Tag Archives: War

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH IRAN?

BLOG 438
July 29, 2019

middle east

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH IRAN?

And by the way, after my last week’s blog on racism in Israel, an important statement appeared in The Jerusalem Post on the subject. Columnist Yaakov Katz wrote, “Another urgent step pertains to the racist culture within Israeli society. This must end through education.” We’ve been following an important story.

And now on to Iran and the current crisis. No one disputes that President Trump’s pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal precipitated the current situation. Of course, that’s old news. Now where are we?

America has rushed in thousands of troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, an aircraft carrier capable of launching nuclear carrying B-52 bombers. On the other side Iran has stood behind attacks on oil freighters sailing through the Straits of Hurmuz as well as shooting down an American drone.

In response, Bibi Netanyahu noted that World War II emerged because Germany got away with taking similar “small steps” that no nation stopped. One step led to another step as the issues became progressively more serious. When Iran started enriching plutonium to a 3.67% level it was a change the world could live with. However, Netanyahu’s point was small steps were what eventually got the entire world in war.

What does the 3.67% level mean? That level of fissile material is well below the 20% level Iran was reaching when the treaty was signed. However, 20% is way lower than the 90% level required to make a nuclear weapon. Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that if Iran was really serious about a bomb, they would have to return to raising enrichment to a 20% level for technical reasons.

So, what’s going on?

Everyone is posturing, flexing their muscles. American sanctions have put Iran in a horrific bind. The man on the street is struggling to survive. After Iran boarded a British ship, Britain joined the discussion about imposing sanctions. The Iranians also have the Saudis next door who would love to whack them big time. Consequently, Iranian current actions are saying, “you don’t frighten us.”

But they do.

I would suggest Iran is struggling for a better place at the table when discussions start again. Probably more provocations will follow. However, no one really wants a war which Iran knows they will lose.

Keep watching. More to come.

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NO PEACE IN THE EAST

BLOG 435
July 8, 2019

gaza

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation,
ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

NO PEACE IN THE EAST

Did you hear about President Trump’s Middle-East plan for the Palestinians? Probably not, because it made about as big a splash as dropping a penny in the ocean. Trump had earlier called it “The Deal of the Century.” The Palestinian reaction was “The Dump of the Century” and didn’t even show up.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, had been leading a team that worked for over two years to produce a comprehensive economic solution to the Palestinian problems. As the world knows, the Palestinian Authority (PA) offices in Ramallah and is always broke and lost the Gaza strip to Hamas. Kushner’s plan proposed to solve all these problems. With his usual modesty, President Trump said there would never be a Palestinian peace agreement if it was not negotiated during his presidency. Sorry, according to the Palestinians such humility and modesty isn’t going anywhere.

What are the Palestinian Authority leaders saying?

President Mahmoud Abbas described the plan as a “big lie” concocted to embarrass the Palestinians. They fiercely rejected Kushner’s plan and conference, refusing to attend and vowing never to accept any results from the event. The PA saw the plan and event as an attempt to undermine their aspirations for statehood and was only an effort to normalize Israeli status in the Arab World. They forbid any of their people to attend.

Following the conference, a Palestinian businessman was arrested in Hebron for attending. Saleh Abu Mayala was arrested by Palestinian intelligent forces. PA security attempted to arrest Ashraf Ghanam, a Palestinian businessman who attended the conference but escaped. Other Palestinian businessmen who attended the conference were also being chased. The PA meant business when it said, “DON’T ATTEND!”

Why such vehement opposition?

The Trump Administration has consistently bent over backwards to support Israeli objectives. As many Jews feared, moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem destroyed Washington’s ability to be a power broker. The US is not seen as neutral, but a staunch partisan favoring Israel. Abbas and company do not trust the Trump team.

Kushner’s plan was financially generous for the Palestinians. Creation of jobs and lavish spending was promised. Unfortunately, Abbas wants statehood. Kushner’s plan was seen as only an attempt to bribe them.

Where does the matter go next? Probably nowhere until trust and confidence is restored in America.

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THE SITUATION INSIDE IRAN

BLOG 434
July 1, 2019

middle east

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation,
ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

THE SITUATION INSIDE IRAN

The Democratic Party Debates rather effectively captured the headlines this past week, but the serious situation in Iran continues to boil. Politicians in both countries exchanged barbs and insults like children calling each other names on the school ground. President Trump flew off to a G-20 summit and made insensitive jokes about Russia’s interference in the past election. However, there are no jokes inside Iran!

