And hello everyone and welcome to the very first edition of our brand new podcast, MidEast News Brief, where we provide you a summary of the most important events and developments out of the Middle East from the past week. I am your host, Winston R Holland, and I want to use today’s broadcast as an introduction to what this podcast is about, who I am, my philosophy on how I will be presenting the information, and pretty much any other abstractions that pop into my head that feel relevant.
So first off, let’s talk about this podcast. As I already expressed, this is a show primarily about the most important developments out of the Middle East summarized for you here each week. The Middle East is, of course, a very big place, and there are literally thousands, maybe tens of thousands?, of stories that are produced from major news agencies every day about the Middle East. So, how are we going to peel back the layers and unyielding insanity of this volatile region to provide a cohesive set of information relevant to you?
As the great Macedonian ruler Phillip the II famously quipped, “divide et impera,” divide and conquer. I’m going to divide out primary subjects from secondary subjects, and focus on “conquering” those primary subjects each week as developments arise.
Secondary subjects will be discussed as relevant, but there are going to be some primary areas we will be covering. And here they are:
- The Israeli-Arab conflict, including general news out of the region
- The Syrian civil war, which will inevitably bring discussion of the Iranian-Russian-Syria axis of evil
- Iran and its terror proxies, as well as its relationship with Syria and Russia
- Multilateral relations between Israel and Arab countries in the Middle East. This one is particularly fascinating as the gains have been historic for Israel in this regard
- US-Middle East relations, for two reasons. I am an American so, you know… and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the US is arguably the most influential nation in the world, and impacts Middle East events perhaps more than any other nation. Plus, the Kushner-Greenblatt-Friedman peace plan is likely due out this year, so we’ll be watching that closely and trust me that we will be doing a whole show just on that plan, maybe multiple. Oh, and spoiler alert: don’t expect the Palestinians to even read it.
So in terms of news items, those will be my priority. However, there is more to life than geopolitics, and I want this show to be much more than reports of international wrangling. Archaeological discoveries, technological and agricultural developments, religious interests, and, something near and dear to my heart, suffering of religious minorities will be discussed where applicable. Sadly, human trafficking is an issue in the area and although it’s my least favorite subject to discuss it is something I feel needs to be discussed from time to time.
So, a little about me. First, I am a Christian, and am very blessed to know and follow Jesus Christ. Religion, and specifically Christianity, is not the focus of the show, however. It is, of course, what I just laid out above. However, I readily admit that being a Christian will of course affect my interests, especially when it comes to Israel and biblical archaeology. But as a Christian I am called to love all people, Jews and Arabs, not just one or the other, and I hope that is clearly conveyed in this and subsequent broadcasts. Secondly, I’m a husband to the love of my life and a dad to four amazing children, and consider those to be my greatest relationships after my relationship with Christ. Credentially, I’m a student working on a Masters of Public Policy in Middle East Affairs, so this is an area I’m studying with a view toward a professional life in the coming years.
So, why this podcast? Well, frankly, I enjoy broadcasting. I have been doing broadcasting several years now via Facebook Live videos for our business and have always wanted to do radio. So, it seemed podcasting combined with a subject matter I am working toward expertise in was a great fit. After literally years of consideration, prayer, and planning, February 1, 2019, appears to be the day to get started.
Okay, so now to the question you’re all wondering. Will this podcast be biased? There’s a diplomatic adage I’ll enlighten you with but refuse to employ: “When it doubt, dodge.” Well, I’m not going to dodge this one; you are taking the time to listen, so you deserve a straight answer.
As a Christian, my desire and responsibility is to share truth, even truth I may not like. So, while like all conveyors of information, I have my political positions, at the beginning and end of the day it’s my responsibility to share accurate information. That is my goal, and that is my commitment to all of you. As a result, you will see me pull from sources from what are considered various spectrums of the political map. Will my personal political positions affect what articles I choose to discuss? Of course it will! After all this is a news AND commentary show, not just news, and any news outlet that tells you what they discuss is not influenced by their political opinions is lying. It’s pretty obvious from any cable news networks you tune into or newspaper you pick up that they have a point of view that influences the discussion.
That being said, again, I cannot emphasize enough that my goal is to bring truth, even truth I don’t like, and I hope that is refreshing to you as the listener, knowing you’re not always hearing only one side of the issue.
The Middle East is a tough neighborhood, to put infinitely mildly. Terrorist nations, terrorist proxies, terrorist groups, and lone-wolf terrorists persistently make their deadly mark on this fragile region, while innocent Jews, Arabs, Christians, Yazidis, and other minority groups suffer the terrible results of their horrifically evil ideology. But amidst the negativity that daily barrages the headlines, I believe, and at times can even see, a much greater purpose at work, and hold an endless optimism for that region that I cannot and never will shake. My advice to you, for what it is worth, is don’t believe all of the negativity. I hope you, like I do, believe God is at work in this region, working all things after the council of His will, and will bring an ultimate good far beyond what we can imagine.
