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with General Akil Hashem, Former Syrian Brigadier General and John Glen, MP for Salisbury
12.30 – 1.30pm, Thursday 24th May 2012
Committee Room 9, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
To attend please RSVP to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Syrian uprising, which began as a peaceful protest movement, has metamorphosed into a life-or-death struggle against the Assad regime, which the UN has credibly accused of crimes against humanity. Military defectors and civilian conscripts have formed hundreds of armed factions of resistance throughout the country, loosely identified in the Western press as the Free Syrian Army. But what are their actual capabilities and levels of organisation? And what chances for success have they got against a regime backed by Russia, Iran and China, and armed with tanks, attack helicopters, chemical weapons?
Now that UN special envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point protocol for a political solution to the Syrian crisis is widely acknowledged to be a failure, talk of some form of military intervention has once again risen to the fore of the international policy debate. Senators John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Lindsay Graham and John Kerry have all called for some form of direct US intervention in Syria, and Turkey, which currently hosts around 25,000 refugees on its border and which has been subject to cross-border attacks by the Syrian security forces, has lately threatened to invoke the NATO Charter to impose a buffer zone within northern Syria.
By kind invitation of John Glen MP, The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to a discussion with General Akil Hashem, a retired Brigadier General in the Syrian army and a strong supporter of the year-long revolution to oust the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Former Brigadier General Akil Hashem will explain the feasibility of such a plan, drawing from his expert knowledge of the Syrian military including its defence capabilities, its command structure and its actual — as opposed to mythic — status as one of the most formidable forces in the contemporary Middle East.
TIME: 12.30 – 1.30pm
DATE: Thursday 24th May 2012
VENUE: Committee Room 9, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA
To attend please RSVP to: email@example.com
General Hashem spent the first twenty years of his life – by virtue of his father’s profession as a doctor – moving between Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt. He joined the Syrian army in 1962 and was promoted through the ranks to the rank of Brigadier General. He served in the Armored Vehicles Corps as a platoon leader, company commander, battalion chief of staff, acting commander of a tanks battalion and then head of operations for an armored brigade. He participated in the War of 1967 and the October War of 1973 during which he suffered severe injuries.
Awarded the Military Medal of Excellence degree, the Order of the military courage of the first degree, the Order of the war wounded and the Order of October 6 seniority of two years with a degree of excellence. He transferred from field units – for security reasons – in 1976 to the Academic field. General Hashem was then appointed as head of the Tactics department of the Faculty of Armor in Homs, Instructor for the Officer Training of the level of Company, Platoon and Battalion leaders. During this time, he published two academic references for Tactical Training and the Art of Shelling in Tanks.
He transferred to the Higher Military Academy as Trainer of Battalion Leaders then as Head of the Branch of Scientific Military Research and Studies and finally as Head of the Department of Military History. He was relieved from the Academy to actively participate in the Lebanon war of 1982 in the capacity of Head of the Palestinian Fedayeen Lightning Forces for a period of two months after which he returned to the Academy.
General Hashem has published tens of lectures, booklets and research studies in the subject of his areas of expertise and participated jointly with two of his colleagues to author the most important and critical scientific military references on behalf of the General Command of the Armed Forces.
JOHN GLEN MP: Good afternoon. My name’s John Glen, I’m the Member of Parliament for Salisbury, member of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, and it’s my great pleasure to chair this speaker event for the Henry Jackson Society today. We’re very fortunate to have General Akil Hashem with us, who has a distinguished history in the Syrian military, and has some very interesting perspectives- I hope- on what’s happening in Syria at the moment and what the prospects are for that country.
I think many of us have looked on with absolute horror over recent months at what’s happening, and personally feel a great sense of powerlessness about what we can do about it. There are those that have suggested that some form of intervention would be appropriate, but it would be interesting to have a discussion about how that would work. I’d like to hand over to General Hashem, who will speak to us for 20-30 minutes, and then we can hopefully have a useful discussion, finishing probably at 1:30. Over to you, General.
GENERAL AKIL HASHEM: Good afternoon.
First of all, I would like to express my appreciation to the organisers of this meeting, who have given me this opportunity to talk about the Syrian revolution. Second, I want you to bear with me a little and excuse my poor English, so if I miss something, I apologise in advance.
