Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, granted an interview to the pro-Syrian daily Al-Safir (Lebanon). The interviewer was the editor Talal Salman. The following are excerpts:
'Israel Will Not Be a Legitimate State Even If Peace Is Accomplished'
Assad: "…They [the Americans] removed their masks and said that they wanted oil and that they wanted to re-draw the map of the region in accordance with the Israeli interests. Israel has a vested interest in dividing Iraq into small ethnic, national and ethnic mini-countries, so that Israel could enjoy legitimacy. There are countries in the Middle East with diverse nationalities, but they have social and historic cohesiveness. Despite the ethnic diversity within each nation, the social fabric of the region by and large is one. On the other hand, the [social] structure in Israel is an anomaly. It is a country with one characteristic, which is a religious characteristic. Its democracy stems from this characteristic. It is not a democracy based on the state's boundaries. Therefore, it is inconceivable that Israel will become a legitimate state even if the peace process is implemented, because its structure deviates from the region's norm, and maybe from the whole world…"
'Israel Controls the American Administration, Therefore Re-Designing the Region Will Serve Its Interests'
Assad: "Israeli interests are not necessarily in harmony with the American interests. America is interested in re-arranging the region as it sees fit. That could possibly be by creating large or small countries, but Israel is interested in dividing the region on racial, religious, or ethnic basis. The Israeli lobby has clout in the U.S., which means that re-arranging the region and controlling its resources one way or another, will serve Israel through its control over the American administration."
"…When we err in understanding the events of 1948, we [also] err in understanding the truth about the war against Iraq. When we analyze this war in a materialistic way and ask when is it going to end and who will be the winner and the loser, it means that we do not see the endgame. Despite the fact that the country with the endgame, i.e. the U.S. has stated it, there are those who refuse to see the truth…"
Lebanon as a Model
Assad: "…We, in Syria, our point of view stems from our experience. Our experience in Lebanon is known. We believe that Lebanon has been the first real experience for all the Arabs. There were those who said that Lebanon's strength is its weakness, but it was proven later that Lebanon's strength was in its resistance and perseverance."
"When Lebanon started its resistance it was a small and divided country. When the resistance started, there were well known agents – the South Lebanon Army. There were those who helped in conquering Beirut, and there were those who worked hard to sign the agreement of May 17, [with Israel] and then continued to act against Lebanon's interests. Despite that, Israel was defeated. It is even more so when it comes to Iraq, which is a large Arab country with scientific, material, and human resources and is able to accomplish, at the least, what Lebanon accomplished, and more."
Resistance in Iraq
Question: "Were you surprised by the Iraqi resistance?"
Assad: "No, not at all. Based on our experience, I was not surprised… No doubt that the U.S. is a super-power capable of conquering a relatively small country, but is it able to control it? The U.S. and Britain are incapable of controlling all of Iraq. There will be much stronger resistance. All this will expose the lies in the claims of some Arab officials, who intentionally or unintentionally tried to see or depict the reality in a different way than the present situation…"
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'The Arab Defense Agreement Should Be Implemented'
Assad: "The logical thing is to implement the Arab Defense Agreement. According to this agreement, if an Arab country is invaded, the rest of the Arab countries should defend it. Instead of implementing this agreement, there were those who facilitated the aggression, while neighboring countries refused to do so."
"…Lebanon was under Israeli occupation, up to its capital, but we did not consider that a disaster. Why? Because it was very clear that there are ways to resist. The problem is not the occupation, but how people deal with it. The most significant indicator that there is no disaster in Iraq is the fact that there is no exodus [of refugees]. The first lesson that the Iraqi citizen had learned is that displacement and leaving [home] last forever. Therefore the solution is resistance. This was the first lesson learned from Lebanon, and after that from the Intifada. There is no disaster, because there is no exodus. The problem is not the occupation, but whether the people are willing to resist it or not... Today, the Iraqi citizen sees that America is coming and wants to occupy his country and kill him, and he is willing to experience for himself what happened in Palestine… I believe that the situation will be much harder for the Americans and the British."
'As Long as Israel Exists, Syria Is Threatened and Is Ready for Confrontation'
Question: "Does Syria feel threatened by this war?"
