, and what are Syria’s conditions?
President Assad: The dates proposed in the past were all virtual and often set by the media. Practically, there is no specific date proposed by any country, for several reasons. First, the American administration has been unable achieve significant victories on the ground in Syria, which it thought was necessary going into Geneva 2 in order to force the Syrian state to make concessions to the groups affiliated to the US, the West, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Second, they have not been able to unite the opposition, which was torn from one division to another and further fragmentation. Third, they have not been able to build a popular base on the ground for these groups.
These are the reasons that led the Americans to procrastinate concerning the holding of Geneva 2. I believe that they will continue procrastinating and that’s why in Syria we have said that every day is suitable for holding the Geneva conference. Syria has always been ready since the issue was proposed and we agreed to it. But now the ball is in the US court and its client states in the region.
Tishreen: Are there any conditions?
President Assad: We have no conditions except that we will not negotiate with terrorists, armed groups must lay down their weapons and no party should be calling for foreign intervention. The basic condition is that the solution will be Syrian and the dialogue should be political. Otherwise, if the dialogue is conducted with weapons, why should we go to Geneva?
Tishreen: Mr. President, the Syrian street is increasingly suffering from the lack of security and safety, in addition to organized international terrorism and the increasing number of gangs robbing and kidnapping people. People feel an urgent need to live in safety. Are there radical solutions for these worrying problems particularly that the war against terrorism can go on for years?
President Assad: Of course, the solution cannot be anything but radical. There cannot be a partial solution. A partial solution is like no solution at all. This condition you are referring to, was a source of concern for us at the beginning of the crisis when we warned that what was happening had nothing to do with peaceful demonstrations, reform or democracy. Many people inside and outside Syria did not believe that. Now everybody, with no exception, is concerned, regardless of their political affiliation. Even those who provided an incubator to the terrorists and the armed groups, and before them to the anarchists and saboteurs, before terrorism took its stark shape, know this. Even these people have started to complain and look for a solution. Of course, better late than never; the solution, no matter how late, cannot be impossible, but it will be more difficult and more costly.
Anyway, we have only two options: first, to surrender to terrorists, and we have all seen the consequences in Libya, what they have done in Egypt, what’s happening in Turkey in areas where terrorists have spread, in Lebanon and in different parts of the Arab world. Consequently, this option is unacceptable. The second option is to defend our homeland, Syria. But this requires, as I said at the beginning, that we are united regardless of our political differences and to agree immediately on who our enemy is.
The enemy at this stage is terrorism. No matter how much we talk about political dialogue, about Geneva 2, about a dialogue inside or outside of Syria and all this nice talk, if we do not fight terrorism, we are deceiving ourselves. Fighting terrorism is the priority now. We must get united around this issue first. Second, we need to stop depending on others and take responsibility; there are groups in Syria that have now started to understand the situation and there are others that saw things clearly from the beginning, however, both of these groups are relying on others for solutions. If each of us is going to rely on the other, we will not achieve anything on the ground, and there will be no solution anytime soon and the crisis will last for a long time. And the more it lasts, the more difficult the solution becomes.
Tishreen: Do you think that the international community’s movement towards a political solution might have a positive impact on the internal situation in Syria in terms of how the West translates it into lifting international sanction against Syria?
President Assad: I do not believe the West has abandoned its colonialist mentality. It still adopts hegemonic policies. But the West cannot blockade us if we don’t look at it as the only international option for us politically, economically and in other areas. For more than ten years, the West has not been our only option, but we have not moved seriously in the other directions, i.e. building relations and strengthening interests with other countries of the world, although we discussed the option of going East in 2005.
Now this Western blockade will help us open ourselves up to other available options, and I believe that these options meet most of the basic and non-basic needs of the Syrians and of the other nations that the West might try to dominate. The Western embargo will not pose a difficult problem if we are able to build better relations with other countries of the world, especially since what they refer to as the international community that is enforcing this embargo against us, constitutes a minority and is no longer a majority. Most countries of the world today know what is happening in Syria, and they support Syria regarding the solution, especially when the solution is political and through the Geneva 2 conference.
