Assad: Chemical arms no longer needed against Israel

Syrian president says his military industry was modified to fight insurgency instead of Israel, calls Hamas ‘treacherous,’ quips that he deserves Nobel peace prize

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Syrian President Bashar Assad (photo credit: AP/CBS)
Syrian President Bashar Assad (photo credit: AP/CBS)

Syria has shifted the focus of its military industry from Israel to the internal insurgency, President Bashar Assad told a Lebanese daily in a lengthy interview Monday. He also dubbed the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas “treacherous” for its anti-regime stance.

Speaking to the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, a newspaper close to Hezbollah and sympathetic to his government, Assad said Syria’s advanced missile capabilities were sufficient to deter Israel militarily and therefore he did not need the chemical stockpile. In fact, he said, Syria stopped manufacturing chemical weapons back in 1997, replacing them with conventional missiles “which are the determining factor on the ground.”

“It is enough to control Israel’s airports with firepower in order to paralyze it,” Assad said. Easily treatable medically, chemical weapons had more of a psychological effect on Israelis than a physical one, he added.

The UN has tasked the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to rid Syria of its stockpile by mid-2014. Twenty-seven OPCW inspectors are currently in Syria on mission to inspect over 20 suspected chemical weapons sites across the country.

Assad also blasted the leaders of the Arab world for siding with the West in his opposition.

“No Arab official ever contacted us trying to mediate or offering an Arab solution proposal,” Assad said. The West, he added, “was more dignified in dealing with us than some of the Arabs.”

Giving up the chemical weapons certainly dealt Syria a morale blow, Assad admitted. In 2003, Syria tried to use its chemical stockpile as an international bargaining chip to strip Israel of its nuclear capabilities. Today the price has changed, claimed the article in Al-Akhbar. The agreement to hand over the weapons was made in return for removing the threat of aggression against Syria.

“Even the conventional military industry, which used to be geared against Israel, is now directed at the domestic enemies. This too is a loss,” Assad remarked of his domestic military complex, adding jokingly that he is more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, this year’s winner.

Hamas, like Muslim Brotherhood, is ‘treacherous’

Assad dedicated a significant part of the interview to pouring cold water on media reports of a rapprochement between Hamas and its former allies, Iran and Syria.

Syria, he said, had always differentiated between the Muslim Brotherhood movement — which has never been anything but “fickle, opportunistic and treacherous” — and its Palestinian subsidiary Hamas, which it considered a “resistance movement.”

But when the moment of truth came in 2011 and Hamas had to show its true colors publicly following a belligerent anti-Assad speech by Muslim Brotherhood religious leader Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, it failed; deciding “to give up the resistance and become part of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“This was not the first time they betrayed us. This happened before in 2007 and 2009,” Assad said. “If only someone could convince them to become a resistance movement once again. But I doubt this. Hamas turned against Syria from day one. It has made its choice.”

Al-Akhbar’s interviewer, Elie Chalhoub, commented that “it seems clear that Assad’s heart still aches from the injury inflicted by Hamas,” but added that the Syrian leader nevertheless “left the door open for a breakthrough if interests changed.”

“After all, politics is about convictions, but also interests.”

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