Breaking his movement’s policy against speaking to representatives of the Israeli media, a senior member of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, exiled for 30 years, met this week with The Times of Israel, and used the interview to charge that Israel is supporting Bashar Assad in resisting the uprising in Syria.
“Israel is not requested to help. All we ask is that it stop supporting Bashar Assad,” he said. “We don’t ask or expect anything else from it.”
The official did not specify how this ostensible support was being facilitated, but implied that Israel was influencing the US and Russia in this regard. “Look, for 14 months there has been no real decision by the Security Council. Now, we know that (Prime Minister) Netanyahu can go to Washington and (Foreign Minister) Lieberman can go to Moscow. Their decisions are followed in both places. This is how we read things, we may be mistaken.”
Ironically, the official’s accusations came as Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, issued strident condemnations of Assad, and branded the Syrian president a war criminal.
Asked in a Channel 2 interview on Thursday night whether the Assad regime might be succeeded by something worse, Peres said Assad was “the worst that can be… He kills his own people’s children… He murders innocents. He doesn’t stop. He lies. He conspires. He arms himself with illegal weaponry… He’s a war criminal.”
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood official also said that if a regime emerged in Syria “that represents the Syrian people,” it would seek the return of the Golan Heights. Asked whether this would be by force or through diplomacy, he said, “If the Golan can be retrieved through peaceful means, no one will consider other means.”
The official, who would not be named, showed two books that he said he always keeps on his desk: the Bible (Old and New Testaments), translated into Arabic as ‘The Book of Life'; and a volume entitled ‘The Origins of Antisemitism;’ with a large, blue star of David on its cover, also in Arabic.
“I am a Muslim and I read the Quran for religious purposes,” he said. “But I search for wisdom in the Torah.”
And the Torah’s teachings, he said, were being trampled in Syria: “The Torah says ‘you shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.’ That is such a beautiful verse!” he exclaimed. “Look how children are now being killed in their mothers’ bosom. Three days ago they killed a child in front of his mother and then killed her.”
He wanted to tell the Jewish public in Israel, he said, that “Israel now is defending Hitler. Imagine!”
He elaborated: “Hitler, for Syrians, is Bashar Assad. Hitler the Nazi, not Hitler the German. This is the person Israeli politicians are defending.”
He said “the entire Syrian people believe that what is happening in Syria is a holocaust, but Bashar Assad is merely the executor. The decision-makers are others.”
He said he recognized that Israel had not massacred children in Gaza in the way that children were now being massacred in Homs, “and we said so courageously.” But, he implied, Israel was among those enabling Assad to continue killing Syrian citizens: “We argue that [the Syrian killings] are being carried out at the behest of… [others]. Those who decide and cover for him [Assad], are others.”
The interviewed continued as follows:
What is their motive?
You must ask them. We did not perpetrate the Holocaust and we protected people in our lands during the [Spanish] Inquisition. We find it strange that a holocaust is being perpetrated against us.
It is rumored that some Syrian opposition members are in touch with Israelis. Do you have any knowledge of this?
We have no wish to be in touch with Israeli elements, and we have not decided to do so.
Can Israel intervene in the opposite direction? Can it help Syria?
Israel is not requested to help. All we ask is that it stop supporting Bashar Assad. We don’t ask or expect anything else from it. We know that there is a real alliance [between Israel and the Assad regime] and Rami Makhlouf, the president’s cousin, mentioned it. He said ‘we agreed with the Israelis on peace for peace and stability for stability.’ He said this about one year ago.
How do you envision the day after Assad?
Today we are immersed in thinking about how to topple Assad. We want to live an honorable life, with freedom. We do not want there to be only one democracy in the Middle East.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said last week that Assad’s downfall would be very positive.
There are contradictory statements. We follow them. In every democracy there are those who say one thing and those who say another. We read the decisions taken in Tel Aviv and see them in the White House. The decision is made in Tel Aviv and the execution is in the White House.
What kind of political situation do you envision for our conflict?
The land is big enough to accommodate all people. But the minds of people need to be widened. If people’s hearts and minds are wide, the land is wide. Is this message clear? But the opposite is true as well.
Are you referring to people as individuals or to political collectives?
We view all humanity as one and do not accept any type of hegemony. We will fight all forms of oppression, be it from Bashar Assad or from anyone else. We have sacrificed 10,000 martyrs in Syria because there is a group of people who want to dominate others. When people are convinced they can live as equals, this means their minds and hearts have opened.
