(Washington, D.C.) — In a rare display of Arab unity against an Arab government, the 22-nation members of the Arab League have condemned the Assad regime for using chemical weapons against their own people.
“The Arab League has blamed the Syrian government for last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds, calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice,” reports the Associated Press. “In an emergency meeting held Tuesday, the Arab League also called on members of the U.N. Security Council to overcome their differences and agree on ‘deterrent’ measures against those who committed ‘his heinous crime.’ The League said it will convene a meeting at the ministerial level next week to follow up on the situation in Syria.”
What makes this significant is that it is the evidence of chemical attacks by the Assad regime are apparently conclusive enough that Arab leaders in the Middle East and North Africa believe Assad is guilty. It is not just the conclusion of the Western powers.
Bodies being buried after the chemical attack in Damascus last week. (photo credit: AP/Shaam News Network)
(Washington, D.C.) — The countdown to military action appears to be underway.
But if the U.S. and her allies decide to launch military strikes in Syria, it will only do so after publicly presenting evidence of chemical weapons usage by the Assad regime, senior administration officials say. This is right. It is important that the record be clear before the U.S. makes any decision about using force.
At the same time, if the President orders military action — and reportedly he has not made a final decision — it would be of limited duration. We’re talking about airstrikes, missile strikes, against key regime targets, not an invasion or anything close to it. This is also important. If WMD has been used to murder people, action must be taken. The perpetrators must be punished. But we must be wise about how we act. We do not want al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood or some other even more Radical Islamic force to rise to power in the wake of the Assad regime.
We need to pray for peace, but prepare for war. I don’t want another war in the Middle East. But it’s already underway, a brutal civil war that has already taken the lives of more than 100,000 Syrians. A great evil has been unleashed by the government of that country, as well as by the jihadist rebels. I don’t think it is our place to intervene in the Syrian civil war to try to pick winners and losers, per se. But we cannot stand idly by if cruel leaders are using weapons of mass destruction. Such actions must be punished and everyone in the region must know that the offensive use of WMD will not be tolerated.
“President Barack Obama has ordered the release of new evidence ahead of a limited military operation in Syria following the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians,” reports the Associated Press. “The Obama administration will seek to provide concrete evidence that President Bashar Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons, thereby justifying American military intervention and avoiding a debacle similar to the one that ensued when the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq failed to produce a ‘smoking gun.'”
“That war was launched by the George W. Bush administration under the pretense that Iraq’s then-ruler, Saddam Hussein, had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, an allegation which was never substantiated,” stated the AP. “Unlike the invasion of Iraq, however, US-led military action in Syria will likely be brief and limited in scope, a punishment for chemical attacks and a deterrent against future use of nonconventional weapons, administration officials told the Washington Post on Monday, stressing that the United States had no desire to become embroiled in the civil war there. Two administration officials said the US was expected to make public a more formal determination of chemical weapons use on Tuesday, with an announcement of Obama’s response likely to follow quickly. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations….”
“Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday there was ‘undeniable’ evidence of a large-scale chemical weapons attack in Syria, with intelligence strongly pointing to Assad’s government, and that ‘this international norm cannot be violated without consequences.’ He said the administration would be presenting evidence supporting its allegations against Assad.”
Meanwhile, the Times of Israel is reporting that “an IDF intelligence unit listened in on senior Syrian officials discussing a chemical attack that allegedly took place on the outskirts of Damascus and left hundreds of Syrian civilians dead last Wednesday,” citing a major German publication. “According to the report Saturday in Focus magazine, a squad specializing in wire-tapping within the IDF’s prestigious 8200 intelligence unit intercepted a conversation between high-ranking regime officials regarding the use of chemical agents at the time of the attack. The German report, which cited an ex-Mossad official who insisted on remaining anonymous, said the intercepted conversation proved that Bashar Assad’s regime was responsible for the use of nonconventional weapons.”
That said, the Washington Post is reporting that “President Obama is weighing a military strike against Syria that would be of limited scope and duration, designed to serve as punishment for Syria’s use of chemical weapons and as a deterrent, while keeping the United States out of deeper involvement in that country’s civil war, according to senior administration officials. The timing of such an attack, which would probably last no more than two days and involve sea-launched cruise missiles — or, possibly, long-range bombers — striking military targets not directly related to Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, would be dependent on three factors: completion of an intelligence report assessing Syrian government culpability in last week’s alleged chemical attack; ongoing consultation with allies and Congress; and determination of a justification under international law.”
