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Former Syrian VP calls for military intervention | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Former Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam has appealed to Arab leaders, particularly the leaders of Gulf States who are concerned about what is happening in Syria, to support military intervention in the country. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat during a telephone interview earlier this week, he stressed that “these [Arab] states are concerned by Syrian affairs, from a fraternal, pan-Arab, and religious perspective; therefore I urge them to take the decision to go to the West and strongly call for the formation of a military coalition to rescue the Syrian people and the region.”

He added “Failing to intervene militarily in Syria will have grave consequences on the region, and at a certain point, the people will shift to extremism and Syria will become a safe haven for all the extremists in the Arab and Islamic world; this will be more dangerous to regional and international security than the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Abdul-Halim Khaddam served as Vice President of Syria between 1984 and 2005. He was one of the most senior Sunni politicians in the country, and had previously served as Syrian Foreign Minister under President Hafez al-Assad from 1970 to 1984. He served as interim Syrian president in 2000, between the death of Hafez al-Assad and the election of his son and successor, Bashar al-Assad. He ultimately resigned from his post as Syrian Vice president in 2005, relocating to Paris, France, where he has issued statements criticizing the Bashar al-Assad regime. The Syrian parliament has brought treason charges against him and expelled him from the Baathist party. He remains the highest ranking Syrian official to have cut ties with the al-Assad regime.

In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the former Syrian Vice President stressed that the only real option in Syria is for an international military coalition to intervene and carry out military operations similar to what happened in Libya during the revolution there. He stressed that the only way to achieve the objectives that have been put forward by those calling for the establishment of a buffer zone is to support military intervention in Syria.

Khaddam explained that the buffer zone – which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara intends to discuss – will not solve the problem, and that “this [buffer zone] needs international military intervention to protect it, and this is something that cannot be achieved as a result of a decision by the Syrian regime or the Syrian people but rather via a decision by [international] states.”

He added “Turkey shares a border with Syria and so it can enter an area and enforce a buffer zone, but this would lead to a new border line with Turkey. This would result in the regime simply deploying its forces along the new border…thereby blocking all movement to and from this buffer zone, and negating any benefits from this.”

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday, Khaddam stressed that it would be “impossible” for al-Assad to reconcile with the Syrian people. He said “this would be impossible after all of these crimes and after decades of suppression and sectarian tensions. After the huge number of martyrs, Bashar al-Assad cannot be accepted in Syria in any way, shape or form. However his [al-Assad’s] option – which he announced to one of his Lebanese friends – is that if he is besieged, he will flee to the coastal area [of Syria] and declare the establishment of a new state there. Furthermore, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov informed some Arab ministers that he [al-Assad] will not surrender or give in, and he would instead choose to establish a new state in the coastal area. This would mean a long war in Syria between the people who are committed to Syrian unity and the regime that fragmented national unity and is now trying to divide geographic unity.”

As for reports that al-Assad is transferring weapons and munitions to Syria’s coastal area, which is where the majority of Syria’s Alawite community are concentrated, Khaddam stressed that “more than one month ago, I announced on Al-Arabiya TV that Bashar al-Assad has taken the decision to send all the weapons that he does not use in the suppression of the Syrian people, including strategic weapons, missiles, and warplanes – most of which are being stored at Latakia airport – to the coastal region. He is preparing to establish this state. This information comes from the heart of the regime. Furthermore, he is providing military training for tens of thousands of people living in the coastal region; they will form the future army of this state.”

On al-Assad’s fate and whether he would seek refuge outside Syria, Khaddam said: “He will not leave Syria. His fate will be the same as that of Muammar Gaddafi. He is not concerned about the public or the state’s needs, he is only concerned with his own needs, and the needs of those around him, including the military figures who formed the [Syrian] army during the Hafez al-Assad era and ensured that this army would be loyal to the regime and the head of the regime, and not the army of the homeland. Therefore, the needs of the people do not concern them. If he embarks on this crime of moving to the coastal area, this means that he will provide for his future needs in the area through the Russian fleet, which will provide him with food supplies and all his requirements.”

Responding to a question about Russia’s stance on Syria, and whether it is an unwavering ally of al-Assad or is merely waiting for the right deal to abandon him, the former Syrian vice president told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Russia is not loyal to Bashar al-Assad but to its international strategy. It wants to be an influential state in the Middle East, and its presence in the region means that it is in a position to besiege the West, economically, politically and via a security perspective, by controlling oil. Therefore, Russia opted to forge an alliance with Iran, whose strategy is known, which is to control the area from the Mediterranean to the borders with Afghanistan, and this includes the whole of the Arab world. Iran and Russia need this alliance and it will dominate the region as long as the Arab situation remains hesitant.”

As for the Arab stance on the situation in Syria, Khaddam stressed that “all of our hopes are tied into the Arab stance [on Syria] particularly the stance of the Gulf States, in their capacity as our partners in ensuring [regional] security and stability in the present and future. However, what happened since the beginning of the Arab revolutions was that the Arab world did not respond quickly enough to the bloody crisis, remaining silent for eight months before taking action and condemning the crimes in Syria. After the Arabs began to act, they failed to adopt options such as those adopted concerning Libya. The Syrians had hoped that the Arabs would take a strong decision and ask world superpowers to form an international military coalition to save them from this regime. This is something that has not happened. One initiative has followed another, however no such initiative has announced that the al-Assad regime is illegitimate or called for its ouster, as was the case with Libya.”

