Forbidden Aid: The Case of Israeli Humanitarian Diplomacy in Syria

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TIME: 15:00 – 16:00, 1st March 2017

VENUE: Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower

SPEAKERS

Dr Nir Boms
Research Fellow, International Centre for Counter Terrorism

Issam Zeitoun
Independent Syrian Oppositionist

Tom Wilson: Well hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Henry Jackson Society, my name is Tom Wilson and I’m a research fellow here. We’re lucky to be joined here today by two speakers on what I think is going to be a fascinating subject. We have with us Dr Nir Boms, who is a research fellow at the Moshe Dayan at Tel Aviv University, and a member of the International Centre for Counter Terrorism in Hertzliya. He was formally the vice-president of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracy. Our other speaker is Issam Zeitoun who is an independent Syrian oppositionist. Issam has spoken at a number of international conferences across the world and he has been calling for safe zones in Syria. He coordinates daily with a range of opposition groups on the ground. We are going to start from hearing from Dr Boms.

Nims Boms: Thank you, Tom. Good afternoon, it’s certainly an honour to be in a place like this in London, certainly better than some of the alternatives associated with where some of our friends are spending their time. This is going to be a presentation that will include a story that is going to be a juxtaposition of something that on the one hand is based on data on research that has to do with my own work as a researcher who follows the Syrian opposition and follows particularly Israel’s policy development towards Syria. This is also going to be a story of a researcher who ended up being an active participant. Rather than just a political scientist theory as my profession has perhaps entail this is going to be more of an anthropological approach. The story that I will try to share with you that has to do hopefully with the title that you can see here which is ‘Forbidden Aid’. The notion of forbidden aid has to do with some of these paradoxes of the Middle East. So, with the paradoxes of the issue today, the idea of Israel helping its enemies is in some ways of course something that’s supposed to be forbidden and the idea of trying to do some of what we have attempting to do together on two sides is also something which is connection to this challenge of trying to convey or trying to cross a Rubicon, when it comes to the Middle East and when it comes to relations.

Let’s begin, how about this? A Syrian, Israeli and a Jordanian are stuck in a car going to look for [inaudible, 3:10]. So, it may sound like the nice beginning to a joke, but when the day begins with the funeral of a colleague from the Free Syrian Army and when the day almost ends as we see where when the passport of the Israeli of yours truly seems to be missing then you realise that sometimes that tables are shifting, who is helping and who needs to save who always becomes something a little different. When I comes to the end of that story, at the ned of the presentation I assume what you many understand is a happy ending otherwise you may not be able to share it with you. But part of what we are looking into is that war in Syria and the reality that I’m sure is familiar to some of you. I’m not sure if some of you can see these pictures form the back, but those of you who are able to, understand something about the carnage, the devastation and the destruction that is associated with this war. These are more recent pictures, and this is something that is almost three years old. My friends, this is a picture of victory and victory at this point in Kobani in the north part of Syria, and when you’re looking at the picture and the reality. You have done your Brexit, but still the European reality and the shockwaves of this conflict have reach Europe and will stay here for a very good reason this is the home of some of the people that need to get back to and it will take years and decades for some of this to be constructed once we will be able to start that process.

Syria is changing in a dramatic way, this has to do with the demographics of Syria before the revolution. Ill spell it out for you, Syria is a heterogenous country, the majority is Sunni Muslim, there a number of minorities, about 10-12% are Alawite, these are the ones who are actually in power and in control. There are other minorities: the Kurds, Christians, and some small minorities. But what had happened before the revolution, today the picture is different. The shockwave so this conflict in the region means that the surrounding countries are changing. Everything third person in Lebanon is a refugee and every fourth person in Lebanon is a Syrian, every fifth person in Jordan is a Syrian. You speak about demography, geography and not only that the percentages I shoed you before are no longer relevant. We had a bout 10-12% Alawites in Syria now we probably have more than 25, not because of birth-rate, but because of 7 million or more of refugees are mostly Sunni and they are the ones who had to leave and flee Syria. Amongst the others of the 6 million who are displaced persons, internally, they are also many of them are moved and for those of you have followed the conflict maybe familiar with these types of pictures. There is here an interesting story with green busses who are coming to some of the villages and towns after there’s an agreement for reconciliation or surrender and people are asked to move. Perhaps to the unknown, perhaps worse than that.

