Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Leader: We’ll Take Golan Back From Israel—‘By All Means Possible’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | September 9, 2013 | 2:40pm EDT

Muhammad Riyadh Al-Shaqfa, leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood

( - Muhammad Riyadh Al-Shaqfa, the leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which is part of the rebel coalition seeking to overthrow the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, said on Dubai TV last year that if the Syrian rebellion is successful it is the intention of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood for Syria to take back the Golan Heights from Israel—even if it means using force to do so.

Al-Shaqfa also said the Muslim Brotherhood did not believe a post-revolutionary Syria would ever recognize Israel—which he called a country “which is alien to this region.”

According to a video clip and a translation made by the Middle East Media and Research Institute of Al-Shaqfa’s appearance on Dubai TV on June 11, 2012, the interviewer asked Al-Shaqfa: “Do you want to liberate the Golan?

“Of course,” said Al-Shaqfa. “It is our right. Are we supposed to acquiesce to the occupation of our land?”

“By fighting?” asked the interviewer.

“By all possible means,” said Al-Shaqfa. “If it can be done peacefully, all the better.”

The Golan is a mountainous territory that runs along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee then north from there to the border of Lebanon. Israel took control of it from Syria in the Six Day War of 1967.

“Although the United States considers the Golan Heights to be occupied territory subject to negotiation and Israeli withdrawal, it sympathized with the Israeli concern that Syrian control of the Heights prior to 1967 provided Syria with a tactical and strategic advantage used to threaten Israel’s security,” said a 2004 Congressional Research Service report on Israel. “The Begin and Shamir governments rejected any withdrawal from Golan; on December 14, 1981, the Knesset passed legislation applying Israeli ‘law, jurisdiction, and administration’ to the Golan Heights, in effect, annexing the territory.”

When the Dubai TV interviewer asked Al-Shaqfa why he did not similarly vow to liberate Alexandretta Provence—an area around the Turkish port city of Iskenderun that is populated by some Arabic-speaking peoples—al Shaqfa tried to evade the question.

Finally, he said: “Who says they are Syrians?

“They speak Arabic, and all their families are in Syria,” said the interviewer.

“Many in Turkey speak Arabic,” said Al-Shaqfa. “These borders were delineated by the superpowers. It will be discussed in due course, but the Golan is our occupied land."

“You have always accused both Assads, Hafez and Bashar, of selling out the Golan and Alexandretta,” said the interviewer. “Just because you’ve become close to the Turks, it’s difficult for you to--"

“These matters will be discussed in due course,” said Al-Shaqfa. “At the end of the day, they will not cause any problem. The Golan, however, was occupied only recently. It was only yesterday."

The interviewer said this was the same thing that the Assad regime was saying.

“They say that they cannot liberate the Golan right now with weapons, and that they reserve the right to respond,” said the interviewer. “You are saying the same thing.”

“But they never do respond,” said Al-Shaqfa. “They [the Israelis flew] over the presidential palace, and the regime did not respond. The regime has no intention of liberating the Golan.”

The interviewer than asked Al-Shaqfa if he would be willing to make peace with Israel if Israel was “willing to give the Golan back to Syria peacefully.”

“This will be decided by the new Syrian parliament. It will be decided by the Syrian people,” said Al-Shaqfa. “When there is democracy in Syria, the Syrian people will decide on this.”

“But what is the position of [the Muslim Brotherhood] movement on this?” the interviewer asked.

“We haven’t studied this issue. The issue of Israel,” said Al-Shaqfa.

“Israel is Syria’s number one enemy. Is it conceivable that you have not studied this issue?” asked the interviewer.

“It’s up to the Palestinians. We support the position of the Palestinian people on this,” said Al-Shaqsa.

Finally, the Muslim Brotherhood leaders conceded that he did not think post-revolutionary Syria would ever recognize Israel, which he declared a country “alien to this region.”

“My opinion is that we will not recognize that country, which is alien to this region,” said Al-Shaqsa, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute's translation.

“So you won’t recognize Israel?” asked the interviewer.

“No, we won’t,” said the leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

A background paper published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has been “anxious to avoid jeopardizing its moderate image” even though its leaders defended the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra when the U.S. government officially designated al-Nusra as a terrorist group last December.

“For lack of better options, the Brotherhood has opted to work with some of the new Salafi movements inside Syria, attempting to co-opt them or benefit from their growing strength,” said the Carnegie background paper by Aron Lund.

“It has, however, shied away from the most hardline factions, so-called Salafi-jihadis,” said the Carnegie paper. “This particularly concerns Jabhat al-Nusra, which was designated a terrorist entity by the U.S. government in December 2012 and swore allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in April 2013. This is partly because the Brotherhood is anxious to avoid jeopardizing its moderate image or antagonizing the West. But it is also partly because the Brotherhood perceives the members of Jabhat al-Nusra as dangerous rivals and extremists. Salafi-jihadi groups are generally very hostile to the Brotherhood.

“Nevertheless, Jabhat al-Nusra’s skilled fighters are increasingly popular among the Islamist rank and file,” says the Carnegie paper. “This fact has not gone unnoticed by the Brotherhood. Like most of the Syrian opposition, including many secularists, the Brotherhood sprang to the jihadis’ defense against the U.S. terrorism designation. In a December 11, 2012, statement, Brotherhood spokesperson Zuhair Salem called for a review of the American decision. The following day, [Shaqfa deputy Muhammoud Farouk] Tayfour made similar comments, describing Jabhat al-Nusra as ‘a group on which it is possible to rely for the defense of the country and for protection of civilians against the regime army.’ Al-Shaqfeh would later refer to the jihadis as ‘brothers in arms.’”

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