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Hariri: The 3-step plan for Syria should be to unite the opposition, declare a no-fly zone and train the Free Syrian Army

BEIRUT | April 28, 2015, 09h12
A discussion with journalists followed the talk given yesterday by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Wilson Center in Washington. Saad Hariri explained what steps he suggested to talk to end the Syria crisis. Here is the retranscription of the discussion.
Question: You said that Bashar al-Assad is the factory that manufactures extremism and there are 40 000 extremist versus 20 million moderates, but if Bashar was here, he would say that there was a group that organized itself spontaneously against him, so how can you say justify this?

Hariri: First, there was no Daesh three years ago, and when the revolution began in Syria, the Syrian people took to the streets and asked for reforms but the regime started shooting at them. For one year and a half the people did not do anything, but when thousands of martyrs began to fall the people started to resist, while Daesh appeared only a year and a half or two years ago. So it means that the problem began in Syria after Assad refused to do reforms.

When the United States fought Al-Qaeda in Iraq years ago in search of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leaderships of the Anbar and Sahwa joined, and got rid of the Qaeda. What was expected at the time was a real partnership between the Iraqis, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

Maliki freed thousands from prisons, the same people who fought al-Qaida and imprisoned its members, then Daesh was born. What I am trying to say is that I have no doubt today that the international community will defeat Daesh. We should not even doubt. If no change happen in Syria or Iraq through a real partnership, and Bashar al-Assad remains a dictator in Syria and kills the Syrians, then we will get rid of Daesh but other groups worse than Deash will be born.

You talked about a two-state solution for the Palestinian cause, what is the role that Lebanon can play?

I do not see what Lebanon can do about this matter, but I think that the international community knows that the only solution the Israelis and the Palestinians have is the two-state solution. What happened in the past years and what is happening now in Gaza and with the Israelis can only complicate things. The problem is that we need a leadership that will push the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forward and put and an end to this crisis. It is unacceptable to see the Palestinian people in 2015 and after more than fifty years without a State or an identity.

What is your analysis of the internal strength of the Assad regime, we have seen the killing of Rustom Ghazali and the rumors, to what extent is Assad still strong in Damascus and is there a moderate alternative?

For me the regime has fallen, when Hezbollah and Iran began interfering in Qusayr we began to see the end of Bashar al-Assad, but the ones fighting today are few of Assad's army controlled completely by Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. The only reason why Bashar al-Assad is still in Damascus is Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. On the other hand, concerning the assassination of Rustom Ghazali, there are rumors that there is a strong division within the regime, some are against the intervention of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and some support it.

We have seen others killed like Jameh Jameh and this is a regression of the regime on the ground. As for the Syrian opposition, I believe that the problem is that the international community calls for the Syrian opposition to unite, it happened with Moaz al-Khatib and Ahmed Jarba, two prominent figures of the opposition, but the opposition was unable to make any progress and claim any victory against the regime.

When people hear promises and do not see any actions and at the same time the killings continue in Syria day after day under the international community's failure to support the coalition and the National Council, then the people will go to Nusra. But if the opposition united, and a no-fly zone was implemented, and the Free Syrian army was trained, then we would see that all those who joined Daash or Nusra will join the new army and put an end to Daesh and others.

Rustom Ghazali contacted us before his death and wanted to say something on tv one day before the killing. He contacted someone I know and gave him the Future TV number. He wanted to say something but did not have the chance, just like Ghazi Kanaan, who committed suicide with five bullets.

What is the impact of the war on Hezbollah? What is the most important for Iran, Hezbollah or the Assad regime? Will it sacrifice Hezbollah to keep the regime?

I do not know how hurt Hezbollah is, but each time a soldier of Hezbollah in Syria is killed the party pays the price in Lebanon because people are not cheap. I am one of those who believe that Hezbollah committed a big mistake by going to Syria, and I am sure that many Lebanese, especially Shias believe that too.

