Category Archives: Iran

THE SITUATION WITH IRAN

BLOG 432
June 17, 2019

Iran

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation,
ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

THE SITUATION WITH IRAN

Is the United States getting ready to go to war with Iran? Sounds like it.

Isn’t it amazing how often the Middle East pops up out of nowhere and dominates the headlines? Here we are again with battleships steaming toward the Straits of Hormuz and threats being shouted across the bow. Is war really on the horizon?

Recognizing that President Donald Trump is as predictable as a charging rhino and that he is willing to take rash actions to divert attention from his troubles at home makes predicting his responses unpredictable. At this point the idea of impeachment is more that idle talk. Consequently, the recent attacks on oil tankers raises important questions about what comes next.

However, the experts are not predicting a war. H.R. McMaster recently told The Jerusalem Post, “There are two ways of fighting America. One is symmetrically and the other is stupid.” He believes that the only way a country like Iran can fight America is through terrorism and insurgency.

Iran can huff and puff, but they know they can’t square off against the United States. For one thing, their current economy is in shambles. Secondly, the Sunni Saudis are standing at their borders with their guns raised and aimed at the Iranian Shi’ite. Not a good position to be in!

The Iranian Air Force relies heavily on jets sold to them by President Nixon and they now lack spare parts. Consequently, the American Air Force is in a position to overpower their air force, destroy their air fields, and do so at a minimal cost to American lives.

Probably that fleet of American battleships came sailing in more to send a message than start a fight.

American sanctions are breaking their back. The better option is to sit down and hammer out a new nuclear agreement that keeps everyone happy. The best option for them may well be to come out with new negotiations that insure their survival. A little cup of something is much better than a whole bucket of nothing.

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ANOTHER LOOK AT GAZA

BLOG 410 November 12, 2018

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two  of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

We explored the struggle over Gaza firing rockets in southern Israeli cities in a previous blog. Hamas did not claim responsibility which left the question who pulled the trigger and where did the rockets come from. Not knowing who produced the missiles and where they obtained the materials remained a serious question. If some unknown peripheral group had developed this capacity, the issue would be doubly serious. What have we we learned in a couple of weeks?

Interestingly enough, Yahya Sinwar, Gaza’s Hamas leader, just made the first positive statement about any compatibility with American objectives. While they disagree with almost everything including the time of day, Hamas agreed that Palestinian children have a right to educational opportunities, allowing them any profession they choose. The US government applauded the statement as a step forward.

The problem is in how to achieve such an objective. Hamas chooses terrorism and violence as their modus operandi. While attacking Israeli kindergartens only leads to hitting a brick wall, they continue doing so. Surely, they know they can never defeat the IDF (Israeli military). They must wake up to the fact that the world has passed them by. Violence is no longer acceptable to anybody. Moreover, the 17 rockets fired at the Israeli border town of Sderot were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system. 

Hamas’ last war with Israel destroyed much. Among what does not exist in Gaza today is democracy, cooperation, human rights and freedom. No future there! The real culprit in the last rocket attack on Israel is now known. Iran.

Israeli intelligence has clarified that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard communicated directly with Islamic Jihad to fire the rockets. This Gaza extremist group has been financed from Iran. In addition, Syria played an indirect role. However, information now suggests that Egypt leaned on the Islamic Jihadist group to back off and restore peace. They have now said they will cease firing rockets.

Certainly appears that Hamas with other radical groups never gets it. Constant conflict never leads to peace.

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ASSESSING THE CURRENT SITUATION IN THE MID-EAST

BLOG 354 June 26, 2017

middle-east-conflict

            A number of issues bear a second look… like the situation in Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, co-author of the nuclear armaments deal with the West was re-elected. He garnered 57% of the vote so no runoff was needed. This is highly significant since the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary guard supported his opponent. The public and particularly young people stand behind Rouhani and strongly support the nuclear agreement that halted Iran’s race for a nuclear option.

Rouhani’s success at the poles boosters the staying power of the nuclear agreement. Such results offer hope for the future.

At the same time, President Trump signed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia to sell the Saudis $380 billion dollars of what Trump called, “beautiful military equipment.” The deal was described in the news as an effort to “counter Iran.” The Saudis want anti-ballistic missiles and a new radar system (THAAD, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense). This system will defend against Iran’s missile program. In addition, the Saudis want Lockheed Martin F-35 jets, selling at $100 million apiece. The objective is to provide Saudi Arabia with the strongest military in the region which will outpace Iran’s military and make the Saudis the strongest force in opposition to the Iranians.

From Trump’s point-of-view, the deal brings massive cash infusion into the US defense industry and is getting tough with Iran.