For the average Western citizen, it is difficult to figure out what the actually situation is inside Iran. One must survey a wide swipe of materials to develop an idea of what is actually going on. One of the best sources for information is the international reporting found in The New York Times. You don’t have to like their editorial positions to respect the accuracy of what they discover. Here’s what I’ve picked up from my sources that report from within Iran.

1. Iranian national leaders were furious and frustrated with the tactical commander who made the decision to shoot down the American drone. The public bravado of the Revolutionary Guard mask deeper worries about what the superiority of the American military might do to them. Such mistakes could inadvertently set off a “big time” shooting war.

2. The Revolutionary Guard runs its own independent business and political enterprises. They are the major hard-liners inside Iran. They see shooting down the drone has a victory for Iran. Trump can scream and shout, but the Iranian hard-liners think they won the first-round in the war.

3. Even with the US withdrawal from the nuclear treaty, Iran has avoided direct confrontations with American in the past months. When the Trump administration designed the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization and increased sanctions on Iran, this posture change. Iranian now sees itself in economic warfare and declared the same by restarting their nuclear program.

4. The Iranian author Salar Abdoh reports that people on the streets of Tehran already see themselves at war with America. Sanctions have made fruit a luxury and factories are shutting down. The times are increasingly tough.
The previous Iranian ideology to operate as a self-sufficient military prowess is now seen by them as the better way to go. The question will soon be can they really take that road with their economy crumbling. US sanctions continue to take a huge toll on Iran.

So, what comes next from inside Iran? The hard-liners have been emboldened. Many experts do not believe the American cyberattacks will affect much and are seen as relatively unimportant. The crunch is the impact of American sanctions. They are highly effectively.

What’s next? Stay tuned.

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A WAR WITH IRAN?

BLOG 433
June 24, 2019

war iran

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

A WAR WITH IRAN?

Last week I began with the question, “Is the United States getting ready to go to war with Iran?” My, my, what a difference a week can make!

Here we are again with battleships steaming around the Straits of Hormuz and threats being shouted across the bough from Washington to Tehran. The shooting down of an American drone airplane has dramatically upped the ante in this high stakes poker game. Last week, I concluded Iran would be seriously diluted to go to war with the U.S. and that remains the same. However, American sanctions are pushing Iran to a point of desperation and that is no small issue for their side.

What does the situation look like from both sides of the globe?

American political candidate Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren put it squarely on the table. She said, “Trump provoked this crisis. He has no strategy to contain it, he’s burned through our friends and allies, and now he’s doubling down on military force.” While her view is that of a political candidate, Warren is expressing the view that many hold in the Middle East.

Iran is reeling from increased sanctions and U.S. pressure. Their dangerous moves are out of desperation. Of course, that is the reason for this pressure. Iran has been the foremost exporter of terrorism in the Middle East and the U.S. is pressing for a halt. The Revolutionary Guard has now been declared a terrorist organization. As a matter of fact, they have for some time been financing Hezbollah and Hamas at the expense of Israel.

However, President Trump’s sudden retreat a few days ago from military response to the downing of the highly expensive Drone has muddied the waters. Ten minutes before a military strike, Trump backed off. Now the Administration is talking about a cyber-attack. What’s going on? In the Middle East how one reads the mixed signals depends on whether one is a hard-liner or seeking reconciliation. Trump’s vacillation is being read by the hard-liners as the roar of a paper tiger. On the other hand, increased sanctions and computer problems are not inconsequential. Probably the answer lies in whether cyber warfare will make a difference. This is not a good situation and could embolden Iran.

So, the chess game goes on. In the Middle East, President Trump is seen as a real estate manipulator with no long-term strategies or particular insight. They view him as a big-time supporter of Israel. Netanyahu loves it. The problem is that the US has lost the possibility of being a power broker with the Palestinians and now is seen completely on Israel’s side with little regard for the Palestinians and certainly none for Iran.

What’s next? A war is still not off the table, but the manipulations will certainly go back and forth. Iran’s goal is to curtail sanctions. No one’s sure what the American objective is.

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THE SITUATION WITH IRAN

BLOG 432
June 17, 2019

Iran

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation,
ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

THE SITUATION WITH IRAN

Is the United States getting ready to go to war with Iran? Sounds like it.

