Tag Archives: iran

DECIPHERING IRAN

            Recently, I reported the comments made by retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, while speaking at the University of Central Oklahoma. Colonel Wilkerson sounded the warning that America’s current posture in dealing with Iran could lead to war. At this point, America enforces an embargo on Iran’s oil shipments that has slashed the country’s oil revenues by 45%. No small impact there!

            With the colonels warning in mind, how do we gain reliable insight into where Iran actually is going? Not an easy task.

Interesting comments came out of Tehran this past Saturday that bare examination. The supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that Iran was not seeking nuclear weapons, but should they decide to build them, no “global power” could stop them. An interesting but contradictory message! The comments appeared to be aimed at the United States and Israel. Several years ago, the imam declared that building such weapons would be a horrendous sin, but now leaves this judgement behind. Sounds contradictory and certainly signals why the Iranians are not trusted around the world. You can’t speak out of both sides of your mouth and be credible.

The supreme leader told a group of visitors in his home that Iran held the conviction that all nuclear weapons around the world should be eliminated. He further stated that direct talks with the United States would not be possible because the USA was “pointing a gun at Iran.” He called on the USA to show logic in talking with Iran but didn’t spell out what he meant. In the past, the Iranian government has stated that talks are not possible as long as sanctions are in place. Under current conditions, the process remains stalled.

Equally intriguing was the Ayatollah’s criticisms of President Ahmadinejab for quarrelling with the speaker of Iran’s Parliament. What is going on behind the scenes? These combined episodes suggest that a power struggle continues in Iran with Khamenei insisting that he is still on the top of the heap. However, recent evidence suggests that the Revolutionary Guard are not small contenders in such a struggle.

One of the key problems the West faces with Iran is who should we really be talking with. Possibly Khamenei isn’t the man who actually controls the weapon making process. Moreover, President Ahmadinejad may not be in the driver’s seat either. If the actual power brokers are the military, then all bets are off on predicting where the struggle is actually going. One possible interpretation of the Ayatollah’s pronouncements was that he was actually talking to the Revolutionary Guard and reassuring them that he might not attempt to block further development of The Bomb. We know that Iran has sent military personnel into the civil war to save the Assad regime in Syria. Recent history appears to support the contention that the Iranian leadership love conflict and a good old fashioned war.

The bottom line? Iran continues to lack stability and is economically hurting. The man on the street is not happy with their national plight. The waiting game that been played by the Obama administration may prove to have more wisdom that meetss the eye.

Waiting could allow the Iranians to do themselves in.

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THE HIGH COST OF WAR

The New York Times recently reported that the United States and Iran have agreed to private talks and negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. While this account was immediately denied, it suggests that back room discussions are going on. Certainly, Iran is feeling the squeeze and President Ahmadinejab is in big trouble over their economy. Merchants are screaming while America and its European allies continue to tighten the noose. It increasingly appears that Obama’s plan is working. We will see no clear indications of change until at least a week after the election process is completed.

The American move to settle the Iranian problem through sanctions and negotiations is not to be sheered at. The United States should be well aware of the high cost of war. The Korean war cost America dearly and Viet Nam proved worst. President Bush crusaded into Iraq and Afghanistan as if we could wrap up both struggles in a short time. The cost in lives is now off the scale. Two unpaid for wars have taken a staggering toll on the economy.

We must remember the painful, excruciating price wars exacts.

While America has withdrawn from Iraq, the killing has not stopped. Recently, a bomb detonated near playing children killed 18 people. Another blast in Baghdad near playground equipment killed four children, four adults, and wounding 25. Elsewhere, pilgrims were headed to a Muslim shrine when a bomb exploded under the bus. Five Shiites died and nine were wounded.  Meanwhile in the city of Mosul, gunmen attacked two houses, killing a boy and his parents in one as well as a mother and daughter in another. Just another day when Shiites and Sunnis disagreed.

Yes, the cost of war was enormous.

