Category Archives: Syria


BLOG 436
July 15, 2019

iran (2)


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.


Iran continues to enrich uranium and America increases the sanctions. Where’s it all going?

Of course, predictions about what’s happening inside Iran are difficult. Their society certainly doesn’t invite American newsmen to drop by for a story. However, some aspects are discernible.

Some years ago, I was in Damascus, Syria (where Western tourists did not go!) and sitting in a hotel eating breakfast. A group of tourists came filing in. One glance said they didn’t look like Arabs or the usual racial groups one sees on the streets in Damascus. I guessed they looked like Iranians. Everybody in the restaurant had already given me a second once over. My attire, haircut, countenance, screamed American and there usually wasn’t anyone around who looked like me.

In the center of the café (as well as the taxis, rest rooms, lobbies, you name it) were pictures of Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar, the current despot. The impression was clear; the Assads are WATCHING YOU! Not exactly, the most comfortable place for an American to be.

I noticed one couple kept looking at me. I smiled; they smiled back. After a few minutes, they got up and came over to my table. I quickly learned they thought I was a Canadian. They confided that they were trying to get out of Iran and escape to Canada. They were sure I could help them.

Because I had once worked in Canada, I could answer many of their questions. Finally, I asked why they wanted out. The wife said firmly, “The leaders of our government are crazy. The country is ruled by religious lunatics.”

Her response revealed a sharp division in Iran that exists to this day. Groups like the Revolutionary Guard are fanatical extremists while many, many of the average citizens strongly disagree with them. Periodically, there is an explosion between the extremists and the ordinary citizens with revolting in the streets.

In the current situation with sanctions crippling Iran, this division continues to deepen. The average citizen knows that to oppose the government and the Supreme Ruler will bring imprisonment and probably death. On the other hand, the government realizes that a huge percent of the population does not agree with their race to build a nuclear weapon and start a war.

While no one is saying so, probably insiders in the American government are hoping that a revolution will follow before the Islamic extremist government yields.

Keep your eyes open. Who knows what’s coming next!

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Filed under America, Iran, Syria, War


BLOG 391 April 16, 2018

    Last week’s blog was written before Assad’s chemical attack. My earlier response was to President Trump’s quip that America would soon leave Syria. Today, that entire scene has changed. The world currently knows that 40 people died from the chemical attack in Douma. Entire families were wiped in an assault that damaged many, many more people.

The Security Council of the United Nation has already begun condemnation of Syria, Russia, and Iran. British Prime Minister Theresa May said Assad and Russia “must be held to account.” Israel does not typically comment on airstrikes although they have struck inside Syria numerous times. The Israelis may have been involved in a bombing response.

With the US shooting missiles at Syria today, the situation is a front-page story again. We need to make sure we are following the situation and have a developing understanding of the situation in the embattled country. At this point in the history of the Middle East, most critics view President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry as having been hopelessly culpably naïve in trusting Russia to guarantee Assad would eliminate his weapons of mass destruction. Obama’s lack of action amounted to inviting the wolf to guard the hen house while the farmer took a nap.

The issue before us at this moment is the possibility of a confrontation between Russia and America.  Russia continues to be Syria’s major ally and probably the only reason that Assad has remained in power and the civil war not ended. Russian news sources on Tuesday reported that Russian military contractors were killed. In February, four Russian citizens were killed in Syriaby strikes related to the U.S.. Russian media claimed private contractors were part of the pro-Syrian government. However, Russia has yet lodged an official complaint.

Lt. General Jeffery Harrigian, commander of the U.S. air force in the Middle East reported that during a skirmish, the Americans. struck a Russian made T-72 battle tank after they took a shot at the U.S. forces.

However, as of this date, the most recent media reports from CBS, NBC, and ABC have indicated the U.S. attempted to avoid striking Russian forces directly. Should Russian and America become embroiled in a direct confrontation, the stakes rise dramatically. However, it is not currently clear if US missiles have achieved any important objectives. At this time, Britain, France, and Israel are standing with American policy.

Putin might want to think twice about direct retaliation.


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Filed under America, middle east, Syria


BLOG 390 April 9, 2018

Syrian children waving as U.S. forces patrol on a rural road in the village of Darbasiyah, in northern Syria. (AP Photo via APTV)

During the past week, President Donald Trump made a passing comment that the US would soon leave Syria. Apparently, this not only caught the military by surprise, but came with their objections. No one ever knows what Trump’s tweets and comments might actually mean, but the suggestion calls for another look at the Syrian Civil War. Sadly, many Americans have lost interest in the seven-year old conflict that continues to be one of the bloodiest and worst in recent history.  Nearly half a million people have been killed. Most of the citizens who fled Syria no longer have any hope of returning.