What’s happened in Syria for the past 15 months, and is still going on, day after day, is something beyond imagination. I believe it is genocide- the utmost evil genocide that has happened in the recent history of the world, since the Holocaust. It is not like what happened in different countries, like when tribes fought each other or something like that. It is a regime, supposedly a legitimate regime, killing its own people. And there is no excuse for that. Now there is a military struggle in Syria, but for the first seven months in Syria, peaceful demonstrators would never raise a stick or throw a stone against the regime forces, and yet in the first seven months more than 5,000 people were killed in cold blood.
I am in contact with most of the people inside Syria, from all sides. The demonstrators, the organisers, the political bodies inside Syria, even with the fighters, civilians and military defectors. And I am going to give you some numbers of which I am very sure. I’m not giving you propaganda, I’m not trying to attract your sympathy about what’s happening in Syria, but I’m going to give you very accurate numbers which I’ve received from different sources. I compare these numbers with each other, and I can eventually get to the confirmed number.
Over 15,000 people were killed so far. This is confirmed. And double this number of missing people- we don’t know anything about them. Most of them, I believe, are already dead, and their bodies were dumped somewhere in a mass graveyard or are still rotting in the awful basements beneath security service locations. There are 18,000 people who are injured, a lot of them crippled and handicapped by losing organs or limbs, or parts of their bodies. There are so many injured people whose injuries are slight, and can be dealt with easily, but they eventually die because of the lack of medicine, lack of doctors, nurses and good medical equipment. Above that, so many of them are killed in the hospitals they reach- killed by the forces of the regime, on the beds of the hospitals.
There have been 200,000 arrested since the beginning of the revolution. 80,000 of them are still there. All of these 200,000 were subject to the utmost awful kind of torture. Torture, as a practice, happens everywhere, even in civilised countries. We heard about Abu Ghraib, about Guantanamo and similar incidents. All over the world, it is a method- an ugly method- used to get information. In Syria, the torture is just completely different. They don’t need information. Everything is out in the open, they know everything. They torture people out of hatred, and enjoyment, and pleasure. What is the meaning of torturing someone for a couple of days and then killing him later on, as they did hundreds or thousands of times?
There are 40,000 refugees forced to leave the country, registered in the United Nations Commission for Refugees, between Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. There are over 150,000 refugees also forced to leave the country, but they managed to have a life outside of Syria, either by their financial capacity or by having friends or relatives, especially in Jordan. They say, officially, that there are 100,000 more Syrians in Jordan since the beginning of the revolution. The total casualties of the Syrian revolution are now close to half a million people.
Everyone is waiting, and the regime is so happy with that. Anybody who knows the least about this regime would come to the conclusion, from the first couple of months, that this regime will never stop killing people, destroying homes and property, and doing all these atrocities- all this genocide. It will never stop. Actually, during the father’s era- the father of this criminal, the so-called President of Syria- during the era of Hafez Assad between 1970 and 2000, over 100,000 people were killed because they had different political opinions. 45,000 of those were killed in 20 days in Hama, a city in the centre of Syria close to the city of Homs, which we all know and which is my birthplace.
Everyone knows that this regime will not stop. It is not a matter of fighting terrorists, or gangs, or anything like the Syrian media said from the very beginning. It is just that they cannot stop killing- this is the nature of the regime, the regime was based on that. Using, unfortunately, the factor of sectarianism. Let me explain this a little bit, and this will explain why what’s happening in Syria never happened in Tunisia or Egypt or even Libya and Yemen, and why the Syrian army is killing people. Hafez Assad, since he took power, he created what I call the ‘tripod’- three important tools to control and keep power. First- sectarianism, second- corruption, and third- I like to say it in Arabic, mukhabarat. It means the secret services’ atrocities.
Through the first tool, he gained the loyalty of the sect of the Alawi, which is between 8 to 10 percent of the Syrian population, around two million people. Not all are loyal, but he managed to insert into their minds the idea that their existence is attached and linked to the existence of the regime. Their destiny comes out of the destiny of the regime. If the regime goes, they will go, they will be massacred. This is very, very wrong. And during the 80s, during the struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hafez Assad, the Muslim Brotherhood started to assassinate innocent Alawites, which was a very bad, bad thing to do. The regime itself started to execute some very important Alawite figures, to make the Alawite sect- all of the Alawite sect- feel that they are in danger, that they are targeted by these fighters.