He added “The Syrians are feeling very bitter, despite the fact that good decisions have been taken, such as recalling ambassadors and closing embassies, however such measures will not topple the regime; the al-Assad regime will only be toppled by military force.”

On arming the Free Syrian Army [FSA], the former Syrian vice president said that “arming the FSA is nothing more than an unrealistic slogan, since the FSA is a group of honourable people who defected [from the Syrian army] because they did not want to kill their fellow citizen… however they do not constitute sufficient force on the ground to confront an army that possesses thousands of missiles and rockets. Therefore, it would be a big mistake to burden the FSA with a responsibility that it cannot shoulder.”

Khaddam explained “arming the FSA is good, but part of the FSA is in Turkey whilst the rest are in Syria; they can be provided with light or medium weaponry, but they cannot be armed with tanks, anti-aircraft weaponry, and artillery. These arms [light or medium weaponry] are symbolic weapons for self-defence; this would not lead to a solution in Syria, but would rather grant the regime new opportunities [to crush the revolution].”

As for the position taken by the West and its hesitation to take a military decision to resolve the Syrian crisis, Khaddam said “why did the West carry out military operations in Libya? Was this not for oil? Muammar Gaddafi was not going to drink this oil; on the contrary, we saw that he had remarkably improved his relations with the West. What is actually prompting the international community to oppose military intervention is the Arab position.” He stressed that if the Arabs had a coherent or unified stance, calling for military intervention, then they would be ready to participate in this. He explained “We will at least see a decision by the Western countries, with the exception of Russia and China, which will utilize their veto.”

Commenting on the Syrian opposition, Khaddam said “the Syrian opposition shoulders a great responsibility due to its various members and groups, and its main problem now is the Syrian National Council [SNC], whose demands and objectives have deviated from those of the Syrian people.”

He added “[SNC president] Burhan Ghalioun went to the “Friends of Syria” conference in Tunis and asked for humanitarian aid, but failed to call for military intervention. On the contrary, he said that he does not accept military intervention in Syria. This means that the SNC – which rejects military interference – is facing one of two accusations: either some of its leadership have ties to the regime, because it is the al-Assad regime that benefits from non-intervention, or they do not understand politics and cannot understand the cries of the Syrian people and their demands for the world to intervene.”

The former Syrian vice president also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “they [the SNC] have a huge responsibility; I am calling on all parties and groups in the [Syrian] opposition to unify their efforts and hold a comprehensive national conference based on the following principles: toppling the regime and holding it – and all those who committed crimes – to account, and working to establish a vision for the future of Syria based on establishing a democratic state. The SNC has lost its media glow and started to retreat, particularly since those who broke away from it and started to retreat are prominent figures, whilst others may follow. The SNC is no longer as people believe it to be, namely a representative of all, rather it is now only made up of one political clique. All of Syria is under occupation, whilst the opposition abroad has not launched the revolution. They have been abroad for years. They have sympathized with the revolution, but they remain distant to the revolution’s demands and requirements. The main requirement now is for everybody to unite to rescue the Syrian people and work to reconstruct the country…regardless of sect or ethnicity.”

As for who is influencing and swaying al-Assad, Khaddam said “Al-Assad is steered by his emotions. He is a hesitant person who listens to talk in the morning and agrees to it, then listens to contrary talk in the afternoon and also agrees to it. He has an inferiority complex because people used to say that his father was a strong figure, as was his brother Bassel, and that he is weak. Therefore, he is making very tough and cruel decisions to tell the people that ‘I am not weak and here I am killing thousands of people.’ He is the one who is making all the decisions. All the talk that this person or that person is running things behind the scenes are nothing more than rumors by the security services to prove the innocence of Bashar al-Assad.

He added “There are many similarities between Gaddafi and al-Assad; Gaddafi was very emotional and would take decisions in this state, but then when he calmed down he would make his decision in accordance with policies he had drawn up for himself. Bashar is the same, but the difference is that he only takes decisions when he is emotional, when he is not he fails to take any decision at all as a result of procrastination and thinking too much.”

Khaddam also stressed that “the security services are the main power in the country and the army is part of the security services. Hafez al-Assad established a security system that is based on the army that was loyal to him, closing the gates of the Military College to all Syrians, only allowing in those elements who were loyal, those who were personally loyal to him or who came from villages or cities that are loyal to him, whilst 90 percent of army officers come from Syria’s coastal area.”

On the role of the joint UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Khaddam said: “The efforts of [Kofi] Annan are nothing more than a sightseeing tour. Annan tried to resolve the Iraqi crisis, without any success, and he will fail to achieve any success in Syria as well, because there is a huge gap between the regime, its policies and approach, and what the international community and Arab world is demanding from it. Therefore, it is impossible for him to succeed, and I think that he will fail to implement his initiative and will ultimately withdraw. He went to Damascus and heard very tough talk from Al-Assad, and reports indicate that he was not happy with the meeting.”

As for the Arab League Secretary-General stance, Khaddam said “[Nabil] Elaraby has not been balanced in his dealings with the Syrian issue. He should have submitted a report that explained and presented proposals based on clarity, openness, and transparency, which shows that this regime is a hopeless case and that the only solution is the military one. However he ruled out the military solution, and he has no right to do this!”