IRNA/SANA – President Bashar al-Assad affirmed that the Syrian-Iranian relation is strategic not subject to a deal, affirming that neither Syria nor Iran has floated this relationship on the international political bazaar for it to be subject to haggling.
In an interview with Iran’s Al-ALAM TV, President Assad said the Syrian south is in front of two options; reconciliation or liberation by force, indicating that at this point, there are no concrete results for a simple reason which is Israeli and American interference, for they put pressure on the terrorists in that area in order to prevent reaching any compromise or peaceful resolution.
President al-Assad affirmed that since the beginning of the war, particularly when it started to have a clear military nature on the southern front in particular, the Israelis used to shell Syrian forces continuously, and consequently provide direct support to the terrorists. Israeli artillery and aircraft are the terrorists’ artillery and aircraft… Despite Israeli support to the terrorists, we have been doing our job, and the Syrian Army is fighting its way towards the southern front, and has liberated a number of areas within the limits of its capabilities. So, with or without its approval, the decision is a Syrian one, and this is a national duty we shall carry out.
Following the full text of the interview;
Question: Mr. President, there are many issues which we will talk about, but in the light of the victories you have achieved, the main focus remains the south of Syria. What’s happening exactly, or what is the nature of what is happening in the south of Syria?
President Assad: To put it simply, after the liberation of al-Ghouta, it was suggested that we should move south. We were faced with two options, as is the case in all other areas in Syria: reconciliation or liberation by force. At this point, the Russians suggested the possibility of giving reconciliation an opportunity, similar to what happened in other areas, in order to restore the situation that prevailed before 2011. In other words, for the Syrian Army to be deployed in that area, which is an area of confrontation with the Zionist enemy. And of course the terrorists should leave the area.
This proposition suits us. Up till now, there are no concrete results for a simple reason which is Israeli and American interference; for they put pressure on the terrorists in that area in order to prevent reaching any compromise or peaceful resolution. That is how the situation stands now.
Question: So, it hasn’t been decided whether to move towards a military operation or towards reconciliation?
President Assad: No, contacts are still ongoing between the Russians, the Americans, and the Israelis, while nobody is communicating with the terrorists, because they are mere tools, and they implement what their masters decide ultimately. This is what happened, i.e. there was an opportunity to reach reconciliation, but the American and Israeli interference prevented that possibility.
Question: Of course, this is the reality there. But on the other hand, there are those who talk about many things taking place in the south. Mr. President, is there a certain deal, what is the price? Is there really a price for concluding this deal in the south? Let me talk frankly about the issue of getting the Iranians to leave the southern region in return for al-Tanf, for example. What did the Americans demand, or let’s say, what was the price the Americans asked to approve the reconciliation process in the south?
President Assad: For the Americans, there is a general principle they follow in dealing with any problem in the world. The only price they ask for is absolute hegemony, regardless of the issue and the place. Of course, we shall never provide that price; otherwise we wouldn’t have fought this war for years. We have been fighting for the independence of Syrian decision-making, for the Syrian homeland, and for the unity of Syrian territory. As for Iran in particular, let me be very clear: the Syrian-Iranian relationship is a strategic one not subject to a deal in the south or in the north.
This relationship, in terms of its implications and results on the ground, is linked to the present and future of the region. Consequently, it is not subject to the price tags of the international bazaar. Neither Syria nor Iran has floated this relationship on the international political bazaar for it to be subject to haggling. The proposition was made by the Israelis with the objective of provoking and embarrassing Iran.
At the same time, this comes in line with the international propaganda campaign launched against Iran regarding the nuclear file. It is not a separate issue; for everything happening now is linked to Iran in order to create an international position against it. As for us in Syria, the decision concerning our land is an exclusively Syrian decision. We are fighting the same battle, and when we have a decision concerning Iran, we will talk about it with the Iranians and not with any other party.