I can give you three very important names. I was in Syria. I was in contact with everyone, because at that time, for the last ten years of my career, I was a professor in the higher military academy. I taught over 5,000 Syrian officers, between the rank of majors and brigadier generals. These officers came from all over the Syrian army. From the Republican Guard, from the fourth division, from the special troops, from the mukhabarat- the four major agencies of intelligence in Syria. They would come and brag about their work, and they would provide me with information, so I know this regime very, very well.
Beside sectarianism, there is corruption. Corruption was a determined act by Hafez Assad to keep people loyal to him, and to establish this coalition between wealth and power. And he managed in that important sector. Now, if he can get the loyalty of the Alawites and of these very high, wealthy people, he can guarantee the loyalty of fifty percent of the Syrian population. It’s not enough. What to do with the rest?
The rest has to be under this oppression- under the surveillance, the arrests, everything bad by the intelligence agencies. In Syria there are four major intelligence agencies, and over seventeen other sub-agencies. There is the military’s intelligence, which is the most awful one. There is the state security. There is the Interior Ministry, political police, and there is the intelligence of the air forces.
Why is there an individual agency for just the air forces? This agency deals with all the Syrian people, not just military or air force. This is strange, because we have a military intelligence agency. Hafez Assad, at the beginning of his career, was the commander of the Syrian air force. He established this agency to put it under his command, to use it to gain power. Because at the beginning of the Ba’ath party, there were a lot of conflicts and a lot of coups between factions of the Ba’ath party itself until Hafez Assad managed, in 1970, to control the whole power in Syria. So he established his own agency and, since then, it’s remained a separate agency, not belonging as it’s supposed to to the military intelligence agency.
These agencies, the new one established by Hafez Assad or the old ones, had about 2,000 personnel. Now it is over 150,000 people working in these agencies. In every university, there is an individual sub-agency for security- in every establishment, in every governmental department, everywhere. In the schools, in the unions, the labour union and the student union, the peasants’ union, everywhere, there is security.
The third one, as I said. The rest of the people have to be like lambs. That’s how they want the Syrian people to act. Now, after 42 years of silence, after 42 years of being subject to all kinds of violations of human rights, people were arrested during the Hafaz Assad era and later during his son’s era for only saying one word. I know for sure, because the girl related this to me, a young girl in high school- junior high school, which means she still needs a year to graduate, 17 years old- said something about Hafez Assad in the classroom, and somebody reported that. She was held prisoner and tortured for six months in the jail of the political police in Syria, in Damascus. Six months for a 17-year-old. And this was before, not now. Now, it is much uglier.
So, on the other hand, these people after all that time decided to go against the regime, no matter what. They were encouraged, for sure, by the revolution in Tunisia and in Egypt and in Yemen and in Libya. This is what ignited this revolution, but once the revolution started the Syrian people decided not to stop, no matter what. There have already been half a million casualties. They’ve sacrificed tens of thousands of lives. And they will continue.
So if we see this situation- a regime that is not going to stop killing people, and people who will continue to fight this regime no matter what- then how do we exit? How do we move out of this situation? There is only one way, and I’ve said this a hundred times on TV, in articles, in meetings, everywhere. The international community must intervene militarily in Syria.
This is a duty. We are not requesting charity, we are asking the international community to stand up for its human duty and intervene in Syria to stop this massacre, this barbaric act in Syria that is still going on without any stopping. We are not asking a lot. I authored so many studies about the intervention, and Michael [Weiss] was helping on that. There are so many levels, so many options. The maximum intervention needed is something close to what happened in Libya. That is the maximum, and I believe this regime will collapse before that, with a lighter action or option. If there is enough time I might explain all these military options in detail, on your request.
If the international community will not intervene, at least they have to support the freedom fighters in Syria. I don’t like to call them rebels, or defectors, or anything- they are freedom fighters. We have to remember that at the beginning for the first seven months they were not fighting at all, and there was continuous killing in Syria. So nobody would say now that it is military fighting between two sides. There is no comparison between the two sides. The Syrian people were forced to carry arms. People sold everything they had, all their belongings, to buy a rifle. And the military balance between the two sides is unbelievably uneven, to the benefit of the regime.
So at least, if we don’t want to intervene, let us help these poor people fighting with rifles against tanks, helicopters, artillery, missiles and all kinds of heavy weapons. Let them liberate their country. At least, we must establish a safe zone in some part of Syria where the fighters can gather together, organise, get some weapons, some good leadership, establish a chain of command and start from there to liberate the rest of Syria. But something must be done. We have to do something. We cannot continue turning our faces and eyes away from the Syrian issue. This is something that has to be stopped, by any means and in any way.
