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 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.