Question: Of course, we will talk more about Iran and in more detail, but since we are talking about the southern front, let’s explore it further. Practically, in the same context, there is the MOC which hasn’t stopped its operations since the beginning of the war on Syria about eight years ago. I
t is working and is still active, and is directly linked to the Israelis. But we have noticed recently that it has been reactivated, and there are more communications. Mr. President, does this mean that the Syrian state is practically moving towards a military decisive action in the south regardless of the consequences, whether things reach a stalemate or not? Is a decisive action in the cards for the Syrian leadership?
President Assad: No, MOC has nothing to do with this decision. MOC has been linked to the presence and the role of the terrorists since the beginning of the war on Syria. That’s why it existed: in order to lead them militarily. Consequently, the continued existence of this operations room means the continuation of the role given to these terrorists, i.e. they are equipped and prepared to carry out more terrorist acts. MOC is linked to the terrorists and not to the role of the Syrian state.
Our role has nothing to do with it. Our decision has been clear from the beginning: we will liberate all Syrian lands. As to when to move south, north, east, or west, this is a purely military issue. But regardless of MOC, we have moved towards the south and we are giving the political process a chance. If that doesn’t succeed, we have no other option but to liberate it by force.
Question: But there is a confrontation in the south, and the issue is not limited geographically to Syria in the larger political sense. There are the Americans, the Russians, the Iranians, the Israelis, and Hezbollah. All these parties are there in the area. What does that mean? How are you going to deal with this?
President Assad: You are talking about two axes: one supporting terrorism, and represented by the US, Israel, and some flunkies in the region including some Arab and non-Arab states, and an anti-terrorist axis. The first axis supports terrorism and seeks hegemony, while the second axis seeks independence. So, there can be only one result for this confrontation, i.e. the victory of one of these axes. At least, as far as the anti-terrorist axis is concerned, it will not give up the process of cleaning Syria and the region of terrorism and will not give up on the unity of Syrian territory.
As to the other axis, will it change as a result of the reality on the ground? Let’s wait and see. But in terms of substance and convictions, it will not change, while in terms of the political practices dictated by reality and the facts on the ground, it might.
Question: Will the Americans leave al-Tanf?
President Assad: The Americans say they are ready, but everyone knows that the Americans are historically professional liars in politics. So why should we believe them? Also, we have to wait and see.
Question: Mr. President, what’s happening now in Jordan? Is it linked to what’s happening on the southern front in particular, i.e. is it linked to what is being plotted in that region, in your view?
President Assad: In fact, the only information we have is what we hear in the media. In any case, we wish Jordan stability, not chaos, because the latter will have a negative impact on us.
Question: Since we are talking about the south, let’s close this file. Mr. President, what would make the Israeli occupation agree to the return of the Syrian Army to the borders, i.e. a return to the situation which existed at the beginning of 2011, after seven years of repeated Zionist attempts, directly and indirectly, to undermine the Syrian state, the regime in Syria, and stability in Syria. Why would it agree now to the return of the Syrian Army to the borders and to the occupied Golan?
President Assad: Certainly, neither conviction, morality, nor international law means anything to the Israelis. Since the beginning of the war, particularly when it started to have a clear military nature on the southern front in particular, the Israelis used to shell Syrian forces continuously, and consequently provide direct support to the terrorists. Israeli artillery and aircraft are the terrorists’ artillery and aircraft. That applies to Jabhat al-Nusra of course.
Nothing is going to change this Israeli approach. As far as we are concerned, Israel’s approval had no role at all. Despite Israeli support to the terrorists, we have been doing our job, and the Syrian Army is fighting its way towards the southern front, and has liberated a number of areas within the limits of its capabilities. So, with or without its approval, the decision is a Syrian one, and this is a national duty we shall carry out.
Question: So, a return of the Syrian Army is better than having resistance in the Golan, for instance?
President Assad: For the Israelis?
