Thursday, February 24, 2011

Additional nuclear sites in Syria

An article appeared in today's Jerusalem Post concerning an additional uranium processing plant discovered in Syria. This plant might be related to the nuclear reactor destroyed by Israel back in September 2007. The article cites the German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung as the source of the report. I went to their site, but I was unable to find the original article. However, after some additional searching I found a very detailed report on the discovery of three additional nuclear facilities in an article on the Institute for Science and International Security website. Curiously, that article, which also cites the German newspaper report, was dated December 1, 2010. The ISIS article provides additional photos along with some analysis that is very helpful.

I write all the above for two reasons. First, I try to verify all data before publishing, and this is a case where I couldn't independently verify the original source. (I don't doubt the Jerusalem Post article, but I still wanted to verify it.) Second, I was taken aback by the date posted on the ISIS website. However, this might be nothing more than a typo because it is difficult to imagine a story like this existing on the web since December without someone having picked it up much sooner.

I was able to go to Google Earth to verify the location of one suspected site. If you are interested in seeing it for yourself look carefully at the picture I posted above. I turned on Grid View to allow the picture to include latitude and longitude. You ought ought to be able to use those to navigate your way to the location. The vertical rows in the valley (center of the photo) appear to be military equipment of some sort. It would be interesting to know what they are.

I do have one question. What are these sites doing in Syria? Was Syria trying to develop its own nuclear weapon program? (Quite an undertaking for a relatively poor country.) Or could this be more indirect evidence of the partnership between Syria and Iran? Perhaps Iran has been "outsourcing" some of its nuclear program to hide it from the UN inspectors. If so, it hasn't worked!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A win-win situation?

Fatah, the largest political faction of the Palestinian Authority, has called for a boycott of the United States after last week's US veto of the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. And the PA Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, said he is prepared to give up any US aid that comes with political conditions.

In the Jerusalem Post article, Fayyad said the US gave the Palestinian Authority $223 million in financial aid in 2010 to help cover the PA operating deficit. But that's not the entire story. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, total aid to the PA in 2010 was almost $600 million. And last November the US also gave the PA a $150 million advance on aid for 2011.

So the PA wants to officially boycott the US and refuse our aid. Meanwhile, the US is looking for ways to reduce our budget deficit. Perhaps a win-win situation would be to eliminate all aid to the Palestinian Authority. It could help them accomplish their stated goal while taking a tiny step toward getting our own fiscal house in order.

The PA might want to be careful about making such public threats. At some point a frustrated Congress just might give them what they are demanding. And the real losers would be the people in greatest need. From what we've seen recently, those in power have likely already skimmed off enough to tide them over.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What do these have in common?

Here's a list of eleven countries. Tell me what they have in common?

Angola, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Djibouti, Gabon, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

Islamic? Well, not quite. Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Libya, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are indeed Islamic, but the other five are not.

In the Middle East? Again, not quite. Some are indeed part of the Middle East, but the others are in Africa. And, of course, China is far to the east.

So what do they have in common?

Actually, they all share two things in common. First, they are all rated near the very bottom of the Democracy Index of countries, where they are all classified as "authoritarian regimes." (They are ranked 120th or lower in the list of the 167 countries of the world.) Second, they are all members of the United Nations Human Rights Council--the group that has routinely condemned Israel for its "abuse of human rights."

It seems that these nations do indeed have first-hand experience with the abuse of human rights. Perhaps they ought to remember Jesus' words to remove the beam from their own eyes before pointing out the spec in the eye of another.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Complexities of the Middle East

The Middle East is current being roiled by political upheaval. But is this a sign of budding democracy...or does it foreshadow the spread of Islamic fundamentalism? Actually, the reality is that the situation is extremely complex...and defies simplistic answers.

The signs pointing toward democracy include the young leaders in Egypt who helped toppled Mubarak. And yet, while the revolution in Egypt was not initially led by the Muslim Brotherhood, they are now trying to capitalize on the situation. So even if the revolution began by those wanting democracy, there is no guarantee that the end result will be a more democratic country.

Signs of democracy might also include the recent unrest in Libya and Iran. Neither of these nations is remotely allied with the U.S. or Israel, so the unrest is not an Islamic reaction to any pro-Western leanings in either country. Rather, this revolt is being fueled by those who don't like the abuses of very dictatorial regimes that are Islamic in nature.

