The Future of Eastern Syria

In another excellent article, Jonathan Spyer analyses the current status of the situation in eastern Syria (https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/The-future-of-eastern-Syria-and-the-Israeli-interest-564973?utm_source=middle+east+forum&utm_term=).  To summarize, he contends that the civil war between the regime of Pres. Assad, supported by Iran and Russia, is almost over and the mainly Sunni insurgency has been defeated.  This leaves Assad in control of ca. 60% of Syria, with the Kurdish fighters with US support in control of ca. 30% in eastern Syria, what was formerly IS territory, and another 10% in the north being the former Kurdish enclave of Afrin, now controlled by the Turkish Army.

This leaves Syria in a perilous state, with its future dependent not on its government or people, but rather on the policies and actions of 4 international actors, Russia, Turkey, Iran and the USA.  The Kurdish-controlled region known as the “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria” controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is able to survive only because of US-support and the presence of a US air base at Al-Tanf and several hundred US special forces.  What is most significant is that this region stands right in the path of Iran controlling a Shia crescent from the Iranian border thru Shia-controlled Iraq and pro-Shia Assad-controlled Syria thru Shia Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon to the Mediterranean Sea, which has always been the aim of the Khomeini Shia revolution since 1979.

This actually puts the US in a strong position, since it controls this significant piece of real estate, 30% of Syria, that blocks Iranian ambitions of expansion.  Further, it gives the US a say in the outcome and fate of Syria, which will have to be reached by negotiation between the parties, or it will lead to another war.  Pres. Trump has gone on record as saying he wants to withdraw US forces from Syria, but that would be a mistake of historic proportions, akin to Pres. Obama’s colossal error in allowing Russia into Syria in the first place (with his so-called red-line).  Such a US withdrawal would create a power vacuum in eastern Syria that would be filled by Iran and would enable them to directly supply weapons to Syria and Hezbollah and would exclude the US from any say in the fate of Syria.  It is in Israel’s interest to have the US in eastern Syria, more even than its attempt to control the Golan Heights adjacent to Israel, since this would be a major factor in blocking Iran’s path to achieve its aim of attacking Israel.

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The Politics of Hate

A majority of the world is ruled by regimes that are based on hatred. Hatred of the other.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the Islamic State, one might hope that the world would be on a path to a better future, but with the turn towards authoritarian rule in many countries, including Russia, Iran and Turkey, this prospect is dimmed.

A group of cyclists on a “kindness tour” were run down and then stabbed to death by a group of ISIS terrorists in Tajikistan.  Before embarking on their round the world tour one of them wrote: “Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own… By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”  So much for the naivete of the self-deluded, unfortunately evil is real, very real and deadly.

I have been watching two series at the same time, “Fauda,” is very violent and deals with Palestinian terrorism and Israeli counter-terrorism, and as an antidote I have been watching the comedy series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”  You might notice that these have one theme in common, namely they both have Jewish subjects.  In “Fauda” the Arab terrorists scheme to “kill the Jews,” they hardly mention Israel, in “Mrs Maisel” the theme is Jewish humor, how Jewish family life becomes a source of laughter that transcends boundaries.  It is indeed remarkable that so many American comedians were Jewish, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Danny Kaye, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers,  Rodney Dangerfield, Jerry Seinfeld, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Billy Crystal, well beyond the statistical proportion of Jews in the American population (similar to that of the Nobel Prizes).

I also happened to watch a 2011 movie entitled “Oranges and Sunshine” that deals with the exposure by a British social worker, Margaret Humphreys, of the forced deportation of British children to Australia between 1947-1970.  These children were either orphaned or born to single mothers and were taken away from them and shipped out without their consent or knowledge.  About 130,000 children were transported this way by a secret agreement between the British and Australian Governments, with the connivance of Orphanages, Hospitals and Church organizations that were entrusted with the welfare of these children.  In Australia, these children were exploited, many by Church organizations, particularly the Catholic Christian Brothers, as slave labor and many were sexually and physically abused.  It took 30 years and legal action before the British and Australian Governments apologized for this gross abuse of human rights.