Hezbollah was hurt in Syria and will continue to hurt, and if you ask me what is the most important for Iran, I say that Iran has brought Hezbollah to Syria to save the regime, so I think that the regime is much more important.

Do you think that Hezbollah had the choice?

Absolutely not.

We heard last week the dramatic confessions of Michel Samaha about his involvement in the attempted bombings in Lebanon, which reminded us of Syrian proxies ruling Lebanese politics through violence, do you think that this will change and there will be greater freedom for the Lebanese to organize themselves, and for example will you be able to travel to Lebanon?Will the Syrians and their proxies allow that?

In the past, it was possible to talk about Syria and its proxies in Lebanon, but today Syria has turned itself into Iran’s proxy. Today, Iran want all these proxies, The decision to elect a president in Lebanon is the decision of Iran and not Syria .What happened with Michel Samaha, for example, is a Syrian intelligence action coordinated with Iran and its proxies in Lebanon to destabilize it. On the political level, I do not think that Hezbollah or Syria would do any maneuver without Iran.

Why didn’t the elections happen in Lebanon? We wanted to reach a compromise, we had a candidate, Samir Geagea, and they had their candidate, and when our candidate was not able to get the votes we asked him and he decided to step down to reach a compromise. But they did not do the same thing and disrupted elections, so they can go to the international community and say we hold the cards of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, but when you carry too many cards, they weigh a lot and you fall.

I returned to Lebanon, there are a lot of threats on me, but I have to be careful.

What do you expect from the United States in Syria, and what is the influence of Hezbollah on the Lebanese army?

The United States and its allies decided to wage war against Daesh, but there is a reason why Daesh is born. For example, in Iraq, if al-Maliki was not the cause of Daesh, the US and the international community would not have asked him to step down, and the same should happen in Syria. You can’t wage a war against Daesh and not wage a war against its cause in Syria. The main problem today and the only reason for the extremism in Syria is Assad.

Who killed Rafik Hariri, Mohammed Shatah and others? Daesh? Weren’t they the proxies of Syria? Aren’t there today people from Hezbollah accused of assassinating Rafik Hariri?

This regime is based on evil, assassination and killing, he does not care. He killed 300 000, he will not care f he killed 500.000? He will not care for Daesh, al-Qaeda or other extremists. They make him look good, because the international community does not focus on him, but on Daesh while the international community should focus on the reason behind Daesh and fight Daesh.

I am a moderate but I want to fight the source of Daesh, and if you ask all your allies in the region about the source of Daesh they will tell you al-Maliki and Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah has no impact on the army, but Lebanon is divided, and this has some effect on some of the decisions taken by the army about some places in Lebanon. The army cannot fight Hezbollah because it is not in the interest of Lebanon, and would cause a civil war. I do not see an influence of Hezbollah on the army, the army is doing a great job in stabilizing the borders and fighting against extremists, but does it make mistakes? Everyone makes mistakes and Lebanon is currently going through a difficult stage.

Will the US-Iran agreement be good for the region, or will it cause instability? And will it get rid of the nuclear weapon?

I think that the nuclear deal would be good for the region if Iran stopped building a nuclear bomb, because if Iran makes a bomb the whole region will make bombs. On the other hand, if Iran is doing what it is doing in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon with the little amount of money it has then when it has more money, each of these countries will have their share of Iran's proxies.

If Iran continues in this behavior, I do not think it will be good for Lebanon, but if Iran spends the money on infrastructure, schools, universities it will be good for Iran, but we all know the nature of this regime and what it has done in the past and what it will do in the future.

What about the Turkish role concerning a no fly zone and training the Syrian opposition?

I think that Turkey has played a major role in having Syrian opposition since the beginning, with more than a million Syrian refugees. Turkey has played positive roles in several stages. Some had question marks about Turkey. The big question mark is the policy and the role of the international community towards Syria. No one has the answer. Everyone wants to fight Daesh because it is the threat, but if we go back a year and a half we see that the international community has done nothing. The only thing it has done is that it said that Bashar al-Assad is no longer acceptable for the international community. Has it done anything ground? Nothing.