The war is complicated, there are too many factions fighting each other. I’m not going to analyse that but it is important to mention because it’s a complex reality from which you need to navigate, and with this I want to continue with something else, which is a part of the story that we were involved with. This is a picture of a hospital, 12 kilometres from the Israeli border. End of 2016 a helicopter is bombing a mainly children hospital on frequent occurrence. But a few hours later some of these children are [inaudible, 7:28]. That example has become something more frequent and we are looking at over 4000 Syrians who have been treated in Israel since the beginning of the war. I was to share with you how it all begun.

The Syrian revolution begins in march 2011, I’m going to fast forward a year later, a number of Israelis are gathered in Tel Aviv and convey an event which for them is an event of support and sympathy to the neighbours up north. For those of you who see the pictures you may see that there some signs here – 10,000 Syrians murdered, the numbers today official ones are half a million, my friends say to me the number is closer to a million if not more than that so if you with the good old days. A demonstration outside the Russian embassy, trying to stop the assassination [incoherent 8:37]. That convey a message that “we care” in all the relevant language to the other side. People are happy with what they have done, it’s a feel-good activist, there is a circle of people who are saying that’s its very nice to offer sympathy but sympathy is not going to get you warm in the winter, we have to do something different. That’s where the humanitarian operations begin.

There was a first collection of civic society and the objective is Jordan. At that time, Jordan begins to absorb the first wave of refugees and camps begin to emerge in Jordan, certainly in the northern part and the area of Moffraq, Zattery camp is not the third largest city in Jordan and what you are about to see is some of the pictures of early operations. Israeli teams, early volunteers were going to the other side pf the order. It took some time to get there, the Jordanians did not know how to observe this, at some point we had to cut with scissors the Hebrew. But on the other had we were working with civic groups on the other side and they insisted that this is coming from your friends. This work begun as a work that has to do with more than humanitarianism along. It’s a bout building connections and building bridges, and about something which I will speak a little more about which is humanitarian diplomacy. The picture you’re about to see now are some of the pictures of the work of Israelis teams in Jordan, for those of you who follow the situation and for those of you who follow or have experience the world of refugees then you can understand that this is about people how have just lost everything they’ve had. There is a lot of things that happen and part of what we are doing when we had the opportunity to go there is to spend some time with the people, trying to speak, understand and bridge the human barrier, trying to create communication. And of course, this umbrella picture has to do with the fact that it’s done in coordination with other groups that afterward become to certain degree partners.

What you see here is a realisation that of course the assistance and the measure of the crisis, those who came out are to some degree the lucky ones. They may be not closer to a refugee camp, closer to UN agency or international aid organisation to bring some aid inside. It’s more difficult to do that, for that you need partners, you need partners on the Syrian side and the result was the first partnership created between Syrian and Israeli NGOs. Working together to bring some of this aid and you see the organisation here, Interlineal Flying Aid working with the Civil Administration Councils of Syria. Of course, IFA is a pseudonym for Israeli Flying Agency. One of the groups who have done the most in this work. What you see next is a girl in 2013 already opening an Israeli cake in the besieged city of Aleppo.

The net part of the journey connects to something that is widely more known. The hospitals have begun to absorb refugees because of the decision of a commander in 201. That became a policy, hopefully we’ll have a chance to explain why it became a policy and why the government began to step in, following the ways of the civic society. But as vie mentioned over 4000 people have been treated so far and it began with very rustic or robust type of thing. You have an injured person with a pin attached to his shirt, a letter from a Syrian doctor of what they did and if Israeli doctors could continue. Some of the medial issues, some of the stories included births, included somebody who was rushed into the hospital so quickly and then only did they realise he was carrying two live grenades on him. But the system became slightly more in tuned, there was a field hospital and you see here a picture of the PM visiting there. He did that for a number 0f reasons including PC, but it was still interesting to mention that there were not many other PMs or kings who ended up visiting Syrians refugees. This is one of my heroes DR Lenard who is a doctor that decided he is going to do something that is not usually don which is implement a technique to lengthen bones. For those of you who come from medicine, anyone where from that background? Usually when you have injuries of ligaments the answer is amputation, there are not so many alternative for this, but the alternative if you’re trying to rebuild the leg, rebuild the bone it is a very long process. But the ramifications of this has to do with the fact that people are in hospital for about 7/8/9 months or sometimes even more. So, there is a reality that has been going on for a number of years when you have departments and people of Syrians who are being house and again, reality is no easy because you have them, especially the kids they’re alone without their families, trying to get by and sometimes even with them you have stories. This kid who lost an eye and an arm saying you’ve got to fix me up to go back to fight, we have a revolution to continue.