There are of course many other examples of children being abused.  In the US, Canada and Australia there were schemes in the 19th century that justified taking indigenous (Indian and Aboriginal) children away from their parents and bringing them up as “white Christians” in order to destroy their own culture, language and religion. Many of these children were also abused and even murdered.  So evil does certainly exist, and if they do this to children they can do it to anyone who is in their clutches.  So sometimes humans can be generous and kind, but don’t take any chances.

Quiet on the Southern Front?

An eerie calm has descended on the southern front between Israel and Gaza, after months of provocations by Hamas.  These included mass demonstrations at the border that turned into violent assaults, the firing of volleys of hundreds of rockets and hundreds of incendiary devices on balloons and kites.  A quiet has been reached, not exactly a ceasefire, but it has been negotiated by Egypt and the UN to avoid another war.  Israel reacted with characteristic accuracy, destroying one Hamas hq and many other buildings and facilities.  In the end the cost was too much for Hamas and they stopped the attacks.  Overall some 60 Palestinians were killed and maybe 100’s injured, while some two dozen Israelis were injured, but crops and houses were destroyed.

The casualties are always greater on the Gazan side because Hamas uses civilians, women and children, to “protect” their launching pads, but Israel cannot simply allow the firing of missiles into Israel and cannot ignore such provocations.  The IDF will nor allow the border to be breached.  Civilians are warned of this, but nevertheless are still driven to attack the border fence.

Because there was quiet for 4 days, Defense Minister Lieberman opened the Kerem Shalom crossing to essential supplies of food, medicine and gas to Gaza and 700 trucks delivered goods.  So much to those who say that Israel is blockading Gaza.  Israel is even supplying its enemy with food and energy, mainly so that the innocent civilians will not suffer from the war-like aggression of the Islamist Hamas movement.  \meanwhile Egypt keeps a complete blockade of Gaza, not allowing any supplies through its border gate with Gaza.

Certainly quiet is better than conflict and violence, but many Israelis think this is a false equation, because it allows Hamas to prepare for the next round, and each time they try new tactics and make it worse.  This time the violence lasted from March to August.  What next time?  This is why many in Israel think that the government should use the full force of the IDF to actually finish and wipe out Hamas once and for all.  There is an attempt by the Egyptians to actually have a ceasefire agreement signed between Hamas and Israel, but that is still in the wishful thinking stage.

Short Trips Around Small Countries: Israel

I first visited Israel in 1963, lived here as a student in 1964-6 and again on sabbatical in 1976-7.  I visited many times over the years, since my in-laws were living here since 1985 and my daughter and family since 1991.  My wife and I moved here in 1996 after I retired in the US. I could write reams about Israel. Let me say that Jerusalem is a unique experience and that everyone should visit Jerusalem at least once in their lifetime. As far as I am concerned it is the most amazing city, even more so than Rome or Athens. But, I will try to completely avoid the major cities of Israel, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, and write about some of the less well-visited places.

Starting in the far north, there is the settlement and nature reserve of Dan, that is the main source of the Jordan river.  The Hula Valley south of Dan is a lush swampy area that was once drained to fight the mosquitoes, but since their eradication (Palestine was the first place in the world to be sprayed in the 1920’s) it was subsequently re-flooded and is the stopping off point for millions of birds making the annual migration from the far north to Africa. This is a premier bird-watching location.

On both sides of the Hula Valley there are mountains, to the east the Golan Heights, and to the west the hills of upper Galilee.  By the way, the name Galilee comes from the Hebrew word for wave, gal, evoking the rolling hills of Galilee.  On the Golan Heights is the impressive Nimrod’s Castle, thought for many years to be a Crusader fortress, but now known to be of Arabic construction.  Also further south in the Golan are the ruins of the biblical city of Gamla, that was mentioned by Josephus in his “Jewish Wars,” describing the capture of Judea by the Romans, in which Gamla was the first Jewish city besieged and put to the sword.  It was constructed of black basalt rock that is found locally on the Golan.

To the west of the Hula is a winding road that leads to the heights above, where there is the fortress of Metzudat Koach (Strong Fortress).  This was one of the many Taggart Fortresses (about 70), named after the architect Charles Tegert, built by the British Occupation force around Palestine during the Mandate (1922-1948), with which they expected to control the country.  This fort was considered impregnable, but was captured by the Jewish forces in 1948 during the War of Independence with the loss of 28 lives.  It is a memorial and historical museum now.