A recent report of Iraqi auditors reveals as much as $800 million American dollars were being drained illegally out of the country every week. Widespread money laundering also suggests that Iraq’s central bank as well as a former governor and top officials are involved. While customers are required to provide documentation, auditors found most transactions to be fraudulent. Iraq’s top auditor Abdul-Basit Turki expressed a deep concern about what he called a triangle of sectarianism, corruption, and violence that could threatened the existence of the nation.

In Syria at least 36,000 have been killed to date as both rebels and government troops kill indiscriminately. Mothers regularly rush their children down the steps into bomb shelters, hoping they will all survive, but knowing that the chances continue to diminish.

The survivors who have lost parents, children, spouses, and friends would instantly tell us the cost of war remains unbearable.

America rightly laments the victims of Hurricane Sandy on the eastern cost line. We have seen our tragedies, but none compare with the killing that goes on day after day in the Middle East. To avoid thinking, we can turn off our televisions or switch to a comedy sit.com. at the flip of a finger. How quickly we forget the horrendous cost of a war.

We must not.

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TWITTERING ACROSS SAUDI ARABIA

I have never traveled across the great deserts of Saudi Arabia, the heart of Muslim country and home of their major shrines. The prophet Mohammed is buried in Mecca and the country considered sacred. A resolutely devoted Muslim world, the Saudis have maintained rigid enforcement of their religious principles while rolling in oil income that has made the ruling family among the richest in the world. Of course, this means women cannot even drive a car. Until recently…

The solid foundation of social values now has a crack in it. What shifting international ideals and values have not changed Arabia, the computer and the internet have penetrated the shield. Twitter has revealed frustration and a rejection of how the male dominated country is run. Recently a tweet to Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (heir apparent to the throne) sent this audacious message. “Remember that we have no medical insurance, no jobs. Prince Salman has billions of dollars and don’t forget all the fenced-in land belonging to the royal family.” Wow! That’s a wake up call indeed!

In fact, the computer has become a new major factor in how the world is run. Even used as an instrument of war, the internet has opened channels that cannot be easily closed. It is widely accepted that America and Israel knocked out Iran’s centrifuges through a cyber attack via the computer. In turn, Iran has intensified their efforts to return the blow. In mid-October Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that his department is now concerned the Iran may be the first country to launch cyberterrorism. Such an attack recently devastated computer systems in Persian Gulf oil and gas companies. Not unlike the Cold War, hidden espionage and assault continue to go on behind closed doors. Always an unpredictable enemy, national security experts know Iran is more than willing to use sophisticated computer-based methods of attack.

While nothing so vicious in mind, the Saudis are now waking up to how computer messages might affect their country. They did not experience the so-called Arab Spring, but the Twitter-type messages are still spreading a revolution. Prominent judges and lawyers have issued public criticism of large-scale government corruption and social neglect. Women fire away at the clerics who limit their freedoms and self-expression. Even criticisms have been leveled at the king. Unheard of!

A recent study revealed that Twitter has 2.9 million users in Saudi Arabia. While a person could remain anonymous or use a fictitious name, most of the Twitter messages come signed. One of the surprising twists in this revolution is that the internet has turned into a parliament of sorts: A true people’s forum.

One of the unexpected aspects of these messages is the depth of anger toward the royal family. Observers are now recognizing that without serious reforms, the placid Saudi society could erupt into violent change. A mysterious unknown writer name Mujtahidd (which means studious) has made sensational and detailed assaults on the royal family. With 660,000 followers, Mujtahidd is not likely to be easily shut down.

Iran and Saudi Arabia stand at opposite ends of the political spectrum but both reveal how radical the times are changing. The Saudis must take a long, hard second look at their society and we will do the same with Iran. Computers are not to be scoffed at!

Question: Want to Tweet the King in Arabia? You can. What would you tell him?

