Category Archives: middle east

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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THE SITUATION IN GAZA

BLOG 431
June 10, 2019

gaza

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 IN GAZA

I’m sure you are aware of the recent intense three-day exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Four Israelis were killed as well as 25 Palestinians. Through the assistance of an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire, the encounter came to a halt. However, the pause is only momentary. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Auhri said, “Our message is that this round is over, but the conflict will not end until we regain our rights.” Islamic Jihad leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah predicted the fight could begin again as early as this summer.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Benjamin, Netanyahu said Israel was already preparing for the next encounter. The Iron Dome system for rocket intervention proved 85% successful in intercepting Hamas rockets. Almost 700 rockets were fired during a 48-hour period, sending many residents to bomb shelters. In turn, Israel knocked out six high-rise Gaza head-quarters for intelligence gathering as well as five apartment buildings where military commanders lived. Israel also killed a money-changer involved in the transfer of funds from Iran.

Abba Ebon once said, “the Arabs never miss the chance to miss the chance.” Why can’t Hamas give up on firing rockets when it is always so costly for them? Missing the change is only part of the problem. There’s more to the story than the West usually recognizes. For the past 12-years, Israel and Egypt have enforced a land and maritime siege on Gaza. From the point of view of Israel, the embargo is necessary to keep armaments and weapons out of terrorist hands. However, Gaza sees this as a violation of their rights and a serious clamp on their economy. While they consistently lose, they despair enough to feel they have nothing to lose. Desperate opponents make for frightening enemies!

So Gaza remains a political problem Israel must face. Until the two million residents can see a better economic future, they will not stop shooting.

Hang on! There’s more to come!

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AFTER THE ELECTION

BLOG 430
June 3, 2019

white concrete building

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.

AFTER THE ELECTION

One thing you can always say about Israel. Life is never dull.
Following the election that he barely squeaked through, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is apparently attempting to get the Knesset to pass a law that exempts the Prime Minister from prosecution during his term in office. The situation is sort of like the debate in the US over whether Trump can be pulled into court on a wide assortment of charges now pending.

Sure, Netanyahu is trying an end around play to avoid being hauled into court on the charges that the police now have against him. Speculation prior to the election suggested he might not get elected with these serious charges of bribery pending. Of course, that did not happen as a slim majority of the voters pushed his party over the top. While it can be argued that this is a move to ensure government stability, the idea also appears to be an admission of guilt on Netanyahu’s part.

Is that a smart move?

When I was in Israel a month back, I found many people who did not like him personally,but liked the positive economic condition of the country. Even in the off season, tourism was booming. They weren’t happy with him, but didn’t see a better alternative. Now he’s elected and the next phase may not be pretty. We’ll see.

Several difficult situations loom in the background. The exchange of rockets between Israel and Gaza is dangerous. Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel two Sundays ago killing four Israelis. Israel in turn pounded Gaza killing at least 23. Israel believed it killed a Hamas commander attempting to deliver funds from Iran. These were the first Israeli fatalities since the 2014 war.

Israel and Egypt’s blockade has ravaged Gaza’s economy. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Hamas was not interested in “a new war.” Apparently, the rocketeers have a strange way of expressing avoidance. If they keep it up, there won’t be anybody left in Gaza to fight with Israel.

On a different front, President Trump’s blockade of Iran has had a serious effect on Hezbollah. Iran doesn’t have the funds to continue to support this terrorist group in Lebanon.

This may somewhat diminish the threat on the Northern side of Israel. The new round of problems for Bibi Netanyahu is just starting.

Stay tuned. More to come!

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MIDDLE EASTERN TIDBITS FOR THE CONNOISSEUR

BLOG 429 April 22, 2019

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.

A number of interesting discoveries have surfaced in recent weeks that are worthy of our inspection. While the April 9 election overshadowed all other details in the Middle East, much was going on behind the scenes that is worthy of a second look.

The Jewish world took note of the fact that Pope Francis stated that he is opening the World War II archives in the Vatican. Controversy has swirled around the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church ever since the end of the war. The target of much criticism has been whether Pope Pius XII ignored the plight of the Jews occurring right under his nose in Rome. What did Pius XII do or not do?

Several years ago, Pope Francis invited me to walk through the mausoleum recently uncovered during the period of the reign of Pius XII. After careful evaluation, scholars and archaeologists found the original tomb of Peter that was over 2,000 years old. As I peered through the excavations, I could see the plastic containers holding those bones. Quite an experience!

