Tag Archives: middle east

An Update on Israel

 

Change is in the air.

 

A number of incidents have occurred lately that didn’t make headlines in America. They aren’t earth shaking events, but might help you keep abreast of the times are unfolding. Change occurs in the Middle East at the speed of light. Consequently, the more we know, the better we are to judge the situation and make sound judgements.

Were you aware that Russian President Vladimir Putin dropped in for a visit this summer? While the occasion was more of a state formality with a dedication of a war memorial, it is interesting that the country with a hard history of antisemitism should have the newly elected president drop by for a chat. My guess is that the stop-by represents a recognition of the importance of Israel in the world scene and a concern for an attack on Iran (one of Russia’s allies). If so, Putin got an earful. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres made it clear that in their view nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranians remained a threat to Israel and the world. Putin said nothing, but got the message. However, there’s no change with Vadim.

Russia continues to oppose more sanctions against Iran while supplying weapons to Syria (calling them defensive armaments). They have also used their veto power to shield the Assad regime.

While in Israel, Putin helped unveil a monument to the Red Army’s defeat of Nazi Germany. Such remembrances are important because of the enormous price the Soviet Union paid in World War II. Over a half million Jews fought in the Soviet Army and 120,000 were killed. The idea for the monument began with Netanyahu two years ago when he proposed the commemoration to Putin.

On a different front, the former financial adviser to Yasser Arafat Muhammad Rashid revealed that Fatah had a secret bank account in Jordan amounting to $39 million. When Arafat died, he was one of the wealthiest men in the world with a monthly allowance to his wife in Paris of $100,000 a month. Three billion dollars disappeared and has not been found to this date. Rashid stated that only Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and two of his associates could access the account. He challenged Abbas to admit this fact because he had longed denied the existence of such an account. After a long-standing battled with the PA leadership, Rashid has threatened to expose corruption and scandal involving Abbas.

Change? Well, the covers are being thrown back. Seems the Palestinian Authority continues to deal under the table just as Arafat did.

Here’s another surprise for you. East Jerusalem Arabs are increasingly applying for Israeli citizenship. Forty-six years ago, the Six Day War (Yom Kippur War) exploded and the citizenship of East Jerusalem shifted. Because King Hussein claimed the rights to the West Bank and the PLO called these Arabs Palestinians, they ended up in effect non-citizens. Today, 260,000 east Jerusalemites are still non-citizens. A high number of this group were born in Israel, speak Hebrew, and have been virtually absorbed into Israeli society. Today an increasing number are convinced no change will every occur and are applying for Israeli citizenship. The idea of a Palestinian may never be resolved. The status quo isn’t relevant to this group.

Change is moving right along.

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IRAN’S GAMBLE

 

The most recent report from the United Nations the International Atomic Energy Agency indicates Iran continues to hide its production of enriched uranium. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei talks out of both sides of his mouth, saying pursuit of nuclear weapons is an “unforgiveable sin” while on the other hand proclaiming Iran will not abandon their nuclear program. If you trust the Ayatollah, I’ve got some stock in the defunct Soviet Union I’ll sell you.

Experts are currently divided on what an attack on Iran would do to support for the Moslem regime. All agree the current Moslem government is unpopular and would welcome any action that would shore it up. However, a direct attack on the country would not necessarily bring support from the current opposition to the government. Probably, the rebels response would be determined by how much of the population was killed or hurt in such an attack. Undoubtedly, President Ahmadinejad would  call for national unity. In the short run, it could be a boost for the regime’s popularity.

At this time, sanctions have definitely hurt the popularity of  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s government. While the economy has definitely been effected, the business person on the street is really getting it in the neck with decreasing support for Khamenei. However, it appears to be a toss up among the experts as to how Iranian rebels would respond to an attack on their own soil.

The most pressing current issue is stopping Iran’s intervenetion in Syria. Iran is doing everything possible to hold on to the Assad control of the country. Loss of the relationship with this current government would amount to a clossal defeat and greatly weaken the Iranian hold on the Shi’ite Cresent that extends from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean.  However, the United States has made it clear that they will directly confront Iran If more intervention follows. Moreover, Israel would feel directly threatened by an Iranian presence in Syria and would immediately respond aggressively. Of course, Russia would support Iran, but could do little to actually support their actions militarily.

So, where do we go next?

Most experts agree that the USA must do more. They have already made it clear that crossing a red line drawn by Secretary Hillary Clinton will bring  a military response, but it is not clear that the Iranians take this warning seriously enough to back off. The Khamenei regime still doubts American’s will to make a military effort.  Many feel the USA must facilitate the Syrian rebels supply of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons while encouraging more Syrian government officials to defect if Iran is to take them more seriously.