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Compulsory Conscription For Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox

 

 

Israel’s Plesner Report recommended 80% of the ultra-Orthodox should serve in Israel’s military  or face criminal sanctions if they don’t. The report would reduce the length of service to 24 months where regular citizens now serve for three years. The aim of this report is to replace the old so-called Tal Law.

When the country began, David Ben-Gurion exempted the haredi at the urging of an advisor. The reasoning was based on religious grounds and had to do with the group’s study of the Bible. It has existed as a source of tension within Israel ever since.

Of course, the Haredi politicians reacted with outrage, calling the document evil and malicious. However, representatives of the Plesner group noted that national service was a religious concept and a Torah commandment. Torah does not oppose military service if a religious lifestyle is accommodated. However, the debate is far from ended, but definitely moving in the direction of compulsory conscription for the haredi.

 

Several years ago, I was walking through the Jewish sector of the Old City. A disturbance had erupted on the Temple Mount caused by Moslem boys throwing rocks at tourists. As I passed by an archeological sight, I saw at least a hundred girls in military uniforms with rifles sitting in the enclosure. Aged 18 to 20, the young women were ready to charge the Temple Mount if the disruption continued. Seeing women armed and ready to shoot stops one in their tracks. Of course, women have always served in Israel, but not without tensions.

Shani Boianjiu wrote in The New York Time about her experience in the military when the secular Jewish world encounters the ultra-Orthodox. She described an incident where she made the mistake of “touching” a soldier during a training exercise. Her job was to teach combat soldiers how to use their personal weapons. During the boot camp exercise, Shani’s task was to make sure that soldiers didn’t fall off balance. The squadding position could be awkward unless the soldiers were positioned correctly. Recognizing an error, she lightly kicked a soldier to expose how unbalanced he was. The man didn’t move. From behind, she put her hands on his shoulders. The man suddenly began screaming, “I observe touch.” Even though Shani was the man’s superior officer and trainer, she had violated a religious rule the military observed.

In her article, Shani Boianjiu, who is secular, described the tension in the military that ancient religious rules often create. One of these statues is that a women cannot touch a weapon in a man’s presence. Once while trying to demonstrate a grenade launcher, as soon as she actually put a finger on the weapon, her trainees disappeared. Their was no problem in being instructed by a women or having her point at the weapon. However, once she picked it up, the ultra-Orthodox soldiers cleared out. Why? While she never could get the point, it had to do with an ancient saying about women and instruments of war not mixing.

One of the major reasons these religious Jews feel they should be exempted from military serve is because of women working as military personnel. Currently, women compose about 30% of the IDF. Another one of these strange rules is that ultra-religious men are not allowed to hear women sing. Shani concluded that the tolerance of Israel’s leaders for religious needs at the expense of others is deeply unfair.

The struggle goes on and must soon come to some resolute as the old Tal Law has now run out. Prime Minister Netanyahu must make a major decision. Soon.

 

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BOMBS AWAY OR WHAT?

The June 4 edition of the popular German Der Spiegel magazine featured a show- stopping story. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been photographed whispering to German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggesting they were discussing the transfer of nuclear submarines to Israel for an attack on Iran. The so-called scoop indicated that the “deal” was so secret that anyone in Israel who leaked the details would

The idea that nuclear warheads mounted on a cruise missiles loaded in submarines headed for Iran ought to run chills down the back of the Moslem clergy running the country. Israel would have a second strike capacity with awesome destructive possibilities after their bombers dropped the first load of bombs.

But here’s the punch line. Is the story true?

Israel’s major intelligence agency is famous for starting misleading rumors. In the past, Mossad successfully employed this procedure during the threat Suez Chanel conflict as well as on other occasions. Fact or fiction, it should keep the Ayatollahs wide It does raise a question about the rumored strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. In mid-July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood with Netanyahu and assured the world they were on the same page. At appropriately the same time, the Pentagon began bulking up missile-defense systems at a secret site in Qatar and began the biggest ever mine sweeping operation in the Persian Gulf. Also in July, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated that all military options were on the table. However, Netanyahu responded with what amounted to an indictment of Obama’s policy of negotiations with Iran. Netanyahu firmly responded that Iran doesn’t believe the international community has the will to stop its nuclear program. His opinion was that negotiations were nothing more

As negotiations with Iran began again in Moscow, the feeling has been that they were faced with a choice between having a nuclear program or an economy. In July, additional sanctions were unleashed. However, reports seems to conclude that the pain is felt by the Iranian on the street and not the government. So far, Iran hasn’t backing down.