Picturesque route 899 meanders along the Lebanese border thru Sasa to the Mediterranean coast.  On the coast adjacent to the border are the famous sea caves of Rosh Hanikra, that can be reached by a cable car.  Just south is the pleasant seaside resort of Nahariya, where German can still be heard spoken by the founders and their descendants.

Further south along the coast is the major port city of Akko (Acre). This has the huge impressive Crusader fortress that was used by the British as a major prison for the Jewish and Arab rebels.  The famous break-out in 1947 through the adjacent old Turkish bathhouse (Hamam) was shown in the film “Exodus.”  Nearby is the entrance to the underground Crusader city.  The story goes that when Saladin recaptured Acre from the Crusaders, instead of destroying the city they had built, he buried it in sand, thus inadvertently preserving it.  This underground city is definitely worth visiting, including the huge Hall of the Knights and the escape tunnel they built to the port.

South of Haifa is the small town of Atlit.  There is a Roman ruin there, but it can’t be visited because it is the site of the Israeli submarine base.  At the entrance of Atlit is the detention camp that was used by the British to imprison Jews who entered Palestine illegally.  It was so similar to the German concentration camps that it was detested by the Jews, although Jews were not deliberately murdered there. There was a major break-out in 1945 and the camp was abandoned by the British.  It is now a Museum and has a visitor’s center.  Inside there is also one of the ships that was used by the Jewish underground to transport illegal immigrants into Palestine.   One of the best fish restaurants in Israel is the Ben Ezra that is tucked away inside the secluded town.

Further south along the coast is the main seaside resort of Israel, Netanya.  It has magnificent beaches and cliff walks, but no historic remains, being a new city founded in 1929.  But, it has plenty of hotels and restaurants.  One notable incident that occurred there was the kidnapping of two British sergeants in 1947, when the British were pursuing a strongly anti-Jewish policy and had been flogging and executing captured members of the Jewish underground.  Under the orders of Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Armed Organization) the two sergeants were hung in a forest in the eastern side of Netanya and the forest has been preserved and is known as the Horshat Ha’Sargentim (Grove of the Sergeants).

Further south on the coast is the resort of Ashkelon, where there is a national park containing the ruins of the ancient biblical city of Ashkelon, that was a capital of the Philistines.  In the center of the Negev desert is the city of Be’er Sheva, famous in the Bible as the place where Abraham finally settled and dug a well (be’er).  It was the site of the famous 1917 battle, that proved to be the turning point in WWI between the British and Turkish forces (with German officers).  The famous charge of the ANZAC light horsemen is considered to be the last horse charge in history.  They captured Beer Sheva and this opened the way to the capture of Jerusalem by Gen. Allenby’s British Army, the first Allied Victory of WWI.  There is a bust of Allenby in a small park in the Old City, and in 2017 on the centenary of the battle, a museum was opened by the PM’s of Israel and Australia that is a gem to visit, adjacent to the British war cemetery.

I’ll finish this short synopsis of sites to visit in Israel outside the three major tourist cities by describing one of the main geological sites in Israel, the Ramon Crater.  South of Beer Sheva is the town of Mitzpe Ramon (View of Ramon) that sits on the northern edge of this amazing huge crater.  At the edge is a modern luxury hotel called Bereshit (Beginning) and in the town is the Ramon Inn.  The Exhibition Center on the crater edge is a must visit, and there is a movie about the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon who died in the Columbia space disaster.  The view from the top of the crater is magnificent.

Short Trips Around Small Countries: Ireland

For our visit to Ireland we chose a tour with the Irish National Tour company CIE that circles all around the coast of Ireland.  When we arrived in Dublin we were driven to a hotel in the southern outskirts for the night.

If only I had known, nearby within walking distance, is the Martello Tower which opens the first scene of the great novel “Ulysses” by James Joyce.  These towers were built around the coast by the British to defend Ireland against invasion.  There is no space here to describe this novel, but everything in it is based on actual places in Dublin and events that occurred on one day, June 16, 1915, known as Bloomsday.