President Assad: I think the two options are bad for the Israelis. Both of them are bad. Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has repeatedly talked about Syria’s relationship with the resistance and a Syrian role in the resistance. So, how would the Israelis choose between two bad things for them?
Question: As you said, Mr. President, Israel has financed, supported, and more dangerously was capable of enlisting a large number of Syrians, some of whom were treated inside occupied Palestine. They talked about it. In the future, how would you deal with this large number of Israeli agents? Maybe some of them were misled and Israel might have exploited the financial and living conditions of some; and some have chosen to side with the Israelis. How would you deal with them in the future?
President Assad: This is true; we cannot put everyone in the same basket. There are different reasons for moving in this wrong direction; and these people have wronged the homeland and every Syrian citizen. Ultimately, they are the children of this homeland, and we all bear responsibility for this problem, not only those who have done wrong.
When crime, for instance, becomes widespread in a certain country, the whole society bears responsibility for this crime, not only the security agencies or the criminals themselves. The first thing that should be done is to accommodate these people. Second, we need to address the root causes which led to this case of weak patriotism. The causes here are many and complicated, and the scope of this interview doesn’t allow for all of them to be mentioned.
Question: In the same context, while you are talking about restoring the Syrian air defense systems and confronting the Zionist occupation, statements have been made by leaders of the Israeli entity that they will strike at the depth of Syrian territory. How would you deal with that situation, particularly that balance has been achieved recently, i.e. balance between Israeli aggressions and Syrian responses?
President Assad: Basically, we haven’t stopped responding. First of all, we haven’t stopped fighting terrorists, and at the same time we haven’t stopped responding to Israeli aggression within the capabilities available to us, militarily and technically. Moreover, the more these capabilities improve; the response will be better and higher. But in fact the strongest response to Israel now is to strike the Israeli army existing in Syria which consists practically of the terrorists.
Journalist: You consider them an Israeli army?
President Assad: Of course, for they are acting clearly and starkly in Israel’s interest. The first acts they carried out were attacks against the air defense systems. What is the link between air defense systems and the terrorists acting as infantry on the ground? This was an Israeli order. It was an Israeli-American order because it is the same thing. So, they are Israel’s army inside Syria; and the first strike against Israel, politically, militarily, and in every other area, is to strike Israel’s terrorists inside Syria, whether they belong to ISIS, al-Nusra, or the other groups linked to the Israeli plan and strategy.
Journalist: If Israel escalates, are you prepared to respond more forcefully?
President Assad: This is what’s happening. It is escalating, and we are responding. Ultimately, we are fighting the war within the capabilities available to us, and we are doing our best within these capabilities. A response does not need a political decision. I stress that responding or not responding is not a political decision. It is a national decision, and it was taken from day one. But implementing this decision depends on what we can do militarily and not politically.
Question: In terms of capabilities, there is one issue in the media which we are always following, i.e. the S300 Russian missiles. Russia says, “We will deliver these missiles”, and then says, “We will not deliver them”, which means that the issue is not clear. What is happening exactly? Why this Russian hesitation, in your view, in delivering the S300 missiles to Syria, while some other countries have been seeking S400, i.e. they are ahead of us in this regard.
President Assad: You know that military action and military considerations are part of political considerations. Consequently, a statement, even if it is of a military nature, carries at the same time political messages. So, why did the Russians say that they want to send or not send?
This is a statement that the Russians should be asked about because it might be part of their political tactics. As to the military aspect of the statement, which concerns Syria, it’s not our custom to talk about the weapon which will be delivered or not delivered. The evidence was that the weapons used in response to the last two aggressions, the tripartite aggression and after that the Israeli aggression, were not announced by Syria. We traditionally do not announce cases of a technical military nature.
Journalist: So, even the nature of the response is not linked to the issue of the S300 missiles?
President Assad: No. The same applies. Even if the S300 missiles are provided or not provided, we will not say that they were delivered to Syria. A weapon is used when it must be used.