In my opinion, we’re back to 1938 with Neville Chamberlain trying to bring “peace in our time.” Hitler looked Chamberlain in the eye, smiled, lied, and started World War II. American politicians don’t realize that the Iranians are not like arguing with Britain over tariffs amounts. The Tehran government is as hell-bent for domination as was Hitler. If the comparison seems a tad extreme, consider the similarities: Secret armament factories, a desire to promote the country regardless of the cost, and most significant of all, a desire to kill Jews. One of the few politicians to recognize the problem in 1938 was Winston Churchill. Today, we don’t seem to have any Churchills on this side of the Some commentators feel that Israel won’t strike without American support. Forty percent of the Israeli public do not favor an attack without American backing. Netanyahu does listen to the political constituency. However, the Obama administration is not popular in Israel and many do not trust the White House.

My conclusion? Iran has significantly misjudged the political situation in the past. I fear they will do it again. America fears a miscalculation; Israel faces the destruction of its country. Under those circumstances, would you wait to attack until America was pleased to?

I don’t think so.

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TALKING OUT OF BOTH SIDES OF OUR MOUTH U.S. CONCERNS AND THE MIDDLE EAST

TALKING OUT OF BOTH SIDES OF OUR MOUTH

U.S. CONCERNS AND THE MIDDLE EAST

 

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

            Pictures of the Syrian Army’s air fleet always feature Russian Mi-25 Hinds. Russia has been supplying helicopters to Syria for years and continues to do so. Back in June, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern to the Russians that they were shipping gun ships to the Assad regime in Syria.

Did her complain stop them?  No.

Herein is a strange little story and a big contradiction.

The United States continues to develop and maintain lucrative contracts with Rosoboronexport, a Russian arms firm that has the main role in supplying the Assad government with the arms to repress the rebels fighting the central government. What make this story particularly interesting is that Rosoboronexport is not a private business. Far from it, the company is a state corporation.  Since 2007, the organization has been the single state intermediary agency for arms shipments. The records of arms shipments made it clear that the port of Oktyabrsk in Southern Ukraine has been sending ship loads of armaments straight to Syria.

Get ready for an amazing and straight little twist in this tale. The US government is currently committed to a $375 million deal with Rosoboronexport for the purchase of 21 Mi-17 helicopters to be used by the Afghan Air Force. The latest transactions with the Russian company were made on November 3, 2011.

This particular contract didn’t go unnoticed. A letter from both Republican and democrat senators to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta demanded a cancellation of the contracts. Pentagon Under-Secretary James Miller rejected the senator’s letter, saying the helicopter acquisition was critical for the Afghan’s security.

Huh?

Doing business with the country propping up Syria is critical?  With millions of Americans out of work, we can’t built a comparable helicopter in America? Even if it is easier to train pilots on a Russian system, can this investment of American dollars be justified in today’s economy while we scream about Syrian atrocities created by this exact helicopter? Something’s definitely wrong with this picture.

By the way Rosoboronexport still sells weapons to Iran.

Back in 1982, Jack Lemon and Sissy Spacek made a movie entitled Missing, based on a true story. A conservative business man goes to South America looking for his missing son, a left-wing journalist. The America ambassador expresses concern but the country has been in a revolution and no one is sure about what is happening. The punch line is that the CIA pulled off the revolution and killed Lemon’s movie son. The boy had been in a morgue while the American government lied to Lemon. Costa-Gravas (the director) left the audience wrung out as they realize the duplicity of the American system.

