Tag Archives: Travels



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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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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Who has been Syria’s constant target? Or go back a few decades. Who did Syria attack without provocation or warning? You got it.


With that bit of history in mind, you might be surprised to learn that on March 4, Israel offered humanitarian aid to Syria through the International Red Cross. Can you beat that?

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman reasoned that the Jewish state couldn’t watch atrocities occurring in a neighboring nation and do nothing. He saw the problem as a humanitarian crisis, not a political issue.


“We are human beings first, before we are politicians, leaders, commentators and jouirnalists,” Liberman said. “The pictures are more shocking than Hollywood horror movies.”

Liberman instructed Evyatar Manor, his deputy director-general to contact the Red Cross and offer services. Unfortunately, Syrian ground forces barred entry into to city of Homs, but who offered?


Of course.

While it doesn’t get headlines from the media, the nation of Israel has always functioned according to the Torah. The salute is always “L’chayim”! To life! Jews support the sacredness of life and preserving human lives.

Unfortunately, the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad doesn’t.

Remember this story the next time you hear a discrediting story about Israel.

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Israel says one thing; American says another.

Netanyahu says go; Obama says wait.

Why the disconnect?

In 2010, a crisis erupted in America’s intelligence gathering community. Sixteen different agencies struggled to decide if the Iranians were in a crash program to develop nuclear explosives. The opinions were far from unanimous. In the end, many within this select and clandestine group concluded Iran might not have decided to pursue such a weapon yet.

These assessments certainly face a new pressure. During the Bush years, the United States badly mis-assessed Iraq’s race for nuclear weaponry. With a grinding of the teeth, officials of Bush’s administration now admit they were wrong. In spite of loud mouthed radio commentators, no missiles were found in the desert sands. Consequently, the current administration is reading and re-reading reports carefully.

However, there is another factor in this equation that makes the matter even more difficult. Accurate intelligence on Iran is harder to gather than was the case in Iraq.  A senior intelligence official recently stated it is even more difficult that it is with North Korea.


It is highly difficult to determine who speaks authoritatively on what. Serious divisions of opinion exist within Iran. While they all hate America and Israel (because we live in the 21st century while Iran is stuck in the 6th), the country has deep divisions. Several years ago, I was in Damascus, Syria when a group of tourist from Iran came through. Thinking I was a Canadian, a couple sat down to talk. with me. I discovered that they were trying to immigrate to Canada as they feared what was ahead for Iran. The couple whispered that they believed “craziness” ran the country. I hope they were able to get out.

We do know Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains Iran’s supreme leader and is more rigid than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, both are extremist. On the other hand, some estimates say that 80% of the country are opposed to these rulers. With their economy headed toward the bottom and international sanctions piling up, many predict it is only a matter of time before Tehran’s theocratic regime is pushed out of office.

No one can tell how accurate these reports are, but they do reflect highly significant divisions within the country. Actually, Iran is a weak and vulnerable country. Their recent decisions have made them increasingly isolated.  Of course, no one wants the military option. The problem is that a small group in that country do.

In the vacuum of solid information, it appears the Ayatollah holds the trump card. Would he play it? The Iranian couple I met in Damascus believe he would.

One of the great strengths of American life and politics is the recognition of the country’s founders that church and government must not mix. The shadow of the Ayatollah reminds us of how deadly religion can be when stirred up as a position in politics.

Back to where we started. America and Israel aren’t really that far apart. Mossad leaders tilt toward more aggressive action because of the existential threat to the Jewish state. Making sure of the facts concerning Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons remains the unresolved issue


What’s your guess? Do you think Iran is hotly pursuing a nuclear weapon?

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In a recent blog, I reported evidence that confirms Iran has troops in Syria combating the uprising of local citizens. Verification came to me through a local citizen who worked with refugees fleeing the country. During the indiscriminate bombing of the town of Homs, the Local Coordination Committee stated that 45 were killed with children found among the dead. Pictures have been posted online by activitist showing the bodies of five terribly disfigured children. It would appear they were struck by weapons or sharp objects.

One of the ironies of this situation is that the wife of Bashar Assad came from Homs. Often touted as a fashion diva wearing the finest from Paris, she looks far more like a Westerner. Forget the burka that most Syrian women wear. Her city of origin did nothing to bring any mercy to the shelled city. Homs has  been the hardest hit city since the violence erupted a year ago. Several areas of the city that had been controlled by the rebels have now fallen and been recovered by government troops.

The government’s response to these children’s death is to publically claim that the killings in Homs are the result of “armed terrorists” haunting the streets. The yearlong uprising against Assad is attributed to this same element. Of course, the government controlled media never reports on the true situation among the resistance.

Information has also been declared by the Britain-based group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights who claimed that “shabiha” gunmen took part in the killings. The shabiha element does the government’s biding and have played a major role in attempting to stop the uprising.

Back at the United Nations, the Secretary-General appealed to a divided Security Council, pleading for them to speak in a unified voice and call on Syria to halt the bloodshed. Both Washington and Moscow agreed fighting should stop, but differed radically on how it should occur. Moscow continued to oppose any intervention which would stop the Syrian governments continuing the killing. Outraged activists had already held a candlelight vigil outside the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv, protesting Russia’s action during this crisis.

Even with the blood of children on their hands, the Assad govenment continues to plow ahead regardless of the cost. They seem to be unmoved by the tragic deaths.