Journalist: Is there a possibility that you have developed certain weapons?
President Assad: This remains a possibility. In any case, the result is the same: weapons shouldn’t be talked about until they are used. Weapons announce themselves only when they are used.
Question: Mr. President, let’s return to the political aspect, since we are talking about the southern front. Regarding the general situation, in light of all that has been achieved on the Syrian arena today, the most prominent actor is the tripartite alliance, or what is being called the tripartite alliance. I mean Syria, Iran, and Russia. What is the nature of this alliance? Is it a temporary alliance, in the sense that it is linked to fighting terrorism or to certain developments on the Syrian arena? Recently, we have started to see – or let’s say some have focused on certain points in order to show – a certain fracture in this alliance. What is your take on that and what is the actual reality of this alliance?
President Assad: If we talk first about the Syrian-Iranian part, for 40 years, and in the different conditions that the Middle East region has gone through, this alliance remained solid. So, there is no reason to say that it is temporary or otherwise. The new element in the war on Syria is the Russian element, and that’s why this tripartite alliance came into existence.
Our relationship with Russia is now about seven decades old. Despite the fluctuations and the fall of the Soviet Union, the rule of President Yeltsin, and the deterioration of these relations to a large degree for us, it has never reached the stage of reversing this relationship with Syria.
Russia continued to deal with Syria as a friendly state, and we have imported everything from Russia, including weapons, during the different stages of the sanctions imposed on Syria. It is not in the nature of the Russians to build temporary or self-serving alliances or to sell out on relations in order to get deals done. The relationship is definitely a strategic one, but the political statements allowed for these speculations.
These statements also aim at sending messages in different directions. Maybe, sometimes the language or the choice of particular terminology might not be helpful and might take the statement in a different direction at odds with the content of the statement. This happens from time to time. However, these statements shouldn’t be taken out of context: the Russian view of the relationship with Iran is a strategic one. As for Syria, the Russians do not interfere in Syrian affairs.
If they have a certain opinion, they raise it with us and say that in the end, the decision is that of the Syrian leadership and the Syrian people. This is a constant principle for Russia. Therefore, the alliance is a strategic one, and if there are differences, such differences happen within the Syrian state, and you see differences within the Iranian state and within the Russian state. It is natural for us to differ on daily tactical details, for why conduct a dialogue if we agree on everything? We meet extensively in order to reach agreement.
Journalist: So, this tripartite alliance is being consolidated.
President Assad: Of course. This is dictated by reality, interest, and international changes that make it necessary for this alliance to be consolidated. As long as the other axis supports terrorism, and as long as we, together with Iran and Russia, feel the danger of terrorism, not only in Syria, but also on all these countries and on the whole world, and as long as Syria, Iran, and Russia realize the importance of abiding by international law, these facts make the existence of this alliance necessary.
Question: But there are those who say that Syria will get a price if the Iranians leave Syrian territories. Is there a certain political, moral, or military price in this regard?
President Assad: As I said in the beginning, as long as this relationship is not floated in the bazaar, they cannot offer a price, and the answer will be clear. That’s why they don’t dare suggest this price. This issue was raised by different countries, including Saudi Arabia for instance, at the beginning of the war, and not only at the beginning, but at different stages. The proposition was that if Syria cut its relationship with Iran, the situation in Syria will be normal. This principle is basically rejected by us.
Journalist: So, there were initiatives, so to speak, made in this regard by Saudi Arabia.
President Assad: During the war?
President Assad: Of course, more than once, and in a clear manner.
President Assad: Directly. The relationship with Iran was the basis for every proposition; and Saudi Arabia’s position on this subject is public. I’m not revealing a secret.
Journalist: And you invited Iranian advisers to come?
President Assad: Of course, from the beginning we invited the Iranians, and then we invited the Russians. We needed the support of these countries, and they answered the call.
