The Returning of the Jihadists in Syria to Their Countries is a Major Concern

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Iran Review’s Exclusive Interview with Senator Richard H. Black
By: Kourosh Ziabari

For more than three years, Syria has been engulfed in a deadly conflict that has so far claimed hundreds of lives and displaced, orphaned and widowed thousands of others. At the outset, there were people who claimed that the unrest in Syria was part of the democratic, revolutionary wave sweeping the Middle East and North Africa known as the Arab Spring, but it’s now clear to everyone, both friends and foes, that the unrest in Syria is a proxy war to which tens of countries are contributing for one end: bringing down the government of President Assad.

Syria has now turned into a battlefield for the face-off between the government forces and ordinary people loyal to President Assad and trained terrorists who are either affiliated with Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant or the others.

The veteran Republican Party politician Richard H. Black is one of the outspoken opponents of the U.S. government’s proxy war in Syria and a Senator who has audaciously and courageously stood up and voiced his support for President Assad and has even written a letter thanking him for preserving the rights of the religious minorities including the Christians and Jews at the time of war.

Richard (Dick) Black is a Member of the Virginia Senate from the 13th district. From 1998 to 2006, he was a member of the Virginia House of Representatives. The 70-year-old politician has got his B.A. degree from the University of Florida and is a doctor of jurisprudence. He has also worked as an attorney and attended the Army War College.

Iran Review conducted an exclusive interview with him to propose some questions regarding the future of the war in Syria and the U.S. officials’ reaction to the developments in the crisis-hit country. In this interview, Senator Richard H. Black described the war in Syria as an effort to dominate the Middle East and conquer Iran as a disobedient role-player in the region. Following is the text of the interview.

Q: The opponents of the government of President Bashar al-Assad have long accused him of failing to administer free and democratic presidential elections in Syria. Now the election is being held while the international observers are there, taking note of every step the government takes. Many of these European observers have applauded the constructive atmosphere surrounding the elections. Can we conclude that the Western powers are now unable to level further accusations against President Assad that he doesn’t allow a free and democratic election to be held in the Arab country?

A: The election has been surprisingly interesting. The Western media brushed it off and said that it would be meaningless because of the war and so forth, but I think they have been rather stunned by the dramatic outpouring of support for President Assad and the Syrian government. In particular, what happened in Lebanon was extremely important. The Syrian refugees in Lebanon were not under any obligation to vote and yet, there were throngs of people, thousands of thousands of people waiting in the sun for up to 15 hours to vote. The police had to control the crowd because they were so huge, and they were clearly going to vote for President Assad. I think there were two principal motivations. One is naturally you had a large group of people who simply like President Assad and support him. But I think in addition to that, there was a tremendous outpouring of the people who came to vote against the revolution.

There were people who saw this as an opportunity to vote against the terrorists who have flooded into Syria, and vote against the very viral behavior [they were seeing], the beheadings, the butchering of innocent people, the suicide bombs and so I think it was as much a vote against the rebels as it was a vote in favor of Assad. It was an incredibly powerful vote of support for the Syrian government and against the rebels.

Q: In your letter to President Assad, you wrote of the Syrian government’s commitment to the freedom of religion and its respect for religious diversity and the rights of the Christian and Jewish minorities. This is exactly what the opponents of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have tried to use as a pretext for attacking him. They claim that he has restricted religious freedoms and suppressed the Christians and the Jews. Are these claims true and realistic?

A: Early on in the rebellion, I have found out from very highly-placed contacts, including religious contacts within Syria, that the rebels marched the homes of all the Christians in such places as Hammam. They went around and marched, rampaged through the streets and drove all the Christians out. 70,000 Christians were forced to give up their homes, their businesses and their personal properties and fled into Damascus. So, the idea that somehow this was a part of the Arab Spring which was going to bring freedom and democracy to Syria, it was nothing of this sort. It was a terrorist movement from the very outset and it was intended and focused not only on the Christians, but was also focused on the Alawites, who make up a significant part of the Syrian population. Basically, anyone except for the extreme Sunni elements – I have many contacts there who support President Assad and the government that is working now.

Q: But you know that many opponents of President Assad have categorized the unrest in Syria as part of the revolutionary wave of Arab Spring, and they maintain that the ongoing violence in Syria is a popular movement aimed at democratizing the Syrian government?

A: I think the Arab Spring movement was very much motivated by a number of powers that worked together to destabilize various countries, and there was an attempt to destabilize – well, certainly Libya was attacked, which was an unprovoked attack which basically destroyed the country completely which was without any government, and is simply an anarchy today. There was an attempt to destabilize Egypt which has fortunately been overcome when the people rose up against it. Throughout the Middle East, the Arab Spring was a pretext for destabilizing various countries in the region and I think it has begun to run its course. I think the people in the Middle East are beginning to recognize that it simply was outsiders who were providing financial and military support to various dissident factions, and I think people have never really supported these uprisings.