Many Daesh fighters came from Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and other countries in the region, but If a no fly decision was taken today on Syria by the international community, we will see that Turkey will be the first country to have an impact on Syria, whether Daesh or the regime.

I think the problem with the Turks is that they want to fight Daesh and that at the same time they want to fight Bashar al-Assad, but when the international community says to Turkey that it wants to fight Daesh, Turkey will say thanks but no thanks. I want to protect my borders from Daesh but Bashar al-Assad must be fought first.

Isn’t there a Kurdish problem in Turkey?

the main problem in Turkey is not the Kurds, but the fact that the international community says it will fight Daesh and will continue to fly over Syria, but will not touch the Bashar al-Assad, and this is unacceptable.

What do you think is the repeated mistake committed by the United States toward the region?

Listen to your allies. When the invasion in Iraq started, all the allies told the US not to go. All allies advised the US to get rid of Bashar al-Assad, but that did not happen.

The US has friends in the region, it is not about friendship but about the interests of the two parties and what we see today unfortunately is that the United States sees its interest only and does not listen to its allies.

It has been ten years since the assassination of your father. Are you optimistic about the international tribunal?

I am very optimistic, for the first time, there is a justice system investigating to find out who assassinated Rafik Hariri. In Lebanon, presidents and prime ministers were assassinated but no results were made in any of the inquiries. This tribunal has achieved a lot by being there, through sessions, a lot of evidence has started to come out, some say the tribunal is slow, but I see it as working fast and when the names of the killers would be announced they will be arrested sooner or later, they are not more powerful than Milosevic who was brought to justice.

What can the Sunni Arab States do today, in order to stabilize the situation in Syria and by extent Lebanon?

Unfortunately, we've started using these terms, Sunni countries and Shiite countries. The conflict is not about Sunnis or Shiites, but about Iran trying to extend its influence in the region, with the help of either Sunnis or Shiites. If we see what is happening in Syria for example, we see that there must be a parallel plan based on uniting the opposition, establishing a no-fly zone and training the Free Syrian army. When that happens, most of the fighters who are with Nusra will be the first to join the Free Syrian army when they see a hope for a new Syria, and then you would have a new training for the new army, which will advance Nusra and Daesh and definetly get rid of Bashar al-Assad. I would push those Sunni States to cooperate with Turkey and the international community, and I am sure they are ready to do that because they did it themselves in Yemen.

Concerning the Decisive Storm in Yemen, when the operations were declared in the Arab world you felt in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Jordan that people were euphoric. Somebody standing up to Iran, against the Iranian influence in the region. In Saudi Arabia , those youth who want to join the Daesh or al-Qaida, they don’t have to anymore because they saw their governments taking action against the Iranian influence in Yemen. If Saudi Arabia did not take action you would have found a lot of young men and women joining al-Qaeda in Yemen. Why is Iran helping the Houthis ? Is it because they think they are under privileged or they are looking on this issue on a humanitarian level? Next is Saudi Arabia.

You stressed the importance of getting rid of Bashar al-Assad and training moderate opposition, what can the United States do in this context?

To move forward, there is a three steps plan: unite the opposition, declare a no-fly zone and train the Free Syrian Army. If you declare a united Syrian moderate opposition that doesn’t have any success or achievements on the ground then you will have a re-divided opposition. The key issue about the whole plan is to do things in parallel. You need people to look up to the moderates and the only way to do so is by doing an action plan, a fly zone, and training the Free Syrian army. First, you get rid of extremism, second you get rid of Bashar and third you give hope to the Syrian people that there is a real action being done to save the Syrian people from Bashar.
#SaadHariri, #Syria, #Hezbollah
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