One clear difference between the unrest in these different countries is their response. Those countries more oriented to the West are being pressured not to respond harshly or crack down on the dissidents. So far this has resulted in the ouster of Mubarak, and it is currently causing serious problems for Yemen, Bahrain, and Jordan. In contrast, countries like Libya and Iran have responded to the unrest with mass arrests and live ammunition. The West has condemned these actions, but there is little else they can do.

In once sense it looks like the West's insistence on a liberal, western approach to individual rights is actually threatening to undermine those regimes that are most friendly to the West. And the alternative might very well be administrations that are equally as repressive...but far less friendly. So should the goal of our government be to force countries to adopt our standards for individual liberties even if it threatens their continued existence, or should our goal be to support those governments that are friendly to the West...even if those governments don't hold to the same standards of democracy and personal liberty as us?

The choice is not as simplistic as some might think...and our country needs to work through the situation very carefully...or we might find ourselves in the Middle East with no democracy--and no allies.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The rise in food prices

Recent news reports are focusing on the rapid rise in food prices worldwide. ABC News reported that "Food prices are up a staggering 29 percent worldwide. A heat wave in Russia and near-Biblical floods in Australia have sent wheat prices soaring 67 percent over last year. And here in the United States, floods followed by droughts in the Midwest mean corn prices jumped nearly 60 percent in a year."

The impact will actually be felt in more places than just your grocery cart. The rise in grain prices will also result in a rise in meat prices as the increased costs for animal feed make their way through the food chain. The price of other commodities are also being impacted by the same forces. From coffee to cotton we are being told to expect significant increases in the coming days.

But those of us in the West need to put this in perspective. What we experience as an irritation is becoming a full-blown catastrophe for many of the world's poor. It was the World Bank that first reported food prices worldwide are now 29% higher than they were a year ago, and they give a stark assessment of the situation. "Global food prices are now at dangerous levels. It is already clear recent price rises for food are causing pain and suffering to poor people around the globe."

Two thoughts came to mind as I read these reports. First, Christians need to do what we can to help those in need. There are a number of good Christian relief organizations seeking to share God's love in a very tangible way in some of the most distressed areas of the world. Consider helping groups like Compassion International, Samaritan's Purse, and similar organizations who combine humanitarian aid with the gospel message. They are being flooded with calls for help, and they need your assistance now!

Second, I can't help but think of the Bible's description of the End Times. Jesus said it would be a time when there will be "famines and earthquakes" in various places (Matt. 24:7). And the Book of Revelation identifies famine as one characteristic of the beginning of those days. "And when He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, 'Come.' And I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard as it were a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, 'A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine'" (Rev. 6:5-6). A denarius was a typical day's wage in John's time. And a quart was about what someone would consume in a good meal. John is describing a time when it will take a full day's wages to be able to afford one good meal...or three less nutritious meals. It's a time when 100% of the average worker's wages will be used simply to buy enough food to stay alive.

We're not there yet, but we seem to be approaching a time worldwide when the conditions described by John seem entirely possible.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Secular" Muslim Brotherhood?

Every so often you come across a quote that stops you in your tracks. I came across one made last week by James Clapper, Director of U.S. National Intelligence. Last Thursday at a Worldwide Threat Assessment Intelligence Committee Hearing he claimed the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is a "largely secular" organization which has "eschewed violence." You can view his comments on YouTube.

So who is James Clapper, and what role does the Director of National Intelligence play in our government? According to its official website, "The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) serves as the head of the Intelligence Community (IC), overseeing and directing the implementation of the National Intelligence Program and acting as the principal advisor to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to the national security."

Unfortunately, the assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood given by the Director of National Intelligence is just not true. In their own bylaws, listed on their official website, the Muslim Brotherhood states that their purpose is to "establish Allah's law in the land by achieving the spiritual goals of Islam and the true religion."

Sounds religious to me!

In fairness to Mr. Clapper, there are times when we all misspeak. I hope this is one of those times for him, because it's hard to to imagine how anyone could view the Muslim Brotherhood as secular based on their own statement of purpose.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Morning After

After 18 days of protests Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak finally resigned. And most network news carried stories of jubilant Egyptians rejoicing over the change. But the real question now is this: What has really changed? When everyone wakes up tomorrow morning, what will be different?

The economy has worsened. In 2008 12% of the Egypt's workforce was employed in tourism. That year 12.8 million tourists visited the country and spent $11 billion. Because of the recent unrest thousands of tour groups have already canceled trips. And groups currently planning tours for next year are not considering Egypt as a destination. Tourism will eventually bounce back, but for the next year or two those dependent on tourism will be hurt by the decline. And its impact will ripple throughout the economy.