Q: So, let’s move on to the next question. For some three years, the Syrian government has been defending the country against the plots and conspiracies of different terrorist cults including the Al-Nusra Front, and ISIL (the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Levant). What’s your viewpoint regarding the recent advances of the Syrian Army in Aleppo and other cities and their campaign against the armed terrorists?

A: About 18 months, the Syrian government was really facing rather desperate situations in a number of fronts on the battlefield. It was unclear who was going to prevail at that time. However, the Syrians have done a brilliant job of recovering from the situation that they were in. There was one major campaign beginning with the victory in Qusair and then the victory which I wrote about that was a campaign waged in the Kalaman mountain range, culminating with the tremendous victory in Yarbud. That was a tremendous victory because it sealed the border with Lebanon and left Turkey as the principal means of getting arms to the terrorists.  Additionally, the Siege of Homs turned over to the third largest city to the Syrian government. Homs had been considered as the birthplace of the revolution and its capture was a tremendous blow to the rebels.

Rebels launched a major attack through five different border locations with the assistance of Turkish government, and they used American supplied anti-tank missiles and were led by the Al-Nusra Front, which is a recognized terrorist group; the U.S. State Department has actually labeled them a terrorist group. Al-Nusra led the attack as they poured into Syria, captured the Christian town of Kassab and most of the Christians had fled beforehand; all people left there. They slaughtered 80 women while 13 of those were beheaded. They captured women and children and sent them to the city of Homs where fortunately they could recover as the rebels collapsed. All in all, I should mention that the battle for Aleppo has been a tremendous struggle and an incredibly difficult one, and yet you can see that the Syrian government is relentlessly moving forward, the military is also moving forward relentlessly in very difficult circumstances and there is a significant chance that the rebels will collapse in Aleppo over the next six months. Of course as the largest city in Syria, it is a place that did have a lot of rebel sympathizers, but I think that the fall of Aleppo would be just a cataclysmic disaster for the rebellion because they simply will not have any major theater campaign which they could wage successfully at that point, so I think that militarily, the situation has shifted dramatically in Syria’s favor. I think there’s a very a unified approach between Syria and its allies, and the rebels have been chaotic, disorganized, and so vicious that they have lost the support of the people. Whenever they captured Syrian troops, they conduct public executions for all the people to see, so they don’t even hide their war crimes. They post them on video websites and YouTube for all the world to see.

Now the Western quest has not been oriented on the war crimes. They’re so dramatically abundant that it’s clear that they have a policy of executing helpless prisoners of war. So I think those actions have soured the Syrian people against the rebels. The people are watching and saying, ok, we thought this rebellion would bring something good, but instead we are seeing Christians being crucified on crosses. We are seeing women and children – just last week, there was a family with a man of about 102 years old, and he had his children and grandchildren there, and because they were Alawites, the rebels went in, burnt them and shot them to death. All of them were either burned or shot to death. These things, the people watch and say, this is a level of savagery that no human being can condone.

Q: Something that very much strikes me is that the majority of Republican politicians in the two houses of the Congress and the Virginia State Senate are extremely opposed to the Syrian government and the current unrest in Syria is seen by them as a democratic movement, while you say that this is not the case and have also praised President Assad for his sympathy toward the Christians and the Jews. Haven’t you been under pressure by your colleagues and people in the Senate to abandon your viewpoints and your attitude toward Syria? Does your approach have any supporters or sympathizers in the U.S. decision-making institutions?

A: First of all, I would say that there really are a limited number of people in the Congress in state legislature with an in-depth understanding of foreign policy. Generally, it’s rather easy to manipulate people when the word is put out through the press that this government is bad; that government is bad. Sometimes it’s coercion, and sometimes it’s not. There’s a very selective amount of information that is provided to people and a tendency to go along with that. I’ve studied the Syrian situation literally every single day for three days through reading press reports around the world, without missing a day. I think there’s a limited amount of information that most people have. When they hear about it, they’re surprised. I’m not sure that there’s a tremendous public focus on it, but there are some people in the Congress who agree [with me] and I think you’ve seen some of them when there’s an attempt to get the U.S. Congress to support an American attack on Syria when there was a move by the administration to do that through sending guided-missile cruisers off the coast of Syria, and the opposition to attacking Syria was so great in Congress that they simply had to withdraw the proposed resolution from Congress and stand down from the attack. Some of that was simply a reluctance to get involved in another war, but I think there are also a number of Congressmen and Senators who are knowledgeable enough to be uncomfortable with intervening, and I think there are also some knowledge, and some understanding that if President Assad is toppled, then the result will be an Al-Qaeda dominated government. That message is slowly beginning to emerge, even in the mainstream media here.