Does this represent an American policy? A critical look at Trump’s campaign rhetoric and subsequent actions raises the question, “what foreign policy?”.

Immediately after America’s November election, Israeli officials were saying that the era of a Palestinian state was over. Eight months later seems like a lifetime ago today. What has happened to countless politicians in the past is now being repeated. The campaign trail to the White House turns out to be filled with hot air exposed in the day light. The plans to move the embassy to Jerusalem have disappeared. No matter what anyone says, Prime Minister Netanyahu is not actually interested in peace talks as he keeps building new settlements on the Palestinian side of the line.

The Israeli public has swung back and forth in a manic-depressive mode from being highly optimistic to dropping into disappointment. The Trump administration will attempt to pressure both Abbas and Netanyahu to get back to the negotiating table for peace. They will respond in some way to appease the Americans, but the fundamental problems haven’t changed  and won’t because of American pressure. Jews and Arabs have been at war with each other for thousands of years. More hot air from Washington won’t change the problem.

Stay tuned.

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AN UNEXPECTED TURN IN THE MUSLIM STORY

BLOG 325 November 7, 2016

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            Forty-five-year old Samar Hijazi fled Syria with her family. For years she had known the abuse of a domineering and violent husband. Once in Lebanon, she found the strength to approach a judge of the Sunni sharia court that set her free. Samar’s story is not unique. Life in Syria has been bitter for countless numbers of wives.

But that’s not the story I want to tell you.

Freedom has come to multitudes in a widely unpublished form. David Garrison’s book A WIND IN THE HOUSE OF ISLAM relates the untold story of thousands of Muslims converting to Christianity. He is now saying that the pace of Muslim conversions has accelerated. The percent of Muslims converting since the inception of Islam has been slow but in the last two decades 84% of all conversions over the last 1,500 years has occurred.

Garrison recently reported that many Muslims have come to recognize that they did not find satisfaction in their faith. Although the civil war in Syria has torn the country apart and killed hundreds of thousands, silently in the shadows, the Holy Spirit has been bringing Muslims to new insights and spiritual discoveries.

For example, Iranian Javad (last name withheld for his protection) had never met a Christian or owned a Bible. Conversion in Iran could lead to death. However, in 2008, Javad immigrated to Athens, Greece, where he was invited to an Iranian Church. He had no idea such a thing existed and came out of curiosity. A new beginning started in his life. Today, he works at a refugee center providing practical aid. He discovered at the center that 2,000 Muslims had turned to Jesus over the last eight years. Javad had gone from total ignorance to becoming a missionary for the new found faith.

During the unparalleled migration of Muslims out of the Middle East, an informal network of new churches has sprung up in Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and other countries. A church in Berlin reported 1,200 conversions during the last three years. In Hamburg, more than 600 Pakistanis and Afghans lined up with Iranians for baptism in one service.

Some will argue these shifts are caused by the need to amalgamate into societies that are hostile to Muslims. Certainly, this is a factor for some seeking better economic opportunity. However, the German magazine Stern reported a young woman saying, “I’ve been looking all my life for peace and happiness, but in Islam, I have not found them.” Another convert said, “In Islam, we always lived in fear. Fear God, fear of sin, fear of punishment. But Christ is a God of love.”

In the Old Testament, Joseph said that what was meant for evil, God used for good. Certainly, this appears to be the first sign of good coming out of the horrors of the Middle East upheaval.

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MIDDLE EAST SHIFTS WITH CONSEQUENCES

BLOG 294 March 14, 2016

A number of important events have transpired across the Middle East that have not been particularly well-reported in the United State. All the headlines go to the political candidates calling each other every name in the book. Sorry. There’s more important matters afoot. For example—

In Iran, moderates have won a majority of seats in the Assembly of Experts. This group is responsible for choosing the supreme leader of the country. They have the ability to question and dismiss the supreme leader. Every eight years, the 88 member Assembly is elected. Consequently, the new group could play an extremely important role in the future of the country. The Assembly was previously dominated by hard-liners who deferred to the decisions of the head of the country.

In the past, the moderates only held 25 percent of the seats. Today, they have won 60 percent. The staunch hard-line head of the previous assembly as well as the spiritual mentor of hard-liners were not re-elected. Moderates recognize the importance of improving relations with the international community and are far more open than the hard-liners. Probably, the next supreme leader they choose will be in favor of further expansion of democratic freedoms and greater openness to the West. Another difference is that moderates believe that government should reflect the will of the people expressed through elections. Hard-liners want to strict interpretations of Islam law regardless of what the people think or vote for.