At the end of the tunnels, I found the tomb of Pius XII. The cement sarcophagus stands about three feet above the ground and is rather ordinary in appearance compared to some of the papal tombs in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Part of the reason that Pope Francis has opened this door is because of his personal understanding and relationship with the Jewish community. Moreover, he is particularly interested in a greater openness in the Vatican. The world will be watching to see what comes forth.

And speaking of what is now appearing, a 2,600 year old seal from the Kingdom of Judah was recently discovered in the City of David. The inscription read, “belonging to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King. While it was not impossible at the time to say that the seal belonged to the Nathan-Melech mentioned in the Bible, the similarity is uncanny. In II Kings 23:11, he is described as an official in the court of King Josiah. The seal was found in the remains of a public building destroyed during the fall of the First Temple. The seal attests to the highly developed system of administration in the Kingdom of Judah.

A second artifact was also uncovered. The bluish agate stone was engraved in ancient Hebrew (belonging to) Ikar the son of Matanyahu. Both of these finds will be presented in the Israel Exploration Journal. Pictures will help the reader envision these discoveries.

Keep your eyes open. More to come.

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THE DAY AFTER THE ELECTION

BLOG 428 April 15, 2019

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.

And did President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israel’s right to the Golan Heights as well as many photo-ops with the ‘big boys’ help Netanyahu? It probably elected him.

The Israeli election this past week was a squeezer with the two top candidates both claiming election, but as the dust settled, Netanyahu slipped passed Benny Gatz. Of course, a political party, not a man is the winner. Once the election is over, the head of the party must form a coalition government to win the country. That is what Netanyahu is now doing.

Four ex-generals had lined up against the Prime Minister. Gabo Ashenazi, Moshe Yaalon, Benny Gatz, and Yair Lapid stood behind the new Blue and White Coalition. These important military men formed a formidable front against Netanyahu’s Likud Party. In addition, Attorney General Avichal Mandelblit had recommended that proceedings against Netanyahu and his wife for corruption charges proceed.

So, what happened?

When I was in Israel a month ago, I talked with many people about this situation. I found few people who liked Netanyahu and his political manipulations, but at the same time doubted if there was anybody better out there. Israel has been in a period of unprecedented prosperity; Arab terrorists have been shut down. Hezbollah as well as Hamas can scream and shout, but know they are no match for Israel. The Palestinian Authority is little more than a joke. Right or wrong, Netanyahu got the credit for a situation that is positive for most Israeli citizens. Just a few weeks before the election one poll had 53% percent of the population behind Likud with Gantz only getting 27%. Of course the results were much closer.

Now that he has won the election, Netanyahu is in a more positive position to fight these charges. Could he lose? Certainly. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went to jail for the same. Sure, it is possible, but uncertain.

What’s ahead? All indications are that the new government will be even more right wing. Such actions as annexing Jewish settlements on land considered bellowing to the Palestinians are probably in the works. One probable faction in his cabinet will call for taking the Temple Mount away from the Muslims. Of course, this won’t go anywhere, but it tells us where the emphasis will be. Netanyahu has played a game of politics of division, pitting various groups against each other. Undoubtedly, this will not stop. On the positive side, while they aren’t saying so in public, nations like Egypt, Jordan, and even Saudi Arabia have recognized Israel isn’t going away and are doing business under the table. This will probably increase.

And the PLO? They are taking it on the chin. Hang on and watch. There’s much more to come.

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RECOGNITION OF THE GOLAN HEIGHTS

BLOG 427 April 8, 2019

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.

What about President Trump’s recent announced recognition of the Golan Heights belonging to Israel? Under international law Israel’s seizure and holding of the land is considered illegal. The Geneva Conventions consider settlements in such an area to be unlawful. So, what’s going on? Politics.

Israel’s election is tomorrow and Prime Minister Netanyahu needed an extra push at the polls. Trump gave him a significant push. This viewpoint is held by the Jewish residents of the Golan Heights. The March 31 edition of the Los Angles Times calls their perspective on the recognition “tepid.” The inhabitants of the Golan fear Trump’s public recognition will upset the apple-cart in what has been an extended period of peace in their history. Even though Syria and Israel have been mutually hostile, the Golan community has been left alone. They worry that while Netanyahu got a boost, they could end up getting the boot.

However, that’s only one part of the story.

Israelis firmly reject any hint of giving this area back because of their need for security. In the beginning, Syrians sat on these heights and shot farmers until Israel cleaned them out.