Q: So, why do you think the majority of the mainstream media in the West and so many politicians, lawmakers and government officials in the United States are advocating the overthrow of the President Assad government? Why are they offering support to the rebels, insurgents and armed terrorists who are hell-bent on removing President Assad from power?

A: I suspect that it was connected in some respect with disputes that we have with Iran, that Syria to some extent was a pawn in a larger struggle over various issues with Iran, particularly the nuclear issue. The reason is that media, with few exceptions, today have rather limited knowledge and when something breaks out, they take their initial reports from the State Department and in this case, we had Ambassador Ford who was the ambassador to Syria. The time he resigned, he was rather embittered that he couldn’t succeed in the mission of toppling the government [of President Assad], but Ambassador Ford’s issue communicates that when the rebellion began and was an urban rioting, he conveyed the very clear impression that somehow these were good people who were simply trying to gain freedom from their oppressive government and I think the media picked up on it. They said, ok, this is a report from our government. Frankly, I think it was false. I think the information that was disseminated was quite misleading. I don’t think that the rioters who began the Syrian uprising operated simply on their own. I think they were organized, funded, armed and supplied from outside and I think it was a calculated decision to instigate an uprising and topple the government. I can understand that the media tend to trust what they are told and I think what they were told was not accurate.

Q: How is it possible to justify the U.S. government’s support for the Al-Nusra Front and the ISIL while it’s completely evident that they are professional terrorists?

A: We have been able to establish this “myth” of the moderate rebels, and we did this by setting up the Free Syrian Army which exists but is not a powerful group or able to fund or arm the jihadists and support them because it has not been designated a terrorist group. On the other hand, you’ve got several groups, the biggest one is the Islamist front which is a very extremist group and then you have the two most powerful fighting groups which are the Al-Nusra Front and ISIL. Those two groups are on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. We of course know that when we help them, they will simply end up supporting the same terrorists.

I think the U.S. support is more on the Al-Nusra side and less on the ISIL, but we are certainly allied with various Middle East countries that work with us on all these sides and they supply the weapons and funding to the ISIL which is of course destabilizing the government of Iraq on which we declared a major war to presumably to shore up Iraq and bring an improvement in the situation there and yet what we’re doing in Syria is a major damaging on the nation of Iraq. So, I don’t think that the most people focus enough on the war in Syria to understand that we are actively helping Al-Qaeda and its affiliates there, but it’s quite clear to many and I think it’s becoming clear to more experts in this area that this is exactly what’s happening.

Q: What’s the best solution to the ongoing conflict in Syria? Are there people in the two houses of the U.S. Congress who are in favor of diplomacy for bringing an end to this dilemma and don’t believe that this crisis has a military solution? Does your viewpoint have supporters and advocates among the high-ranking U.S. politicians and lawmakers?

A: Well, I wish there were an easy answer that would emanate from the United States, but I think the way that this likely is going to be settled is first on the battlefield in Syria, but I think also that there is certainly an opportunity for diplomacy and particularly through Iran working with its neighbors in the Middle East to attempt to influence them to draw back on their support. In particular, the nations of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey all have a major role in the war and I think it’s important for Iran to constantly remind those nations through diplomatic channels that the jihadists that are being supported – they are coming from the Middle East, Europe and the United States, but we need to constantly remind that at some point the jihadists will return home and when they return home, they will become some of the best-trained urban terrorists on the face of the earth. They will be extremely dangerous, and what they have done to the nation of Syria, they can go back and do the same to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait or Turkey. I think we need to impress them and hopefully Iran can do that through diplomatic channels. By financing these people, they may ultimately be doing something that leads to their own overthrow.

I believe that to some extent, this is becoming clearer, and you can see that countries like France – the French has cracked down on the people going to Syria because they are very fearful. There were several Jewish people who were shot down by somebody returning from Syria. You’re starting to see this even in Israel where there have been Israeli Arabs who had gone to fight in Syria and now they have come back and recently there was an incident where terrorist attacks were carried out by people returning from Syria. This can happen in all these countries. It will happen. Because if these people don’t get homesick, they won’t return home but they will remember their glory days of jihad and blowing up and killing people and will plant this poisonous seed of terrorism throughout their home countries, so I think it would be wise for these nations to say, ok, it’s time that we return stability to the Middle East and move away from this constant series of war and shift the role of waging war in other countries.

Key Words: Jihadists in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Presidential Elections in Syria, Western Powers, Christians and Jews, Arab Spring, Al-Nusra Front, ISIL, Republican Politicians, U.S. Congress, Black

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