What happened in the last meeting between international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as reported yesterday by Asharq al-Awsat newspaper is worth noting. The first told the second, “You cannot remain in power. Apart from the opposition’s ability to win, the price would be the destruction of Damascus.” To this Assad replied, “I can win the war if I destroy Damascus.”
Chirac on Syria
This, in fact, is Assad’s plan: destroying Damascus, Syria, and the region. He had tried that in Iraq before and in Gaza and is still doing it in Lebanon. Here, I would like to mention a part of the memoir of former French President Jacques Chirac entitled The Presidential Time and in which he recounted developments between late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Chirac writes about a dinner he had with George W. Bush. He says that Bush did not understand Lebanon well, so he decided to explain to him the importance of helping Lebanon gain its independence from Syria and Hezbollah. He told him that presidential elections in Lebanon were to take place in October and that this should constitute an occasion for a new start provided that the new president was not imposed by Damascus.
Chirac adds that in the Summer of 2004, while France and the U.S. were working on a draft law that calls for free and fair elections accompanied by the unconditional withdrawal of Syrian troops, what they had expected happened. Assad and his ally former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud agreed to modify the constitution in a way that allowed the latter another three-year term in office. Hariri, then prime minister, condemned this proposal, so Assad summoned him to Damascus on August 26 and made it clear to him that Lahoud was his representative in Beirut, and that antagonizing Lahoud meant antagonizing him.
The Syrian president threatened to inflict “physical harm: on Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblat if the two of them insist on rejecting Lahoud and the new constitution. Assad actually yelled at Hariri and told him that if they wanted him out of Lebanon, he would level it to the ground and threatened to get back at him and his family wherever they are if he did not obey his orders.
On the afternoon of February 14, Chirac recounts that he was holding in a meeting in the Élysées Palace when he got the news that Hariri was assassinated in an explosion in Beirut. Chirac says he had warned Hariri two weeks before when the latter came to Paris. He told him that he did not have confirmed information, but that “they” were criminals and would not hesitate to do anything.
We are dealing with a real criminal who had intentionally killed tens of thousands, not because they were party to the conflict, but rather because he believes that killing and destruction are tools of control. This is what he is doing everyday and what he will do in the region if he remains in power for another year or more.
This article first appeared in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 23, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.