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US, Russia on Brink of Military Showdown in Syria
Sept. 30….(DEBKAfile Exclusive Report) There is a sense in Washington and Moscow alike that a military showdown between the US and Russia is inevitable – direct this time, not through proxies, like the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkish jets last year. When the big powers are in direct confrontation, minor players step aside and run for cover. When President Barack Obama Friday, Sept. 30 attended the funeral in Jerusalem of the Israeli leader Shimon Peres, he must have realized he was only 514km as the crow flies from Aleppo, the raging crux of the escalating big-power conflict.
The moment after the ceremonies ended the president and his party, including Secretary of State John Kerry and his security adviser Susan Rice, made haste to head back to Washington to navigate the crisis. The first step toward a direct showdown was taken by the United States. By now, it is no secret in Moscow, or indeed in any Middle East capital, that the American A-10 air strike of Sept. 17 against a Syrian military position at Jebel Tudar in the Deir ez-Zour region of eastern Syria was intentional, not accidental, as originally claimed. Scores of Syrian soldiers died in the attack.
The Russian-Syrian reprisal came two days after the A-10 strike. On Sept. 19, an emergency aid convoy was obliterated on its way to the desperate population of Aleppo. Moscow and Damascus denied responsibility for the deadly bombardment, but no other air force was present in the sky over the embattled city. On the ground, meanwhile, an unbridled onslaught on rebel-held eastern Aleppo was launched by the Russians, Syria, Hizballah and pro-Iranian Shiite militias under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers.
The fall of Aleppo, Syria’s second city after Damascus, would give Bashar Assad his most resounding victory in the nearly six-year civil war against his regime. On Sept. 29, Kerry threatened Moscow that “the United States would suspend plans to coordinate anti-Islamic State counter-terrorism efforts if Moscow does not stop attacking Aleppo.”
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov answered with a sneering: “Once again there was a certain emotional breakdown yesterday against the backdrop of the Obama administration’s unwillingness to fulfill its part of the agreements.”
This was a strong hint of the knowledge in the Kremlin that someone in the US administration was holding out against the implementation in full of the cooperation deal agreed upon and was therefore responsible for its breakdown.
The United States is left with two options: Either stand idly by in the face of the Russian-Syrian-Iranian onslaught on Aleppo, or shelve the coordination arrangements for US and Russian air operations in Syria, with the inevitable risk of a clash in the air space of Syria or over the eastern Mediterranean.
Trump: I Will Recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s Undivided Capital
Sept. 26….(Jerusalem Post) Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu privately in his gilded Trump Tower apartment for nearly an hour and a half on Sunday morning. Under a Trump presidency, the United States will "finally accept the longstanding congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel," his campaign said in a description of the meeting, which was closed to the press.
The two figures also discussed "at length Israel's successful experience with a security fence," which Trump has cited as a model for his proposed US border wall with Mexico, the campaign said, as well as "the nuclear deal with Iran, the battle against ISIS and many other regional security concerns."
Trump described US military assistance to Israel as an "excellent investment" for the United States and agreed with Netanyahu that Middle East peace can only be achieved when "the Palestinians renounce hatred and violence and accept Israel as a Jewish State."
Netanyahu was expected to ask both candidates to come out publicly against any attempt by the UN or any other international organization to impose a settlement on Israel. This comes in light of concern that Barack Obama, in the twilight of his presidency, may either support or even initiate a new UN Security Council resolution on the conflict.
FOJ Note: For the first time in FOJ history, this ministry will now endorse a candidate for President. The tipping point reason for endorsing Donald Trump is his position as stated in this article. Mr. Trump is the first ever candidate to fully support Israel's right to Jerusalem.
Syria says Israeli ‘terrorism’ threatens entire region
condemned Israel’s strikes in southern Syria, saying the IDF’s “aggressive policies do not only threaten Syria but the whole region.” Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, Muallem said the Syrian state was dealing not only with “mercenary terrorists on its territory” in its five-year civil war, but also “has long confronted a different kind of terrorism; the terrorism of Israel that has occupied a precious part of our land in the Syrian Golan since 4 June 1967.”….(Times of Israel) Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem
Israel’s “oppressive and aggressive practices,” he said, “are no longer confined to the Occupied Golan, and are currently affecting the security and life of Syrians in the southern part of the country.” Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War, and annexed the territory in 1981.
Israeli attacks in Syria, which the IDF routinely carries out in response to mortar or rocket fire landing in the Israeli-held Golan Heights, serve to “assist in every way the terrorist organizations operating in that area,” Muallem charged. “Syria reaffirms that Israel’s aggressive policies do not only threaten Syria but the whole region, especially given Israel’s nuclear arsenal,” he told the assembly.
WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 21 THROUGH SEPTEMBER 27
Accept Palestine or Face ‘Sea of Hatred,’ Jordanian King Warns Israel
(Jordan’s King Abdullah warned Israel would find itself in “a sea of hatred” if it did not accept a Palestinian state, while also condemning Muslim terrorists from the United Nations rostrum Tuesday).