Cause for concern? The recent tension along the northern border has caused a spike in demand for gas masks. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/Times of Israel).
UPDATED:(Washington, D.C.) — Israeli military forces and civil defense authorities are on full alert, looking for any sign that Syria is about to attack, especially with chemical weapons. Netanyahu warned Israel will hit hard if a Syrian threat is detected.
“Requests for gas masks among Israelis saw a major increase on Sunday and Monday, reflecting growing concern among the country’s citizens of a possible Syrian chemical attack following assessments that the US will soon launch a military assault on the war-torn country,” reports the Times of Israel.
“Israeli post offices, which serve as distribution points for gas masks, reported receiving 300 percent more phone calls on Sunday and Monday than on an average day from people who wished to acquire protection kits,” the Times noted. “More than twice as many people than average approached the distribution points themselves….According to numbers released by the government, only 60% of Israelis currently possess gas masks.”
Excerpts from Kerry’s statement:“What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable. And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.
“The meaning of this attack goes beyond the conflict on Syria itself. And that conflict has already brought so much terrible suffering. This is about the large-scale indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all, a conviction shared even by countries that agree on little else.
“There is a clear reason that the world has banned entirely the use of chemical weapons. There is a reason the international community has set a clear standard and why many countries have taken major steps to eradicate these weapons. There is a reason why President Obama has made it such a priority to stop the proliferation of these weapons, and lock them down where they do exist. There is a reason why President Obama has made clear to the Assad regime that this international norm cannot be violated without consequences. And there is a reason why no matter what you believe about Syria, all peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again.”
First, let’s be clear about the sheer evil being perpetrated in Syria and consider its implications.
Rebel forces’ — including those who have received training and support from the West — are reportedly beginning to penetrate the outskirts of Damascus. The Assad regime is increasingly terrified of losing control of the capital. That is likely why it has turned to the use of chemical weapons. If Assad is allowed to murder with WMD with impunity, we can expect him to use WMD again, and potentially on a larger scale. This is what Saddam Hussein with the Kurds in the early 1990s. Saddam used poison gas against the Kurds. The world did nothing. Saddam used even more poison gas.
“War crimes and crimes against humanity — indeed, constituting a form of genocide — have been carried out in Syria on a large scale and before the eyes of the world,” the analyst adds. “The lessons of the Second World War have not been learned. Even in the era of modern communications, with daily documentation of the atrocities, genocide can occur under conditions where the international system is paralyzed by interests and rivalries between the powers. The international impotence in the face of these events weakens deterrence against the use of nonconventional weapons and has implications in the Iranian context as Tehran continues on its determined march toward nuclear weapons.”
Western military assets are rapidly being moved into place. Specific target maps are being refined. What appears to being contemplated by the Pentagon are limited airstrikes and cruise missile strikes against sites important to the Assad regime, not specifically to bring down the regime but to punish it for using weapons of mass destruction and to warn the Syrian government never to use WMD again.
“The Defense Department has responsibility to provide the president with options for all contingencies, and that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets to be able to carry out different options, whatever options the president might choose,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, according to AP and ABC News.
“The French foreign minister says there will be a ‘proportionate response’ to the alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb that he blamed on Syria’s government,” reports the Associated Press. “‘It will be negotiated in coming days,’ Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio on Monday. Fabius acknowledged that the lack of a U.N. blessing was problematic. ‘All the options are open. The only option that I can’t imagine would be to do nothing.'”
Israel reportedly expects — and wants the U.S. — to use military force in Syria. Likely, this is for three reasons:
To act on the principle that no nation should be able to use WMD against civilians and get away with it.
To be assured that when the President of the United States draws a “red line” (as President Obama did in Syria on chemical weapons) that the President will keep his word.
To establish an updated precedent of using military force in the Middle East to deal with WMD threats.
U.N. chemical weapons inspectors tried to gather further evidence in Damascus today but were shot at by snipers and had to retreat. Later, they reportedly were able to safely make it back to the site of the one of the alleged toxic gas attacks to do research.