Sound familiar?

Are we getting the flim-flam treatment from government leaders? Afraid so. And we wonder why Israel doesn’t trust America’s dealings with Iran? Straight talk doesn’t often come for Washington because the conversation has traveled such a convoluted path under the table.

Why don’t we have more leverage with Russia? Might hurt business.

Question: This blog surprise you? What are you going to do about the problem?

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Middle East Update

MIDDLE EAST UPDATE
Having just returned from Israel, I bring responses from the local scene. Landing in Tel Aviv immediately tells one that Israel is on the move. When I first came to Israel in l968, it was an entirely different country. One had to drive some distance to get to Tel Aviv. Not anymore! The city is a thriving metropolis that now virtually abuts the airport with skyscrapers shooting up into the sky! Israel is going forward.
However, concern remains.
Israel has never made claims against Iran. Nevertheless, the president of Iran continues to threaten the annihilation of Israel. The tension is like having your next door neighbor sitting on his roof with a machine gun aimed at your backyard. Here’s the problem.
United Nations atomic inspectors have indicated Iran now possesses enough enriched uranium to make four atom bombs. They have discovered that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has a loophole Iran is pushing. The treaty sets no limits on the level of enrichment purity. It only bars nations from converting civilian efforts into military use. Iran claims they are doing nothing barred by treaty obligations. A nuclear physicist with the Federation of American Scientists recently said, “Iran is raising eyebrows. But what it’s doing is a concern –not illegal.”
Try explaining that over coffee to an Israeli! They won’t buy the story!
Israelis know about the reality of life inside Iran.
Because of Western sanctions, factories are beginning to be forced to close or reduce production. Prodigious economic pain is generating discontent. Prices are high and manufacturing difficult. One producer of thread and textiles recently admitted that sanctions have aggravated pre-existing economic difficulties. In the June 17, 2012 edition of the New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff reported his findings after making a 1,700 mile trip through Iran. He discovered that the backlash of sanctions has produced anger with Iran’s leadership. Local citizens blame their own officials for the local problems. The average Iranian is far more focused on loss of work and income than they are on the fading hopes raised by the nuclear program.

As recent demonstrations revealed, Iran has a serious split in its own society. Many, many of the younger citizens are not buying what the Ayatollahs are selling. Their interest lies in a healthy open society rather than an imposed Moslem state. In this sense, sanctions appear to be working. This success raises questions about a military strike from Israel. Israeli’s understand this issue.

Talking with Israeli leaders revealed the heartfelt hope that sanctions will end the crisis and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) will not have to strike. No one wants military actions if it can be avoided. On the other hand, they live with the motto “Never Again.” I found no hesitancy to strike if it becomes necessary.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Benn Gantz offered strong reasons why Israel must be ready to strike immediately if necessary. He indicated that they are “super-ready” to strike if there is no progress in the current nuclear discussions with Iran. Gantz maintains total confidence in the air force and intelligence.

Of course, Iran has to be aware of Gantz’s remarks and that too poses an additional pressure on their position.

The bottom line? I found an expectation that confrontations are ahead. Let’s hope Iran realizes they are the ones hanging in the balance.

Question:
How long can Israel afford to wait?
Should America increase the economic pressure on Iran to provide a faster answer?

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MEET THE MOSSAD MAN

Meir Dagan remains a robust, bald-headed man with squinting eyes that peer out of narrow glasses. Ariel Sharon once said that Dagan’s specialty was severing an Arab’s head form his body. Dagan no longer comments on such epitaphs and turns his attention elsewhere. During his unprecedented eight-year term, he restored the agency’s prestige. Many of his efforts have proven highly significant including the assassination of Imad Moughniyet, Hevbollah’s notorious chief of operations, and the strike that stopped Syrian’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

And his hobbies? Dagan paints. Horses. Olive trees. An old man with his worry beads. Oil painting is his hobby. A man of contrasts, indeed!