Give it back? They point to America acquiring California, New Mexico, and Texas. Would America give this land back to Mexico? Americans ready to give back land to the Indians? Absolutely not!

This past history reminds us that Israel is often squeezed to maintain a double standard in which the rest of the world wouldn’t participate.

The analogy makes the point.

A recent International Jerusalem Post editorial reminds us that Israel tried to negotiate some form of settlement over this area with Syria, but those attempts went nowhere. Since then Syria has slid into chaos and President Assad is an international pariah. No future there.

What did America lose through President Trump’s proclamation? Significantly, other Arab states will be more reluctant to negotiate with America. Moreover, the announcement is a gift to Assad, giving him a rallying point to gain more support for his beleaguered nation.  This result is part of the reason that Israeli residents are hesitant to be enthused about the move.

Nevertheless, the recognition is applauded by most Israelis.

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RECENT TURN OF EVENTS

BLOG 426 March 24, 2019

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.

Perhaps, you were as surprised as the rest of the world by the sudden announcement from President Donald Trump recognizing Israel’s possession of the Golan Heights as now a legitimate part of Israel. The Golan Heights is a basaltic plateau bordered by the Yarmouk River in the south, the Sea of Galilee and Hula Valley in the west, the Anti-Lebanon with Mount Hermon in the north and Wadi Raqqad in the east. The Golan Heights was captured from Syria and occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War. This stretch of territory was effectively annexed to Israel in 1981. This region includes the western two-thirds of the geological Golan Heights, as well as the Israeli-occupied part of Mount Hermon.

Construction of Israeli settlements began in the territory held by Israel, which was under military administration until Israel passed the Golan Heights Law extending Israeli law and administration throughout the territory in 1981. This move was condemned by the United Nations Security Council in UNSC Resolution 497, which stated that “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect”, and UNSC Resolution 242, which emphasizes “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”.

Israel maintains it has a right to retain the Golan, also citing the text of UN Resolution 242, which calls for “safe and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

So, what’s going on here?

Regardless of UN resolutions or anything else, Israel will never give this territory back. Several times, I rode a Jeep up from the Galilee up the steep slopes to the top of the Heights. One look will tell you why Israel will keep this land. For years Syrian and Jordanian troops sat up there on the top and shot Israeli farmers working down their in the valley around the Galilee. The entire Galilee area is vulnerable to canons and whatever weapons can fire from the Golan Heights. No country could allow this threat and jeopardy to exist.

If you’re a supporter of Israel, you applaud this move. If you’re not, you are appalled. But why should the United States alone suddenly announce an acceptance of this situation when no other country in the world will recognize the same? Why at this moment?

Speculation is simple. Trump likes Netanyahu and the Prime Minister needs a boast in the Polls before the April 9 elections. President Trump’s action can only help the Prime Minister.

Politics as usual.

Sorry, I’ll be out of the country next week. My following report will be in April.

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ELECTIONS IN ISRAEL

BLOG 425 March 17, 2019

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.

How the Israeli Government system operates

Israel’s election is a free for all: Instead of two major parties, there’s a whopping total of 47 parties competing at the ballot box. Israelis vote for parties, not individual. The more votes a party gets, the more seats it has in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. A government is formed by a party — more likely a coalition of like-minded parties — that captures more than 60 seats. More than a dozen parties could make the next Knesset. Here’s a short description of each of them from The Times of Israel.

Likud, Israel’s right-wing flagship, and Netanyahu’s party, opposes a Palestinian state, supports settlements and encourages privatization in the economy. The longtime prime minister is seeking his fifth term.

Blue and White is a new centrist coalition led by a former military chief of staff, Benny Gantz. It was created to oppose Netanyahu and his alleged corruption.

The New Right is kind of like Likud on steroids, the party staunchly opposes Palestinian statehood and supports settlement growth, and features a very hawkish defense policy — what its platform calls an “iron fist” against Israel’s enemies.

Jewish Home-Jewish Power is the controversial union between a religious Zionist party and a far-right party, also known as Otzma Yehudit, that supports implementing religious law and waging “total war” on Israel’s enemies. As of late, Netanyahu has been courting this vote to be part of his cabinet which has created a strong backlash.

Israel Beiteinu champions the interests of Russian-speaking immigrants, along with a hard-line defense policy that calls for the execution of terrorists.

Kulanu is a center-right party focused on lowering Israel’s high cost of living.