Tishreen: What is the actual role of the West in this political solution?
President Assad: If the West wanted to, it is capable of helping with the solution. But this should start with stopping support to terrorist groups in Syria, whether they are inside Syria or those which are continuously coming from outside, it should include stopping the supply of weapons and political, financial and media support. Of course, the West might not necessarily be doing these things directly, but rather using its tools in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey. If there is a political solution based on this idea, then we can say that there might be a quick political solution to the Syrian crisis.
Tishreen: In light of an explicit or implicit Russian-American agreement – if we can call it that – what is the role of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, the triangle of conspiracy against Syria?
President Assad: It is well known that these countries follow the American agenda. If you want to know where they are heading, you need to look at the American policy. They move in the same direction. This is a given. Today, we basically have Saudi Arabia and Turkey, after Qatar abandoned its role to Saudi Arabia. So, in order to find the answer we need to look at the American policy. Is America genuine concerning the Russian-American agreement? Is it playing for time? Or does it have another hidden agenda?
Based on our experience, the Americans cannot be trusted. America’s closest allies cannot provide guarantees on anything it announces. American history shows that it is never committed to anything it says. It can say something in the morning and do the opposite in the evening. So, I think that the US is not genuine concerning the agreement with Russia. This agreement has not been reflected so far at least on the performance of these countries. Saudi Arabia is still sending terrorists and supporting them with money and weapons, and Turkey is still providing them with logistical support and facilitating their movement and their entry into Syria.
Tishreen: On October 6, 2013, what do you say to the Syrian people, to the Syrian Arab Army and to Tishreen Newspaper, which was one of the fruits of the victory of the October War of liberation?
President Assad: The Syrian people made the October War with their steadfastness and by embracing the armed forces. This people are thousands of years old and have experienced natural disasters, wars, massacres and genocides. Nevertheless, they remained strong and steadfast, and Syria, particularly Damascus and Aleppo, have continued to exist throughout history while other civilizations, cities and capitals have disappeared. This is not the first crisis and it might not be the last in the short term and for future generations. Despite its severity, this crisis should not frighten us or make us lose hope. We need to learn the lessons from this crisis in order to be stronger for future ones. If we assume that this region is characterized by crises, and that they will always visit us in different shapes and forms, we need to learn from every crisis to be stronger in facing the next one.
It is the Syrian people that embraced the armed forces, and if we read Syria’s history since independence, we find that they made Syria’s history whether militarily or politically through the unity with Egypt, when a military delegation went to Egypt and met Abdul-Nasser. They confronted the Muslim Brotherhood, contributed to uniting Lebanon, waged the October War of liberation and they are still making Syria’s history. Today, the Syrian people still look at the armed forces in the same way they looked at them throughout post-independence history. They hope that they will be able to defeat the terrorists and restore safety and stability to Syria. We have full confidence in our history, in God, in our homeland. We have faith that we will triumph with the steadfastness and intelligence of the Syrian people and the valour of our armed forces.
I want to end with a message to you in Tishreen newspaper, since we are conducting this interview on this occasion and your newspaper carries its name that is dear to the hearts of Syrians. When we say that Syria is in a state of war, it does not mean that only soldiers fight this war. It is fought by every Syrian citizen, each from his or her position. When teachers go to school, they are fighting. When students go to school, they and their parents are fighting. This is part of the war and part of defending Syria. When workers, employees and self-employed people go to work, this is also part of the battle. This is what you are doing as journalists standing in the first line because you have been threatened from the very beginning that you will pay for your patriotic stance. I hope you will continue to carry this message to your readers and express the essence of the October War, which is the steadfastness of the people, the valour of the army and the will to triumph. On this occasion, which also coincides with the anniversary of the creation of your newspaper in 1975 I would like to send my best regards to all the staff at Tishreen newspaper and wish them all the best.