These things are moving, one of the other things developed is the utilisation of 3D printers in order to help develop some solutions that can be also implemented in field hospitals and some of the printers were brought into the field hospitals in order to help the doctors where to deal with some of the cases because again that was the only way to go. I want to tell you that the field hospitals there are pictures of them, in a minute are also one of the devastating parts of this. Hospitals are being bombed, there’s dire shortage of medicine. There is more than one way of Syrians who have entered this world, you have heard of the Golan heights, but what you may not know is of the other side channels that were more civilian in nature, there were some cases where we were able to get Syrians to enter the without a stamp on their passport. Part of it enabled additional conversations, what you have here is one of them taking a colleague to Jerusalem, to Temple Mount, and this is a kid who had been in very complex surgery and he was not able to walk when he came and he was able to play soccer before he left and I remember when we were at university we could not help but think, this is not the academic in me this is the perhaps romanticised individual who says well perhaps 20 years down the road he could come back to a different Syria and help create a Middle East that we seek.

These are the pictures of some of the field hospitals, we don’t have much you need to use sledgehammer, drills, or anything else because there is the best tool you have. 3 ears ago the first decision was made in order to open the Golan heights border. That was something that was pushed for quite some time and this was something that was pushed by many Syrians that we worked with. What you see here is the first campaign, we had just finished the second one of Israelis youth groups who are collecting food and essential items for the other side of the border. There were collections in 65 different locations and the interesting thing is that when you speak about the people who collected and the youth groups they are Jews, Christians, Arabs, Druze, Muslims and all of them together. I remember some of the stories, those who said they had many grievances against the government some of them came from unrecognised villages. Bedouins from the north or south. But the real interesting thing is that it was something bigger, it was a rare moment of unity and some point all the leaders came to the PM office for a moving meeting, in a sense we should come together. This is about a military base [incoherent, 17:50]. This is that very recent campaign that just ended and you see some of the shipments ready to be shipped to the other side of the border. This is part of why this is important and for those of you who see this is the snow and the mountains, winter, the combination of winter, no electricity, snow and tents is not a convincing one for most of use, not something that most of you would like to trade. The operations for bringing the aid for these types of place and perhaps Issam can tell you something of this because he knows it very well. It’s not an easy one and in the process of it we even lost some people, including a very dear colleague who we lost just on Friday as a result of the Assad bombs.

The work itself like the conflict spread to other dimensions, this is about teams taking boats and helping refugees in Lesotho in Greece and again there were some interesting stories I will share with you too. A Palestine doctor was a part of a team and he says that he picks up somebody from the water and he only has one leg, he carries him with no strength left and he tells him, “you know Ahmed, you see me, you see the leg I don’t have, just a week it was driving and look where I am now”. There is another woman, much older, she’s cold and he gives her a blanket, she’s asks him “where are you from?” and he tells her, and sees Palestinian. She was a refugee in Syria and now she’s a refugee somewhere else for the second time and he is a Palestinian, son of a refugee who from 1948 and has able to save somebody else. I say this because this is something that crosses borders and crosses other dimensions. In that sense, it has a special strength that I think other issues did not see.

This is part of the boats, medical – a field hospital set up in Europe on a refugee route and this is some of the items themselves. Perhaps one more work needs to be said about the Jewish dimension, of course this is something a certainly part of the worry of the work on the Israeli side. There used to be a Jewish community in Syria, a significant one, not much of it is left. But some actually did and there are certainly still artefacts and Jewish properties and part of it we were trying to save with the help of Syrians on the other side. What some of the things that has happened, some of the few Jews that are left there for a number of reasons they were able to be taking out, you see here a grandmother who has seen her family for the first time in 68 years in Israel. Certainly, another small moment in this whole tragedy and of course I got to almost end with saying something about the policy and political dimension.

If I were to take my other half as an academic and put into this humanitarian side then there’s also pure geopolitics involved in this particular scenario and Israel had said at the beginning, this is not our war and we don’t really want to get involved, we don’t want to take sides. If we were to take a robust analysis that position became not valid relatively quickly since the war had begun to escalated, it began to get closer to the Israeli border and it began to have other effects on the scene at large. The border at the Golan Heights used to be the safest border, Syrian battalions had protected it soon enough it was a very different border with very different people. The Syrian military has left and those who are left are not always elements that are friendly to Israel and seen recently the Islamic State, Hezbollah who were getting much closer to the border. Therefore, we had a policy of the Red line where Israel is saying look, we are not going to allow the war to get much closer to us. We are not going to allow the transfer of weapons or other elements of non-conventional things that could strengthen our adversaries like Hezbollah and we are not going to allow a spill over. But with that came in 2013, the humanitarian policy and what today is called the good neighbourhood policy, which understanding the people and neighbours of the other side in some we have relations with quite some time are also our neighbours and share some interest with them because just like the Syrian conflict is so complication some of the groups find themselves in a place more similar to where Israel is. That’s the piece that helped the Israeli government to join hands with the civilian effort in trying to implement something that is still very fragile. The recent advances of the regime on the one hand, Islamic State on the other hand in the southern part of Syria begins to threaten everything I’ve just described to you. We are actually in a very precarious moment in all of this.

