The general called the chemical weapons a “very, very, very important problem — we’re seeing them going toward Lebanon, which is an extremely dangerous situation that we should be very aware of. Very extremely dangerous.” Here, of course, they would fall into the hands of Assad ally Hezbollah.
Those fighting Assad hope that the solution, be it diplomatic or military, comes before a “catastrophic” slaughter by the flailing dictator, who still has the powerful intelligence sector on his side.
“If the opposition was granted a good discipline, were really backed by a good strategy and armaments, there wouldn’t be anything left by the government,” the general told PJM. “If we did have a good strategy from the beginning, I tell you there wouldn’t be any military fighting at this point.”
The Syrian revolution began in March 2011 with peaceful street protests against the reign of Assad, inspired by other Arab Spring movements calling for democratic government in the region. As Assad slaughtered civilians in response, disillusioned generals left their posts and rank-and-file soldiers crossed to the opposition, too. Longtime opposition groups — representing the country’s diversity from Christians to Islamists, Kurds to Assyrians — forged a political leadership in exile, leading from the Syrian National Council to the newly formed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
And while the State Department is designating one group of Syrian rebels as a terrorist group — the al-Nusra Front (deemed an extension of al-Qaeda in Iraq) — in an effort to isolate extremists who would take advantage of the political instability, the general takes umbrage at characterizations of this revolution as one of hardline militant Islamists.
“I would like to give you my word of honor and to all the American public that there is no presence of al-Qaeda in Syria,” he said. “Whether Muslim or Christian or Alawi, everything that you look at, it’s coming from the people — it’s the people, your regular people from the street, fighting.”
He stressed that in Syria, a conservative Muslim isn’t like one you’d find in Afghanistan or Pakistan — a Salafist, he said, is basically considered as one who prays more than your average Muslim.
He does point to the Iraq War and Assad sending jihadists over the border to conduct suicide bombings and other attacks. “If you want to search for any traces of al-Qaeda, look no further than the government of Syria,” the general said.
“They were fueling extremists of all types whether from the right or left,” he said. “Everything was controlled and used to back the power of the intelligence of Syria.” Assad consistently tries to brand the opposition as “terrorists.”
And those who have protected and armed the Assad regime won’t have a new friend in a democratic Syria.
“Yes to the United States, yes to Europe, and no to Russia — we don’t want to deal with anything or anyone coming from this part of the world,” the general asserted.
The general vows that a peaceful Syria, representing its myriad ethnic and religious groups, can even be a force for stability in other regional crises.
“We want peace,” he said. “Please don’t stick any kind of labels to us.”