|Gen. Tlass during his interview with Asharq Alawsat in Jeddah|
It is legitimate at times to blow your own horn -- in this case, ArabSaga’s.
Yesterday’s post was the first in the global media to report Syrian Gen. Manaf Tlass’ arrival in Saudi Arabia. It led off with his landing in Riyadh before flying to Mecca to perform the Umrah. And it hinted at the considerable significance of the visit a propos the Saudi drive to rid Syria of President Bashar al-Assad (see the posts of July 25, July 19 and July 18).
Today, the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat confirms Tlass’ presence in the kingdom by running a full-length interview and a picture of him in Jeddah.
Significantly, the interview was conducted in person overnight by Asharq Alawsat’s editor-in-chief Tariq Alhomayed.
The newspaper’s front-page screamer reads, “Gen. Manaf Tlass to Asharq Alawsat: No to eradication and I don’t see Syria with Assad.”
All this confirms my impression that Saudi Arabia is grooming Tlass to lead the transition to post-Assad Syria.
Following are the crucial remarks Tlass makes in his all-embracing interview with Alhomayed:
On exiting Syria
My exit was a complex operation that took time and involved several parties. But I won’t say more so as to protect those who helped me. Maybe one day I will reveal how I exited Syria.
From the beginning, I disagreed with the regime on ways to handle the crisis. I self-distanced myself for a while as mistakes in handling the crisis multiplied. I had no decision-making input on the matter. That’s why I preferred to leave. I always sought not to take sides. I tried to help all sides come together to overcome the crisis. That’s why I didn’t give a reason for my defection.
I am not looking for authority. I am looking forward to security and stability for Syria. If I get the opportunity as an ordinary citizen to return and build Syria, then I’m ready. But I am not looking for authority.
I did not leave Syria to lead the transitional period. I am aware the phase is difficult. It will be difficult for any one person to assume sole responsibility for this chapter. Better if people on the ground in Syria and abroad cooperate to see this phase through.
I did not leave to play a role. I left because I refused to participate in a security solution. That’s the main cause of my exit.
I was in disagreement with the security agencies over their management of the crisis. I tried my best to solve it peacefully.
I discovered a security solution was their priority, so I turned my back on this environment because I thought the crisis was complex and needed a genuine solution.
What I saw was the uprising being met with nothing but firepower. I refused that. There were people calling for dialogue and wishing the regime would listen to them. But it did not. I was among those who preferred having a dialogue with the uprising. That’s why I stood aside.
I was aware that once a security solution is launched, abandoning it becomes costly. That’s why I always thought the security solution is suicidal to the regime.
I self-distanced myself the instant the uprising was met with violence.
I effectively defected at the onset of the crisis. I was a defector while still in being in Syria. A defector doesn’t have to make a televised declaration. I deemed myself a defector because the manner in which this regime managed the crisis ran counter to my convictions and aspirations.
I don’t have blood on my hands. I don’t see history ever suggesting I had blood on my hands. I judge myself before history judges me. And I don’t care about authority or office.
On Assad and the inner circle
It’s about a year (since I last met with Assad).
I wish he listened to me (and opted for a political solution).
Chances (of a solution that keeps him in office) have dissipated. His staying in office after the huge number of deaths is unlikely. I wish he didn’t opt for a security solution to stay in power. But the security agencies misled him. Mistakes in politics can sometimes prove deadly.
(The bombing that killed four of Assad’s inner circle) was proof of a major security lapse. The bombing took place in a very secure area. This shows the uprising is getting evermore sophisticated and that the regime needs to lend its ear (to insurgents). It will be catastrophic if it doesn’t.
Maher al-Assad would not have been at such a (inner circle meeting). His ranking does not entitle him to attend.
A coup d’état in Syria would be difficult in view of the regime’s structure. The coup should have taken place at the onset of the crisis.
It would be difficult for me to quantify support (for the regime by Iran, Hezbollah, Iraq and the Russians), particularly that I was not a member of the crisis management team.
But the longer the crisis lasts, the more difficult it would be for Syria to recover.
No, he (Assad) is not weak. People around him simply belittled the crisis and that’s why he chose the security solution.
On future plans
My plan is to settle securely with my family and children in a place that is safe. I have the same wish for the Syrian people.
If Syria is safe and if safety is what Syrians feel, I would be the first one back in Syria because I am a Syrian citizen. Safety and security are what I wish for all Syrians, including myself.
I wasn’t thinking of whether I would be politically active or not, or in terms of having a political mission, when I left Syria. But if this were to serve my country and Syria’s security and stability, I’d possibly play my role as an ordinary citizen. Anyone else wanting to help solve this crisis would do the same.
There are nationalist people in and outside Syria. I yearn for a consensus solution that forestalls Syria’s destruction.
There are many honorable people in Syria and beyond. I hope they would set a roadmap to end this crisis peacefully and at minimal losses to Syria.
This is because Syria is a country of coexistence bringing together different minorities and ethnicities.
Citizens need a secure expanse to heal their crisis-inflicted wounds. I look forward to genuinely nationalist and honorable sides that can nurse those wounds and prevent further degradation in Syria that puts its future at risk.
I wish Syria a roadmap to end its crisis.
I will connect with every honorable person wanting to build Syria -- whether in the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army or inside the country.
I will link up with everyone to determine a roadmap to end this crisis. There are many in the regime whose hands are not stained with blood. They were not consulted. They should not be ostracized. We need to safeguard our national institutions as well as Syria the state.
Honorable Syrian citizens can’t possibly be ostracized from Syrian society. Our mosaic-like Syrian society will have to bring back to life the Syria of old and build on it. But no, I don’t see such (new) Syria with Bashar al-Assad (staying).
On Saudi Arabia
I am happy to be here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
I am glad to have performed the Umrah.
Saudi Arabia is Syria’s friend. The regime committed a strategic mistake in squandering this relationship with Saudi Arabia. I expect Saudi-Syrian relations to always be close-knit because the two countries share the same faith, nationalism and pan-Arabism compass.
I flew in to greet our Saudi brothers and weigh up their propensity to help us draw the roadmap alongside our other friends in the region and the international community. We shall interconnect with each and everyone capable of helping Syria put a stop to this crisis.
I, of course, seize this occasion to thank the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, for giving me the opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia and for standing by and assisting the Syrian people.