A number of years ago, I was among the first responders when the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in what was then the largest terrorist attack on American soil in national in our national history. I stood in the rubble while bodies were carried out and later assisted when the victims were relocated in a nearby church foyer. Among the dead were a number of children who had been playing in the building’s child care center moments before the explosion. I will never be able to remove this scene from my memory. The images continue to haunt me. Nothing conveys the horror of war like the death of a child.

Apparently, Bashar Assad isn’t move by such apparitions.



Should the deaths of children affect American response to this crisis?  Can the world turn its back on the Syrian crisis?

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Not long ago I was in Israel’s Jezreel Valley. Sometimes identified as the sight of the great battle of Armageddon, the peaceful, rolling green pastures look like a gentle farming area. Not far away is the Meggido Pass which holds some of the most ancient ruins in Israel because Meggido had always been a major crossroads in journeying from Egypt to the Fertile Crescent. A fascinating vacation area. Not so!

Hidden within those hills is Ramat David Air Force Base housing F-16 fighter jets that come roaring out every few hours to patrol the skies. Jets are scrambled daily to intercept civilian aircraft failing to respond to Israel’s air traffic control demands and thus prevent a 9/11 disaster in Israel. Because of this strategic location, Ramat David would be a prime target for Syria or Hezbollah in a future war. Currently, Syria remains bogged down in what amounts to a civil war so I’m sure the base is not a primary interest for the Al-Assah regime. However, an assault would probably come from another direction.

When (assuming Iran remains intransigent) Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, Ramat David would probably be the point of departure should the attack on Iran come from the sky. In a mission of considerable distance, saving every drop of fuel would be paramount. Ramat David’s location in the far north provides that advantage. But can they accomplish the goal of knocking our Iran’s program? The answer depends on who you listen to.

Three recent chiefs of staff includind Dan Halutz, Gabi Ashkenazi, and Benny Gantz believe Israel can knock out some of Iran’s facilities, but not destroy their program because Iran has already mastered the technology to build a bomb. A strike on buildings, storage tanks, etc., would be feasible but difficult. To avoid what happened to Syria and Iraq, Iran has built their facilities across a wide area, making one strike impossible to stop the program. Still, knocking out the facilities at Natanz, Arak, and Isfahan would deal a serious blow to Iran’s attempt to create nuclear weapons.

The hidden joker in the deck may yet prove to be Israel’s three Dolphin-class German-made submarines which can carry large warheads. These vessels might be capable of carrying nuclear-armed Popeye Tubo cruise missiles. If I was sitting in the driver’s seat in Iran, I’d be giving more than a second-thought to what this backdoor approach could accomplish if provoked.

Probably, the most important element in this situation is the unequivocal support President Obama gave publically to Israel in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement to give more time for sanctions to work. Mr. Obama gave Israel the green light that the USA will stop Iran at all costs, including use of military force.

I conclude that Israel’s front and back doors are covered. While President Obama has not been trusted by Israelis for some time, this recent confirmation that America stands behind Israel reshuffles the cards.

Israel is secure; Iran is not.

The mullahs better give the situation a great deal more scrutiny. My bet? They won’t.

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During the week of March 5, Senator John McCain called on Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to start military action in Syria. McCain seemed irritated at Panetta’s hesitancy. However, the secretary retorted that he had to give long and careful thought to sending American military into of harm’s way. McCain retorted that what Panetta had left out of his reply was the need for America to maintain its military superiority and pre-eminence in the world. I noticed the press didn’t give much space to this two-man debate.

As I stated in beginning these blogs, I am not promoting a political point-of-view or a theological ideology. My objective is to clarify the current situation in as correct and comprehensive a light as possible. Therefore, I’m not debating whether saving lives is more important that maintaining global pre-eminence. I leave it to you sort out whether you feel McCain or Panetta were on the right track. My concern is highlighting a serious situation that continues to escalate. As noted earlier, the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the United Nations have only resulted in more deaths.

Through a personal conversation this week with a Muslim born, raised, and now living near Syria, I had the fact confirmed that Syria has called in Iranian troops that are major players in the atrocities occurring daily. Iranian soldiers have raped many Syrian women suspected as supporting the uprising. I listened to a Syrian cleric in a Friday sermon in a Mosque proclaim, “What a humiliated life a man has when his sisters are being raped and his brother oppressed and their dignity and religion is trampled over.” The clergyman was urging his hearers to rise up and not wait for NATO to protect them. His point was the audience in the mosque must assert themselves to fight against the invaders from Iran.

Well-fed Americans sitting on comfortable leather couches watching large screen televisions in climate-controlled houses have a hard time grasping the terror these good people face because they could be killed at any moment by a rocket dropping indiscriminately on their roof. Syrian government troops running down the street could kill them with mortars or automatic weapon fire while randomly targeting any house. Such is the current situation in Syria.

What should be done?

Unlike Libya, Syria has strategic importance because it sits in the midst of ethnic, religious, and regional rivalries that could turn the entire region upside down. If the Assad regime topples, it could send the entire area into a tail spin. A proxy war might pit the gulf states and Saudi Arabia against Iran. Who knows where that conflict could go?

Israelis worry while juggling their problems with Iran’s nuclear program. They must consider what a change in the leadership in the Syrian government could mean for their nation.

So, I return to Senator John McCain’s question. Is this the right time for American intervention? While I certainly have no knowledge that this assertion is true, my hunch is that the United States has already begun sending military supplies to the insurgents behind the scenes. If this is correct, we have another of those old “under the table” wars going on with the Russians.

Does that make your stomach churn? It does mine.



Should the United States enter the Syrian conflict? Can the world standby and allow innocent people to be killed?

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