With a buildup of 16 Russian warships carrying thousands of marines on the Syrian coast “to deter the West from deploying ground forces in Syria,” Syrian Bashar Assad could afford to brazen it out in his first public speech in seven months. Speaking at the Damascus opera house, Sunday, Jan. 6, Assad said Syria no longer takes dictation from anyone and called on Syrian citizens to defend the country against “a war fought by only a handful of Syrians and many foreigners.”
He rejected dialogue with the opposition which he referred to as “puppets fabricated by the West.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly, in its latest issue of Jan. 4, revealed that both Washington and Moscow may be encouraging the rush to Syria of al Qaeda and other radical Islamist fighters so as to put them in harm’s way on the Syrian battlefield instead of their staying home to make trouble in Asian, European and other Middle East countries.
On this point, Assad remarked: “The West tried to get rid of these terrorists by drawing them into conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, but were unsuccessful. Now they are sending them to Syria. “
The Syrian ruler went on to maintain that it would not be too hard to get rid of them, if “all citizens are mobilized against these outside forces.” It was important, too, he said, to fight the terrorists’ ideas, before they permeated Syrian society. He vowed to fight terror “so long as a single terrorist remains in the country" and to combat the rebels fighting to overthrow his regime, whom he called “terrorists” and “criminals” who "harbor al Qaeda’s extremist ideology."
debkafile: Assad’s emphasis on this point indicates he counts on his war against Islamist terrorism as a long-term insurance policy for bolstering his regime’s survival.
In Moscow, a senior military spokesman announced that Russian vessels, including battleships and landing craft carrying marines and military vehicles, would remain in Syrian waters until Easter. He said quite candidly that the presence of Russian marines near Syrian waters “will deter the West from deploying ground forces in Syria." The Russian flotilla and marines are intended to be the counterweight to the six NATO Patriot missile interceptors, the US, Germany and Holland have installed on the Turkish-Syrian border. Russia along with Iran is providing Assad with a strong military shield, which is supplemented by Chinese diplomatic support.
The Syrian ruler’s speech Sunday was therefore far more upbeat than his last address in June. Then, he defended himself against pressing international demands to step down by vowing to “live and die in Syria.” In this speech, he makes no mention of resigning or throwing in the towel. In contrast to current predictions of his downfall, to be found in Western and Israeli media, Assad felt secure enough to set out his blueprint for ending the Syrian conflict.
The first stage of a political solution would require that “the regional powers stop funding and arming the opposition” – a reference to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Western powers.
He then invited “those who have not betrayed Syria” to a conference of reconciliation, followed by a referendum on a new constitution, the formation of a government and an amnesty.
He rejected the Syrian opposition movement as “puppets fabricated by the West,” and said that Syria wanted to negotiate with the "master not the servants."