Now, one of the reasons those opposed to intervention give is that the intervention will lead to a civil war in Syria, sectarianism or unrest or distribution of weapons all over, creating militias. So many things might happen if the intervention happens. I would say exactly the opposite. If the intervention happened four months or five months ago- and there were at that time good indications to make it legitimate- none of these consequences would happen. The more we delay the intervention, the more these consequences become likely.
The tragic thing is that this intervention has been delayed until now- hopefully not because of the elections. If domestic elections in countries like the United States or France have delayed this international community from doing its human duty, this will be a tragedy. But the tragic thing is that this intervention, which has been delayed, will happen sooner or later- but not before at least another 20 or 30,000 people in Syria are killed over what’s happened so far. Then the international community will find itself forced to intervene in Syria, and another 20, 30,000 people will be lost for no reason. It is unbelievable that this thing in Syria has been allowed to go on until now.
I have so many things to say about what is happening in Syria. I can tell you stories about the violation of human rights, about the atrocities, about the genocide- from now until next week if you stay with me seven days, without eating or sleeping. I will choose one small story. It’s like the others, I’m not picking up some very awful story. It happened in Hama a couple of months ago. 46 people from one extended family, cousins, parents, children, uncles, aunts, were surrounded in their home. Among them there were four eight-year-old girls. In front of the eyes of everybody, the thugs- we call them in Syria shabiha, a term that will become more familiar. These girls were raped several times, by several people, in front of everybody. Eight years old. And then they were slaughtered, and then they burned their bodies, and then they killed everybody in the room. All 46 people. And this is one of so many thousands of stories happening in Syria.
I’m not going to continue with that. My whole idea in talking in front of this audience is that the international community must do something about what’s happening in Syria, no matter what. The goal is to stop this regime killing people. The goal is to move Syria to a new era in its life, to a democratic civilian country. I have so many ideas how we can achieve that, but the most important thing is that we must do something about Syria.
I thank you very much, and I’m open to any questions about anything I might have missed. There are so many things to speak about.
JOHN GLEN MP: Thank you very much.
JOHN GLEN MP: Okay, we’ve got thirty minutes for questions. What I think might be the best way to do it is if we take three questions at a time and allow the General to respond, and we’ll perhaps get through more. Gentleman at the back, please.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I wanted to ask you, General, on one hand is it true that weapons are beginning to arrive in Syria for the Free Syrian Army, and if so where are those weapons coming from? And also is non-lethal support reaching the Free Syrian Army now? Secondly, I wanted to ask- I’ve been to Syria myself, and when I was there I saw no sign of any real structure to the Free Syrian Army. Now, you were a brigadier in the Syrian army. What strategic-level structures are you putting in place, and why are we not seeing evidence of those structures evolving so far?
JOHN GLEN MP: Just let me take two more.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: General, you talk about intervention from the West. Would air power alone be sufficient to remove the regime?
JOHN GLEN MP: And one more. Lady on the right.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: In the absence of an international intervention, would be there any possibility or hypothesis that Assad could be convinced to take on some democratic reforms, that his life would not be in danger, and would there therefore be any prospect of change from within?
GENERAL AKIL HASHEM: I would like to compliment these questions. They are very good questions, and I’m thankful that you asked me this so I can explain. First of all, I have no confirmed information about whether the United States or other countries are giving weapons to the fighters in Syria. I like to use the term ‘freedom fighters’ to refer to everybody fighting the regime in Syria, including the Free Syrian Army or any other entity, including the civilians. It’s all in one basket, freedom fighters. Now, I heard about this news- I heard that the officials in the USA denied it, but it’s possible. Non-lethal equipment is already arriving. It’s already been declared that the United States is allowing non-lethal equipment to go there, and the Syrian organisations in the United States are helping. All of my children there are members of this organisation. They do fundraising, they buy satellite telephones, they buy equipment, they buy cameras, they buy computers, and they have been sending it with the approval of the American government to Syria for more than ten months.
