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dimanche 3 mars 2019

Hassan Nasrallah on Syria: The US Protected ISIS to the End, Kurds and Turkey are the biggest losers

Interview of Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah Secretary General, with Ghassan Ben Jeddou, founder of the pan-Arab and anti-imperialist Al-Mayadeen channel, January 26, 2019.

This live interview, much expected in Israel and the Arab world, lasted for more than 3 hours.

Translation: unz.com/sayedhasan

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Transcript:

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Dear viewers, welcome to the second part of our global interview with Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah.

Eminent Sayed (descendant of the Prophet), first, during the (advertising) break, we were informed that several Israeli channels are transmitting this interview live (dubbed in Hebrew), and some channels have already started to comment (your statements). This is clearly a significant thing.

(Let us now evoke) the Syrian file, in a general and strategic perspective. Can we say, with precision and clarity, that we are moving towards a final, decisive, definitive and complete victory in Syria? Or should we say that the outcome is still complex, and that we can't say that the war is moving towards its end, and that the Resistance Axis, or Syria first and foremost, cannot yet speak of a near victory?


Hassan Nasrallah: In Syria, we can (rightly) talk about a great and glorious victory, and say that we have reached the final stage (of the war). Of course, it would not be reasonable, before the resolution of the situation in the North, namely in Idlib and in the north of Aleppo, and before the resolution of the situation in the East of the Euphrates –taking full account of the difference between these two situations, which are distinct in the two regions–, we cannot say that the issue is over, and that victory is complete and final, if we want to express ourselves with precision (and accuracy). But all the successive dangers that we feared in 2011, at the beginning of the events, and during all the twists and turns that have occurred since, we have (definitely) overcome them, by the Grace of God Almighty and Exalted.

Today, I am adamant, Syria is relatively in a much better situation than ever since the events began in 2011. Even regarding the remaining issues, and this is something very important, the Syrian State and the leaders of Syria are in a position of strength and domination, and in a very easy and relaxed posture as to their situation (and the country's).

Today, the problem East of the Euphrates is an issue for the State and the leaders because it is a Syrian territory. But East of the Euphrates, the crisis and the impasse is primarily between Turks, Kurds and the United States. And it is also an internal crisis between Kurds and Arabs. I will explain this point (later).

It is the same about Idlib and the Northern region. The Syrian government, the leaders of Syria and the Syrian Arab Army, with the help of their allies, are quite capable of winning the battle in Northern Syria: it is an obvious and undeniable fact. They were already able and prepared to do it since the liberation of Southern Syria, but during this time, international and regional interference, (negotiations) between the countries (of the) Astana (conference) and individual and direct Turkish pressure on Russia, including during the Astana meetings –Iran was not excluded from this debate–, have led to a different resolution (non-military) of the situation in the North for humanitarian reasons, due to (the alleged presence) of millions of refugees, the desire not to spill blood, etc., and they have opted for this formula that has not been successful so far and is still under evaluation, causing confusion and trouble in Turkish-Russian relations.

Therefore, two issues remain to date, if we talk about the battlefield. On the battlefield today, in all the regions where the Syrian State retook control –and these areas where the control of the Syrian State is total are very extensive–, there are only two issues left. (The first issue) is the East of the Euphrates. If the matter goes towards an agreement between...

Of course, before we consider the future, (I have to remind) where we were headed (before): Kurdish units and movements, with the support of the United States, France, the UK and the West –but in fact, it was mostly US support–, and thanks to the direct US presence (in Syria), were about to entrench their presence and take full control of the entire Eastern region of the Euphrates up to the Syrian-Turkish border. The Kurds were in a strong position and wanted to negotiate with the (Syrian) regime from this position: no danger threatened them and they had no problem whatsoever, they were very comfortable. And attempts to negotiate with the regime took place –I have no problem to talk about the Syrian "regime", although for some, this term is incorrect (derogatory), because for me, the term "regime" (meaning "order" in Arabic) is the opposite of "chaos", even if in today's Arab statements, the word "regime" has become pejorative. Anyway, the State is the regime...

The Kurdish units and movements, relying on US support and the US presence East of the Euphrates, were in a very comfortable situation and had (very) high demands (autonomy or independence, maintenance of a Kurdish armed force, etc.), but in my opinion, the Syrian State could never accept an agreement or solution of this nature. We don't need to delve into these details. But the Turks had a problem with that.