Iranian expert Prof. David Menashri believes the regime is in a delicate situation with considerable pressure from inside the country. Citizens are dissatisfied with the lack of social and political justice and freedom.  A more public demonstration of unity of the United States with Europe would help increase the stress on Khamenei and his comrades. Menashri asserts Israel should keep its debate behind closed doors as disagreements only lessens Iran’s fears.

Words no longer count for much. The issues will be settled by action. (530 word count)

Question: Can diplomacy still stop Iranian intervention or is time running out?

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PROBING INSIDE THE SYRIAN SITUATION

 

 

Over 200 bodies were recently discovered in Daraya, a small town just outside of Damascus. The frightening unofficial suggestion is that Syrian troops committed these atrocities that may be the worst since the beginning of the Syrian rebellion over 18 months ago. Because of the ongoing war, the exact count could not be independently confirmed.

The Local Coordination Committee, an activist organization, found mass body dumps in the same region. Their video recorded charred bodies wrapped in blankets as well as victims lined up together and shot in a mosque. The violence fits a pattern that has emerged from raids by government forces in other suburbs of Damascus. When the military raided towns held by rebels, they left behind piles of bodies. Generally, the victims were young men, most shot in the head execution style.

The stories go on and on. I have been blogging about these murders for months, but nothing seems to put the brakes on the killing. One of the burning question is why the Russians continue to sustain such violence. As we discussed in an earlier blog, they are making huge profits out of this warfare. Certainly, profit motives keep the guns blazing. But there must be more to this story.

In the August 19, 2012 edition of The New York Times, Misha Friedman reported on the current situation in Russia under the heading For Russians, Corruption is Just a Way of Life. Friedman grew up in Moldova, then a part of the Soviet Union. In the early 1990s, her family immigrated to the United States. Since then, she has made a number of trips back to Russia. On each one of these trips, she observed growing corruption and lawlessness. Today, Misha Friedman reports that the country has become immersed in immoral and depraved behavior at every level of society.

Ms. Friedman reports that President Vladimir Putin’s system of running the country is hurling Russia back into a medieval mode when lawlessness trumps all rules. She noted that Russians who travel  outside the country often hide their nationality because of a fear of being compared to the country’s ruling elite. The Pussy Riot trial or the imprisonment of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky always comes up with embarrassing questions about what is transpiring inside the country. Friedman implies Putin’s government could care less about the consequences of their decisions as long as they prevail.

Syria would certainly be a case in point.

The author’s story states that corruption has become both a state of mind as well as a way of life. Citizens have become so accustomed to this decadence that they now accept it as the norm and view it as “Russia’s own special way.”

Friedman’s story leaves us with an obvious conclusion. If the Russian’s are making a buck, they care less about who is hurt. Obviously, I’m not indicting their entire society. Thousands marched in the streets to protest Putin’s election and how he runs the country. Unfortunately, they didn’t accomplish change. Nevertheless, as long as Russia’s military factories are kept busy, no one at the top will be calculating the cost.

So, the killing goes on in Syria while the rest of the world watches from the sidelines.

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WHY CAN’T AMERICAN GET IT RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE EAST?

Obviously, something has gone wrong.

We wake up in the morning and the TV tells us more Americans have been shot in the back by Afghan security policemen. The Afghans are killed  immediately, but that doesn’t seem to make any difference. Are we missing something? Absolutely.

Neither the Republicans or the Democrats understand this situation. We are in essentially the same position Great Britian was a hundred years ago. They were the top dogs and couldn’t be bothered with funny little rebels like Gandhi. Unfortunately for the Brits, the Mahatma was the new reality. Today England doesn’t rule India or the world.

Winning World War II and prevailing in the Cold War took us to the top. We assumed we could fight two wars in two different nations at the same time and easily win. Wrong. We are making the same mistake the British did.

What we don’t understand is that the entire Middle East is swept up in what is essentially a religious war. We think we’re fighting a traditional military conflict. We’re not. And the longer we misread the reality, the greater will be our losses.

The exploding reality in the world today is change.

Every 500 years, the entire global society radically shifts. Go back 500 years and you find the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation beginning. Absolutely ended the Middle Age and brought radically political revolution! The year 2,000 marked the start of a new alignment in every area from politics to religion.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East. The rising force is not an enlighted Islamic faith, but a radical right-wing fundamentalism than has no problem in dying for what the mullahs decree. The West places a paramount value on preserving human life.  They don’t. Ben Laden got one thing right. If they keep us fighting in the Middle East, they will eventually drain our bank accounts down to nothing. Isn’t that where we have gone in the last ten years?

Turkey has shifted into a more religious mode. The Egyptian Brotherhood pushed Mohammed Morsy into office with their radical agenda. Who knows what will end up in Syria? No one appears to be asking what is the motivation that they all share in common. At the core, it has to do with Islam.