President Obama made a costly mistake when he pulled US forces back and didn’t follow up on the red line proclamation demanding Syria not use chemical weapons on its citizens which they did. Russia promptly filled the gap and has been escalating tensions with the US ever since (Remember the Crimea grab & the Ukrainian struggle?) When the US backed off in Syria, Russia brought in thousands of troops, fighter planes, and bombers that rescued Assad and his regime from total collapse. Currently, Assad survives because of Russian intervention.

Iran became even more forceful in their incursions in Syria. The only good accomplishment has been the defeat of the ISIS presence, although ISIS has popped up in other countries.

One of the costliest battlefields has been in and around Damascus. I have walked through the streets of this ancient city, including the old city with its street called Straight. I even visited the sight where the Apostle Paul received healing of his blindness when he came to attack Christians (Acts 9:10-18). Today these streets are filled with the debris of war.

Behind the scenes, Israelis have continued attacking in Syria. Major General Amir Eshel stated Israel had attacked Syrian military targets 100 times since the war began. Iran’s Quds Force and Hezbollah planned guerrilla cells and attacks that would have challenged Israel on two fronts.  However, Israel jets attacked and killed cell leaders, including the son of Hezbollah operations chief. The diabolical plot was destroyed.

Israeli targets depends on current circumstances. In mid-February, an Israeli F-16 jet shot down an Iranian drone inside Syria and came under heavy Syrian fire. In turn, the F-16 was hit by Syrian fire and crashed in Northern Israel after the two pilots ejected. In turn, Israel unleashed a wave of strikes against Syrian and Iranian targets inside Syria.

To put it another way, the US military presence remains important in the Syrian struggle, even if now somewhat marginalized. To pull out is anything but in the interest of Israel and in the long run America. Syria remains a key link in Iran’s drive to build a Shi’ite crescent across the heart of the Middle East, linking Iran to Iraq to Syria to Lebanon and giving them a foothold on the Mediterranean. Iran definitely has long-term strategic aims and isn’t about to give them up. The completion of this maneuver sets the stage for a potential war between Iran and Israel.

Get the picture? Serious business!

President Trump must not deal with the Syrian situation like declaring a Boardwalk Casino bankrupt. The lives of millions of people are at stake. If Israel is forced to go it alone, every sign indicates they will. And they have the BOMB to do it. Not a good picture.

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Filed under America, Arabs, middle east, Syria


BLOG 366 September 25, 2017

            Iran is back in the headlines. President Donald Trump’s speech at the United Nations called Iran an international pariah. While the entire rest of the world is telling Trump to leave the nuclear accord with Iran alone, Trump seems to think he knows more than all the other nations. At this point, his narcissistic tendencies are dangerous. However, in the Middle East, Iran remains a major problem not discussed at the moment. Is there something more to the current concern over Iran than the press is releasing?

Let’s take a deeper look at what has been happening in Syria. Their persistent civil war has gone on the backburner with the problems of North Korea coming to the fore, but nothing has stopped in the conflict between the US and Russia as they stand on different sides of the Syrian conflict. More is afoot than meets the eye. On October 2016, Martin Chulov in The Guardian wrote “militias controlled by Tehran are poised to complete a land corridor that would give Iran huge power in the region.” Mr. Chulov put his finger on the problem.

A similar perspective was expressed in June in The Jerusalem Post by Jonathan Spyer. He wrote, “if the US and its allies are eclipsed in eastern Syria, the result will be the establishment of a contiguous land link from Iran, across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Israeli border.’ As summer ends, it is clear that in the last several months the Iranian-backed regime in Damascus has increased in its power.  Clearly, the land bridge drive is picking up steam.

Add to this configuration the possibility that Iran is building a missile factor near Baniyas Syria. Israel has maintained a policy of interception of the flow of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah, striking whenever a shipment starts through. The creation of a new missile factory in Syria would provide a new way for Iran to aid it’s friends.  Now Israel must carefully re-think what it will do next. A new missile factory in Syria would pose a serious problem for Israel. In August, Prime Minister Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Iran is stepping into the role that ISIS once played and that Iran continues to threaten the annihilation of Israel. The creation of a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea would make Israel totally vulnerable. The stated intention of Iran is to use such a corridor against Israel. Netanyahu made it clear to Putin that Israel will not remain passive and allow such a passage to be established that is a direct threat to Israel.

The constant flip-flops of the Trump administration let Iran continue to march forward. There does not appear to be any consistence in the Trump foreign policy and State Department personnel have been leaving in large numbers. Virtually no legislation has happened since Trump took office and now it appears that the Health Care issue is going nowhere again. Israel is left standing in the cold.