Assad: "As long as Israel exists, the threat exists. As long as there is aggression against an Arab country, and as long as there is a war close to our borders, the danger continues. Anyone who does not worry in such circumstances, does not see reality. Worry does not mean fear, but readiness for the confrontation… If the issue is just war, the military logic says that we are weak in comparison to a super-power. But the issue has to do with land, which is our land. You in Lebanon, your power is no match to Israel. Israel, militarily, is more powerful than you and maybe it is more powerful than all the Arab countries, or most of them. But the important thing is faith. Is there an equality of power between America and Iraq? Definitely not; however, the Iraqi people are standing fast and are defending their land courageously."
Question: "But, isn't the American occupation of an Arab country which borders with Syria a threat to Syria?"
Assad: "That is why I say that it is natural that we are worried. It is natural in every sense."
Question: "Are you sure that you are capable of dealing with the danger or this threat?"
Assad: "Our conviction stems from our faith in the justice of our position and our nation, and is the result of our experience."
There Is a Chance That Syria Will Become the Target of an American War
Question: "It has been said that war plans against Iraq were hatched before 9/11. The list of countries included Afghanistan then Iraq, Syria, and Iran. In the new plan of aggression Syria is on one of the lists."
Assad: "Even if they had not included Syria in this plan, the probability was always there. That means that we are not going to wait until they include Syria in the plan and declare that or not, and then we could say that the war has expanded or not. I said that during the [Arab] summit meeting and I talked about the occupation of Baghdad in 1258 at the hands of Holago [the Mongolian]. But this time some Arab capitals will stand beside Baghdad. When I talk about some Arab capitals, it does not make sense to exclude Syria, which is the closest and at the heart of battles against invaders, because [Syria] is the heart of Arabism…"
'Israel, By Nature, Is Based On Treachery'
Question: "The Israeli threats against Syria, Lebanon, and Hizbullah continue, especially these days. What do you make of that especially in regard to the opinion that under the guise of the war against Iraq, Lebanon – and especially Hizbullah – will be targeted?"
Assad: "These threats continue regardless of the war. It would be a mistake to link anything that Israel does to a certain circumstance. And it is a mistake to feel comfortable in any circumstance just because Israel did not act on it."
"…None of us and none of the Arabs trust Israel. It is natural that we should always expect an Israeli attack, even when it does not threaten. It should be known that Israel is based on treachery. This is a point to be considered thoroughly. We are dealing with treachery and threats, which accompanied the establishment of Israel. Since its very inception, Israel has been a threat. It is the Israeli nature, and for that Israel was established. Based on this understanding of Israel's nature and role, we should deal with the possibility of protracted aggression…Israel does not care about the international public opinion. The U.S. is unable to reign it in; to the contrary, the Israelis are the ones who control [the U.S.] now through their lobby. The most important issue, as far as we are concerned, is that our position is just, and we should explain it… Secondly, we should prepare ourselves to be ready to deal with any Israeli attack. This point does not need any analysis. This is what we have done in Syria throughout history…"
Syrian - U.S. Relations
Question: "What about the Syrian - U.S. relations at this point, how do you describe them?"
Assad: "They were always fluctuating, but not because of Syria. As far as we are concerned, we Syria have not changed. As I said before, our starting points are the principles and Syria's interests in its relations with any foreign country. When our interests matched, the Americans have been good to us, and when the interests differed, they wanted us to mold ourselves to them, which we refused."
"On the issue of terrorism, our interests [and those of the U.S.] matched. We are basically against terrorism, and on 9/11 they learned a lesson, and according to them they wanted to combat terrorism. We said [to them] that we welcomed that, that if you wanted cooperation our position was known and clear. We declared our cooperation [publicly]; we did not do it clandestinely. In other cases, our points of view differ and we do not follow their path…"
Question: "Are there attempts to 'twist arms?'"Assad: "I cannot describe it as such. There are attempts to push Syria into a direction that contradicts its present one. These attempts are made through statements, official demands, and hints through third parties. All this does not interest us. Our position is the way it is…"
Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 27, 2003.