The army is still in control. What happened today was a military coup. The army forced Mubarak from office and disbanded the government. While they have promised free and fair elections, no specific date has been set. The face at the top may have changed, but control of the government still rests with the military, as it did when Mubarak was President.

The influence of the United States in the Middle East has declined. Reports have already surfaced that Saudi Arabia is furious with the United States for having abandoned our long-time ally. The United States turned its back on Mubarak, and official statements from Washington left little doubt we wanted him out. The unintended consequence is that we also sent a message to other allies that we might do the same thing to them. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan have taken risks by aligning themselves with the United States. I suspect both will begin exploring other options to meet their long-term security needs.

So what happens next? Frankly, nobody knows for sure. Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamic fundamentalist groups want elections as soon as possible. They have an opportunity to gain power and influence in Egypt, and they want to seize that opportunity as quickly as possible. The army wants to maintain the status quo. Some things will be different, but the army would like to remain the stabilizing force controlling the government. This might very well happen...unless the United States pushes them to move quickly toward elections. And as for those who pushed for change? They will eventually discover that the overthrow of Mubarak will not magically create jobs...or put food on the table...or bring about personal freedom. When this happens, disappointment and anger may replace the euphoria we are seeing now.

The media will eventually shift their focus from events in Egypt, but the story isn't over.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Alice in WondIran

It's hard to believe anyone--except for a lunatic fringe--could possibly deny the facts of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. Millions saw it unfold on live television...and watched the collapse of the towers. We followed the story as the FBI tracked down the identities of the terrorists who boarded the planes, and saw their pictures as they went through airport security. And the passengers on United Airlines flight 93 called to report the plane had indeed been hijacked by terrorists. These are established facts.

But evidently such realities don't matter for those on the "other side" of the looking glass. Today the Islamic Republic News Agency posted an article entitled, "Undeniable truth about 9/11 tragedy." The article is based on a report from "veteran journalist, Michael Everyman" who, they claim, has "unveiled the undeniable truth about the tragic incident of September 11, 2001...."

So who is this "veteran journalist," and what is his "undeniable truth"? The undeniable truth is that this "veteran journalist" is part of the fringe trying to find a government-sponsored conspiracy behind 9/11 in spite of the mountain of evidence to the contrary. Want to know specifically what this "journalist" believes? Check out his blog post "Too Big to Allow: Some Unmentioned Ramifications of 911 Truth."

But my post is not about Michael Everyman, it's about the Islamic Republic News Agency. If they release articles like this--that are so patently false--it's hard to believe anything they say. They are dispensing propaganda, not news. Such lies need to be challenged lest people eventually think they might be true. Remember, "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." Don't let that happen!

Actions speak louder than words

The Palestinian leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas has been threatening unilaterally to declare statehood for Palestine. He is encouraging other countries to recognize Palestine as a state within the 1967 borders. And he appears to have the backing of President Obama, the EU, Russia, and the UN.

So it comes as some surprise to learn today that President Abbas, his two sons, and other senior Palestinian Authority leadership have quietly applied for--and received--Jordanian citizenship. According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, these individuals received their Jordanian citizenship at a time when they were publicly urging the Jordanian government to stop giving citizenship to Palestinians in order to “consolidate their Palestinian identity.”

Abbas has presented himself as the champion of statehood for the Palestinian people. But his words lose their force when we learn he quietly sought and received Jordanian citizenship for himself while publicly seeking to deny that right to other Palestinians. Reminds me of the old expression, "Do as I say, not as I do."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

One Tomb Destroyed...Another Discovered?

The picture to the left is one I took in an out-of-the-way site in the Judean foothills called Khirbet Midras. It was an amazing site that was rather difficult to reach. My wonderful bus driver, Munir, would ease his bus down a rutted dirt road snaking through a vineyard. The students and pastors with me would then walk the rest of the way to the tomb.

The tomb was the best example of a rolling-stone tomb in Israel. I say was because a few years ago I took a group to the tomb and discovered it had been ransacked by vandals. They tore down the facade and trashed the interior. Khirbet Midras became another example of an unprotected archaeological site falling victim to those who take pleasure in destroying precious national treasures.

This week I was pleasantly surprised to discover Khirbet Midras is back in the news. (Well, the news reports referred to it as Hirbet Madras, but it's the same site!) It seems that archaeologists have uncovered an ancient church at the site. The church could be one pictured on the Madaba map, a sixth-century mosaic discovered on a church floor in Madaba, Jordan, that is a visual map of the Holy Land. The map shows a church to the southwest of Jerusalem that it identifies as "Bethzachar[ia]...The [place] of Saint Zechariah." At about the same time as the Madaba map was made, a pilgrim named Theodosius visited the Holy Land and left an account of the sites he visited, including the distance between sites. Amazingly, he visited this church, and gave its distance from the city of Eleutheropolis--known to visitors today as Guvrin. "From Eleutheropolis to the place where St. Zachariah rests, 6 miles." (Khirbet Midras is six Roman miles from Guvrin!)