I’ll end with the following idea about the challenges and the opportunities. I will attempt to share a story, to some it is an atypical story like other paradoxes of the Middle East and the Arab spring it is one of the things that can happen. particularity if you’re looking a little more just underneath the surface there is more than one dynamic that is going on. There are very few things that are positive one can say about the Middle East, there are not so many good views, but I was trying to share with you one the one hand a story and on the one hand an attempt to find some moments of light. Whatever Israel has done pail in comparison with what needs to be done and pail in comparison to what other countries have done, is real has certainly not done the most and its influence was limited mainly in the sphere of the sovereign part. Part of the work is beyond the influence particularly on the ground, it’s about an attempt of a message, it’s about a hand that has been giving out in some hope that in some point some of these forces could be consolidated further, a force that needs to be supported in order to build the type of Middle East that will not generate these types of catastrophises, tragedies or as my Syrian friends call it a type of holocaust that it really the worst tragedy the middle has seen in the last 100 years. So, I hope this brings us to a certain dimension of hope and I’ll ask my colleague, Issam to share a little bit more about what he sees from the ground, what hears from the ground and also about his involvement in this very interesting story. Thank you very much

Applause 

Issam Zeitoun: Hello, thank you very much for coming and thank you for the invitation, thank you Nims for this presentation. I would like first to apologise for my poor English but I will try as much as I can to explain to you. I’m not going to describe the Syrian crisis because everyone around the world knows, not exactly, but somehow knows what’s going on in Syria. Now we are looking for a solution, only describing and describing the Russian are organising and negotiating between the regime and the opposition. At the same time while Russia is bombing Syrian cities and displacing the Syrian people from their homes and that is something understandable to most civilian people. I wanted to give you an idea about the nature of this regime, of course everyone knows that this regime, this dictatorship of course, but the Syrian knows what he did not only to Syrians physically, but what he did and how he [incoherent, 27:28]. I’ll give you a small example, now there is a meeting in Geneva. The Syrian opposition are meeting, I don’t know what they are aiming to achieve and at the same time the Syrian and Russia military troops and Iranian of course are still going on this war against the Syrian people.

I am just trying to change something, because I believe that the Syrian revolution has not yet reached any of its goals. Not even could stop the total chaos because they neglected the mental revolution, the real revolution should be started against the values of this regime. The strategies, the slogans which brought us to this situation in Syria, economically, politically and all issues. During 50 years of this dictatorship regime they long focused on their own security and the continuous of the regime forever. This regime is based on military, mainly security agencies there are 4 or 5 different agencies. Each of them is enough financed and supported to be able to control and to spy on all Syrians inside and out, and the other security agencies. So that’s how important the security issue for this regime was. Assad inherited the state like a farm, he was working in the office of his father for 7 years preparing and forming his team in order to bring all those promised and failed reforms that Syria was waiting for. Anyhow he was born in the same as his father did, he wanted to follow the direction of Iran but working for the Iranian project is another issue I will talk about later. I just wanted to focus on one thing that the Syrian people after 50 years of this regime are unable to function as a team. We didn’t have political machine, its corrupt structure protected by 5 intelligence agencies and the army and the government, embassies and everything was dedicated for one aim. To keep the security of the head of the regime. The lack of mental revolution made the Syrian… because this regime was focused on killing each movement, each intellectual movement [inaudible, 31:37].

