Category Archives: Syria

WHAT’S OBAMA GOING TO DO NEXT?

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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READING THE SYRIAN SITUATION

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

WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON IN SYRIA’S CIVIL WAR?

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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MARCH MADNESS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

BLOG 295 March 21, 2016

With basketball playoffs and political show-offs going full tilt, readers find it difficult to get updates on the Middle East. Are we seeing double-dribbling or just plain old dribble? Hard to say, but here’s some issues worth noting.

Putin says he’s pulling out the bombers and jets. Kerry says he’s hopeful in the midst of doubt. Assad’s not talking or sticking his head up, least it get knocked off. It is true that the U.S., and Russia agreed on a cease-fire plan. Both Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergev V. Lavrov agreed on the possibility of a cessation of hostilities and a cease-fire. The issue is whether the warring factions will honor any form of such commitments. The White House immediately applauded efforts to halt fighting, but also recognized the obstacles and the fact that setbacks can be expected.

What are some of those problems?

One of the major issues will be getting any sort of an agreement between the many factions fighting Assad. They range from the Kurds to ISIS to groups in between who are supported by opponents Iran and Saudi Arabia. ISIS has already established itself as ruthless, a defiler of women, and beyond brutal. The Kurds have proven to be valiant fighters, but have their own agenda. Of course, Assad’s use of chemical weapons and starving his own citizens into submission doesn’t suggest he’s highly reliable. Not a good blend!

Turkey is now in the mix with intense hatred and suspicious of Assad. Russia’s suggestion that Kurdish representation be included in talks certainly rankles Turkey.

At this point, it appears Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed on talks to end the civil war. However, these two nations remain bitter enemies and will be so after the war is over. The major fear is that Iran and the Saudis will get “into it” again and their hostility would reignite the war. Certainly possible!

And what could talks accomplish? The immediate goal would likely be a reduction in fighting and getting supplies into starving people in trapped cities. Wounded need to be evacuated to hospitals outside the country. Medicines are desperately needed. These objectives are more obtainable than an actual cease fire.

Events like the triple bombing in the predominately Shiite suburb of Damascus, killing at least 50 people and occurring just as the U.N. mediator held his first meeting represent the harsh reality on the ground. The killing casts a long shadow over all attempts to halt the killing.

Russia and America continue to arms their sides of the conflict under the table. All in all, the current situation doesn’t make for much of a recipe of peace. However, even a small step forward is to be preferred to the killing and massive migrations that continue to haunt Europe.

The March Madness in basketball will come to an end soon. It won’t in Syria.

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BEHIND THE SCENES

BLOG 288 February 1, 2016

January is past and we’ve already broken those New Year’s resolution. The time for projecting the future of 2016 is almost past. So, let’s take a last peek behind the Middle East curtain before we launch into February. What’s happening that’s not in the media?

`           Syria continues to be the target with all sides acting like they don’t know what’s going on. The truth is that they all do.

You don’t have to follow the headlines closely to know the American CIA has been arming the rebels fighting Bashar Al-Assad and his government. The CIA efforts have been largely financed by Saudi Arabia. The Saudis in turn shrug and say they don’t know what that contention is all about.

On the other side of the battlefield, Vladimir Putin brought in a fleet of jets to bomb the rebels while he is claiming to be fighting ISIS. The truth is that Assad was just about to topple and Syria was the only ally Russia had in the Middle East. Putin saw Russian influence slipping away and showed up “just to help.”

What we have is a proxy war –without end!

A January 24, report from The New York Times indicated the Saudis, the Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, and Egypt are about to buy thousands of American-made missiles, bombs, and other weapons for the on-going war. Behind the scenes Israel and Saudi Arabia are in a de facto alliance against Iran. Consequently, the United States keeps arming the gunfight at the OK Corral.

The merry-go-round of killing continues to whirl.

The ultimate war behind the scenes is a centuries old feud between Sunnis and Shiites. The Bush-Chaney administration came loping along chasing Saddam Hussein and turned a quiet feud into a regional chaos. Now, we have an all-out warfare that is destroying multiple countries.

People like Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan are running around buying up armaments to keep the Syrian rebels fighting. In turn, the sacking of the Saudi diplomatic mission after the Saudis executed a senior subversive Shiite cleric reflected how complicated and deep these rifts run. Iran is now considered the country to oppose and Iran always strikes back. On and on it goes—

US President Obama appears to have no Middle East policy except to be “buddies” with all the Muslim factions. The naïveté of this approach is reflected in the fact that the year’s old Syrian war has no end in sight and the two major Arab factions go on killing each other (and a few Americans along the way)

If the Syrian war ended tomorrow, the fighting between Sunnis and Shiites would continue into the next century and beyond. Unless America and Russia come to some agreement about ending the Syrian civil war, the mess will be in the lap of the next American president.

Good luck.