“In France, Doctors Without Borders said three hospitals it supports in the eastern Damascus region reported receiving roughly 3,600 patients with ‘neurotoxic symptoms’ over less than three hours on Wednesday morning, when the attack in the eastern Ghouta area took place,” reported a separate AP story. “Of those, 355 died, the Paris-based group said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that its estimated death toll from the alleged chemical attack had reached 322, including 54 children, 82 women and dozens of fighters. It said the dead included 16 people who have not been identified.”
“A senior Syrian official on Monday issued a first direct warning that if attacked, his country would retaliate against Israel,” reports the Times of Israel. “Khalaf Muftah, a senior Baath Party official who used to serve as Syria’s assistant information minister, said in a radio interview that Damascus would consider Israel ‘behind the [Western] aggression and [it] will therefore come under fire.'”
“We have strategic weapons and we’re capable of responding,” he said. “Normally the strategic weapons are aimed at Israel.”
Muftah concluded with a warning that “If the US or Israel make the mistake of taking advantage of the chemical issue… the region will go up in flames… that will affect security not only in the region but across the world.”
His words were echoed by Iranian officials, who on Monday shrugged off the threat of a US attack on its close ally Syria, but said that if such a strike were to take place, Israel would suffer.
“[The Americans] are incapable of starting a new war in the region, because of their lacking economic capabilities and their lack of morale,” said Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Republican Guards’ elite Basij force.
“No military attack will be waged against Syria,” said Hossein Sheikholeslam, a member of Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly. “Yet, if such an incident takes place, which is impossible, the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria.”
“Our hand is always on the pulse,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday. “Our finger is a responsible one and if needed, is on the trigger. We will always know how to protect our citizens and our country against those who come to injure us or try to attack us.”
“What happened in Syria is both a terrible tragedy and an awful crime. Our hearts go out to the women, children and babies, the civilians who were so brutally attacked by weapons of mass destruction. From this we draw three conclusions: One, this situation must not be allowed to continue. Two, the most dangerous regimes in the world must not be allowed to possess the most dangerous weapons in the world. And three, we expect that this will stop, of course, but we must always remember our sages’ ancient principle: ‘If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?’ That is to say, our finger must always be on the pulse. Ours is a responsible finger and if necessary, it will also be on the trigger. We will always know to defend our people and our state against whoever attacks us, tries to attack us or has attacked us. This is the principle that has consistently, constantly and responsibly guided this government, and thus it will continue.”
Under Hitler, it was the Jews who were gassed. Now under Assad it is the Muslims.
I am a Christian. My conscience cannot bear the thought of any human being, regardless of their race, or religion, or nationality, suffer such evil. I say the world must act now.
The lesson of Auschwitz: A regime that uses poison gas to murder must suffer the swift sword of justice by a unified world.
If such a regime can be stopped before it uses weapons of mass destruction, the world has a moral obligation to act boldly and decisively. If a regime uses WMD before the world can or does act, the world must move quickly to stop such evil before more can be killed.
If the evidence is conclusive that the government of Syria used chemical weapons, then I now support military action against the Assad regime. Before last week’s chemical weapons massacre, I didn’t support such intervention. Now I do.
No one wants al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood to rise to power in Syria. I certainly don’t. I see the dangers ahead. I see the risks. The world powers will need to act wisely and carefully. But act they must.
If Assad has truly used chemical weapons, then he has crossed the red line. We cannot turn a blind eye. He must be stopped.
ORIGINAL POST: (Washington, D.C.) — President Obama appears to be on the verge of ordering U.S. military intervention in Syria. The British are preparing to help. The Obama administration believes there is “very little doubt” that the Assad regime used chemical weapons recently to commit massacres inside the civil war-torn country of Syria. UK Prime Minister David Cameron agrees, as does the French government.
U.S. warships are en route and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Pentagon is prepared for “all contingencies.”
Serious questions must be asked first.
Is genocide underway in Syria? Over 100,000 people have been killed with no end in sight.
Are we absolutely certain that chemical weapons been used, and are we certain it was the Assad regime who used them?
If the evidence is conclusive that chemical weapons were used, can the world really turn a blind eye? How can the U.S. and the British not try to stop the use of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, and stop what may already have become genocide, after going to war in Iraq to stop even the potential of WMD being developed and used against civilians?
Yet if the West does take military action to hit the Assad regime, won’t that help al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood rebels trying to bring down the Assad regime and impose and even more Radical Islamic Sunni regime?