In the resolutions of the situation we are talking about, the Kurds requested Kurdish troops to be maintained, even if they had to be part of the Syrian Army. But as regards Turkey, this would represent a huge problem. Of course, my knowledge of the leaders of the Syrian State leads me to regard this solution as unthinkable: it is impossible that the Syrian Army gets constituted into a sectarian or racial fashion, with sectarian or racial units or components (Sunni / Shia, Arab / Kurds, etc.). The Syrian culture, political vision and ideology will never allow this.

Anyway, Turkey considers the Kurdish units and movements...

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: The regime and also the population.

Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, it is (also) rooted in (Turkish) popular culture. The Turks consider the Kurdish parties as a Syrian copy of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party, armed group regarded as terrorist by Ankara), and therefore as a terrorist organization that threatens Turkey and civil peace in Turkey, because on both sides of the (Syrian-Turkish) border, there are Kurds. Therefore, Turkey has a problem (with this), despite the fact that the Turks and the Kurds are both allies of the US, but there is a dispute between them. The Kurds believe that Turkey represents an existential threat for them, and Turkey believes that the Kurds are a danger to their national security. There is therefore a persisting problem.

But regarding Syria, it is just the opposite, and ultimately, the (Syrian) State and regime may even represent the solution. Why have I spoken about a position of power and domination? Why would the Syrian regime be the solution? What are the possible and potential scenarios?

Between Turkey and the US, between Trump and Erdogan –it is indeed about these two people–, things have almost reached conflict and breaking off (diplomatic relations) due to the issue of Eastern Euphrates. (Erdogan said): "Oh Trump, you protect terrorist groups and parties, and it threatens our national security, while we are allies, etc." (On the other hand), Trump came (on the stage) and took the decision to withdraw (US troops from Syria) –and this is a topic we will address separately– and said (to Erdogan): "Syria is yours, (do what you want with it )." This has terrorized the Kurds, the Kurdish parties, as well as the other allies of the USA in the region –and it is also related to the situation in the region, that we'll evoke later.

Turkey has become more willing to engage in a military battle (against the Kurds), which would have meant a fight between US allies, that is the Turkish army on the one hand, using armed factions of the (supposedly) Syrian opposition, against, on the other hand, the (armed) Kurdish units supported by the US and the West, and funded by the Gulf –as Saudi Arabia continues to fund (the armed groups). Therefore…

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Excuse me, so the Kurdish forces, allies of the US in Syria, are funded by the Gulf (countries)?

Hassan Nasrallah: Of course, Saudi Arabia and the UAE finance them. It is both an American decision and a Saudi Arabia and UAE (deeply-rooted) conviction. We'll return to this point when we talk about (the relations of) the Arab (countries) with Syria.

Today, if Turkey wants to achieve a military incursion into Syrian territory, it will be a problem with the United States and with Europe, it will violate Syrian sovereignty, and Turkey does not know what the outcome of this battle will be. Russia does not agree (with a Turkish incursion), so such an intervention would also degrade the Russian-Turkish relations. So what is the logical solution (to this whole situation)?

When Erdogan returned from Moscow –and so far, I didn't look up what was said during the last meeting (between Putin and Erdogan on January 23 in Moscow)–, but (we can guess it if we remember the) meetings that preceded it, when the Turkish Foreign Minister and Defense Minister, along the heads of the Turkish security services, went to Russia, some time ago, to discuss the issue of Idlib and East of the Euphrates: they didn't reach any agreement, no result at all, it was a (complete) failure. The joint statement that was made was very general. Then...

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: This is information (or mere analysis)?

Hassan Nasrallah: This is (first hand) information. Then, when Erdogan went (personally) to Moscow, he was trying to find a solution to this problem (and get a Russian agreement to a Turkish military intervention in Syria). But on his return, what did Erdogan speak about? The Adana agreement. He referred to the Adana agreement that was signed in 1998, that is to say at the time of the late President Hafez al-Assad: back then, in order to regulate the situation at the Syrian-Turkish border and the problem of the PKK, certain principles were established in a joint Syrian-Turkish agreement.

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: At the time of (Turkish) President (Suleyman) Demirel.

Hassan Nasrallah: Yes. So when (Erdogan) says that they must return to the Adana agreement, what does it mean? It means recognizing that the only solution East of the Euphrates is the deployment of the legal and legitimate Syrian Army along the entire length of the border (with Turkey), and when the Syrian Army, the Syrian leadership and the Syrian regime will take charge of the border with Turkey, and when their forces will be deployed in the region of the East of the Euphrates, they'll implement the Adana agreement.

And today, a few hours ago –this point will also prove that this interview is broadcast live–, the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Syria respects the Adana agreement, but the problem is that Turkey does not respect it, as it violates the border, supports terrorist (groups), gives them weapons, etc. Such is the solution: (Eastern Euphrates should return into the hands of the Syrian Army).