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THE MIDDLE EAST CHANGES PERSPECTIVE

BLOG 284 December 21, 2015

Chanukah’s come and gone leaving us the message to light a candle in a dark night. In a few days, Christmas will be proclaiming peace and good will to the world. Tragically, the Middle East cannot hear. The war cry is hostility and attack.

The impact has sent Americans reeling.

The most recent shootings in San Bernardino sent shock waves reverberating from California to New York. Extreme Muslim terrorists are impacting America. More and more people are being captured by fear. Look at the numbers.

For 20 years a majority of American’s opposed assault weapons. A recent poll by ABC News and the Washington Post illustrates the shift. Sixty-four percent now feel that carrying guns is the right approach to stopping terrorist and self-defense. Today only 26% of the public favor any ban or control on carrying handguns. Forty-seven percent of the public have guns in their homes. A recent national news story featured church members and pastors on a target range practicing their ability to shoot.

America is an armed camp.

Interestingly enough, a study in Connecticut demonstrated a 72% percent drop in gun deaths after a ban was legislated. However, to bring up such facts to an NRA dominated Congress won’t win any popularity contests. Often gun advocates view their weapons with religious fervor. Arguing with this mentality goes nowhere. However, it is interesting to make a few comparisons. Last year, 47,055 deaths resulted from drug overdose. Compare that against the number killed by terrorists and the risk is clear. You are more apt to be hit by lighting than shot by a terrorist.

However, the impact of the San Bernardino killings may be backfiring on ISIS. American support of military action against the Islamic state is rapidly growing. In January, 2015, the public was split down the middle with 50% opposed to more military action in the Middle East. As of December, 2015, 70% of the country favor intervention. Such a number is extremely high.

One of the reasons the polls demonstrate opposition for any ban on guns and increasing intervention in the Middle East is a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to stop terrorists. Only 22% think the government can stop a “lone wolf” assault. While 45% have no confidence in the government halting a larger attack. Sixty-eight percent of the public found President Obama’s explanation of fighting ISIS to be unsatisfactory. Fifty-three percent oppose Obama’s intention to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into American.

Doubt persists everywhere.

And what behind all of these numbers? Fear.

Nothing helps the enemies of freedom and peace like fear. In this winter season of light, laughter, and love, let us remember that the coming of the Christ child was to bring goodwill and peace to the world. The answer to fear won’t be found at the end of a gun barrel. Hope can only be discovered in the love of God that transcends every moment in history and replaces fear with hope.

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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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MAKING SENSE OUT OF ISIS Part 2

BLOG 254 May 25, 2015

ISIS (The Islamic State) has not slowed down in its military efforts. In addition to taking the Iraqi city of Ramadi just days ago, they have now captured the ancient town of Palmyra inside Syria. Apparently, the Syrian soldiers fled just as the Iraqi army did earlier. While President Obama maintains American air power is stopping ISIS, the battlefield reports certainly do not support this contention at this time.

Because Palmyra is an ancient city, the world is terrified that ISIS will continue the cultural genocide that destroyed ancient and great treasures inside Iraqi. Why would they perform such terrible destruction?

As noted in last week’s blog, ISIS is fighting a holy war, a religious crusade to win the world to Islam or make civilization bow in submission. ISIS maintains that these great sites from antiquity are pagan remnants that must be destroyed in order to maintain religious purity. As noted earlier, ISIS is fully an expression of medieval Islam.

For example, they support the practice of takfir, or excommunication. The punishment for such apostasy is death.  Zarqawi (the current head of al-Qaeda) has greatly expanded the list of behaviors that define a Muslim as an infidel that results in death.

Mainstream Muslim organizations have declared ISIS to be un-Islamic without facing up to their own past. Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel said they have a “cotton-candy” view of their own faith that neglects what their own religion has historically and legally required. In other words, the Muslim community at large has failed to face the realities of the ISIS mentality. Obama’s mistaken support of air strikes as successful is  only compounded by the dim view in the Muslim world.

One of the major objectives of the ISIS military effort is the restoration of the caliphate. This religio-political system of government has not functioned except in name for around 1,000 years. A caliph must be an adult Muslim of Quraysh descent who displays authority and moral probity.  Not only is the caliphate viewed as a political entity, the restoration of office is seen as a vehicle for salvation. ISIS propaganda reports that pledges of money now pour in from jihadist groups throughout the Muslim world to support this effort.

During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the ISIS mentality believed the signs of the end times were everywhere. They were expecting the arrival of the Mahdi, a messianic figure who would lead Muslims to victory just before the end of the world. This expected epic battle between good and evil fills a deep psychological need for the radical jihadists. A blood-bath mentality with its sociopathic and psychotic overtones fuels “the crazies” who behead their opponents and commit violent acts. Once again the religious motif supporting war looms on the horizon.

Would ISIS send an ambassador to the United Nations to end this strife? Abu Baraa said definitely not. “To send an ambassador to the UN is to recognize an authority other than God’s.”