I can think of no better way to end this introductory podcast than to share one of the reasons for my enduring optimism. It is from the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Isaiah, chapter 19 verses 23-25:
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.
May God bless all of you and I look forward to sharing the news with you for the very first time in about ten seconds, don’t go away…
Ok we are back and ready to dive into the latest developments of the past week….
An ISIS supporter was indicted on Jan. 30 of a federal hate crime charge. Why? Well, inspired by the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh that took eleven lives in October of last year, he was planning a mass shooting of his own at a synagogue in Ohio per the AP. Court documents showed he was aiming to pick a synagogue based on “which one will have the most people…” Antisemitism is alive and well…
As many of you know Israeli elections are coming up April 9, and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu is bringing his…. Trump card… onto the campaign trail. A short video produced by his campaign features Netanyahu saying that the Embassy needs to be in Jerusalem, followed by a clip of President Trump congratulating Israel on the US Embassy move. An i24news and Israel Hayom poll recently showed Netanyahu’s Likud party winning by nine seats. There are ongoing probes, however, into possible corruption charges and the A.G. is apparently going to try to get a hearing in before the election. The Prime Minister’s office responded, saying “In the most crucial decision in the history of Israeli law, a process that should take 20 months is being squeezed to a few days.” It continued, “It seems the A.G. gave in to the pressure used by the left and the media to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu at all cost – ahead of elections.” We will be monitoring the election and will keep you abreast of any developments.
And how about this? Another country, or, rather… the great state of Florida! did something perhaps a bit unexpected for one of the 50 states in our union. Check this out, the Florida cabinet recognized Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided” capital of Israel on Tuesday, January 29th. Per the Miami Herald:
The resolution was brought to the Cabinet by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, whose office last year pledged an increase in the state’s holdings of Israeli bonds. He said he hopes to make a statement that “the interests of Israel are the interests of Florida.”
Florida has a Jewish population of roughly 630,000, so this is a huge sign of support for the Jewish community especially in light of rampant anti-semitism continuing in various places around the world, including, sadly, the US.
And speaking of the US, and Florida, and Jews, and anti-semitism…it looks like our least favorite Bed & Breakfast conduit, Air BNB, is in trouble with Florida. 90 days! Yes, Air BNB has ninety days to fix its current anti-semitic policy of not listing properties specifically owned by Jewish families living in the “occupied territories.” On Tuesday also Governor Ron DeSantis said Air BNB has 90 days to change its policy or risk losing Florida, since Florida law does not allow the state to do business with any companies that boycott Israel. Yes, your hatred for the Jewish state sure can come back to bite you, can’t it?
And if you have this idea that the “occupied territories” are a bastion of love and tolerance your bubble is about to be burst. Any by the way, it should be labeled a “disputed territory,” not “occupied territory,” but that’s another matter. Okay, so prepare for the bubble to burst! Palestinian media watch reports that a Palestinian university in Jericho awards a jailed murderer with “honorary certificate in military science as a sign of appreciation for his role and sacrifice”
The article goes on to say:
Karim and Maher Younes are Israeli Arab terrorists serving a 40-year sentence for having kidnapped and murdered Israeli soldier Avraham Bromberg in 1980. They are among the Palestinian Authority’s so-called “veteran” prisoners, and as such are glorified tremendously by the PA. The fact that they have both “endured” 36 years in prison was celebrated by the PA this month.
“Under the auspices” of PA Chairman Abbas, the Tulkarem district held a “rally of solidarity” in Maher Younes’ honor with the participation of Fatah Deputy Chairman and Abbas’ representative Mahmoud Al-Aloul, Fatah Central Committee member Tawfiq Tirawi, Tulkarem District Governor Issam Abu Bakr, Director of PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Qadri Abu Bakr, and PA-funded Prisoners’ Club Chairman Qadura Fares.
At the event, Abbas’ deputy Al-Aloul “conveyed the blessings of President [Abbas] and the leadership to prisoner Maher Younes, his family, and all of our heroic prisoners.” [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 20, 2019]
It was also announced at the event that the PA’s Al-Istiqlal University in Jericho – the Palestinian Academy for Security Sciences – is venerating murderer Maher Younes and awarding him with an honorary certificate:
The board of governors of Al-Istiqlal University has decided to present prisoner Maher Younes with an honorary certificate in military science as a sign of appreciation for his role and sacrifice.”