Wouldn’t the President need Congressional authorization for military action in Syria?
And if the West is going to use military action in Syria, what about Iran which is developing nuclear weapons?
People are also emailing and Tweeting me with these questions:
“Are we heading towards catastrophic — even apocalyptic — events in Damascus?”
“Is it possible we will see the fulfillment of Bible prophecies such as Isaiah 17 and Jeremiah 49 that foretell the utter destruction and annihilation of the city of Damascus in the End Times?”
I will respond to these questions soon. For the moment, one thing is clear: Darkness is descending on the Middle East.
We must pray for calm, for stability, for peace. We must also pray for God to have mercy on all the people of Syria, as well as the people of Egypt, who are also suffering terribly. We must do all we can to share the Good News with the people of Syria and Egypt, before it is too late.
At the same time, we must do all we can to help the Syrian refugees. We must find ways to feed them, to clothe them, to care for them, to love them with the love of our Savior. They are suffering so badly. Lord, show us how.
Here are the latest developments:
“Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalise a list of potential targets,” reports the UK Telegraph. “Government sources said talks between the Prime Minister and international leaders, including Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week.”
“As the preparations gathered pace, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, warned that the world could not stand by and allow the Assad regime to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people ‘with impunity,'” notes the Telegraph. “Britain, the US and their allies must show Mr Assad that to perpetrate such an atrocity ‘is to cross a line and that the world will respond when that line is crossed,’ he said. “British forces now look likely to be drawn into an intervention in the Syrian crisis after months of deliberation and international disagreement over how to respond to the bloody two-year civil war….The Assad regime has been under mounting pressure to allow United Nations inspectors on to the site to establish who was to blame for the atrocity. One international agency said it had counted at least 355 people dead and 3,600 injured following the attack, while reports suggested the true death toll could be as high as 1,300. Syrian state media accused rebel forces of using chemical agents, saying some government soldiers had suffocated as a result during fighting. After days of delay, the Syrian government finally offered yesterday to allow a team of UN inspectors access to the area. However, Mr. Hague suggested that this offer of access four days after the attack had come too late.”
“We cannot in the 21st century allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity, that people can be killed in this way and that there are no consequences for it,” he said.
(Washington, D.C.) — “The Muslim Brotherhood is showing the world its true colors,” writes columnist Kirsten Powers. “The group that ‘renounced violence’ in an effort to gain political power is engaged in a full-scale campaign of terror against Egypt’s Christian minority. Brotherhood leaders have incited their followers to attack Christian homes, shops, schools and churches throughout the country. Samuel Tadros, an Egyptian scholar with the Hudson Institute, told me these attacks are the worst violence against the Coptic Church since the 14th century.”
Kirsten is absolutely right. She’s written an excellent column. I’m grateful she did. I encourage you to read the whole thing. For the moment, here are some excerpts:
The news coming out of Egypt is staggering. USA Today reports that “forty churches have been looted and torched, while 23 others have been attacked and heavily damaged” in one week. According to the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic churches in Egypt, 160 Christian-owned buildings have also been attacked.
In one town, Islamists paraded three nuns on the streets like prisoners of war after burning their Franciscan school. The attackers tore a cross off the gate of the school and replaced it with an Islamist flag. The New York Timesdescribed hundreds of Islamists in one attack, “lashing out so ferociously that marble altars were left in broken heaps on the floor.”
Two security guards working on a tour boat owned by Christians were burned alive. An orphanage was burned down. The Catholic Bishop of Luxor told the Vatican news agency Tuesday that he has been trapped in his home for 20 days by Islamist mobs chanting “Death to the Christians!” “People who reside in the villages of the area that have nothing because food supplies are running out and people are afraid to leave the house,” he said….
Even before the mass church burnings, 16 Egyptian human-rights organizationsissued a statement saying they “strongly condemn rhetoric employed by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies which includes clear incitement to violence and religious hatred in order to achieve political gains …” On August 15th, nine Egyptian human-rights groups released a statement saying, “In December … Brotherhood leaders began fomenting anti-Christian sectarian incitement. The anti-Coptic incitement and threats continued unabated up to the demonstrations of June 30 and, with the removal of President Morsi … morphed into sectarian violence, which was sanctioned by … the continued anti-Coptic rhetoric heard from the group’s leaders on the stage … throughout the sit-in.”
