Assad: Arab world ready to join fight against Israel

Syrian president says Russia committed to military deals, claims that government forces are gaining upper hand in fighting rebels.

Assad on Al-Manar (photo credit: SANA NEWS AGENCY/Press Handout)
Assad on Al-Manar
(photo credit: SANA NEWS AGENCY/Press Handout)
Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Manar TV on Thursday that “there is pressure by the people to open a new front on the Golan.”
“Even among the Arab world there is a clear readiness to join the fight against Israel,” he added in his interview with the Hezbollah TV station.
Assad stated that Hezbollah is involved in fighting the Israeli enemy and its agents in Syria and Lebanon, according to the text of the interview on the Al-Manar website. He attributed the failure of the Syrian opposition to its dependence on outside funding and said that it failed to create a real rift in the country.
Assad also said that he sees the balance of power in Syria shifting to the government’s side. And this despite the fact that the “terrorists” – how Assad refers to the rebels – are smuggling fighters and weapons through all of the borders.
In relation to Israel, he said, “If we want to respond to Israel, the response must be strategic.”
Earlier on Thursday, Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar quoted Assad as saying that Syria had already received the first shipment of Russian antiaircraft S-300 rockets.
Speaking about the delivery of the S-300 to Syria, Assad told Al-Manar that Russia is “committed to the deal and neither [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s visit nor the current crisis will influence the importing of arms.”
“The contracts with Russia are not linked to the crisis and Russia is committed to implementing these contracts,” he said. “Everything we have agreed on with Russia will take place, and part of it has already taken place.”
More of the missiles would arrive soon, he was quoted as saying.
A source close to Russia’s Defense Ministry said there had been a “bank transfer” in connection with the S-300 transaction, but that Russian banks were becoming increasingly nervous about dealing with Assad.
Israel spoke with Russia on Thursday morning amid reports that Assad’s forces had received a shipment of S- 300 missiles from Moscow.
Jerusalem has yet to confirm the arrival of the missiles, which have a 200-km. range with the capacity to hit planes in northern Israel. It would create a no-fly zone that would make it impossible for the Israel Air Force to operate along the Syrian and Lebanese border, precisely at a moment when both countries are more volatile.
Israel is investigating the report, while Channels 2 and 10 reported they did not believe the missiles had arrived.
Netanyahu personally asked Russian President Vladimir Putin not to deliver the missiles when he visited Moscow earlier this month.
On Thursday morning, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz held a prearranged meeting with Russian Ambassador to Israel Sergey Yakovlevich and raised the issue of the S-300s.
Russia has maintained that the missiles are defensive and are needed by Assad’s forces in their battle against rebel groups in that country. On Wednesday, Steinitz said the missiles could also be used as offensive weapons.
At the end of Steinitz’s meeting with Yakovlevich, his office said that the men discussed bilateral and strategic issues in the region. They agreed that Israel and Russia would “maintain an ongoing dialogue and cooperate,” his office said.
Steinitz’s office released the positive message, even though Russia had announced only on Tuesday that it intended to ship the S- 300 to Syria.
There is some speculation that Moscow did so in direct response to the European Union’s decision on Monday to lift its arms embargo to Syrian rebel forces.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu spoke of the dangers facing Israel from missile attacks from the Syrian, Lebanese and Gazan borders when he attended a meeting of the Emergency Economy Committee, where they discussed Tuesday’s national emergency drill.
“We are deep in the era of missiles that are aimed at civilian population areas,” Netanyahu said. “We must prepare defensively and offensively for the new era of warfare. The State of Israel is the most threatened state in the world. Around us are tens of thousands of missiles and rockets that could hit our home front.”
Russia’s sale of the S-300 missiles has not stopped it from working with the United States to hold an international peace conference in Geneva that would include representatives from Assad’s government and the rebel forces.
“On June 5 in Geneva, US, Russian and UN officials will hold a three-way meeting to further the preparations for the international conference on Syria,” a spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.
US Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he did not understand how Russia could both arm Assad and work toward a peace conference.
The S-300 is an offensive weapon, said Menendez, who opposes its shipment to Assad.
“It changes the equation,” Menendez said, who visited Israel this week and spoke with Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres about regional threats from Syria and Iran.
Menendez said that he supports sending arms and supplies to the moderate rebel forces fighting Assad and added that, at this point, the different groups in Syria were well known and that it was possible to send arms to specific groups.
It was his understanding from speaking with the Israelis that they are not involved in Syria, Menendez said.
But, he said, Israeli officials led him to believe they would act in response to a direct threat.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post from Washington on Thursday night, “Assad would be off his rocker if he were to start a war with Israel right now and he knows it.”
Assad is barely containing the war in his own country and “the idea that he would add a war with Israel makes no sense,” he said.
This seems to be more rhetoric, he said adding a caveat that things could change.
Asked by the Post about the feeling in Washington over the increasing tensions in the region over the past couple weeks, Schanzer said that it has definitely been noticed in the US capital.
“There is a sense that no good options are left for the US to pursue – a sense of paralysis,” he added. There seems to be a growing isolationist tendency in both parties.
He also said that Hezbollah has a lot to lose if it goes to war with Israel now, because it is stretched thin as they have 3,000-4,000 fighters in Syria. Schanzer concluded, “If Israel is able to confirm that they have the S-300 on the ground, I can’t see them remaining there for more than 24 hours.”
Reuters contributed to this report.