Some years ago, I met and shook hands with Menahem Begin when he was Prime Minister. The moment felt electric, and I knew I was talking to a man who had the broadest possible grip on the pressing issues of state. Meir Dagan is of such a caliber.

In an recent interview in The Jerusalem Post, Dagan talked about his views developed from years in the military and working as the head of Israel’s finest espionage agency. Anymore interested in the Middle East will do well to consider his point of view. Meir Dagan loves his country and respects the struggle Israelis are facing. His perspective is worth considering.

In contrast to the current Prime Minister as well as the Minister of Defense, Meir Dagan is not for bombing Iran immediately . His opinions cover a wide range of possibiities. Here’s some what he thinks:
• Military action cannot disarm the core factor in Iranians nuclear quest. That factor is knowledge.
• Israel’s air force can make a significant strike, but the issue is the outcome of such an attack. It could produce an uprising of terrible proportions.
• Iran is not an Israeli problem. (Although their prime target would be Israel). Iran is an international problem that should be faced by the international community.
• The Iranian government is in a difficult position. Sanction are hurting and a new generation will not likely tolerate repressed civil rights that now exist. Time isn’t on their side.

Meir Dagan trusts the President of the United States to stand behind his pledge to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He maintains Israel should remain confident in that promise. Dagan is not saying that a military option should be taken off the table, but he is firmly maintaining that it should be the last option used.

Obviously, many citizens and soldiers within Israel would disagree with Dagan’s conclusions, but they would also highly respect them. Rather that opposing the Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Dagan is offering an alternative point of view with much to consider. He is promoting further debate and discussion. No one could ever doubt the fearlessness and courage of this warrior with a powerful history behind him. Dagan is challenging Israel (and us) to seek a better solution than bombs. His ideas are worthy of a second look.

Question: Does Meir Dagan’s argument give you any second thoughts?

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ANOTHER LOOK AT THE INTELLIGENCE PROBLEM AND THE MIDDLE EAST

ANOTHER LOOK AT THE INTELLIGENCE PROBLEM
AND THE MIDDLE EAST

Syria claimed to accept the cease-fire agreement proposed by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan, but the guns never stopped roaring. Assad said one thing to Kofi Annan, and another to his troops. “Okay,” to Kofi. “Sick ‘em” to the army. In response, Prince Saud al-Faisal called for the arming of the rebels and saw doing so to be “a duty.” Speaking for the opposition, Lt. Col. Qassim Saad al-Din indicated he wanted the truce, but the government continued to keep tanks and troops in the villages. For the freedom fighters to stop under these conditions would be a slaughter. Shouldn’t the world have known that Assad would not stop? Well, yes and no. No, if we base decisions on his previous behavior. Possibly yes, if we were aiming at insider information for his defense leaders. In an earlier blog, I noted that spying on Iran is tougher than ferreting information out of North Korea. Spying hasn’t proved easy in Syria. Why hasn’t the intelligence gathering been better? There are larger reasons for American reluctance.

A recent front page story from The New York Times noted that the ghosts of Iraq hang heavy around the CIA. Months after the war began, one of the CIA analysts had an emotional breakdown because he realized that he had misguided the Bush administration. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq! The fear that the intelligence community might get it wrong again continues to spook current analysts and advisers. As shouts for military intervention increase, the Central Intelligence Agency knows that its credibility is on the line. They can not afford to be wrong again.

Charges are being made against the American spy system that range from sloppy work to reluctance to being blamed for sending the country down a dead end street again. Former agents point to murky information that is difficult to always understand. Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst on the Middle East, warns of overcompensation for past errors. At the same time, other authorities recognize that there are gaps in what we know. One of the previous problems was former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s frequent visits to CIA headquarters pressuring officials to document his concerns just before the Iraq war began. On the other hand, conversatives now claim the Obama administration may be doing the same thing. When there is top down pressure on intelligence gathering, the results have to become warped. One conservative critque accused the CIA of superficial information gathering in order to influence the coming election and political Thomas Fingar, former chairman of the National Ingelligence Council, added a thoughtful note. “Learning from past mistakes is imperative. Worrying about them is

As I try to pull together past mistakes and current concerns, I conclude its imperative to keep politics out of intelligence gathering. Keep the politicians of both parties up on Capital Hill and let the spies do their work in the dark. We don’t need politicians in the kitchen stirring the soup. As we attempt to discover what Assad’s next moves will be in this bloody campaign, let’s hope poor judgments about Iraq aren’t contaminating precise insights about the current Middle East situation.