Now, the most important thing, the FSA, the Free Syrian Army. Does it have a structure? I promised Christiana [Hambro] that I would talk on the record, so I will not hide anything. The only reason that sometimes I hesitate to talk about the real situation of the freedom fighters in Syria is because of morale- we don’t like to affect the morale of the Syrian people. But the fact is that this structure does not exist so far. There is no real structure, there is no real chain of command within Syria for the freedom fighters, because the regime still controls all the areas of Syria, cutting the cities and villages and towns from each other, having barricades everywhere. They make it very difficult to organise anything like that for the freedom fighters. That is why we’re calling for the safe zone, because the definition of the safe zone is an area where the regime cannot intervene militarily with their ground troops or with their air forces- they cannot intervene, so it is safe.
It’s like what America did in the north of Iraq, in the region of Kurdistan. That was a big area, we are calling for a small safe area. The Kurdish region in the north of Iraq is three big departments- Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk and Erbil- and for twelve years, from 1991 from the end of the first Gulf War and the liberation of Kuwait, until 2003 when the invasion happened, for twelve years Saddam couldn’t push his nose inside that area. At that time he had fifty divisions in his army, four times what the Syrians had now, seven armoured divisions in his Republican Guard, and he couldn’t intervene because that area was guaranteed safety by the United States. We need something similar to that, but smaller, and then we can build a structure for the freedom fighters and build a chain of command.
The lady asked about intervention- is it enough, or not? The intervention by itself has different options. The maximum option is what happened in Libya. No ground troops will be involved in any intervention. So they can do the first option, the easiest- an option that is guaranteed casualty-free, which means there will be no casualties for the Western countries who intervene in Syria.
By the way, if someone asks me ‘Who can intervene?’- did anybody ask me this question?- I always call for four countries, which must go together to intervene in Syria. This is the least: anything additional is good. The United States; the United Kingdom; France; and Turkey. Of course Turkey is not comparable with these other three superpowers, but Turkey has a geopolitical reason to be very important in this, because it has 850 kilometers borders with Syria, and because of the compassionate aid they gave to the Syrian people. They host the Syrian refugees, and they are willing to help.
I met with a very high-ranking official in Ankara, Turkey, three or four months ago, and he said to me ‘We are willing to do anything, but we cannot do it alone. If anyone else will work with us, we will open our borders.’ So the intervention, even at its lowest levels, can be enough to break this regime and make it collapse. This regime, as strong as it appears when he faces civilians or lightly-armed people like the FSA, this regime is very weak and breakable immediately if it faces a superior power like those I just mentioned.
Now, Assad. You asked me this question. Assad is holding absolute power in Syria. He controls everything and is responsible for everything. Like his father, he rules the country by himself, and every single decision, even if it is very slow or detailed, must go through him. But, one decision he cannot make, in which he has no authority, is to do what you just said- to leave power. He cannot do that. Because it’s not six or seven people, or a hundred people in a family that go out as refugees to some place, and the regime is ended. The regime is an establishment, a huge establishment organised by thousands of people.
I can count over 20,000 people who have powerful positions in the Syrian regime now, and all of them- in the intelligence services, in the government, in the economy sector, in the army, everywhere- all of these managed to accumulate a huge amount of wealth during the last 40 years. They cannot give up. He cannot give up. If he gave up, they would not let him. So this option is not on the table at all. If someone forced him- if some paratroopers went down on the Presidential palace and took him and his family outside- he would go out, but not by his own will, and neither would his regime.
JOHN GLEN MP: Let’s take three more questions. Gentleman here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: With the reticence of China and Russia to approve a UN-sanctioned intervention, particularly post-Libya but also because of their ties with the regime, would a NATO-only intervention with Turkey included be accepted by the Syrian people? Or would it be resisted and seen as Western imperialism?
JOHN GLEN MP: Thank you. Next question, gentleman here in the front.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’d like to congratulate you, General, on your English. It’s very acceptable. We get a lot of speakers here and it’s difficult to understand them, but every word you said came out fine. I just wanted to ask you this question- that if the international community did decide to take action against the Assad regime, can you envision what would happen subsequently?
JOHN GLEN MP: Last question this round. The gentleman at the back with the pink tie.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: General, what do you think would be the tipping point militarily for the end of Assad’s regime? It’s been predicted for so long that he can’t hang on, but he is hanging on. I’d actually beg to differ with you that he is very weak- they have confounded all expectations by still remaining in power. What do you think, as someone on the inside of the military, is the Achilles’ heel? Is it anti-tank weapons, is it air power? What would be the tipping point that would tell you that regime, militarily, is finished?