For example, Obama believes we can negotiate Iran into a compromise. A couple of days ago, the head mullah told the people to hunker down because Iran wasn’t backing away from muclear capacity. Between the lines, we can read the fine print. Iran’s position is neither defensive nor rationally. Iran has messianic designs on the entire Middle East with a religious motivation carrying an ingrained sense of Persian historicial entitlement.  In addition, they want to annihilate Israel regardless of the cost. Take a long at the Old Testament. It’s all there.

Because we didn’t pay attention toVietnamese thought patterns and resuppositions, we lost the war. Today, we aren’t paying attention to how fundamentalist Islam thinks. The result is that they are outflanking us. So, where do we go from here?

The time has come to cast the old molds aside and think with new clarity. Can we win a religious war with bullets and missiles? No. And Iran won’t be stopped at the negotiating table. The only country who seems to grasp this reality is Israel.

If we don’t pay attention to this situation, we’re going to be sailing down the river in the same boat with the Brits … headed for the water fall.

Question: How can we change this course of events?

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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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WHAT’S COOKING IN EGYPT?

WHAT’S COOKING IN EGYPT?

            The results of elections appears to be universal. Candidates kiss babies, grin, wave, and promise everything from taking care of your old age to rejuvenating the country, And what happens? The week after the elcction when the dancing in the streets is done, the politicans get down to business and it’s nothing like they promised.

Today, the politicians in Egypt are getting down to business. The dust is clearing and the squeeze is on. What does it mean? Well, there’s good news and bad news.

Egypt’s new president Mohamed Morsi fired the military’s chief of staff and just threw out one of the major provisions that the military imposed on the government. Will Morsi’s actions stick? Hard to say. The military will probably wait and see what comes next.  Morsi has definitely taken a major step forward in asserting the power of his office and propelling himself into an authoriative position over the military. How long he can prevail is a “wait and see” proposition. After it’s said and done, the military has the bullets and are well positioned to resist.

On the other hand, the most radical ideals of the Moslem Brotherhood don’t seem to be materializing. As is generally true of politicans, Mohamed Morsi has come face-to-face with political realities and that produces compromise. Morsi has made some of his own adjustments that involve backing away from some of his campaign promises. On of these compromises appears to be dropping the idea of changing the peace treaty with Israel. Such an adaptation takes a step toward a more peaceful Middle East.

In addition, recent visits by Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secrerary Leon Penetta seem to be paying off in an unexpected way. In a recent blog, I noted Clinton got a nasty reception from Cairo demonstrators. However, she did come down on the side of constitutional government which put her on Morsi’s side in that struggle. During the visit, she warned of security issues in the Sinai and offered American help. Subsequently, terrorist gunmen in the Sinai attacked Egyptian border posts and comandeered two military vehicles used to storm the Israeli border. The unanticipated attacks deeply shook Morsi’s government. Morsi’s response is now viewed as an important test of the nascent presidency.

Indicating a renewned confidence in the United States, Egypt has now accelerated talks about American assistance in protecting the Sinai, including acquiring military equipment with electronic and aerial surveilance as well as police training. The American State Department warned that the Sinai is being used as a base for smuggling arms into Gaza for Palestinian extremists. Moreover, the USA has 700 American soliders in the Sinai as part of an international peacekeeping force in the area. Secretary Clinton expressed concern about the welfare of these American troops. While Egypt has always been sensitive about American direct involvment in its security, they do receive $1.5 billion dollars a year in assistance.

Egyptian troops, light tanks, attack helicopters are now pouring into the Sinai desert to root out the increasingly agressive Islamic militants. Egypt’s military action reflects a key provision of the l979 peace treaty which promised the demilitarization of the Sinai peninsula. Egypt’s push to secure the border is an important step indicating a continuing alliance with both America and Israel.

Morsi’s govenment’s actions seems to indicate the train may be back on the track in terms

 

of American and Israeli relationships. The next question is where the train is actually going.

 

Question: Is it possible for Egypt to come out of the current struggle in better shape than was previously thought?