Would somebody wake up the current administration that their lack of perception and action is allowing a land bridge to be established that in the end can actually backfire on the United States!

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Filed under America, middle east, Syria


BLOG 363 September 4, 2017

            Americans have an interesting habit of listening intently to a crisis, getting highly upset, and then in a few days forgetting all about it. Right now the disaster in Houston is on everyone’s mind. Give it a week or so and we go on to the next issue and leave Houston underwater.

Currently, the nation’s media appears to be doing so with the civil war in Syria. Not much as appeared lately, but the wheels of destruction continue to grind away in that war torn land. One of the major mistakes of the Obama Era was drawing red lines and then doing nothing when the Assad regime crossed them. Trump fired a few rockets and then went back to the latest debacle created by his administration. Without a sustained American policy and plan, the people fighting in Syria struggle on often when there is no hope in sight.

Wendy Pearlman’s book We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled, chronicles the Syrian lives that are struggling to survive. A professor of politics at Northwestern University, Pearlman speaks fluent Arabic, and has traveled extensively through the area collecting stories of what happened to the citizens. A doctor told her about the unconventional method they discovered to deal with tear gas victims. They pour cola on their faces and that counters the effects of the gas.
Amin, a physical therapist, shared how they evade security forces who dial them through the cell phones captured from people they trapped. After killing them, they dial numbers on their cells to find their next victims. Amin said they don’t delete the original phone numbers but change the name to Martyr. When a call comes in on the deceased phone, they know it’s the regime. When he opened his contact list, it was all Martyr, Martyr, Martyr.

Syria created the “weaponization of health care” as the government with more than 800 medical workers killed in hundreds of attacks. Doctors were arrested for treating injured protestors while medical supplies were withheld from besieged areas. Inhumanity continues to rule supreme.

The continuing refugee crisis remains one of the biggest challenges in memory. European countries still struggle to know how to deal with immigrate populations that swamp their cities. Syrian populations continue to attempt to get out of the country. The Geneva Convention on protecting civilians in wartime was never consistently enforced and is now openly flouted. The Syrian crisis is currently pushing the world toward nationalism and the rise of the security state. The world seems awash in chaos and uncertainty more so than at any time since the end of the cold war.

The Syrian war goes on and the whole world pays the price. The old adage, “Lord help us,” certainly applies.

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September 4, 2017 · 2:06 pm


BLOG 351 May 22, 2017

Syrian refugee washing clothes…

            STOP! Got a road sign for you. This is the last blog until June 12. Sorry, but I’ll be traveling and out of the country. As you probably know, I work with Pope Francis as his Apostolic Representative For Christian Unity. I travel all over creation talking with Catholics and Protestants about the possibility of “unity without uniformity.” That idea suggests we can be friends and fellow travelers even if some of our beliefs and perspectives are different. On June 4, Pentecost Sunday, we will gather on the Piazza in front of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica to celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

            Hang on! I’ll be back on June 12 with an update for you.

And what about Syria? Sorry – yes, sorry is the only word that comes to mind. I’m sorry. The world is sorry. (in the sense of mourning) Bashar al-Assad is REALLY sorry (in the sense of diabolically obscene). Having killed at least 400,000 of his own people, Assad continues to bomb, starve and gas his countrymen.

One of the actions that President Trump has succeeded in doing in his first 100 days in office was bombing Syria. Everyone applauded. Now, the next question is what comes next? Trump has been so occupied with so many controversial and divisive upheavals in government, his and the press’s attention has shifted from the Syrian civil war that rages on. The world now knows Trump is good at impulsive actions, but that’s no substitute for a complete foreign policy. One of the major failures of the Obama administration was the timid and reserved Middle East policy that gave the Russians extraordinary success in supporting Assad and his war crimes. If Trump doesn’t reverse this course, American influence in that and other areas is going out the back door. Bad news indeed!

The evidence against the Assad regime is staggering. Three tons of Syrian government documents were captured that detailed their war crimes. During this six-year war, these assaults have gone unanswered in any court. Possibly, they are worse than in any previous war. The country’s population has been displaced. Human rights groups report more than 100,000 persons are missing, detained, or killed. Tens of thousands languish in government custody. These tragedies are so severe that a United Nations commission called the actions of Assad’s government “extermination,” a crime against humanity.

What has kept Syria going? Russian vetoes in the United Nations debates are the only factor that has kept Assad from international condemnation.

The United States will continue to go through its own throes and political struggles you hear about every night on the media. For heaven’s sake, don’t let that noise in Washington drown out the cries of dying children and their mothers, of widows and the massacred.