Commemorating the anniversary of Karim Younes’ arrest, official PA TV honored him in a filler that it broadcast several times. It included this poster of him, referring to him and other terrorist prisoners as “brave.”
So if you’re one of these types that sees a moral equivalent between Israel and the Palestinians, and think that we just need two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and harmony, what does this say to you? How does this affect you? We already know that the Palestinian authority doled out over $347 million to families of terrorists in 2017. Is this a state you can negotiate peace with, or is this a terrorist state? I report, you decide…
And hey, if you’re thinking right now, “you only report pro-Israel stuff,” here’s something that’s reprehensible on the other side. Five IDF soldiers were charged with beating Palestinian detainees, ANI News reports. “According to an indictment filed in an Israeli military court Thursday… the soldiers have been charged with abuse and aggravated assault,” and included a list of several things they did that I won’t go into here because, well, it just breaks my heart. I will point out, however, that the government of Israel does not condone or applaud this behavior nor do they provide the families of these soldiers with lifetime pensions. They investigated and indicted them of these crimes, as they should have been.
Okay, I want to shift a bit to the aforementioned Iranian-Syria perpetual crisis. This is a pretty interesting article out of the Wall Street Journal, January 30. “U.S. Asks Western Allies to Help Form Buffer Zone in Northern Syria.”
So basically what’s going on is that the US is seeking out its Western allies to create a buffer zone in the Northern part of Syria. President Trump has ordered 2,000 US troops out Syria, which has created no less than a firestorm across the political landscape, even Mitch McConnell leading the way to a vote of 68-23 to rebuke the “precipitous withdrawal” of US. Troops.
The article goes on to state:
The difficulty in getting allies on board with the plan, details of which hadn’t previously been disclosed, is the latest challenge administration officials face as they search for a way to satisfy President Trump’s withdrawal order and avoid potentially adverse effects of a pullout, including an Islamic State rebound or a war between Turkish forces and Kurdish fighters.
The administration hopes to persuade allies including the U.K., France, and Australia to take responsibility for northern Syria, both to address Turkish concerns about Kurdish separatists in Syria while keeping Turkey’s forces away from U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been battling Islamic State.
And of course, if we know anything about President Trump, he is not taking any of this lying down. This is what he tweeted today:
What’s perhaps most interesting about all of this, as the Daily Caller points out, is that the Senate Democrats’ most leftist members sided with Trump!
“Prospective” presidential candidates including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had endorsed Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Syria, reported The New York Times.
The Senate’s Thursday rebuke is largely symbolic but is expected to be rolled into “a broader bipartisan Middle East policy bill expected to easily pass the Senate next week,” according to the Times.
We will of course continue to follow those developments. And speaking of Syria, I came across an interview last week with a Kurdish Commander, Mazloum Kobani that he did with the AFP. He had some interesting things to say about the so-called ISIS caliphate, which has basically been reduced to a small pocket of a few hundred fighters defending just a couple of villages, “Marashida and Baghuz Fawqani on the banks of the Euphrates River, a few miles from the Iraqi border in southeastern Syria…” per the Washington Post.
So Kobani says he expects that the caliphate will defeated in a month! He says:
“The operation of our forces against IS in its last pocket has reached its end and IS fighters are now surrounded in one area,” Mazloum Kobani, the chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, told AFP.
With backing from the US-led coalition, the SDF are in the last phase of an operation started on September 10 to defeat the jihadists in the Euphrates Valley in eastern Syria.
“We need a month to eliminate IS remnants still in the area,” said Kobani, who spoke to AFP on Thursday near the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh.
So this of course is going to be fascinating to watch and see if this actually happens. ISIS is so horrendous they’ve even made Al-Queda wince at some of their brutal tactics, so their defeat in a month or so will interesting to watch, I certainly pray it happens. Also, if you’re a little confused about the Kurds, there’s a great piece by Lee Smith in the Washington Times that provides a great overview of the Kurdish people and their political movements, including an informative map. The link to that article will be posted on MidEastNewsBrief.com
Okay, let’s shift over to Iran with a few noteworthy news items. “New US Sanctions target Iran-backed fighters in Syria,” from Al-Jazeera, Jan. 24.
The United States has announced new sanctions on two Iran-backed militias fighting in Syria in a move aimed at raising pressure on Tehran and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as Washington prepares for a military withdrawal from the war-torn country.
The Fatemiyoun Division, comprising Afghan nationals, and the Zaynabiyoun Brigade, comprising Pakistani fighters, were placed on the US Treasury’s financial blacklist, which aims to cut off their access to international financial networks to choke their operations.
Both militias are recruited by Iran’s elite military unit, the IRGC, the Treasury said, from communities of refugees and migrants living inside Iran, and sent to fight for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
“The brutal Iranian regime exploits refugee communities in Iran… and uses them as human shields for the Syrian conflict,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement.