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: But with your permission, Eminent Sayed, it seems that the Turks want to reform the Adana agreement, so that there is not only a deployment of the Syrian Army at the border, but also a new agreement that would allow the Turkish army to patrol (both sides of) the border, including Syrian territory.

Hassan Nasrallah: The fact that President Erdogan refers to the Adana agreement, be it only as a basis for discussion –sometimes, he says he simply wants to implement this agreement, which is fine; sometimes he speaks of amendments to this agreement–, is in my opinion a positive development per se.

Today, Turkey wants to hold a dialogue with the Syrian State (to reinstate of the Adana agreement), whereas previously, they refused to dialogue with the (official Syrian) authorities. To me, the Syrian leaders are in no hurry to address this issue. They have all the time before them. Kurdish units and Turkey can take their time on this issue. So much for the first issue (Eastern Euhphrate).

In this regard, let me clarify one last point: I believe that within a short time, ISIS will be eradicated in the last pocket where they remain present, around Abu Kamal.

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Who will take care of that?

Hassan Nasrallah: Kurdish units supported by the international coalition. The locations that ISIS still controls have become very small, 7 kilometers wide by 10 kilometers long, it's only two small or medium towns or villages, and most of them have started to make their families leave the scene, agreements are concluded. And I think that as usual, the most intractable will be the foreign fighters, and in the end, they will hand themselves over to the Kurdish units, whose military camps today include thousands of ISIS fighters.

The Kurds have suggested (to return) these prisoners to the countries where they come from (by saying): "Take back your children, it's not up to us (to keep them and) feed them!" ISIS will be liquidated in this (last) pocket. This file remains open. And in this open file, when ISIS will be eradicated, we will be very comfortable. The Syrian State will be comfortable as well as the Syrian Army, because you know that their presence in Abu Kamal, Deir Ezzor and in many other places is due to the ISIS threat.

There is no possibility of war or (serious) fighting between the Syrian Army and Kurdish units. The atmosphere is one of negotiation, dialogue and search for solutions, because all the lines (of communication) are open. The military, security and political lines are open. This will lighten (the pressure on) the Syrian Army, the Syrian State and all of us (Syria's allies: Hezbollah, Russia, Iran) on this front in particular.

Of course, (the US) have done everything possible to delay...

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: You have fighters out there?

Hassan Nasrallah: Last summer, when Deir Ezzor and Abu Kamal were liberated, it was the United States that prevented the Syrian Army and its allies from wiping out ISIS (for good), this could have been done last summer. They informed the Russians that any advancing forces would be bombed by US warplanes. And that is why the forces stopped at the Euphrates river, and the task (to liquidate ISIS) remained on the shoulders of Kurdish units supported (by the West). This is only a small pocket, but it's been going on for 7 or 8 months. This proves the politicization of the issue (ISIS is a card that the US wants to keep in their hands). Why are things accelerating today? Because Trump wants to pull out of Syria, and the existence of this (ISIS) pocket prevents him from leaving Syria boasting that he defeated ISIS. 

This regards the East of the Euphrates.

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: And regarding Idlib?

Hassan Nasrallah: For the question of Idlib, one must also refer to the discussions between Turkey and Russia. 

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Excuse me, but you just surprised us by saying one thing we heard repeatedly in the media, but the fact that Hezbollah Secretary General confirms it gives it a dimension of (absolute) certainty. Last year, you were –the Syrian army and its allies– about to launch a military battle to free Idlib? Did I understand you correctly?

Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, it's true.

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: You were about to liberate it completely?

Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, and to do so, many battalions and military units were transported from the South and Damascus suburbs to the (Idlib) region, and preparations were made (to start this offensive), but international communications, Turkey, Russia, Astana, etc. (entered into the scene and delayed the operation).

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Back then, did Russia also agree (to start this operation to fully liberate Idlib), regardless of the Turkish interference?

Hassan Nasrallah: At least, what I know is that at the military level, they urged Syrian forces to launch this operation quickly, at least the military leadership (present in Syria).

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: The Russians?

Hassan Nasrallah: Yes.

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: But political interference...

Hassan Nasrallah: It is the Russian forces who insisted with the Syrian forces and the rest of the allies to hurry and mass their forces in the northern region. Then politics interfered with the issue, and we came to this agreement.

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: And what can we expect for the future? As you know, Eminent Sayed, the Al-Nusra Front, which has renamed itself Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, grabbed almost all the (Northern) region. Is...