Undoubtedly, the successful negotiations of a halt to nuclear weapon production and the lifting of sanctions have given many Iranians an improved view of the West. Regardless of the fierce objections of Israel’s Netanyahu, these negotiations may have opened an important door for better relations.

In Palestine, talk is growing of who will replace Mahmoud Abbas at the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The Arabs have almost universally concluded Abbas is ineffective. Palestinian institutions and finances continue to deteriorate. The current budget deficit is $700 million in a small territory with few resources. At this time, Abbas’s Fatah party controls the West Bank and Hamas controls Gaza. Certainly, there is no unity in sight in that division of authority.

While Abbas probably intends to die in office, candidates are already lining up to take his place. They may overtake him before the undertaker arrives. One possibility is the emergence of a collective leadership. Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of Yasir Arafat, might lead such a collision. The removal of Abbas from power could have a dramatic impact on renewed negotiations with Israel.

Hopefully, these shifts will bring a better and more peaceful day.

 

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THE REAL DEAL IN THE MIDDLE EAST

BLOG 273 October 5, 2015

Barring some unforeseen huge political shift, the negotiations with Iran will be approved and go into effect. This entire episode has been a monumental strain on the American Jewish community as well as for many Americans. President Obama told 22 Jewish leaders at the White House on August 4, that failure to approve the agreement would pressure the US into a war with Iran. The not-so-subtle suggestion was the US Jews could end up being held accountable for dragging the US into a war. This has created severe tensions in the Jewish community between those who support the agreement and those who stand with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s opposition. Most feel the struggle is now a “done-deal”.

Jewish attorney Alan Dershowitz suggests that we should neither demonize nor lionize Obama. He feels Obama has not treated his relationship with Netanyahu in a mature or productive manner. Dershowitz is also critical of Obama’s suspicion that Netanyahu doesn’t want a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. However, he feels there is far too much extremism at work in these reactions. Well then, what is the real possible quid pro quo coming up for Israel? What will Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iranian agreement cost Israel?

An assumption has existed that any threat from the agreement to Israel or increased pressure from Hamas and Hezbollah will be met by increased armaments. But is this the “real deal?”

Insiders believe this present situation is only the first step in a rapprochement with Iran that will end in the creation of a Palestinian state during Obama’s final years in the White House. In their view Israel is the intransigent and immoral party in the dispute. As this issue is pressed back and forth, the often missed point in all of the problems of the Middle East from ISIS to the Sunni-Shi’ite wars, is that Israel has nothing to do with any of this conflict beyond being a scapegoat. The Iranian nuclear deal is not about The Bomb as much as it is strengthening Shi’ite Iran as a counterweight to balance the power of the Sunni Gulf states. Then, the pressure will be on to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Israel would then be pressured to negotiate a settlement. The vise will tighten. (Or the armaments won’t be shipped.) Quid pro quo.

What is missed in all of these calculations is that many voices doubt that a two-state solution will ever be a viable possibility. The economic viability of a Palestinian state is virtually never discussed. The tax base is almost non-existent and collection of taxes extremely relaxed. They have almost no money to run a state at this time.

In Padraig O’Malley’s book The Two-State Delusion, he notes that Palestinians view a free-standing state only as preparation for the next phase which is the liberating of all of Palestine –or pushing Israel into the sea. By contrast, Israeli Jews support a Palestinian state only with Israeli troops on their soil. O’Malley argues effectively that a two-state solution is a delusion. He concludes, “Ain’t gonna happen.”

If any of these projections are correct, there is significant turmoil ahead.

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THE DEAL: ISRAEL & IRAN

BLOG 265 August 10, 2015

United States television commercials are beginning to heat up. One set of advertisements says, “Run from the Iran Negotiations.” The other side features Israeli generals who support the nuclear deal. You’d think they were selling soap or cars. Unfortunately, the politicians are currently turning the question into a political issue rather than dealing with the substance. Presidential candidate Huckabee recently made himself look foolish talking about Obama leading the Jewish people “into the ovens.”

So, what are the facts?

The first step is to develop a perspective on the problem. Let’s see if we can place some of the issues in a larger frame of reference.

1. We need crystal clarity about the meaning of this “deal.” Both Iran and Israel believe that Iran can develop a nucelar weapon after a relatively short ten year moratorium. Obama’s statements have been somewhat confusing and ambiguous. The public needs to know what is expected to happen at the end of the 10 year period.

  1. Iran has been and is a dangerous destabilizing force in the Middle East. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently made a statement that nothing in this deal improves their contempt for the United States and Israel. Can temporarily taking building a nuclear weapon off the table improve the terrorist threat Iran has been promoting? It has been argued that removing sanctions will release billions of dollars for more terrorist activities. Will it?