Journalist: Mr. President, you said more than once that there are no Iranian bases in Syria.
President Assad: That’s correct.
Journalist: Why there are no Iranian bases, while we notice that there are a number of Russian bases?
President Assad: There’s nothing that prevents the existence of such bases as long as Iran is an ally as is Russia.
Journalist: This means that if Iran requested the existence of such bases, you would agree?
President Assad: If we ask. We will ask them to agree. I mean that we could ask for the existence of such forces to support us. Iran has never asked and does not have an interest except in fighting terrorism. But the evolution of the war made it necessary to develop the nature of this presence.
Question: Why haven’t you visited Iran so far, although you visited Russia more than once?
President Assad: That’s correct. In fact, there was a scheduled visit to Iran a few months ago, and it was postponed and not cancelled. It was postponed because of an emergency in Syria related to the development of battles. There is certainly no reason which prevents such a visit, and I’ll visit Iran hopefully soon on the earliest opportunity. This is natural, but the issue is logistic, no more, no less.
Question: Mr. President, I move to another file. Last week, it was the Jerusalem International Day, and the Palestinian cause is going through its most difficult stages. We are talking about the “deal of the century”, and moving the American Embassy to occupied Jerusalem. What do you have to say about Palestine? Is Syria still capable of supporting the Palestine cause? Basically, wasn’t one of the most important objectives of the war on Syria to get Syria out of the axis of resistance and to prevent it from supporting resistance, whether in Lebanon or Palestine?
President Assad: The Palestine context, since 1948 up till now, has been a complicated one, because the regional context is complicated. Of course, it is complicated because the colonial West, which is particularly supportive of Israel, has always created elements which aim at one single thing. First, to drive to desperation the Arab citizen who is historically attached to the cause of Palestine and who has always considered it a pan-Arab cause that touched him even on the national level.
The other objective has been to distract the Arab peoples together with states or societies in general to marginal causes so that they do not have time to think about Israel. And they have succeeded to a great extent, most recently through the so-called Arab spring which has aimed at destroying the political, military, and psychological infrastructure of Arab societies.
Nevertheless, recent development have proven that the Arab people is still conscientiously attached to the cause of Palestine. As for Syria – since it has been part of these plots to undermine the Arab condition in general – first, for Syria to support the cause of Palestine, it should first of all destroy the Israeli army in Syria. Restoring stability in Syria, striking terrorism, and foiling the Israeli plot in Syria is certainly part of supporting the cause of Palestine. The support might be indirect with direct consequences, but these direct consequences are linked to the internal Palestinian condition. We shouldn’t forget that the Palestinians are divided between groups which resist Israel and are genuinely linked to the cause of Palestine, and other groups which are against the resistance and support surrenderist and defeatist peace, while there are other groups which use resistance as a title in order to achieve their political objectives under the slogan of religion. This is of course the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach.
Question: Are you prepared to offer whatever the resistance asks of you, whether in the form of political, military, or any other form of support?
President Assad: Politically, we haven’t changed. The Palestinian question for us is still as it was ten years ago and decades ago. It hasn’t changed. As to what we can offer, this has to do with two things: first, Syria’s current capabilities; and there’s no doubt that the priority is given now to cleaning Syria of terrorism. Second, it has to do with the Palestinian condition and the parties with which we can deal within the Palestinian arena.
Question: Have you asked Hezbollah to leave Syria? A few days ago His Eminence Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah talked about this issue and said that nobody can get us out of Syria unless the Syrian leadership asked us to do so.
President Assad: The battle is long and ongoing. When we talk about this tripartite alliance – and if we consider it a quadruple alliance when we add Hezbollah, we talk about the tripartite alliance in terms of the states included, but in the end Hezbollah is a basic element in this war – the battle is long, and the need for these military forces will continue for a long time. When there is a need, and when Hezbollah, Iran, or others believe that terrorism has been eliminated, they will tell us that they want to go home. As Sayyed Hasan said, they have families and daily interests, which is normal, but it is still early to talk about this subject.