JOHN GLEN MP: Before you answer, General, can I just ask you to clarify? I think you’ve projected a very clear picture of a very strong regime that’s quite institutionalised, with lots of people dependent on it. But I think you seem to say in some of your last remarks that with the application of some military input, they could be dealt with. How do you account for this narrative of them being very strong, and yet the application of quite a modest military input would have such a significant effect, given how entrenched they’ve built the regime in the country?
GENERAL AKIL HASHEM: We’ll start with the NATO question. NATO, or any other party, would be very much acceptable in Syria if they decided to intervene. As I said, we need at least four countries for that intervention- and, by the way, Turkey is a member of NATO. Besides that, if there are Arabic countries that want to intervene, even with ground troops, they would be acceptable. And on top of that, even if the Turkish government wanted to send ground troops, they would be acceptable. So the Syrians want anybody, even the Devil himself, if he wanted to intervene- we don’t mind.
Let me tell you something I hope will not offend anyone in the audience. Of course, Israel has been labelled for years and years as the most important enemy for the Arabic people. There have been so many wars between us. The Syrian people now cannot say it loudly, but I know from my connections. They say if Israel wants to intervene to help the Syrian people, we don’t mind.
The only tipping point that might make a big difference is intervention. Military intervention. As I said, what I call the first level is a deterring strike, an air missile strike, with no ground personnel involved. Just cruise missiles, Tomahawk missiles, and unmanned airplanes like drones. A strike like that will only cost money, the price of these drones and missiles. It should target the main important communications in Syria, including over 150 locations of the intelligence headquarters, because every agency in Damascus has a branch in every department in Syria. We call them muhafazat- Syria has fourteen ‘departments.’ So, target these, the headquarters of the army and the intelligence services.
This strike by itself- and I’ve said this to so many people, including Senator McCain in the United States when I met him- would incur no casualties, only financial costs. Two countries are willing to sign the bill right away, and maybe in advance, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. They would pay you the bill for the price of this equipment in advance. And no equipment, no human lives would be in danger, or in harm’s way. This in itself can be a tipping point.
Now we come back to the last question, which was from you?
JOHN GLEN MP: About the fragility of the regime. You were projecting a picture of a regime that’s very strong, that built up very strong institutions with a lot people dependent on it. Yet it seems so simple to topple it with a bit of military intervention. Is that really realistic, given how embedded they are? And I think this links to the question of what would happen afterwards, in terms of the conflicts and civil wars.
GENERAL AKIL HASHEM: The regime is very weak. It appears strong, but it is very weak. I call it a paper tiger. The corruption in Syria has destroyed everything good, even the military power, even the intelligence. Whoever it was asked me about the source of the weapons the freedom fighters have, one of the main sources is the regime itself. The freedom fighters buy the weapons from the regime, because they are so corrupt. They buy the weapons and the ammunition from the regime itself. And this has happened so many times before. I remember I was there in 1982 in Beirut, when Beirut was under siege, and there were Palestinian and Syrian troops inside Beirut with no ammunition and not enough weapons. They bought weapons from the Phalangists- you know, the Lebanese militia who worked to complete the circle of the siege around Beirut. From their enemy, they bought the weapons. It happens everywhere.
JOHN GLEN MP: Three more questions.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I didn’t actually get an answer to my question, which was what would happen afterwards?
GENERAL AKIL HASHEM: I’m sorry, I missed that. That can be number one.
JOHN GLEN: The lady here?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can you tell us more about the Turkish government’s position at this time?
JOHN GLEN: The gentleman with the beard.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you very much, General, for your eloquent description of the tragedy that’s unfolding in Syria now, and the revulsion of many Syrian people at what their own regime is doing, which as you know is widely shared in this country and around the world. My question is about the political posture of the Syrian opposition. I think one of the several factors that is inhibiting consideration of the kind of intervention you’re discussing is the apparent absence of what one might call a unified political focus of opposition, in terms of policies. This relates to the question of ‘what’s next’, which the gentleman in front was asking, and the related fear that without such an apparent linkage between the military parts which you’re representing here, the freedom fighters as you call them, and the Syrian National Council and other political opposition members. In the absence of that, I think there’s a real concern about, for example, the possible influence of the more extreme type of Islamist elements in a new Syria. I wonder if you could tell us any more about that?
JOHN GLEN MP: So, what would happen afterwards, the position of Turkey, and then the fear of what will be unleashed in terms of political opposition.