Question: Can Americans trust the CIA if politicans continue to influence decisions? Do
we need a new approach to intelligence gathering?

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WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH SUNNIS AND SHIˇITES?

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH SUNNIS AND SHIˇITES?

Sunni Muslim rulers shunned an Arab League summit held in late March. The

meeting ended with a joint call on President Bashar Assad to stop his bloody crackdown

on Syrian citizens. Unfortunately, an important element didn’t show up. Shi˜ites weren’t

there. Having watched this tension within the Muslim world for years, I still find myself

baffled by how passionate these divisions are in Islam.

Following the completion of America’s war and withdrawal from Iraq, the on-

going bombings made it clear that Sunnis and Shi˘ites have big problems riding in the

same boat. During the so-called Arab Spring, the relationship between these two

fundamental Islamic sects has not improved. To put the struggle in a Western context,

the situation is like the Baptist shooting at the Methodist because they don’t practice

immersion. (And that’s with bombs and AK-17 rifles.)

How can the two major Islamic groups have such a hate for each other? Few

Westerners actually understand the differences. Here’s the inside scoop.

Sunnis constitute 84% to 90% of the Muslim population while Shi˚ites sweep up

most of the rest. The Shi˜ite name literally means “party” or the party of Ali, the younger

cousin of Muhammad who grew up in the prophet’s home and married his daughter

Fatima. The basic Shi˘ite principal is that the head of the Muslim community must be a

descendent of Muhammad. Ali carried the Muslim flag when Islam captured Mecca in

630 A.D. and came out a hero. Long dead Ali is the central figure in this dispute.

The first three caliphs of the Moslem era weren’t of this linage and are considered

illegimate rulers by Shi˘ites, believing God imposed the years of corrupt rule to separate

true believers from hyprocrites. This conviction sets the stage for the ongoing strife and

struggle with the Sunnis.

The population of Iran contains the extremists Shiˇa element while next door

neighbor Saudi Arabia, once allied with Egypt, supports the Sunnis. The fall of Hosni

Mubarak has thrown these struggles into a turmoil, further pitting Sunnis and Shiˇa

against each other. In Iraq, as refugees returned home following the war, the tension runs

high with neither side trusting the other. Consequently, as the Americans left, the old

tensions between these groups returned, but with even greater suspicion and anomisity.

The differences between these groups are complex, but the basic apprehension is

that Sunnis will impose Islamic law and Shi’ites fear they will be required to follow

Sunni law. Sunni’s are highly offended because Shi˜ite ritual still curses the first three

caliphs. In addition, Sunni’s accuse the other group of hypocrisy and immorality because

of their practice of dissimulation and acceptance of temporary marriage.

Sound strange that two Muslim groups could still be at war with each other over

events that stretch back 1500 years? Westerners shake their heads and can’t decipher the

facts. With our separation of religion from government, Americans find Moslem hostility

toward each other to be strange, foreboding, and hostile.

Back to the recent Arab summit. The cold shoulder from Sunni-led monarchies

only re-enforced Shit˘ite suspicions. Iraq’s Shi˘ite leadership and Iran’s identical position

keep them on the outside of Arab League gatherings.

Make sense? Well, not really, but that’s the role Islam plays in the Middle East

and it won’t be changing anytime soon.

Question: Can you see any basis for reconciliation between these two groups? Will they
ever trust Americans when they don’t trust each other?

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