Filed under Christians, middle east, Syria


Blog 345 April 10, 2017

            A number of years ago, I spent time in Syria and stayed in Damascus, wandering around the municipality and spending time in the ancient city. Walking down the street called Straight (Acts 9:11) proved enlightening. A number of years previous to this experience, I traveled to the Soviet Union (1985), visiting Moscow, Minsk, etc. Like Damascus, wandering down the streets and talking to the people brought insights I never would have expected. These two experiences continue to run through my mind as I listen to media reports about this week’s U.S. Tomahawk and Scud missile attacks in Syria. The past gave me perspective for today.

With the lowest approval rating of any American president in memory, Donald Trump appears to have dug himself out of a hole with the unannounced successful attack on the Syrian base from where Bashar Assad’s air force jets gassed their own people. Outside of Russia and Iran, the world applauded this attack on Assad who is unquestionably a war criminal.

During my time in Syria, I recognized the dictator’s grasp on the Syrian people. Everywhere I went from Taxi cabs to bathrooms, there were two pictures: Hafez Assad, the father smiling; Bashar Assad frowning. Their faces were unavoidable and no one would talk about the pictures or them. Bashar’s brother is a ruthless general leading many of the deadly attacks on civilians. Hafez, the father, rose to power through his military position as a general. I quickly learned that the citizens knew better than to speak ill of the Assad regime.

Could Bashar Assad kill women and children? He and his family history demonstrate they have and will – possibly again.

Russia was a different type of dictatorship that worked at being more of an enigma. From the time of the Czars, the Russian government functioned with deception. When the Soviet System collapsed, the art of deceit didn’t miss a lick. Out of the ashes of the Russian Revolution, the practice of illusion sprang back to life. Putin continues the swindle.

Apart from all of Putin’s huff and puff, Russia is not in a good place. Their economy is in trouble and the drop in oil prices has seriously impacted them. Yes, they have the big Bomb, but even Putin understands the risk of a nuclear threat.

Now, Russia is caught with its pants down in Syria. They either knew about the chemical weapons or were incompetent in handling the situation. Assad promised Obama he would get rid of chemical weapons—which he didn’t. Putin’s efforts to prop up Assad amounts to selling a Sunday School class on the idea of having Al Capone teach on kindness.

Russia will continue to scream and holler – but little more as they have no idea what Trump will do next. Syria is now back in a more defensive posture and Assad is in a kettle of hot water.

Stay tuned. More to come.

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Filed under middle east, Russia, Syria


B LOG 315 August 15, 2016

This past week the world discovered that the Assad regime used chlorine gas in the battle for Aleppo. Since World War II and before, the entire world has recognized that the use of chemical warfare is a war crime. The Syrian government has done this a number of times and once again has struck babies, women, and children as well attacking the military. They are guilty of a criminal offense against humanity.

And who will bring them to justice?

As readers of Wise On The Middle East know, this blog attempts to avoid political partisanship and reports an objective understanding of every situation occurring across the region. My goal is an unbiased reading of events. Of course, no one can claim absolute neutrality, but at the least, that’s the objective. The following is such an attempt.

On April 26, 2013, President Barrack Obama declared that if Syrian used chemical weapons in their civil war, they would be crossing a red line, a line drawn in the sand. They did. He did nothing.

As a result, Putin invaded Crimea and then the Ukraine. Current reports indicate the Russians are increasing their troops in the Ukraine. In response, the USA gave a slap on the wrist to key Russia oligarchical leaders. But did nothing about chemical warfare in Syria.

The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker said Syria used chemical weapons to slaughter 1,200 people and predicated Putin will escalate military aggression in the Ukraine if the U.S. does not nothing.

So far, nothing has followed.

Previously promised arms from America, Syrian rebels are now complaining that they are running out of weaponry and none is on the way. Apparently, the Obama administration is pursuing a diplomatic rather than military approach to the problem. Secretary of State John Kerry said 54% of the chemical weapons had been removed.

Fifty-four percent? After all these years and months? Really? That only leaves 46% of one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons. How many more citizens can the Assad regime kill with their mountain of chemicals? Probably the rest of the country.

One of the worst legacies that Obama will leave behind is the deteriorating status of the United States in the Middle East. Israel doesn’t trust the US. Egypt doesn’t trust America. And Russia apparently no longer fears us.

Are we weak? Incapable? No, just frighteningly indecisive and uncertain. For the good of the world and the goals of democracy, the next American president must reverse the lack of trust that now exists.

In the mean time, who will stop Syria from gassing babies, women, children, as well as soldiers? Doesn’t appear that America’s ready.