Isn’t it amazing how often the Middle East pops up out of nowhere and dominates the headlines? Here we are again with battleships steaming toward the Straits of Hormuz and threats being shouted across the bow. Is war really on the horizon?

Recognizing that President Donald Trump is as predictable as a charging rhino and that he is willing to take rash actions to divert attention from his troubles at home makes predicting his responses unpredictable. At this point the idea of impeachment is more that idle talk. Consequently, the recent attacks on oil tankers raises important questions about what comes next.

However, the experts are not predicting a war. H.R. McMaster recently told The Jerusalem Post, “There are two ways of fighting America. One is symmetrically and the other is stupid.” He believes that the only way a country like Iran can fight America is through terrorism and insurgency.

Iran can huff and puff, but they know they can’t square off against the United States. For one thing, their current economy is in shambles. Secondly, the Sunni Saudis are standing at their borders with their guns raised and aimed at the Iranian Shi’ite. Not a good position to be in!

The Iranian Air Force relies heavily on jets sold to them by President Nixon and they now lack spare parts. Consequently, the American Air Force is in a position to overpower their air force, destroy their air fields, and do so at a minimal cost to American lives.

Probably that fleet of American battleships came sailing in more to send a message than start a fight.

American sanctions are breaking their back. The better option is to sit down and hammer out a new nuclear agreement that keeps everyone happy. The best option for them may well be to come out with new negotiations that insure their survival. A little cup of something is much better than a whole bucket of nothing.

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HOW’S EGYPT COMING ALONG?

The media has not said much about the “Arab Spring” lately. Could be that
summer’s coming and the world is waiting for hot news to explode from Iran. Whatever.

During the lull, we should take a look at Egypt and see what’s unfolding. All is not quiet on the Western front!

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political gains have provided a worrisome trend
that could be a factor in causing more instability in the Persian Gulf region. Unending demonstrations in Egypt remain a factor in creating unrest. Recently, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador and shut down their diplomatic mission because of protests over the detention of an Egyptian lawyer. The Saudi’s position was that the lawyer was arrested on suspicion of smuggling drugs. Street protestors in Egypt disagreed and started demonstrations that threatened Saudi staff member.

The incident doesn’t amount to much but demonstrates the unsettledness that still
has a major impact on Egyptian affairs. Moslems continue to dominate; Copic Christians remain frightened. A state of conflict between the emerging culture and what had existed under Mubarak continues. In the midst of this turmoil, Egyptians will have a national election on May 23.

How’s that in a country that has virtually never embraced democracy?

The Egyptian man-on-the-street isn’t sure what to think. Former government
officials have faced off against newcomers in a battle over who wasn’t Mubarak’s big
buddy. Until the upheaval, the ruler of the country sat in an exceptionally high place
overseeing the state and politics. Mubarak and Sadat before him were like pharaohs
embodying divine and earthly rule. A ruler’s health and wealth could not even be
examined in the press. One journalist who tried to approach Mubarak about his wealth ended up in jail for even speculating about it. Today the candidates take jabs at each other about every possible subject. The debate leaves people confused. Political respectability is going down the drain.

The citizens have never seen such attacks and don’t know how to respond.

The presidential race has turned into turmoil and confusion. As two of the prominent candidates debated, a simple question revealed the new landscape in Egypt. A moderator asked about the health condition and wealth of each man. Probably having a clue about what was coming, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh presented a copy of his medical records, revealing slight blood pressure and diabetes. Arm Moussa wasn’t as well prepared and claimed the entire issue was a smoke screen. And so the debate goes on with the audience mystified by such personal attacks and candor from their potential leader.

What will May 23 bring? A startled electorate certainly will not be electing
another pharaoh. Possibly the question of reopening the peace treaty with Israel will be somewhere in the mix. Egypt’s ruling military generals probably remain as concerned as any group in the country. The crisis from a year and a half ago may have eased some, but the revolution is far from over.

Keep your eye on Egypt. How the country votes may yet prove to be a
telling omen of what the Arab Spring now means.

Question : Do you think Egypt will come out of this chaos a stronger country?
Could we be entering another stage of confusion? Is there any light at the end of the
tunnel?

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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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GUESS WHO’S FIXING SUPPER FOR SYRIA

 

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

Israel.

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.

Israel?

“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?

Israel!

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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WHY CAN’T WE GET A STRAIGHT ANSWER ON IRAN?

WHY CAN’T WE GET A STRAIGHT ANSWER ON IRAN?

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.

Why?

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

Question:

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

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