Now after 7 years we have a big dilemma, Dr Nims talked about the numbers of refugees and the number of people, the numbers are not know till now but unfortunately the numbers are large, especially political, we have several hundred thousand political prisoners, no one knows where they are or if they’re living or not. The delegation in Geneva was trying to give the regime a list of 18000 names of women imprisoned by the regime. It doesn’t look very good because it looks like Assad is managing this war, he has, as I said, his regime was based on intelligence forces and conspiracies and false claims. He was all the time presenting himself as a fireman who was saving people from fire in different corners of the Middle East and the world, offering himself as the only one who can resist or he can be a partner of resisting these ‘fires’. The same aim he is till now he created [inaudible, 33:01], even for the leadership of this revolution, it has no leadership, the one who is leading the revolution is the regime but they formed what called a front army and they’ve been choosing the leaders from the very beginning and it’s shifted to an Islamic revolution. He was warning from the beginning everyone knows that Syria was about peaceful protesting for 9 months and until the first armed resistance started we lost 30,000 from the best intellectual people in Syria and it looks like no one could have imagined after 6 years everyone is involved and fighting in Syria but far away from Assad. He doesn’t look very sorry for what’s happened, in his last statement he looks more clear after 10 million Sunni left Syria he thinks Syria looks better now, it shows that he was preparing this crisis and managing it. I will talk very briefly because I want to talk about Islam and the region.

[Inaudible, 35:00]. I grew up in Damascus but my family live there, we have experience the Israeli army twice. Once in 1967 and once in 1973 so everything that Assad is trying to teach the Syrian generation is that Israel is the enemy of the Syrian people. We discovered very early that that was a lie because they didn’t damage any civilian when we compare Syrian troops with Israeli troops, I’m sorry to say that the Israeli were like angels compared to the Syrian troops. Imagine that they rape girls in front of their parents, they choke kids in front of their parents so what’s going on its normal/acceptable. So as I said Syrian people after 6 years, after the sacrifice, after all that loss, are still not able to function as a team because of the 50 years of corruption. No one could trust no one in Syria during those decades. Everyone was suspecting everyone and the regime was very good in security field of preventing everyone. They we preventing the revolution in order to avoid facing too many fires. Neglecting all life issues in Syria, structure, education, health care. All life issues in Syria were neglected, left behind and he was only focussing on his security and I am unsure whether he is challenging the whole world. I will give you an example, I met an officer, he left Syria in 1990 so I wouldn’t be forced to join his army [inaudible, 37:44-38:10]. He wanted to avoid all this and be accused of the killing of Prime Minister Hariri, I think that is the key of this whole Syrian Drama. Bashir Al-Assad knows that the head of the war means for him to be accused because of killing Hariri in 2005. In 2012 or 2011 all witnessed, Lebanese witnesses were invited to international tribunal for the assassination, everyone knows who is trying to [inaudible, 39:10]. We have a lot of evidence than what the international tribunal took to accused Assad of this decision. There is too much evidence, he did it and he is trying to outwit, as is said, as long as the war ends, he will fight forever, that’s why he will never accept any political solution.

The problem is that his community, the Alawite, are in the army since the 40s, I don’t know why. Not only because of economic reasons but they are the majority in the army. Hafez Assad same to power after a series of coups through which he took out many of his enemies but his friends and partners. 1970 he was dominating the country and could do whatever he wanted. Now we have a crisis that didn’t stay Syrian it’s not a divisional one, not an ordinary. It requires untraditional and extraordinary initiatives. Everyone is required to made concessions and compromise. To avoid our country falling apart into 20 or 30 pieces, each of them ruled by one of the hundreds of groups in Syria. If we could divide the country into 5 or 6 parts, each of them under one authority. We will be happy to welcome any rule of Jordan and the Gulf States to take care of the south of Syria, Damascus and the cities. The strain crisis is much bigger than Syria, we have too many fires and too many issues to deal with I think you are not exaggerating if I tell you that we will need to deal with the effect of this crisis in the next 3 generations at least. Imagine, there has been a generation that hasn’t been to school for years for 6 year, all kids under 13 years haven’t been to school. The others who left Syria when they were in 3rd or 4th class have forgotten everything. We have a destroyed generation, it requires a really concerned effort from all people who are affected by this crisis. I will divide the world between two parts: some who are affected, of course the Syria people are in this, and the whole world is suffering from this is the refugee crisis is a security challenge for everyone, in the neighbouring countries: Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan but also in Europe. As is said the Assad regime was infiltrating everything, trying to create an alternative for everything that’s why it won’t be a big surprise if we admit that he is controlling the chaos because only in that case he can save his security.