This is a decisive moment for action. President Obama could reverse the situation at the snap of his fingers by reacting decisively against Syria for crossing the line that he has drawn in the sand. Will he?

That’s the question.

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Filed under America, middle east, Russia, Syria


Blog 311 July 18, 2016

With the wild swings in American politics dominating the headlines, we don’t hear much about the war in Syria these days. Mass killings and police shootings have sent people to the streets in protests. Black Lives Matter dominates the headlines. No problem with those stories being up front – it is just that they have pushed the Middle East out of media coverage while the war in Syria goes on full tilt. And we need to be kept up on all fronts.

The civil war in Syria is approaching a six year anniversary with control swinging back and forth. The Russians abruptly emerged as leading the fight against the rebels and ISIS with America viewed as wobbly with no viable objectives in mind. The rebels wonder if the US would stand back and let them lose. Maybe.

Because of President Obama’s reluctance, Russian air power has now changed all calculations. At this late date, any American direct intervention could end up with a direct clash with Russia. Actually, Putin appears to be in control and dictating events inside Syria. Would the Obama Administration confront Russia in an election year? Not a chance.

The impeding assault on Aleppo has been projected to be a turning point in the entire war. With the help of Russian air power, Assad now appears to be back in the drivers seat. Even though starvation is a war crime, the Syrian government has put the squeeze on the 300,000 people left in Aleppo. This home once to 2.1 million citizens is now little more than rubble. With Damascus and Homs under Assad’s control, the fall of Aleppo would give him the main population and economic centers of Syria.

An analysis from the Carter Center suggests Assad’s government now controls 40% of the country with the rebels, Kurds, and ISIS holding about 20%. The numbers paint their own picture. The deal reached in Munich for a “cessation of hostilities” has done nothing. The bombs keep falling and ISIS keeps killing.

Why has the Obama administration been so dilatory? You tell me. ISIS has killed thousands and ethically cleansed 300,000 citizens by blindfolding men and elderly women and shooting them in the back of the head. Over 6,000 women have been sold into slavery and mass rape. The United Nations Independent International Commission said, “Genocide has occurred and is ongoing.” Are we missing something here? What part of the equation does America not understand?

Assad is a despotic murderer and ISIS is a indiscriminate killing machine. What don’t we understand about the Syrian debacle? Is anyone in the American camp going to do anything? It appears the USA has been entirely pre-empted by Russia.

Keep your eye on Aleppo and what happens next. The result could have long range consequences.

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Filed under America, middle east, Russia, Syria, Uncategorized


BLOG 298 April 11, 2016

The political wrangling in America has absorbed the headlines and pushed the civil war in Syria to the back page. Don’t let the insults and nonsense distract you. Events in the Middle East remain paramount.

In a brazen assault near Damascus, ISIS abducted 300 workers from a cement plant. At the same time, the ISIS supply line from Turkey was cut off, endangering their strongholds in the Aleppo area. With key military leaders being killed by airstrikes, ISIS is not doing well!

The next round of peace talks is set for April 13 and hopes remain positive for substantial progress.

One of the ongoing problems is that the United States remains hesitant and timid with no coherent strategy to change circumstances in Syria. While the USA has not conceded the Middle East to Putin, they are not far from doing so.  The kicker is the sudden withdrawal of Russian airplanes and troops from Syria.

The unexpected Russian retreat remains somewhat of a mystery. Even the White House had to “spit ‘n spatter” in trying to explain what happened. They didn’t know either. Always problematic, questionable, and unpredictable, Putin’s true and bottom line motives are seldom clear.

However, several possibilities are clear. First, Putin’s attempt to prevent the immanent fall of Assad has been achieved. Assad’s government is no longer in retreat. Second, the Russians are now keenly aware of the problem of getting bogged down in the Syrian quagmire. (They learned a painful lesson from their defeat in a ten-year war lost in Afghanistan in 1970.) Putin has pulled off from their first international military achievement since the collapse of Communism.

At this point, Russia has maneuvered itself back to being on an equal superpower playing field with the United States while the US continues to lose credibility and friends in the region. It would appear that Russian dominance in Syria has pushed Iran into an insecure position. They can no longer claim to be in charge.

As of this day, no one is certain what Russia is up to with this withdrawal. Whatever, the winner is Putin. While clearly corrupt and a new Stalin, Vladimir Putin is running an oligarchy that has made him one of the richest men in the world. You can bet the withdrawal from Syria is not a fluke. While Russia’s economy is shaky and the country is filled with dissidents that hate him, Putin has used his entry into the Syrian conflict purely to his advantage.

Anyone in Washington, D.C., paying attention?

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Filed under Bible Lands, middle east, Syria