The next morning we were whisked away by coach, with a delightful character as driver and guide.  His accent was so strong you could cut it with a knife.  Instead of “thirty” he said “dirty.”  He was a lot of fun.  Our first stop was Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, which was a founding site for Irish Culture, where St. Kevin built one of the first Irish Christian monasteries in the 6th century (I emphasize Irish as opposed to Catholic, since the Catholic Church later banned and destroyed the indigenous Irish Church).  There was also one of the peculiar round towers, a tall, thin tower which gradually becomes narrower towards the top.  They are found throughout Ireland and their real purpose is unknown.

From there we drove to the south-east coast to the small port town of Wexford, where we had a break,and from there to the town of Waterford. We stayed the night there and visited the famous glass works the next morning. It was an amazing display of artistry, how the glassblowers made a jug, then fashioned a handle and in a jiffy attached it perfectly.  From there we drove on to Blarney Castle, which all visitors to Ireland must visit.  On the top of the tower is a stone that if you kiss you are supposed to be given the gift of the “blarney”, i.e the ability to talk persuasively on any subject.  The problem is that to kiss the stone you have to be held and lean out backwards over a precipitous drop.  I declined, anyway I already have that power.

We drove to the city of Cork and stayed there in an excellent hotel overnight.  The name itself is a complete fabrication by the English because they couldn’t understand or pronounce the Irish name (that means something like bubbling waters).  It has nothing to do with the substance known as cork.  That evening we attended a fun get together at a local pub, where everyone was expected to get up and dance their country’s national dance.  We didn’t know whether to do a knee’s-up-mother-brown from England, a jive from the USA, but in the end we chose a hora from Israel.  It went over very well.

Our next stop was the pleasant small city of Killarney, and from there we went on a tour of the lakes of Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, which was a circular trip around of one of the Irish peninsulas that stick out into the Atlantic Ocean.  It was very wild and desolate place.  WE continued up the west coast, passing thru many small picturesque towns.  Our driver pointed out along the way where there were mass graves of the million or so Irish who died in the potato famine of 1845-8, that resulted in over a million also leaving for America. We passed thru Limerick and over the Shannon estuary and stopped at the Cliffs of Moher.  They are indeed impressive, rising dramatically sheer about 200 m (650 ft) straight up from the Atlantic.  The wind is indeed very strong there and there is precious little security and it seemed likely one could be swept away.

Further north we stayed overnight in Galway and saw the statue of St. Patrick who is supposed to have landed nearby, before converting most of the Irish.   We continued north to Sligo where we visited the Churchyard of Drumcliff where W.B. Yeats, the famous Irish poet is buried.

From there we headed east, skirting Northern Ireland, only entering it briefly thru Inniskillen, where we noted the difference in the style of the houses, they could have been in England, and the police stations with 20 foot high wire netting around them.  But, the driver said that things had quieted down a lot and currently there was no violence.    We drive then back to the east coast and to the most famous battle site in Ireland at the Boyne Valley.  In 1690 a significant battle took place between the deposed Catholic English King James II, supported by the Irish, and the Protestant King William of Orange, supported by the English, the Dutch and the Scots.  The Protestants won and Ireland has been suffering from the result of that victory for the past 300 years.

Nearby we also visited the reconstructed ancient site of Newgrange, that is a subterranean burial complex, although the significance of much of it is unknown.  From there we returned to Dublin.  Only a few remarks about Dublin.  Enjoyed drinking in some pubs, Guinness of course.  Went to a show of Irish music and dancing.  Visited the National Library at Trinity College.  Did the James Joyce walking tour, an excellent highlight with which to end the visit to Ireland.

The UNRWA Scam Exposed

The organization known as UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, is really a cover name for what should be called The Palestinian Conflict Perpetuation Agency (UNPCPA), since this agency was started by the pro-Arab majority of the UN to ensure that the Palestinian refugee problem would not only never end, but would get worse with time.  Because according to international law a refugee is one who leaves his/her country under duress, while UNRWA defines a refugee to include the descendants of those who left their country (the Palestine Mandate) until the nth generation.  And what is worse, the Arab countries have paid only a minor part of its funding, while the sympathetic Europeans and the US have paid most of the costs of keeping the Palestinian so-called refugees in a permanent welfare state for 70 years.  This is unique in history.