So, I think that we have one of the most reason why that war is going on and no one can accept Assad to a accept a political solution is because the international tribunal decision which was made after the UNSC resolution under the 7th chapter, if the international community could change this then it would be fine. If we can assure him, the problem is that Assad, depending of in Community, the Alawites, they are about 95,000 officers in the Syrian army from 100,000. The rest officers from the other communities know nothing, they just only officers. Officers the one who are controlling everything, security and other important parts are Alawite. I’m sorry to say they are anti-federal. They have prepared themselves for this battle for 50 years, so it cannot last forever that the Syrian, being killed, being displaced only because one dictator [inaudible, 45:10]. Assad received a delegation from the French Parliament, I don’t know the numbers, and he was very confident and was talking to the media in front of them, the French MPs. He was talking as usual, screwing the whole world as he does all the time. Saying terrorists which was sent to us from France will go back to France. He said the very next day terror attacks in Paris, since then no one heard anything from France regards the Syrian issue. That’s how powerful he is in this field and the problem is that that the international community will fall in his trap. Only in one case, if we could, because he cannot refuse that, even the Alawite are very tired from fighting for 6 year, they’re giving everything. The displaced people they are allowed only to take handbags, everything must be left there and then the army comes and they sell the stuff to professional companies who take everything, the furniture even the cable from the walls. But they’re not all getting benefits from this war, they are tired, they are lost, we consider them victims like other Syrians. During 50 years they didn’t learn nothing, they were only promoted to join the army to be [inaudible, 47: 37]. They are very, very close to Assad and hold him very tight so we don’t want to have a third world war on the Syrian ground, so if Assad worked with the Russians. They asked the Russians to come and Iran to come. It needs a conserved effort from the international community to distinguish who is benefiting from this war and who is affected, we can only find that Iran and [inaudible, 48:23] are benefitting and are trying to extend this war and only though that they can expand in the region, only when it’s destabilised they can expand. That’s what they’re trying in Yemen, in Libya, Lebanon, Iraq and the next will Bahrain and the next will be Kuwait and then Saudi Arabia. They have a global project, not as they’re presenting themselves as only in the region.

Anyhow, [inaudible, 48:05] must be painful and better than endless pain, I know that’s it’s not easy to accept for Syrian people as they have been ruled for 50 years by this Arab nationalism, they’re being only warned from Israel and from [inaudible/incoherent, 49:30]. It looks like the only acceptable, reasonable and realistic solution which can be accepted by everyone, as I said Russia cannot deny it as they want to keep their military base, and they can’t have it. I don’t know what will happen with Aleppo, I know turkey is involved in Aleppo they have groups there. I will give you an example, if we have an antique car that’s 50 years old it’s down, it’s never repaired, that car looks like Syria now. Ok I buy this car and some companies fix the engine, and another company who will take care of the furniture inside. Different companies that are working together, obstructing each other and because too many fingers inside working there comes other fingers who are damaging because it is very confused and no one knows what’s going on. If we look at this place for example, south Syria and Damascus, Assad is trying to keep Damascus [inaudible, 51:35]. There is no population of Alawite in Damascus before 1960. They are trying displace the people of Damascus and other cities.

I hope I explained that, I know that there are too many questions, but I can imagine that if Jordan, Jordan has enough interest in stabilising this region and even the Gulf countries are all interested because with the uncontrollable vision with Iran impose on Syria. If that happens it will go everywhere, it will go south, north and it will meet the Gulf countries and no one can expect what will happen, so we have to present that then if any concerned effort from all the effected people. Everyone should work. Back to that example of the car, it look 6 years and no one could repair the car, it’s getting worse, so the best thing is to get each part aside so the engineer can fix the engine with his team, and give it to me back in 5 years. So in 5 years all parts will be put back together according to modern way, [inaudible 53:33]. One last word for Israel, as I said for me, I know from my parents from my family that the Israeli army is not that bad however it is presented in Arab media. We’ve been brought up as Israel is an expansionist against the Palestinian people. But for me I’m been a journalists since 1990 and I have an idea about Israel that I could research only enough. But I’m talking about the Syrian who did not know about the outside world, nothing before 2005, when he opened the internet. Now Assad cannot convince or deceive his people that they are living a proud life. They thought that they were having the best life, he was convincing them that to turn against Israel and that you have to forget everything else.

The revolution started without leader leadership and of course as I said he planned everything and he knew when ISIS must intervene, when Al-Nusra was. First he was accusing us, the protestors, button be agents from the Sunnis, imperialists, and whabbists I don’t know what complicated mixture he has got. I am presenting in the Syrian/ Iranian media as a connection person between Al-Nusra and my name. Connection person between Al-Nusra and Mossad, and every news they represent me as connection officer between Al-Nusra and Mossad. Anyhow, it started from the moment Syrian people who had been brought up that Israel is the almighty enemy and the devil itself. We show that the Gulf countries for example, they did not receive not even one refugee, Syrian refugee. Israel is treating the injured people without [inaudible 56:32] as Dr Nims said it was conscience. Israel saw some moral responsibility, human, he took them in the car and ran to the hospital. That was the beginning [inaudible, 56:46], and I hope it will help one day be more than humanitarian because now this is my personal opinion. Too many people in the world consider Israel as a threat, some of them consider it as a reality or fact we have to live with, very little consider it as an enemy. I as a Syrian in 2017, I see and consider that Israel is a necessity in the Middle East, not only to confront the Iranian project but also to get too many problems in the Middle East solved. They have the technology, we are short of water, clean water, we have too many problems and they have the technology to do it. [Inaudible, 57:57]