Question: Up till now, there are still areas under the control of terrorism and areas under occupation. At the same time, regretfully, some Arab countries, and here I am talking particularly about Saudi Arabia, announced that it is ready to send forcers to Syria. On the other hand, a few days ago popular tribal units were formed to resist occupation. Are these really popular resistance units? Do they receive support from the Syrian government? Does this mean that the army cannot liberate those areas, and that’s why it is asking for the help of the tribes? What is the nature of this issue?
President Assad: There are different forms of this resistance which appeared a few years ago. In the beginning they were fighting ISIS before they started to fight the occupiers. They were against ISIS in the central and eastern regions, and there were cases where they appeared in other regions which were not given media coverage and about which we hear sometimes through information and indications.
Now, this situation has started to expand. So, it’s not one single case. There are a number of cases which might be individual sometimes, or in the form of small groups not affiliated to an organization. In any case, our position as a state has been from the beginning to support any act of resistance, whether against terrorists or against occupying forces, regardless of their nationality, i.e. American, French, Turkish, or Israeli. We support these resistance forces based on our national role as a government.
Question: What about Saudi Arabia and sending Saudi forces to Syria?
President Assad: First, when we talk about a state, we should assume that such a state can take decisions independently. That’s why we will not talk about the role of Saudi Arabia. You better ask me about the American decision on this issue.
Question: On the other hand, there are a number of Arab countries which we talk about and which had a role or contributed to the role or to the destruction of Syria. These countries are now trying to get to Syria through the reconstruction process. What do you say in this regard, particularly that these countries are the ones which have capital and huge financial power? How are you going to deal with that?
President Assad: Reconstruction in Syria is not a cause for concern for us. It needs two factors: first, the human factor which is more important than the financial factor. When a country like Syria possesses the human factor, the financial cost will be less when it comes to reconstruction. This is self-evident, and we possess all these factors despite the fact that many competent and qualified Syrians have immigrated because of the war.
But we still have the capability to start reconstruction. And the evidence is clear now, for the state is moving forward and reconstruction has begun. As to money, the Syrian people have financial capabilities, capital, most of which is not in Syria, but outside Syria. But there is capital waiting for reconstruction to begin, so it will begin investing. On the other hand, there are the friendly countries which have capabilities and have the desire; and we have the desire to have them participate in reconstruction, so that they benefit and we Syrians benefit from this process. In the end, we do not need those countries and we will never allow them to be part of reconstruction.
President Assad: Absolutely.
Question: Have you felt tired at a certain moment? Have you felt hesitant at a certain moment, in light of all the decisions you have taken, have you ever, even for a moment, thought of leaving? Haven’t you said to yourself: let me save my family and resign, as some people did at a certain point in time?
President Assad: This question might be raised in a personal manner. When I am faced with a personal situation as an individual, I might feel despair after a few months. I might feel tired or bored or I might want to move to a different situation, or give up. That is possible.
Journalist: As an individual?
President Assad: Of course, as an individual, but the case you are proposing is not personal, it is national. Imagine yourself in a different condition, perhaps building something on your own. You feel tired, but when you see a large number of people helping you build it and share the same determination, you forget the tiredness.
Now we are in a national situation. We are talking about millions of Syrians. When you see a shell striking and victims falling anywhere in Syria, you feel frustrated. But when you see life being restored to the same area after one hour, your psychological condition changes. When you see that the electricity worker, the oil worker, the teacher, the employee, are moving side by side with fighters, moving without despair and without tiredness, how can you feel tired?
This is a collective condition not related to me as a person. It has to do with our human condition when we are together as a society. How do we live? This defines whether you are tired or not. Would the Syrian society have arrived at this stage of despair and surrender, I would certainly have been with it. I would have surrendered because I do not have the necessary elements for steadfastness. This is self-evident.