Jared Kushner, Pres. Trump’s son-in-law and the head of his Team to solve the Israel-Arab conflict has just said essentially the same thing.  That UNRWA perpetuates the conflict by maintaining the so-called refugee problem.  So that 70 years after the initial war for Israeli Independence in 1948, instead of the actual number of Palestinian refugees decreasing sharply with time, as all other refugee problems have done, to now about 30,000 people, it is supposed to have increased to over 5 million people.  This is purely a result of the Arab countries policies of never wanting to accept the Palestinian refugees into their own countries as citizens and to keep political pressure on Israel to “solve” the problem.

Actually only the Kingdom of Jordan gave the Palestinians citizenship, so the former “Palestinian Arabs” living in Jordan are in fact Jordanian citizens and should not be supported by UNRWA.  Also, all those so-called Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank and Gaza should not be counted as refugees because they remain inside the borders of “their own country” and so are not in fact refugees at all, but displaced persons. Added to which is the fact that UNRWA runs schools and summer camps that are controlled by Hamas and Fatah in which Palestinian children are indoctrinated with hatred for Israel and Jews and taught that the only solution to the problem is through violence.

The US has already halved its financial support for UNRWA causing a significant reduction in UNRWA services (free food, free medication, free education forever).  If in fact the US withdraws its support entirely for UNRWA, it would probably collapse, because the Arabs States are not going to foot the bill for the Palestinians, whose cause they espouse, but who they actually detest and want to have nothing to do with them.  Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf States do not allow Palestinian Arabs to enter their countries.  Only the Western liberal elite consider the Palestinians as a special case for unique sympathy, while their movements are in fact virulently anti-Western and anti-American.  If that isn’t an example of anti-Semitism, what is, when there are many more urgent and deserving refugee problems (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Rohingya, as well as all the Black Africans trying to reach Europe)?  So Jared Kushner is correct, in order to resolve the Middle East problem peacefully it is first necessary to remove the UN Palestinian Conflict Perpetuation Agency (UNPCPA).

Short Trips Around Small Countries: Jordan IV

Quite separately from my previous experiences visiting Jordan in 1995, my wife and I visited Petra in 1998.  We drove down to Eilat and had a short vacation there, then crossed the border at the Eilot border crossing and were picked up by a bus on the Jordanian side and driven to Aqaba.  We toured Aqaba, visited the old palace, captured by Lawrence of Arabia in 1917.  Then we drove into the desert, visited the so-called Seven Pillars at Wadi Rum, a series of massive red sandstone pillars in a wide desert valley.  Lawrence’s book was entitled “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” based on this monument and the seven tenets that Islam is based upon.

Then we drove north to the small town of Wadi Musa that is adjacent to the ruins of the famous Nabatean city of Petra.  This is named after Moses, who the Arabs believed took this route to Mt. Nebo further north, where he is said to have died.  We stayed overnight there and early the next morning walked into the Petra National Park and thru the amazing very narrow canyon that leads directly to the famous so-called Treasury that is carved out of the sandstone rock.  Excavations under this have revealed a series of caverns and tombs and now it is thought to have been a burial site for the elite of the city.

The Nabateans were a tribe that controlled the so-called spice route across the desert from Arabia to Egypt and the Mediterranean.   They had cities that are now in Israel, Avdat and Mamshit in the Negev Desert.  From this transport they earned a lot of money and were able to build these cities.  But, they depended on the water supply, that in Petra came from outside the city thru a series of small channels.  The Romans were able to conquer Petra easily by cutting off their water supply.

Once inside Petra the area opens out impressively into a wide valley with many buildings carved into the rock and built onto it.  The architecture is clearly different from the common form of Arab/Muslim building.  The erosion of the striations on the red rock were beautiful.  We took a tour around the site and up to a height where there was an old Arab man living, who served us coffee. I must say that Petra was one of the most impressive archaeological sites I have ever visited.  On the way out we were so tired we hired a donkey and cart to drive us out, it was quicker, but quite stinky.  The following day we returned to Eilat.