At this critical moment, let us be faithful in praying for the Christians in Egypt — for courage, for wisdom, for safety, and for great boldness to proclaim the Good News amidst such dark and evil times.
Illustrative photo of two Israeli F-15I ‘Ra’am’ fighter jets during maneuvers (photo credit: CC BY-TSgt Kevin J. Gruenwald/USA/Wikimedia/Times of Israel)
(Washington, D.C.) — Early this morning, Israel retaliated for yesterday’s rocket attacksfrom Lebanon. Given the tragedies unfolding in Syria and Egypt, please pray that a new front isn’t opened. Let us be praying for calm and order to be restored throughout the epicenter, wisdom for the leaders, and comfort and healing for those who have been wounded and traumatized.
Here are the latest developments:
“Israeli fighter jets bombed targets south of Beirut early Friday morning in what the IDF spokesperson said was retaliation for rocket attacks against northern Israel the day before,” reports the Times of Israel. “There were no immediate reports of casualties in the attack. According to the Israeli military, the pilots reported a pinpoint strike on terrorist targets near the coastal town of al-Naameh. The IDF reiterated that it holds the Lebanese government responsible for Thursday’s rocket fire into northern Israel.”
“IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai announced on Facebook just before 5 a.m. Friday morning that ‘In response to rocket fire at the north [on Thursday] afternoon, IAF aircraft struck a terrorist target south of Beirut overnight,” the Times noted. “Mordechai added: “At this hour, in which our planes returned safely, I wish a good and quiet morning to all residents of Israel and especially residents of the north and those traveling there.'”
Residents of Beirut took to Twitter and reported explosions and what they believed were Israeli aircraft flying over al-Naameh, approximately 15 kilometers south of the Lebanese capital. According to several users, the target was the headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).
Ramez Mustafa, a Lebanon-based official with the PFLP-GC, said the raid occurred at 4 a.m. and caused no casualties or damage.
The IDF spokesperson would not confirm whether the PFLP-GC’s headquarters were the target of Friday’s strike.
According to University of Maryland researcher Phillip Smyth, the PFLP-GC is an ally of Hezbollah, and also serves as a proxy to Iran and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Lebanon.
Friday’s foray into Lebanon came less than a day after four rockets fired from Lebanon struck Israel’s north.
Iron Dome battery deployed in North (Photo credit: Ben Hartman, Jerusalem Post)
(Washington, D.C.) — “Four rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel on Thursday afternoon,” reports the Times of Israel. “There were no immediate reports of casualties. The IDF promptly retaliated, attacking targets in south Lebanon, Lebanese media reported.”
” The red alert siren sounded in the cities of Nahariya, Acre, and Kiryat Shmona, and residents reported hearing explosions,” noted the Times. “One of the rockets fell on the outskirts of a small town near Nahariya. An Israeli Iron Dome battery intercepted a second rocket, Channel 2 reported. It was initially unclear where the other two rockets fell….Israel last week deployed a sixth Iron Dome battery north of Tel Aviv, with an eye to the missile threat from the north. The anti-missile system is a keystone in Israel’s air defense array and successfully intercepted hundreds of short- and medium-range missiles shot at Israeli cities during the conflagration in Gaza in November.”
The Jerusalem Post is reporting the number of rocket may be “three” or “four.”
Arutz Sheva, Israel’s National News channel 7, reported that IDF Radio was indicating that “bomb shelters in the northern city of Akko (Acre) have been opened for public use, and the IDF is urging residents of the north to remain close to shelters. The IDF has denied earlier reports from Arabic media that it responded to the rockets with artillery fire. Lebanese media has been reporting that at least 2 of the rockets were fired from the Ras al-Ain neighborhood of the city of Tyre. According to initial reports, one rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, while three others struck in ‘open areas.'”
Haaretz notes that “two weeks ago, four IDF soldiers were injured in an explosion near the Lebanese border. According to a statement made by the Lebanese army the incident took place on the Lebanese side of the border.”
This is a developing story. I’ll post more details as they become known.
(Washington, D.C.) — We’ve just posted a new podcast. It is the fourth in the new series.
In this new podcast, I focus onthe reports todayabout the alleged chemical weapon attacks in Syria. I also discuss the escalating violence in Egypt, including the attacks on more than 40 churches, and discuss how the U.S. government is considering handling these two nightmare scenarios.