“Treasury’s targeting of Iran-backed militias and other foreign proxies is part of our ongoing pressure campaign to shut down the illicit networks the regime uses to export terrorism and unrest across the globe.”
In a post on social media, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of “preying” on refugees and using them as “cannon fodder in Syria”.
Plus, Netanyahu gets tough with Major General Qassem Soleimani, the Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, who, if you weren’t looking at close enough could be mistaken for John Goldsmith, the most interesting man in the world!
The Jerusalem Post states:
Iran’s Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Maj.- Gen. Qassem Soleimani was less than an hour’s drive away from Israel’s border on Friday, according to a report by Kuwaiti paper Al-Jarida.
This visit, the report claimed, is what triggered Israel’s rare daytime strikes on Iranian targets in the vicinity of Damascus International Airport on Sunday. This, in turn led to Iranian forces launching a surface-to-surface missile towards northern Israel’s an hour later.
Quoting a source, the report said that Soleimani – one of the most prominent and influential military figures in Iran – visited eastern Ghariyya in the Daraa province less than 40 km. from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. According to the source, Soleimani’s visit to a home in the area between 8-10 p.m. was monitored by intelligence officials.
So this was not okay for the most interesting terrorist commander in the world to be doing as the article goes on to say that, ““Soleimani’s visit to a location less than 40 km. from the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights violated a previous US-Russian-Israeli agreement,” regarding the Iranian presence in the war-torn country, the report said.”
There is so much more we could say about all of this, and there are some topics of antisemitism out of Ireland and here in the good ol’ USA I want to get to, but we’ll have to hit those next week. I now what to shift from geopolitics a bit and end the show with what has recently become a strong interest of mine, and that archaeology. Now, my plan on the show is to, from time to time, discuss recent or breaking archaeological findings in the Middle East, Biblical or non-biblically related as it’s all just simply fascinating, but with this being the first podcast I wanted to talk about an archaeological discovery I believe everyone should know about. And what is it? Maybe you’ve heard of it?
Yes, it’s none other than the Tel Dan Inscription! So what is it? Well, it’s actually the first evidence we have of the existence of King David outside of the Hebrew Bible, as if that wasn’t enough! I mean, maybe you don’t ascribe to all of the stories in the Bible, but to doubt such a prominent figure simply because we haven’t found his name etched on a rock somewhere? Anyway, well, the skeptics were certainly quieted when this discovery was literally unearthed in 1993. This is from the Biblical Archaeology Society, September 10, 2018:
Few modern Biblical archaeology discoveries have caused as much excitement as the Tel Dan inscription—writing on a ninth-century B.C. stone slab (or stela) that furnished the first historical evidence of King David from the Bible.
The Tel Dan inscription, or “House of David” inscription, was discovered in 1993 at the site of Tel Dan in northern Israel in an excavation directed by Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran.
The broken and fragmentary inscription commemorates the victory of an Aramean king over his two southern neighbors: the “king of Israel” and the “king of the House of David.” [note: this also backs up the biblical description of a divided Israel during this time] In the carefully incised text written in neat Aramaic characters, the Aramean king boasts that he, under the divine guidance of the god Hadad, vanquished several thousand Israelite and Judahite horsemen and charioteers before personally dispatching both of his royal opponents. Unfortunately, the recovered fragments of the “House of David” inscription do not preserve the names of the specific kings involved in this brutal encounter, but most scholars believe the stela recounts a campaign of Hazael of Damascus in which he defeated both Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah.
Guys, this was unprecedented! The inscription proves that King David was an actual historical figure, not a concoction from scribes consuming too many fermented grapes as they lounged by the Pool of Siloam! Since the 1800s so-called scholars said King David couldn’t have existed because there’s no archaeological evidence, and beside from that being bad logic and the glaring disdain for the Biblical evidence, boom, here it is. And of course I will have the link to this and all of these stories up at mideastnewsbrief.com.
All right, let’s end end off the show now with our Quote of the Week (yes, we’re doing that): It won’t always be about foreign policy but since this is the first podcast I figured I’d us off with a great one from the gipper himself, Ronald Reagan.
“Weakness, after all, is a temptation — it tempts the pugnacious to assert themselves — but strength is a declaration that cannot be misunderstood. Strength is a condition that declares actions have consequences. Strength is a prudent warning to the belligerent that aggression need not go unanswered.”
All right, well that will do it for this very first edition of the MidEast News Brief podcast, thank you guys so much for joining us, and and be sure to head to MidEastNewsBrief.com to subscribe to this podcast and get the transcript of this show as well as links to the articles discussed. We look forward to seeing all of you here again next week.