July 23, 2001 No.

An Interview with Bashar Al-Assad

Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, was interviewed by the pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper, Al-Safir. President Al-Assad discussed the possibility of a Syrian-Israeli war and the decision-making process in Syria. Following are excerpts from the interview [1]:

Bashar's 'Philosophy' of Decision-Making
"In the last few years of the president and father [Hafez Assad], I was very close to the center of decision-making, and I participated in the formulating and of the decisions. I am not a stranger to the political life and the heavy burdens on the shoulders of the Syrian leadership. I know my country well, I understand its problems, and appreciate its people's aspirations. Furthermore, I share them. Therefore, I am not embarrassed by the burden of responsibility of the decision-making. I know the difference [between my position in the past and my position today] and I can define it specifically: In the past, I had an opinion, while today I am in the position of making decisions."

"However, I believe the basis [for decision-making] is an accurate analysis of the reality, since when the analysis is correct, the decision is, necessarily, correct. Hence, all my attention is directed at analyzing the reality, which includes different and complicated variables, both in the domestic front and in the relations with Arab and foreign countries. Since I invest efforts in learning the variables, - my analysis would be correct and objective. I feel very much assured that my decision is correct. This is how I am encouraged to deal with the complex problems, through my understanding of the reality, which is based on analyzing its complex variables. The analysis is the basis [for decision-making]."

"Often, some people astonish me when they refrain from conducting an analysis and tend to improvise positions that are, usually, verbal and sentimental, are not based on the developments, and do not solve the problems. The decision is the result. As much as the analysis is correct, so will the decision be correct."

"I began reading newspapers, on and off, in 1974. Since 1978, I make sure to read various Arab newspapers, and especially Lebanese, in addition to the Syrian newspapers. I have established an opinion regarding all of the columnists and journalists through their articles and columns."

"I am amazed by the insistence of those who are influenced by what is going on in the Western society, and especially American society, that the press is 'the fourth governing authority.' How can the press be a fourth governing branch in our backward third world, where the leader does not share the rule with others?! This issue can cause, sometimes, damage."

"Each society has its own characteristics and circumstances. The press in our country reflects the existing backwardness, even if it tries to fulfill a certain duty and influence the shaping of the future. However, this does not only depend on its ambitions, but also on the situation of the society, which sends us back to the importance of analysis."

What's Important and What's Not in International Relations
"It is important to gain respect, rather than sympathy. It is important to go with [firm] opinions and decisions, and while having doubts and hesitations, seek decision making. We are not looking to be appended [to anybody], nor do we ask for aid. We look for partnership in interests that will be useful for both sides. We have resources, land, manpower, and resolution. They have money, expertise, and the need for [new] markets. This analysis leads to a correct result and a correct decision."

War With Israel is Possible

Its Ending is In Our Hands
"Israel owns elements of power that may tempt her, under the rule of a man infatuated with war, such as Ariel Sharon, to launch an adventure and start a wide war. Sharon knows only the language of strength. But war of this kind will not solve any of the reasons for the crisis. It will not solve nor will it end, the problem of the Palestinian people and its rights on its land and self determination on it. It will not bring an overall victory that will lead to absolute sovereignty that will assure the sovereignty of Israeli peace. Israel may control the beginning of the war, but there is no way it can control the war's ending or its results. The Arab side, and we are its forerunner, controls the decision to end the war, when and how it will be ended."

"We know Israel has superiority over us in some military aspects, but steadfastness is a decision that exists, as it always existed. In addition, we will not be satisfied with receiving blows submissively, and then, accepting the terms of the Israeli peace. We know Israel has abandoned the idea of military invasion by [ground] forces, and it uses now a method of comprehensive destruction of its enemies infrastructure using airplanes, or from a distance far enough to avoid the casualties of a direct confrontation. However, many variables have changed as a result of the heroic Resistance in South Lebanon and the blessed Intifada in Palestine. Yesterday's situation is not today's and I do not believe any clever official in the Zionist entity can ignore the essential developments that have taken place in the methods of confrontation, the most prominent of which is the ability to transfer the battle into the enemy's territories."

"As for us, our decision is clear: We will be steadfast and respond to the aggression, even if we evaluate that the enemy would destroy a great deal of our infrastructure. In essence, we are poor and can tolerate more than expected, and rebuild what has been destroyed. Also, we can cause great damage to the enemy."

'…Some Tried to Test Me in Lebanon... But I Was Raised in Hafez Al-Assad's Home…'
"I know that many countries and [political] circles wanted to test me and discover the points of strength and weakness in my personality. I know some in Lebanon have assumed that the departure of Hafez Al-Assad, with his historic personality, his special ability and his influence, would leave a great vacuum. Maybe some of them wanted to test me. I felt this in some countries and in some political leaderships, and especially in Lebanon. However, I believe everybody has realized by now that I do not surrender to blackmail and I will not make any decision under pressure. I adhere to the principles I was raised on in the home of Hafez Al-Assad, which reflect the will of the people in Syria. Moreover, I feel committed to these principles..."

"Syria's interest is to carry out the Taif Accord wholly and accurately, first all that relates to the new military redeployment, and then the elimination of political ethnicity. The fulfillment of the Taif Accord will provide us military and security tranquility in a way that will take us out of the petty Lebanese conflicts, and give us an opportunity to reorganize our army so it would be compatible with our national missions. In addition, distancing ourselves from the ethnic cycle is a natural thing for a secular state, like Syria. However, our fears for Lebanon and for the Lebanese people lead us to agree to what they agree among themselves."

[1] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 16, 2001. The subtitles are by the translator.