AMMAN, Jordan — If Youssef Zoabi is right, Israel has good reason for concern. Speaking from an office in Amman, where he took refuge after fleeing his native Syria 14 months ago, Zoabi said the fall of the Assad regime will enable Syrians to realize their deepest aspiration — to regain the Golan Heights from Israel, “through negotiations or by force.”
“Why do Western countries not intervene in Syria on a humanitarian basis? Because of Israel,” he asserts. “Once the [Assad] regime disappears, people will start thinking about retaking the land which is rightfully theirs.
“We have no problem with negotiations [with Israel], as long as the outcome does not include concessions or capitulation,” he says. “The entire Syrian people agrees on regaining its rights first by peaceful means and, if that doesn’t work, through other means. Israel is terrified by this.”
Beneath a lighthearted demeanor, Zoabi is deeply frustrated both with the West and with the Arab world, which, he argues, have done nothing to save the Syrian people from an oppressive regime. Western countries such as France, which claim to be helping the rebels, are lying, he says, and aid from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar is no more than “a drop in the bucket.”
According to Zoabi, the weapons currently held by the rebels have either been bought or looted from the Syrian army, not supplied from abroad. Syrian oppositionists do not need fighters from overseas, he says, just more weapons — which they are not receiving. In their desperation, rebels have now begun manufacturing their own weapons: mortars, rockets, and most recently, more advanced weapons.
“If we had been given weapons, the regime would have fallen long ago,” he says.
An unkempt beard adorning his face and clad in a long, white robe, Zoabi’s appearance is that of a Salafi, or fundamentalist Islamist. But appearances can be misleading, he says.
‘Even if some FSA members made mistakes, how can anyone compare the butcher and the victim?’ Zoabi asks. ‘We are the victims! Claiming otherwise is untrue and unfair’
“If a Westerner would see me, he would brand me a terrorist. But an innocent man does not need to make excuses,” Zoabi argues. “Western media tarnishes the image of Islamists. Come, talk to them, listen to what they have to say. It’s easiest to video al-Qaeda members and say ‘that’s Islam.'”
Zoabi is one of half-a-million Syrians who have fled the country since the start of the uprising in March 2011, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He decided to leave his village near the southern city of Deraa in July 2011, after being summoned for questioning by one of Syria’s 17 intelligence agencies, the Political Security Directorate.
An active religious preacher before the revolution, Zoabi says Syrian intelligence singled him out from the start, being aware of his religious and political activities in mosques and private gatherings.
“My home was one of the first to be raided. They asked me to come to their headquarters and sign a document committing not to participate in demonstrations, but I didn’t go — I knew the regime is treacherous and deceitful.”
Zoabi says he could not tell his family of his intention to flee to Jordan, lying just six miles from his village, for fear of government telephone tapping. So he told them he was leaving for Damascus.
‘Syria’s population is more than 80 percent Sunni, and we want an Islamic regime, because such a regime will be just to everyone,’ Zoabi says
He was smuggled across the border by Syrian rebels, who were not yet organizationally affiliated, as the Free Syrian Army was not yet established.
A Jordanian army patrol found Zoabi after he had crossed the border by foot. He was convinced the soldiers would arrest him, believing that all Arab regimes cooperated with each other. Instead, the Jordanian soldier hugged him, at which point Zoabi realized he had reached safety.
“I will never forget that hug my entire life. It alleviated my security fears.”
Many in the West fear an all-out sectarian war following the fall of the Assad regime. In August, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Syria was deteriorating into sectarian violence. But Zoabi argues that if it is up to Syria’s Sunni majority, such a war will not take place.
“Syria’s population is more than 80 percent Sunni, and we want an Islamic regime, because such a regime will be just to everyone,” he says. “But even if the regime is not Islamic, we will treat everyone justly, even those who wronged us, regardless of their sectarian identity: Alawite, Shiite, Christian. Everyone is committed to this, because God Almighty says in the Koran ‘God commands justice.'”
‘The entire Syrian people agrees on regaining its rights first by peaceful means and, if that doesn’t work, through other means. Israel is terrified by this’
Zoabi is upset with Western media, which, he claims, unfairly compares war crimes perpetrated by the regime to those committed by the opposition Free Syrian Army.
“Even if some FSA members made mistakes, how can anyone compare the butcher and the victim?” he asks. “We are the victims! Claiming otherwise is untrue and unfair.”