GENERAL AKIL HASHEM: After the fall of the regime, it will be a very difficult political time, for sure. I was involved in a project held by the US Institute for Peace in Washington DC, in cooperation with the Foreign Policy Institute in Berlin, and the project’s name was ‘Syria: the Day After.’ We were in six different committees. I was working on security sector reform, and there were others, like institutional reform and economic reform. So we are working on that. I tell everyone, ‘you see these times, you see these days, how difficult it is? You will face a much, much more difficult time after the fall of this regime.’ And the longer this regime continues, these worries will be greater and greater, bigger and bigger. So we are trying our best to think about that and prepare all the measures to avoid unrest or civil war, or something like that. It is a big issue and it takes time, but we are working on that.
And let me just guarantee one thing. The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria will not manage to achieve a political victory, as they did in Tunisia and Egypt. It is completely different, the situation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, than in Egypt. In Syria, they have a bad reputation. They did so many bad things, the people don’t like them, but they have money and they have organisation, and they are using this to control some of the freedom fighters by supporting them with money, thinking that in the future they will repeat the same experience as in Egypt. They won’t.
Let me be frank, before the election in Turkey last year, the voice of the Turkish government- especially Erdogan- was very strong and completely against the regime. And that was very acceptable and understandable, because the majority of the Turkish people support the Syrian revolution, so he wanted to gain electoral victory that way. After the election, the voice went down a little bit. They have a problem with the refugees they have in their country, a financial problem and a social problem, but, as I said, I have confidence that they are willing to do whatever it takes to help the Syrian people, even militarily. But not alone, not by themselves. Even if they threaten so many times that if the refugee numbers escalate to 100,000 they have to do something militarily, by invading the borders of Syria and establishing a buffer zone of 5km or something like that, that’s not going to do anything important. I think Turkey is willing to do it, but not alone.
Now, the opposition in Syria. In Syria, there are three trends in the revolution, three separate trends. First, the political opposition. Second, the popular movement, the people who organised the peaceful demonstrations. Three, the military struggle. These are three trends, separated from each other.
In the first one, there is inside and outside opposition. The inside kind, we don’t consider opposition at all, because the inside is organising and coordinating with the regime itself, promised by the regime that they will be the main faction in the coalition between the government and the opposition. They don’t represent anyone. They are hated by the Syrian people, so I don’t consider them opposition at all. Actually, one of these opposition factions in Syria, led by an ex-communist, went to Moscow to thank the Russian government from the veto they used in the Security Council. You see how great this opposition is?
Supposedly after the establishment of the SNC, there must be no other opposition. All the parties, all the people, all the opposition factions, they must all unite under the umbrella of the SNC. But this didn’t happen. So I worked for four months as the military advisor for the SNC, and I had a big conflict with the head of the SNC, so I withdrew myself from them because they didn’t agree to do the very important thing of supporting the FSA and asking for international intervention. During this time, I got the opportunity to know the structure of the SNC from inside. I attended the conference in Tunisia, I attended their Executive Bureau, which is the head of the SNC in Qatar, for several days. I was in contact with them daily, and unfortunately it’s not completely united, especially with the Muslim Brotherhood. I can assure you they’ll have a very bad hand in Syria after the fall of the regime. The Muslim Brotherhood are working inside the SNC for their own agenda.
Now we are telling everyone, if you’re from the left, from the right, from the middle, if you are a communist, an Islamist, it doesn’t matter. Now we have to gather together to achieve one goal- get rid of this regime, stop this massacre. After that, it will be a democratic procedure. The vote in the election will determine who is going to rule Syria after that. So now, keep everything aside and work on this. Unfortunately the Muslim Brotherhood are working for their own agenda, and they are making problems inside the SNC and even inside the freedom fighters by playing favourites with some people in the freedom fighters or the FSA, by supporting them financially. Other than that, we can say one thing about the achievements of the SNC- that it is very slow, and it is not enough, because this revolution needs a lot of work and there are so many things to be done that are not done yet. Hopefully in the future, this will move up a little bit.
JOHN GLEN MP: Thank you very much indeed, General. I’d just like to, on behalf of everyone here, thank the General very much for what I think has been a fantastically interesting and full account of the challenges facing Syria, and some of the real issues that the international community needs to come to terms with if we’re going to see progress in that country. So thank you very much for coming, and perhaps we’d all like to join in showing our appreciation in the normal way.