DAMASCUS, Syria — During the second part of a lengthy interview with Al-Monitor in Damascus, a senior Syrian official said that the reality on the ground, the power balance and the military developments in the field were important, and in this regard, the Syrian authorities were content and reassured.
The official, who requested anonymity, started by analyzing the Syrian map: “Each line extending from our southern border to Aleppo is under the control of Syrian troops. The militants received overwhelming blows in Homs and Qalamoun. Today in Aleppo, any military expert understands the meaning of controlling the central prison and the air force intelligence site in the city. Everybody recognizes that Aleppo is almost militarily fallen. Of course, cleansing it of militants and terrorists may need time. But the battle there, according to military battlefield logic, has already been decided and its results are clear.”
In response to claims that the regime's opponents have provided the government a great service with their behavior and mistakes, he smiled, saying, “This is absolutely true. Suffice it to mention two things: first, their collaboration with Israel and their openness to several contacts with it. That really helped us in our media battle in the Arab world. Second, and more importantly, the significant dominance by extremists and terrorist groups over those forces.”
Al-Monitor asked about allegations that the regime released fundamentalist prisoners to facilitate the formation of these groups. The Syrian official answered calmly: "It is true that a number of fundamentalists were released as a result of amnesty decrees for prisoners by the leadership in Syria during the years of strife. But the domination of extremist groups on the armed groups and their aspiration to control Syria preceded any act by us. Don’t forget that the battle with these extremist groups began more than 30 years ago. It didn’t break out in 2011. [It broke out] before the conflict [in our region] turned into open military battles. [Al-Qaeda leader] Ayman al-Zawahri was clear in his recorded message when he raised the slogan, 'The glory of the East starts in Damascus.' …
"Of course, we worked through all media, political and diplomatic means, to expose the extremist danger on us and on all our surroundings and the world. This is part of our natural and legitimate response to the terrorist plot. You only need to read the message by Zawahri to an extremist group that he disagreed with, namely, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). He told them that one of the reasons why he disagreed with them is that they came out into the open. Al-Qaeda wanted to keep its battle secret until it was strong and could gain control. This is proof that the first way to fight them is to reveal their true image and highlight their presence and their danger, and that’s what we did."
The official continued, "It is important now that the war between them has become very fierce, especially after the split between their groups became an expression of the divide between the countries that were sponsoring and funding terrorists in Syria. One battle between two factions, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, resulted in 1,400 people dead. Remarkably, in this area, they themselves have become aware of their own destiny and where they are headed. It is no coincidence in this context that Zawahri himself, in a message addressed to the battling rival extremist groups in the first week of April , described some ISIS militants killing an Ahrar al-Sham official as a major crime. More importantly, Zawahri compared it to the incident where the Islamic Fighting Group in Algeria assassinated two other Islamic jihadists in 1995. Zawahri concluded, in his message, that what the Islamic Fighting Group did in Algeria that day was 'the moral death of those groups, which was followed by their material death.'"
The Syrian official smiled at Zawahri's comparison of events in Algeria two decades ago to present-day Syria. The official said, "By making this comparison, al-Qaeda’s leader wanted to threaten the terrorists beyond his control with death, as happened in Algeria. But he didn’t pay attention, in that he expected the war in Syria to have a similar fate to their war in Algeria. The result there was that all terrorists and extremist groups were defeated and the state won and it is still in place to this day, and this is what will happen in Syria."
What about the recent US escalation and Washington's willingness to boost military aid to the opposition? The Syrian official’s face turned more serious. “A few weeks ago, we agreed with our allies in Russia that a high-level delegation from Moscow would visit Damascus. We were officially informed that the delegation will be headed by the Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov. But two weeks ago, officials in the Russian Embassy in Damascus surprised us by telling us that the date of the visit has been postponed for four days. We asked why. They told us it has to do with changes in the composition of the Russian delegation. Indeed, we were later told that the delegation would no longer be headed by Gatilov but by Dmitry Rogozin. Who is this man? He is the Russian deputy prime minister for the defense industry and military orders. Those messages were not a coincidence. President [Vladimir] Putin made this change after what the United States said recently about Syria. So, he chose this man in particular, with these duties and powers, to come to Damascus. Rogozin is one of the most radical anti-Washington voices. You only need to review his stated positions, from the US missile system to his opinion about the artist Madonna!”
The Syrian government official smiled again when asked about the content of the May 25 meetings of the Russian delegation in Damascus. He didn't hesitate to say, “I think that if anyone tries to go on a crazy adventure to arm the terrorists, Moscow will not hesitate to transfer more sophisticated weapons to us and may not hesitate to transfer Russian military technology for the first time outside its borders.” The official concluded, “We are reassured, and our reassurance will be further confirmed after the presidential elections on June 3.”