The only person who determines how this money will be spent is Khamenei. He has been clear about how he’d intend to use the cash and that’s not good.

3. There is a difference of opinion inside Israel about the Iranian deal. A number of military leaders disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Why is there a difference in point of view. Obviously, Netanyahu’s strong rhetoric doesn’t reflect the entire country. Who’s right?

A former brigadier-general and division head of the Shin Bet (Israel security agency) recently wrote that the State of Israel is not under any form of existential security threat at the present time. Lior Akerman maintains that even with the radical Islamic uprisings in the region,  Israel’s military situation is quite calm.  Neither Hamas nor the Palestinian authority pose a threat to Israel. In fact, Hamas’s financial situation is bleak.

In this current debate over the nuclear negotiations, Israel will generally be portrayed as struggling to survive a common enemy (although who that enemy is goes undefined) Many like Akerman would argue that Israel’s immediate problems are a faltering health care program, a debilitating school system, and a serious erosion of support from the United States. These voices would claim Netanyahu would do better to turn his attention to these issues rather than orchestrate a political war with the American administration.

Before we can come to a clear, final decision, the American public needs more clarification on these issues and less emotional and political rhetoric. Before you give in to your emotions, make sure your mind is informed. And it won’t be easy with all the smoke that’s in the air.

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THE SITUATION IN SYRIA

Blog 259 June 29, 2015

Keeping up with the Middle East requires one to pay constant attention because change  never stops. For example, Egypt seems to be softening in its relationship with the Gaza strip. For the first time, cement and building materials have been allowed to go through. The behind the scenes sources report that Hamas has begun quiet negotiations with Israel through an intermediary to attempt to ease the tight restrictions on the territory. The truth is that Hamas is in bad shape financial. Matters are not good with the terrorist organization so they may be open to a few genuine changes. We will see.

Matters are changing in Syria big time. The Assad regime had to absorb a number of serious losses. They now control less that half of what was formerly Syria.

A number of years ago, I traveled across Syria and stayed in Damascus. The ancient city with the street called Straight still runs like an arrow from one end to the other. At the far end, one can descend steps and come to the room where by tradition blind Saul was healed and became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Of course, the entire country is Muslim and what was once a great church in the center of old Damascus is now a mosque.

My most memorable experience was the constant viewing of the ubiquitous pictures of Hafez Assad (already dead) and his son Bashar ( the then ruler) Everywhere from Taxis to bathrooms, there were the portraits of the two men placed side by side. If you hadn’t picked up the fact that you were in a dictatorship before you arrived, you certainly would soon know! The heritage that Hafez left to Bashar is now in shambles and probably can never be put back together. We have to give Bashar Assad credit for staying in power for 15 years, He’s been at the top longer than Churchill, Ben-Guriom, or Charles de Gaulle, but the question is how much longer can he hang on. Unfortunately, both the United States and Europe have refused to recognize the Syrian situation for what it is. A minority (the Alawites) have maintained a brutal occupation over a majority that is ten times their size (the rests of Syria). All of this was kept in place by generals who supported Hafez Assad when he seized control and began a 30-year rule. When he died, Bashar Assad promised change. The start of the current civil war was actually a clash of different tribes as well as an internal resistance to any significant change. The failure of Bashar Assad to deal with issues like a growing water problem, a struggling labor market, and a defunct economy led to the current civil war and crisis.

The result is that at least 200,000 Syrian civilians  have been killed to date along with 10,000 children. Half of the nation has been displaced. Assad is now completely dependent on Iran and Hezbollah for assistance.  If Assad rejected an Iranian demand and they pulled back, he would be gone.

Can the Assad regime survive? The best calculation is probably only as long as Iran props them up. Assad has had plenty of losses and survived. The end is not in sight but the deterioration  continues.

A sad, sad mess. Anybody for change?

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THE WAR GOES ON

BLOG 256 June 8, 2015

Not unlike World War I with its convoluted relationships and back room dealings, the wars in the Middle East have many ramifications that do not always appear on the surface. Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called on Russia to halt a planned delivery of the S-300 air-defense system to Iran. Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s position of the right to defend itself against any attack from Tehran indicating Israel would do whatever was necessary for its own security.