Hassan Nasrallah: They grabbed Idlib. They control different zones. They control Idlib and Western Aleppo, but there is also regions like Southern Aleppo, Der-Euphrates, Osn al-Zeitoun, etc. (which are outside their control).

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: I speak specifically of Idlib. Today, the Al-Nusra Front or Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has taken over the entire region.

 Hassan Nasrallah: They grabbed Idlib and Western Aleppo.

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Is (this terrorist organization) a card in the hands of Turkey, meant to (strengthen Ankara's position during) negotiations and agreements, or even to launch provocations? Or can we finally head towards a military solution against Al-Nusra?

Hassan Nasrallah: All choices are open. But now, everyone gives priority to a political solution, until further notice. Anyway, it would not be...

To accurately describe things, delaying the confrontation in Idlib is something that was expected, because it was foreseeable that the various (terrorist) factions would eventually slaughter each other, and that's what happened. Overall, this is one of the problems inherent with such groups in Syria. The fighting that took place in recent weeks was very violent, atrocious, and out of all bounds. They claim to be Islamic, but even the limits imposed by religion, morality and humanity were disregarded during these battles that I followed (in detail). 

In fact, the Al-Nusra Front has liquidated all the other factions who were closest to Turkey. Did Turkey agree to this operation? This is not clear. Was Turkey unable to prevent this operation? Did Turkey look at the outcome of this operation as an accomplished fact, and tried to benefit from it politically? These questions need to be asked, and the answer is not easy to establish. (To answer this question with certainty) would require (more accurate) information and data.

But anyway, I consider that Al-Nusra Front taking control of this vast region is an additional pressure on Turkey that reduces its possibilities, because the Al-Nusra Front is considered by the (UN) Security Council, the international community and all the countries of the world, with few exceptions, as a terrorist organization. It is not a Syrian opposition faction, Islamic or nationalist, for which Erdogan could claim protection because of alleged legitimate claims and an alleged right to participate in a political resolution of the conflict in Syria. So there is a great force in the region of Idlib, considered and recognized as terrorist, against which Russia acts as against a terrorist group, who controls this area and cannot in any way participate in the political solution. How could this issue be resolved (if not by force)? This is why I consider it a problematic solution, and a political resolution is (very) difficult.

There have been attempts to convince the Al-Nusra Front / Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to integrate with other factions, under another name in which it would dissolve, and that could be presented as a new nationalist movement, Islamic and Syrian, without any relationship with Al-Qaeda, and without any relationship with the Al-Nusra Front. Thus, it would have erased –or at least tried to erase– its previous (terrorist) identity, and be re-branded as a new movement and a new organization that has the appearance of a Syrian nationalist or Islamic movement that would participate in the (political) solution in Syria. Because the project to bring down the regime, to force a regime change and to take Damascus is definitely buried. But the Al-Nusra Front is unworthy and incapable of such a thing: neither Abu Mohammed al-Joulani (founding leader of Al-Nusra / Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) nor anyone (in his group) could accept such a thing. It is a critical problem in the culture, ideology and mentality of these fighters, of which one (large) part was brought from all over the world, there are (many) foreign nationalities among them.

To me, the question of the future of Idlib is not very clear, and Turkey is stuck on this issue. That is why the statements of Erdogan... I'm not sure about Erdogan, but at least the Turkish (leaders), perhaps including Erdogan himself, say that they agree on the importance of fighting terrorism in Idlib. And who is in Idlib (if not terrorists)?

Thus, even at the negotiating table, Turkey cannot defend Al-Nusra against Russia by claiming that they should participate in the political solution (and thus further delay the military solution). Therefore, either Turkey will find (on its own) a solution to the question of Idlib, either, in the end –not necessarily now, it can wait one, two or three months, because we do not know how the situation will unfold–, the region of Idlib is an important area for Syria, and I know (how determined) President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian leadership are, and I do not think it's possible they'd leave any inch of Syrian territory in the hands of armed groups, especially such takfiri and terrorist groups.

Ghassan Ben Jeddou: To summarize the situation in the North, Turkey, the US and the Kurds, the Kurdish armed forces present there, are in a real crisis in this region. Regarding Idlib, controlled by Al-Nusra / Tahirir Hayat al-Sham, the political solution is impossible because 1 / Al-Nusra is regarded internationally as a terrorist group, and 2 / its ideology basically forbids them to hold any dialogue with (the central authorities of) Damascus. The solution will ultimately be the liberation of this region because the Syrian leadership cannot tolerate any pocket to remain controlled by these terrorist and takfiri groups, even if they are embedded with other countries (Turkey). And third, you put a question mark on the role and position of Turkey. [...]

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