It appears that archaeologists have discovered the church pictured on the Madaba map. And both the map and other historical sources tell us that the church was built to commemorate the burial place of the Prophet Zachariah. This makes Khirbet Midras a major Christian site and a major Jewish site. Perhaps this will give the site enough significance to justify granting it national park status. It would be nice if previous discoveries--like the rolling stone tomb--could be restored and preserved...and if more protection could be provided to keep all the discoveries safe from vandals.

I would love to be able to take future groups to the site!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Important Message from Egypt

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a dear friend which, in turn, contained a forwarded e-mail from an Egyptian believer. I was so awed by the e-mail that I asked my friend if it would be alright to post it for other believers. After checking with the original author, I was given that permission.

Please read through the following e-mail, and make it a matter of prayer. Then send a link to this post to all your friends. We need to get as many people as possible here in the U.S. to join in praying for our brothers and sisters in Egypt!


The church in Egypt is fasting and praying (in homes, because all church buildings are closed), believing God for a breakthrough for the nation.

Here are some key points for prayer:

  • The future of the country, and the entire Middle East, is in the balance right now. Many are rightfully concerned that, taking advantage of the chaos, violence and looming power vacuum, the Muslim Brotherhood will try to step in as the key player in determining the fate of the nation. If that takes place, the consequences will be grave for Egypt and her neighbors. The church is praying that the Lord spare us this fate, and interceding for some form of stable government to emerge and lead us gradually to freedom and democracy. Let’s be in agreement for this miracle.
  • Thugs have taken to the streets, beating and abusing the demonstrators. They have also started many fires to damage property (public buildings, police stations, even—unsuccessfully—our national treasures at the Egyptian Museum). Please pray that the demonic forces behind these people will be thwarted and that their schemes will be aborted. Pray for every hidden plot to come to light (there are lots of conspiracy theories swirling already, and much confusion as a result). Pray that the hand of the enemy, forcing its way in to literally steal, kill and destroy will be exposed and arrested, and that the nation will be protected.
  • Please pray for the safety and protection of the people. Police forces disappeared last Friday night which lead to a lot of sabotage, looting, armed robbery, etc. People have had to band together to protect their families and homes with kitchen knives, sticks, tire irons, etc. It has been an amazing show of unity and love, bringing together folks from all walks of life, and from different faiths. Pray against the spirit of fear.
  • Finally, please pray that the prophetic destiny of Egypt will advance in the face of all this turmoil. Plead the blood of Jesus over this land. Pray that what the enemy has meant for harm, the Lord will turn to good and use for the fulfillment of His divine plans and purposes for the nation.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Update on Egypt

Events continue to remain in flux in Egypt. It appears that the United States is pushing hard for Mubarak to step aside as President. I personally struggle with our policy because it appears as if the U.S. is meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. (Would we want China meddling in our internal affairs...and appearing to dictate terms to our leaders?)

A second wrinkle today is that pro-Mubarak demonstrations have popped up in Egypt. While some have challenged the motives of these protesters, it appears that some are genuinely concerned about the impact the anti-Mubarak protests are having on the economy. The flight of tourists is now hurting a segment of the population that had been doing relatively well financially under Mubarak's leadership. As the economy declines, will those being affected blame Mubarak...or those seeking to topple him?

A third issue today is Israel's public stance on the future of Egypt. Israel has declared that if democracy prevails in Egypt, it will not pose a threat to Israel. This statement appears to me to be an attempt at reverse psychology. That is, one reason Mubarak is disliked is because of Egypt's peace treaty with Israel (even though it was negotiated by his successor). By appearing to "endorse" and embrace any democratically-elected successor, it appears Israel is trying to provide Mubarak with some breathing room while at the same time diminishing the attractiveness of a successor by implying the change will not bring about a change in the peace treaty between the two countries. This might not be the case, but it's hard to believe Netanyahu actually thinks the next government--if it includes the Muslim Brotherhood--will be good for Israel.

Stratfor issued an interesting video dispatch on Netanyahu's comments. The dispatch is definitely worth watching. I think it's an excellent evaluation of his comments and of the overall situation!

Update on Egyte