Tom Wilson: shall we take some questions? So we have run out of time but if our speaker are happy to say for another 10 minutes we could take a couple of rounds of questions. We do just ask that you could say your name and any relevant affiliation, and also if you just keep your questions quite brief. Perhaps if we could have a show of hands? The lady here, is there anyone else in this round? The gentleman here, just after this lady.

Question 1: Judy [inaudible, 58:29], I was quite concerned to read today of some talk that Israel is running out of money in their budget for this humanitarian project to help the Syrians. I wondered if you comment on that.

Tom Wilson: And then this gentleman. And there was another gentleman at the back I believe?

Question 2: [inaudible, 58:50]

Nims Boms: To the best of my knowledge this is of course a real issue that has to do with the minister in charge who made this pronouncement. It was actually done periodically and it had a lot to do with the bureaucracy, who was paying for what, this operation is very expensive one. You can just imagine, maybe some of you know more about how much an average day of hospitalisation costs, surgery is an expensive treatment and I mentioned that many of them are there for days, months and sometimes more than a year. So, the people who are supposed to pick up the bill, mainly the Ministry of Defence, were not always picking up the entire bill, at some point he Minister of Health said we have to flag this and somebody needs to take the decision. I hope that the decision is taken because there is both a moral necessity for this is also some other dimensions of this policy as I mention that there more interests and I believe that this will continue, but again I also assume that not forever. Part of the problem of an ongoing crisis, that never ends, is that its only creates additional points of crisis which only creates additional costs and there is no infinite aid because people eventually get tired of all this. Perhaps this is another point of incentive of trying to sort this out quickly. The Jordanians closed their borders and say they can no longer take refugees, we can no longer treat many of the Syrians. Many often countries have stopped providing aid mainly because of fatigue, they said they have been doing this for year after year and it did not end well. I believe that Israel will continue to do what it had done and to do the little that it is able to do, but it’s another reminder of the fact that if we will not be able to solve this crisis quickly then it’s just going to get worse.

Tom Wilson: and the Gentleman here.

Question 3: I’ve got two questions. One, as you said it started out as a humanitarian project it’s now a good neighbour project, can you tell me what the difference is between the two? Why aren’t any of the Gulf or Arab states taking in any refugees?

Nims Boms: From what I read it was a policy decision not to take refugees. I have certain interested system in many of the gulf countries and people who are citizens and people how are foreign workers, refuges is not really a category. They did send aid and they’re lucky enough not to be right next to Syria, right next to the border and they were able to have. It to some degree there was a very famous, sometimes a real fight, we will fight Assad until the last drop of Syria blood, as long as it is not ours this is fine. Very unfortunate.

Issam Zeitoun: I just want to add something, as I said the Syrian regime is based on security, and the other states are also afraid because they afraid he send some of his people, not some a lot, person that are working in Germany with the refugees. I see a lot of people they come from Syria, from safe places, and they are supporters of Assad. So there are sleeping cells in Europe but I hope that Europe will overcome this problem, not by dealing with the affects I hope that one day we will deal with the cause of the problems but I think it’s one of the reason why the Gulf states do not accept and refugees because they are afraid he sends his [inaudible, 1:03:25].

Nims Boms: and the second part of your question. The good neighbour policy is they name that was given to the policy itself, to the people who are in charge of it. This is a broader piece that includes a number of activities, mostly in the humanitarian assistance sphere. So it’s a continuation but it is in other words freshening of the framing of the construction of an actually policy with people who are responsible for this in an ad hoc humanitarian assistance project within civic society into government policy.

Tom Wilson: OK so I’ve just been indicated that we have time for one more quick series of questions. So, there’s a lady here, a lady here and also here.

Question 4: [inaudible, 1:04:15] the Kurds. And also do the troops in Syria feel loyalty to Assad or have they [inaudible, 1:04:25].

Question 5: What interest does Russia have in keeping Assad in power apart from having a port on the Mediterranean?