Writing for Reuters, Tovah Lazaroff reported that Netanyahu noted that in military parades every year Iran’s missiles were larger and more enhanced. However, one factor always remained the same. On the missiles was always written, “Death to Israel.” Israel continues to protest that in the West’s search for a halt to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, no one mentions Iranian aggression and involvement in the terrorist battles going on in Iraq and Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claims the air-defense system does not endanger the Jewish State. (Who is he kidding?) At the same time, Putin warned Israel about any retaliatory action such as selling weapons to Ukraine. Putin had planned to deliver the S-300’s in 2010, but retreated under pressure from the U.S.. President Obama noted the current purposed delivery reflects the deteriorating strain on Russia’s economy because it would provide a substantial income.

Meanwhile, Iraqi struggles with the ISIS victories in Ramadi and Palmyra. Everyone from the U.S. State Department on down is now worried that Iraqi won’t be up to the task. In the battle for Tikrit and the surrounding villages, the Iraqi army presented itself well. However, even when there are such victories, the Iraqi government continues to face the daunting challenge of stabilizing Sunni-dominated areas and repopulating them without once again feeding the sectarian animosity that has been of substantial value to ISIS. The question always remains as to who will control recaptured area taken back from ISIS. Will it be Shiites or Sunnis?

While the West tends to be indifferent about such matters, the problem remains absolutely vital for any possibilities for peace in this area.

The fears of sectarian revenge killings is constant. In addition, the influence of Arab tribes inside Iraq remains a possible divisive element. For example, the Jabour tribe has historically been pro-government and resisted ISIS. They are one of a number of important tribes inside Iraq that have a bearing on how the fighting will go. Unfortunately, these tribes often violently disagree.

When the governor of Salahuddin Province announced that residents of Tikrit could return, he also noted that if even one member of a resident family had supported ISIS, the entire family would be barred from returning. The issue of collective punishment remains on the table.

Obviously, the Middle East situation remains almost hopelessly complex and muddled.

With Russia and Iran working against Saudi Arabia and Sunni-Shiite fighting continuing, any view of a possible solution remains clouded by the dust rising from the battlefield.

What’s next? Stay tuned.

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MAKING SENSE OUT OF ISIS Part 3

BLOG 255 June 1, 2015

As the song says, “June is busting out all over” and it sure is in the Middle East! Before we take another look at the future of ISIS (the Islamic State), a couple of recent decisions in Egypt deserve our attention. While this story has gone almost unreported in America, an Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Morsi to death. The deposed president of Egypt as well as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and the first freely elected president in the long history of Egypt now faces execution. Should this sentence be carried out, Morsi could become a martyr to Egyptian Muslims. Of course, the death sentence must be approved by the grand Mufti, the ultimate Sunni religious authority in Egypt. In addition, such convictions will be appealed through the court system. At the least, Morsi’s death sentence is certain evidence that Sisi’s government continues to clean house and not back away from their repression of the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the brighter side, American citizen Mohamed Soltan was finally released from and Egyptian  jail. Charged with supporting an Islamist protest, he spent two years denying the charges and participating in a hunger strike. His life imprisonment sentence was protested by Human Rights groups and President Obama. President al-Sisi released him and Soltan left the country. Because of solitary confinement and the hunger strike, his health is dire.

Back to ISIS. The recent capture of Ramadi and Palmyra has fired new enthusiasm for the Islamic State in the Muslim world. However, should ISIS prevail, can they endure and survive? The evidence of history suggests not.

The fiery intial success of such groups usually falls before internal rivalries, a quarantine imposed by other governments, or the direct intervention of outside powers such as the United States. Comparing the rise of ISIS to the emergence of the Soviet Union has some interesting similarities. While the Western powers supported the White Russians, the United States, France, and Britian were exhausted by World War I and of course, Germany was defeated. No outside forces descended on the Soviet Union. Today  nearly 75% of the American public believe the war in Iraq was a mistake and no political candidate (except Lindsey Graham)  is going to buckle that large a plebiscite. Some unanticipated event would be required to change the opinion of American intervention.

As long as ISIS remains at war with Iran and its puppets, it can expect to be funded by Sunni donors from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait. However, internal factors and behind the scenes maneuvering can easily and quickly change. The recent history of the Arab world running from Egypt’s President Nasser forward reflects the difficulties of maintaining such connections.

Moreover, movements that operate on apocalyptic ideals and vision have historically burned themselves out. The wild end-time ideas that fuel today’s jihadists will disparate with time and the emotional force behind the war will disappear. In other words, what scares the West today, may evaporate tomorrow.

The West does not have the intelligence sources  to know what struggles are currently going on inside ISIS. Past history suggests conflicts are already at work. Such a situation could be as destructive to ISIS as any other factor.

As was true of the Soviet Union, political evolution was necessary for future endurance. Can ISIS make such political adjustments and survive? Past history again suggests a “no” answer. The key to the future may lay inside ISIS.

Only time will tell.

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