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MIDDLE EAST UPDATE- PART II

During my just completed trip to Israel, I traveled the country from the Syrian and Lebanese boarders to the Dead Sea. I remember when the salty water nearly bordered the highway. Currently, it has been reduced hundreds of yards. Israeli tourist still go down to the shores to sit in the sun or to take medicinal mud baths, but the sea level has become frighteningly low. Discussions are underway to increase the Dead Sea, including an idea to pump water from the Mediterrean. The problem is that the use of water from the Jordan River has decreased to allow little return to the lowest point on earth.
Just a little tidbit for my ecological minded friends.
Here’s the most recent update on the political front.
The Palestinian Authority has just proposed new informal talks with Israel. Before the talks can actually being, Israel must meet two conditions. The Palestinians are calling for the release of more prisoners and the importing of more weapons for the security forces in the West Bank. Abbas and Netanyahu have not met face to face since September 2010.
In response, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said Netanyahu would meet for informal talks anywhere any time without any preconditions. In addition, Israeli officials said they were not aware of any shortage of weapons among Palestinian security personnel. Just two weeks ago, Israel released the bodies of dead terrorist for burial in Palestinians territories.
What’s going on here?
For some time, the Palestinians have been attempting to criminalize Israel. Everything Israel does is slammed with the intention of attaching labels of provocateurs, terrorists, and criminals. While the Palestinians would not admit it publically, prisoners held in Israel have been terrorist. In other words, without saying it, the Palestinians are admitting their people have been attacking the state of Israel. Quite the opposite of what they want to admit publically.
Secondly, asking for Israel to allow more weapons into the West Bank is an admission of how tightly Israel has been able to clamp down on weapon shipments. The PA is definitely in a defensive position and they know it.
In addition, the PA still maintains its original posture, that Israel must cease building settlements in disputed areas before genuine negotiations can begin for a peace settlement. They know Israel will not accept these terms as a pre-condition for talks. In other words, the PA continues to stall while attempting to appear ready to negotiate.

Long ago this strategy was played out by Yasher Arafat. As was revealed the last time Arafat walked out of negotiations, the PA has no intention of coming to terms with a peace agreement. As Abba Ebon once observed. “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The reason is simple. Palestinians will settle for nothing short of Israel being pushed into the sea. Rather than peace; they want conquest.
And what happens while they wait? Israel continues to prosper. The Palestinians languish in their own limitations. Will this current call to launch dialogue go anywhere? My hunch is that it is a shot at influencing world opinion to believe the PA is a peace-minded organization. Sorry, it is probably not worthy of inclusion in the media.

Question:
Can the PA even be believed … or trusted?

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SYRIA’S STRUGGLE AND SUFFERING

It doesn’t take long to understand how complex Middle Eastern struggles actually are. For example, The American State Department came up with the idea of a multibillion-dollar Iraqi police training program that was to be the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission. Since October, $500 million has already been spent. Now it turns out the Iraqi government didn’t want it in the first place, but no one asked them until after the money had been allocated. Now that the military is gone, the Iraqi government is aggressively asserting its sovereignty. And the police force idea is going down the drain. Sorry, State Department. You obviously didn’t pay enough attention to the locals.
Granted that it is much more difficult to know exactly what’s going on in Syria, but similar confusion appears to be ruling the day. Insiders appear to agree that Bashar Al-Assad is slowly hemorrhaging to death, but that’s not certain. Turkey currently hosts around 23,000 Syrian refugees running from Assad. Some fighting has spilled over into Lebanon. As Senator John McCain noted, “What is obvious and indisputable is that the Kofi Annan plan has failed.” What the cease fire idea actually accomplished was buying more buy for the Syrian regime to continue killing the opposition and civilians. However, citizens appear to have not given up their struggle to oust Assad.
Recently, Turkey’s prime minister personally addressed thousands of cheering Syrian refugees who had crossed into camps in Turkey. He proclaimed that Assad’s grip was growing weaker by the day and that victory was close. Whether his statement is true or not requires more information. The complete truth remains to be seen.
The Syrian regime has currently proposed elections in the near future. A new constitution was adopted that would limit a Syrian president to two seven-year terms Of course, Assad and his father ruled Syria for over 42 years. The idea of a new election in the midst of a civil war obviously hasn’t sparked enthusiasm.
The opposition immediately responded that without reforms any election would be meaningless. Haytham Manna, head of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, rejected the idea as ludicrous. He noted there are no characteristics of a normal election exist during war and upheaval. Assad appears only to be attempting to buy time – once again.
So where are we? Key constituencies supporting Assad include religious minorities such as Christians and Alawites. Both groups fear what a takeover by Sunni Muslim’s would do to them. (Assad is a Alawite, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam.)
Russia and China continue to attempt to shield the regime from harsh diplomatic sanctions. In a former blog, I pointed out that Russia is making millions (probably billions) by supply military arms and equipment to Syria. War lines the Russian pockets with gold. Western powers, including Turkey, remain unwilling to use force against Syria. The result? Stalemate.
Turkey prime minister told the refugees, “Sooner or later, those who have oppressed our Syrian brothers will be accounted for before their nation. Your victory is close.”
Sorry. Not close enough! (518 words)
Question: How long do you think the Assad regime can endure? By the way, why doesn’t the American government pay better attention to the daily circumstances unfolding in these foreign governments?

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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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