Question 6: [inaudible, 1:04:38]

Issam Zeitoun: I would like to add something about the Druze. I am in contact with Druze, I have too many friends, and even my village is surrounded by Druze villages. We used to have good neighbourhood relations to them. But after this regime, it’s his way, his method. 30 years he was putting people against each other, and now he’s putting the Syrian people against each other only to keep himself safe. I know that the Druze are obligated to and understand that very well. Even now they [incoherent, 1:05:33]. We never would have shelled the Druze villages because we don’t want our revolution to appear like a sectarian one. We know that there are supporters of this regime and we say that a lot of Sunnis are also supporting this regime and shelling and killing so this crisis, or this war, is not between sectarian groups with supporters for this corrupt against. The Russian, I just want to add something for Russia, I think the Russians are aiming to set fire in the Middle East to oppose regional order, not only to sell weapons in the next 500 years. I don’t have any other explanation for that.

Nims Boms: I’ll expand something on that point. The Drew issue, like other minorities in the Middle East it has a history and a very interesting one, there’s a picture I sometimes show of one of the Drew’s villages where you see Israeli flag with the mayor, or the person who is the head of the village, and then on the square right next to it there are flags of Syria, of Assad’s Syria and you see the tension right there on these rallies, each side of the border. We see it and we feel it on the Israeli side and there was a very well-known episode of Drew’s lynch which actually took an injured Syrian and lynched him in the video after he was evacuated from the border, almost hurt IDF soldiers as well, as a very severe incident that would have changed the entire architecture there. But I think as some begin to eluded to the results, it’s not in unions, there are Drew’s who are beginning to indicate and actually spoke with opposition groups and even on the Israeli side the Drew’s in the Golan Heights were very much split between the different sides.

The Kurds is different story and again they are not in unions, there has been some historical relations between Israel and the Kurds and Israel is somewhat active on that front as well, has been active on the actual… I would say on the ground connection some years ago but there is a Kurdish-Israeli caucus in the [inaudible, 1:08:15]. There are a number of avenues, but remember that the Kurdish presence for the most part is very far away from the Israeli border. The extent of involvement is really on a different dimension, it’s sort of kept for the future if and when there’s going Kurdish entity/entities, I won’t open that card because that by itself is very complicated in terms often Kurdish problem as there are over 23 Kurdish parties just in Syria itself. Some are connection more to one side of the isle and some to the other. Another physiological dimension of course is very much so, its connection with the lost generation, its connection with some of the work we’ve seen in Israel, which unfortunately its seen a lot itself [interrupting cough, 1:09:03], I think we will see much more of that, we will pay attention to these issues once the war will actually end. In the meantime we are dealing with more urgent issues.

If I were to give a broad explanation of what Russia’s interest in this entire thing I would say 3 in particular. On the ground the interests has to do with access to the Mediterranean and the fact that Russia would like to certainly keep that. There is more I would say a broader statement that Russia would very much like to make, but unlike other countries who overstep lines and don’t abide by them, Russia would like to keep its alliances, Russia is heling its allies, Russia is protecting its friends, it’s not forgetting them. Although I would say in brackets, Syria by itself is certainly more important to Russia than Assad so some of the scenarios regarding Assad itself can potentially brought to the table as they were in a number of ways and there’s is more to it including different clans and schemes of people who may be able to for a traditional government that Russia and certain other countries are meddling with that. The third thesis, certainly the original dimension which I mentioned was important, Russia would like to be the arbitrator, has positioned itself as the arbitrator. Issam was saying that it wants to sell weapons, but it also wants to sell energy and gas and weapons and it wants to be the main country that is going to be the wheeler and dealer and in anyways it is able to do so. For that by the way what it needs to do is bring in all the Sunni states. They’ve done it in a very effective way, they’ve brought the Egyptians, they’ve brought the Turks, they’re working with the Saudi’s and they are trying to do that in order to make sure their hegemony is going to be kept. There’s one interesting caveat to this because the more they are able to do so it means the Iranian will have to step out, at least to a certain degree and that I believe is also a part of the American-Russia engagement. If I were to interpret that, president trump for the most part would not like to see very much increased American involvement, certainly not American signature or boots on the ground. He would follow his predecessor [interrupting cough, 1:11:27], but the pressure on Iran is one principle that is going to be difference between the two administrations and for that he wants to work with the Russians and push the Russians to push the Iranians further out.

Tom Wilson: Ok thank you so much to our speakers for their expertise and incredibly detailed presentations on a fascinating and huge topic. So please join me in thanking them

Applause

HJS



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