In the last elections, held in March 2015, the Netanyahu-led Likud won 30 seats and formed a coalition with smaller right-wing and religious parties (Jewish Home, United Torah Judaism, Kulanu and Shas, with Israel Beiteinu joining a year later). If the coalition were to fall apart — a minister leaving the government, for example — Netanyahu would lose his coalition, lose control of the government and must call new elections.

A “free for all?” Sounds more like Rugby!

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ELECTIONS IN ISRAEL UPDATE

BLOG 424 March 10, 2019

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.

How the Israeli government system works

While I was in Israel a few weeks ago, I ask a friend about the upcoming elections. He made an interesting comment saying, “I am more worried about the cabinet than who gets elected Prime Minister. What did he mean?

In Israel whoever is elected Prime Minister must form a cabinet, a government in order to preside. The nature of that cabinet will determine what the government does. This means that the winner of an election must make deals with a wide-range of political parties in order to garner enough support to govern. This means that small margin groups can actually end up in the cabinet and exert an influence far beyond their numbers.

For extra, the ultra-orthodox religious groups that are a minority in the country have been in previous cabinets and wielded a major influence on decisions. Prime Ministers who needed their involvement agreed to deals that majority of Israelis would never have affirmed.

Israel has many, many political parties. Some go out of existence after losing an election and others are created for a special cause during election season. These groups usually have only two or three seats in the Knesset. In some instances, they support causes that are almost laughable.

Last week I reported the alarm sounded both inside Israel and among the Diaspora when Prime Minister Netanyahu began courting the anti-Arab party Otzma Yehudit. These extremist followers of Meir Kahane favor radical military actions such as seizing the Temple Mount and destroying the Mosques there. In order to garner votes, Netanyahu has begun to make a deal with them. Should Netanyahu be re-elected, these extremists could be in the government, swinging a frightening position of power. The Prime Minister’s pursuit of such an extremist group conveys his fear of not having enough votes to make a government even if he wins the election.

A footnote: Tzipi Livni ended her political career this past week. While she may be unknown to many, Livni is a brilliant woman who once worked for Mossad. She was unable to develop a mega-block coalition of the Center Left and had experienced betrayal by people she thought were her friends. In 2008, Livni came close to becoming prime minister. In the 2009 election, she nearly took the day, but Netanyahu prevailed because he was seen as having the better chance of forming a majority coalition. So goes Israeli politics!

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ELECTIONS IN ISRAEL UPDATE

BLOG 423 March 3, 2019

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.

Hey! I’m back from Israel with the latest from citizens I talked with in official capacities as well on the sidewalks. The locals are in a bind.

For several months, I’ve been writing that Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing serious criminal charges. I’ve had people question my statements, but now the chickens have come home to roost. Netanyahu’s problems are also troubling the elections.

On April 3, Israelis will vote. What’s their thinking as of today?

Netanyahu has taken the country to the most significant prosperity in their history. Tourists in extraordinary numbers are everywhere. Hotels are sold out and restaurants packed. The constant threat within Israel by terrorists has been minimized. Sure, Hezbollah is out there on the horizon, but they know they better think twice about attacking Israel. Netanyahu does have a record of accomplishments.

And who’s going to run against him?. Former General Benny Gantz is already campaigning, but he’s not in a class with Netanyahu yet. There simply isn’t significant opposition. Ordinarily, Netanyahu would be a shoe-in.

But…

The criminal charges are substantial and the Israelis know it. Both Netanyahu and his wife are charged by the police. A charge as high as $250,000 in payoffs, expensive champagne, cigars, political favors for the wealthy, etc. are on the books. In the last election, Netanyahu proved himself to be a flip-flop artist constantly switching positions to garner votes. The latest turn of events is his current reach to an extremist racist anti-Arab party Otzma Yehudit. The member of this party consider themselves followers of Meir Kahane who advocated everything from a forceful takeover of the Temple Mount to outright annexing the Palestinian areas. His Kach Party was outlawed in Israel and declared a terrorist group in the United States. Kahane was assassinated in New York in 1990.

Sound a tad right-wing to you? Jews around the world are in shock over this turn of events. American synagogues are already screaming.  The move to gain radical support signals Netanyahu knows he is in trouble.

What’s the next step? Attempting to predict election results is more than a little risky. The next month will bring more clarity. Let’s watch and see what surfaces.

NEXT WEEK: More on how the Israeli government system works.

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