“The land is big enough to accommodate all people. But the minds of people need to be widened.”
Hafez Assad has defeated us for 30 years, and his son may win this time, but if he wins people will revolt against him a second, third and fourth time.
Do you think Assad’s downfall is only a matter of time?
The Arab nationalists and leftists tell us that there is an international conspiracy against Assad, but the conspiracy is against the Syrian people! Look, for 14 months there has been no real decision by the Security Council. Now, we know that Netanyahu can go to Washington and Lieberman can go to Moscow. Their decisions are followed in both places. This is how we read things, we may be mistaken.
You believe that Israel controls Moscow?
Not that it controls Moscow, but it influences it on our particular matter, in the region.
But Russia was always allied with the Arab side!
Only outwardly. We know that even during the wars that Syria was engaged in, Moscow only gave it defensive weapons, not offensive. It was a strategic decision by Moscow. When you attacked us with Phantom [jets], we had Mig-21s. Only later, when you already had F-15s, did we get Mig-27s.
“If a regime emerges in Syria that represents the Syrian people, it will not be able to leave this land occupied forever. The guarantee given by Hafez Assad to the Israelis is over.”
Should Israel be optimistic about Assad’s downfall?
Peace is created by people. [Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat did not succeed in creating peace with Israel. To this day Israel cannot say it has peace with Egypt. Real democracies do not fight each other. But if ramming is the name of the game, all sides will seek horns to ram.
We observe what [Israel] does with the Palestinians. They say: ‘clip your nails, cut your hair, and come negotiate with me.’ This is unacceptable.
On the involvement of Hezbollah and Iran
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah declared in an interview with Julian Assange on Russia Today that his party tried to engage with the Syrian opposition, but it had refused. Do you have any knowledge of this?
This is what we call playing in overtime. This role was expected from Nasrallah and Iran for the past 30 years, when people were slaughtered and no one intervened. Now, after the Syrian people paid with so much blood, we no longer need intermediaries. If Hassan Nasrallah or Iran really cared for the Syrians, he should have acted during the past 30 years.
So at this stage his intervention is unwelcome?
Yes. Today, mediation is unwelcome from all parties, but especially from Hassan Nasrallah. If Hassan Nasrallah wants to portray himself as a friend, he could have done so … He was contacted many times with that messages but he did not respond. An appeal for mediation was even made to Iran.
“If Hassan Nasrallah or Iran really cared for the Syrians, they should have acted during the past 30 years.”
But he pretended not to hear, he and others. Now Syria is a hot topic and people talk about it. But when Syria needed an intermediary, he did not intervene. So this role comes at an unwanted time, both from him and from others. The Syrian people do not await mediation from anyone at this stage.
‘The role of the international community is over’
The international monitors have not been very successful in stopping the violence on the ground. What is the next step?
The Syrian people will continue in their path. We believe the role of the international community is over. The entire international initiative is in vain. It is a waste of time, and they know it.
So what is its purpose?
To convince world opinion that they’re doing something and give Bashar Assad more time to kill more people, hoping that he will succeed in bringing Syria back to where it was before.
The international community is acting differently in Syria than it did in Libya, where an international coalition was formed to topple Gaddafi.
Syria is more complicated that Libya and more than Egypt and Tunisia. The geopolitical situation of Syria is more complex. Change in Syria will affect five countries in the region: Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Palestine. This is the bottom line: the Golan. People think about it incessantly. If a regime emerges in Syria that represents the Syrian people, it will not be able to leave this land occupied forever. The guarantee given by Hafez Assad to the Israelis is over. The [Syrian] National Council said that there will be ‘serious attempts’ [to liberate the Golan].
By force or through negotiations?
People always prefer to reach understandings through politics and diplomacy. But other sides impose different means. If the Golan can be retrieved through peaceful means, no one will consider other means.
“The entire international initiative is in vain. It is a waste of time, and they know it.”
Are you optimistic?
I am optimistic with pain. The price paid in Syria is for naught, and was unnecessary. I am convinced the international community looks at what is going on in Syria and does nothing. We have this international illusion of a democratic project, but it is untrue. These are words for public consumption.
Does this influence your vision of implementing democracy in Syria?
On the contrary, we hope to have the opportunity to display a better democracy than the one taking place today. We support all forms of pluralism, not only political pluralism.
“I may have been wrong in some of my interpretations,” he admits as he walks me to the door. “But we are now living moments of real pain. We hope we can find room in people’s hearts for this pain.”