Get the picture? It’s time to rethink how to successfully confront ISIS. They will not stop because of bombs, a few defeats, and military set backs. Their mentality suggests that to be a martyr is a ticket straight to heaven. The West had best think again!

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HEADS UP! MORE IS COMING—

BLOG 239 February 9, 2015

You may have picked up from the media that Israel made an air strike on Hezbollah in Syria that killed senior Hezbollah officials, six Iranians, and an Iranian general. What was a general from Iran doing in Syria with this terrorist group? You got it! If we didin’t know before, that’s a clear picture of how Iran is financing and directing Hezbollah as well as other terrorists groups.

General Muhammad Allahdadi was from the Revolutionary guard, the right wing military force inside Iran. It is believed that Allahdadi was planning deadly cross the border assaults against Israel.  Jihad Mughniyeh, who was also killed,  was known as a ruthless terrorist who had the direct backing of Iran. The head of Hezbollah’s operations in Syria and Iraq was also killed.

Currently, Northern Israel is on high alert. Revolutionary Guard chief General Muhammad Ali Jafri warned they will fight to the end until “this epitome of vice” (Israel) is destroyed –meaning Hezbollah will strike back –sometime. The military promised “ruinous thunderbolts” would fall on Israel. Of course, Israel is also blamed for all terrorism in the Middle East. No surprise there.

The question remains where and when Hezbollah will strike. The current situation signals that adherence to the 2006 Second Lebanon War agreement is wearing thin. If the terrorist group make a minor attack, Israel will respond tit-for-tat and that would probably conclude the current situation. A much larger assault and Israel would undoubtedly attack inside Lebanon. In that circumstance, all bets are off.

Can Hezbollah stand such an assault after the serious defeat Hamas suffered in the recent Gaza war. Even though the Hamas leaders are wealthy from the money flowing into their pockets that was meant for  Hamas, the organization is in serious trouble and losing ground in Gaza. Does Hezbollah want to risk the same defeat?

Hard to say.

Hezbollah is much larger, better equipped, and now better financed than Hamas was, but they are also strung out over Syria. Should Israel hit them full force, it might wreck their war machine in Syria. In such case, Israel would be hurting the Assad regime. Would they do that? It is known that Israel prefers the devil they know to one unknown and many of the rebels fighting Assad are worse than he is.  What a tangled mess the Middle East has become!

Again, Hezbollah could be taking a significant risk if they attempt to reach across the border as Israel would not hesitate to respond. The situation remains highly explosive and could ignite more regional conflict.

More is definitely to come.

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Filed under Iran, Iraq, Israel, middle east, Syria

SYRIA? THE PITS!

United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Sima Sami Bahous, working in the U.N. Development Program, released a report on the casualties in the three-year on-going civil war. Over 120,000 citizens have been killed. Five and one-half million children need assistance. Six million have been displaced with ten million still living in poverty. Two and half million are refugees now living in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. While these countries have been gracious, the load is approaching the unbearable point.

One glances at these statistics and soon drowns in the massive numbers. To keep in touch with the extreme cost, we have to step back and fasten on one children’s face twisted in anguish and fear –then multiply that one face by millions more. The people paying the highest price are the women and children. Syria is sinking in pain.

As the third year of fighting begins, there is no end in sight. Reports from within Syria now reveal that Assad is using starvation as a weapon to force some areas to submit. An anonymous Syrian rebel, Skyped that people are eating whatever they can find, including grass. Deaths from malnutrition-related illnesses are not uncommon. One of the hardest hit areas is Moadamiyya that has been under siege for 15 months. Opposition held towns in the Damascus suburbs and Old Homs report a similar story. A spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme reports about 200,000 Syrians in 40 besieged communities are in desperate need of aid.

The city of Homs is a good example of the crisis. As many as 4,000 people are trapped in besieged neighborhoods. Around 100 are critically wounded, trying to survive in sadly under-equipped makeshift clinics. Because Assad’s siege is total, no one can get in or out. No help or equipment has made it in or out for over 600 days. One man sent a Skype internet call, saying Syria has become a “war of starvation.”

Why? Because Bashar Assad lacks the manpower to engage street battles with the rebels, he has resorted to this strategy. Long ago labeled the “butcher of Syria,” he is apparently not bothered by such an approach. Turning now to barrel bombs in the Damascus suburb of Darayya, he is using explosives designed to create terror more than take out rebel forces. The rebels read this tactic as a sign that Assad has little left to fight with except such explosives and hunger.

Because the Geneva “supposed peace talks” have accomplished absolutely nothing, Syrians have lost faith in the international community. Rebels believe the UN has done zero to stop Assad. Yet, the rebels will not back down. Another anonymous rebel reported, “We would prefer to die of starvation than return to Assad’s rule.”

And so the war goes on . If you believe in praying about such situations, now would be a good time to get down on your knees.

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