Sept. 21….(Times of Israel) Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, Abdullah spoke of the importance of peace between Israel and Palestinians, blaming the ongoing conflict for continued unrest in the region. “No injustice has spread more bitter fruit than the denial of a Palestinian state. I say: Peace is a conscious decision,” the king said. “Israel has to embrace peace or eventually be engulfed in a sea of hatred in a region of turmoil.”
Mentioning only the Christian and Muslim connection to Jerusalem holy sites, Abdullah accused Israel of attempting to alter the identity of the city. “As the Custodian of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, I will continue my efforts to protect these places, and stand up against all violations of their sanctity, including attempts for temporal and spatial division of Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al Haram Al Sharif,” he said.
Israeli officials have repeatedly rejected accusations by Palestinian and Jordanian officials that it intends to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount or alter the status quo governing the holy site. Tensions over the compound, considered the holiest place in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, have often led to flare-ups of violence.
Abdullah began his speech with a long and impassioned plea for the world to differentiate between Islam and terrorism, which he claimed had no connection to the religion. He decried Islamic terrorists who “want to wipe out our achievements and those of our ancestors; to erase human civilization, and drag us back to the dark ages.”
WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 4 THROUGH SEPTEMBER 10
Where Did the Bible Go?
(Author finds ‘alternative version of Christianity’ in mega-type churches)
Sept. 9….(Religion News Service) Kenneth A. Briggs has been on the “Godbeat” for years, as a religion reporter for Newsday, as religion editor at The New York Times and now as a contributor to the National Catholic Reporter.
In that time, the lifelong Methodist has seen the Bible “become a museum exhibit, hallowed as a treasure but enigmatic and untouched,” he writes in his book “The Invisible Bestseller: Searching for the Bible in America.” And so Briggs set out on a two-year, cross-country journey to investigate the Bible’s disappearance from public life and see where he could find it still. He’s documented that journey in “The Invisible Bestseller,” released this month by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Along the way, he met a homiletics professor who encouraged her students to explore the text by exchanging roles with the characters in biblical accounts, and he came across professors at evangelical colleges surprised by how little their incoming students knew about the Bible. He attended a meeting of Bible promoters in Orlando, Fla., worried nobody was reading their tomes; the academic Society of Biblical Literature convention in Chicago; and a traditional Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania. He was deeply moved by his visit to a federal prison in upstate New York, where, he said, the inmates knew the Bible better than he did. Briggs spoke with RNS about what he learned. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: When you say the Bible is disappearing from public life, what do you mean?
A: Well, people aren’t reading it very much, and it just doesn’t show up in, as they love to say, public discourse. It doesn’t really make many appearances, and it is not in the public consciousness. The Bible is kind of off the public grid in a way I’ve never experienced before.
Q: In all your travels and all the the different places you went looking for the Bible, was there any place where you were expecting to see the Bible where it wasn’t?
A: In the mega-type churches, the churches that were really heavily loaded with the visual and the audio and the rest of the electronic stuff, the music, I was really stunned by what I saw as that alternative version of Christianity being delivered through those means. I didn’t consider it biblical in the fullest sense. I thought it was highly stylized, the versions of Jesus, who Jesus was, being filtered through these videos, and, in some way, I found almost shocking in how they seemed to vary from the much fuller picture that exists in the New Testament. So I was surprised by that.
Q: Where were you most surprised to find the Bible?
A: I don’t know if there were any major surprises, but I would find within the groups of people that I would be with that there were some people who took an approach to it that was quite – I hate to use the word “serious,” but they were quite engaged with it. They really wanted to know what it was. That was the more surprising thing. A lot of Bible study is just kind of either rote learning or what they used to call the “banking system of education,” where the banker hands out stuff and everybody takes it and leaves.
One of the people I spent a little bit of time with was Anna Carter Florence, who teaches homiletics at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. She’s a rather interesting person who got her inspiration by being in repertory theater at Yale, and she has brought that to the preaching thing. That’s what Bible study can be: where people actually exchange roles and say, “You be Sarah,” to loosen up the process enough to really allow the questioning if it’s going to become personal.
Q: What does it say about us, that despite the diminished role of the Bible, it’s still listed in Guinness World Records as the world’s best-selling book?
A: We still love it to some extent as an artifact, as a keepsake, as a gift to people we think do read the Bible even though we may not, so it remains very popular that way and something almost like – I don’t want to say quite “rabbit’s foot,” but it’s sort of like that. Every home should have at least one, and the average is between four and five.
Q: What would you say is the Bible’s current position in American public life, and how have you seen that change? What was it before?
A: It’s largely unknown. By that same token, it’s discoverable, and it’s not assumed anymore that people know about it.
It used to be something people thought they ought to know something about, and they did largely know the do’s and don’ts when the Bible was regarded, at the very least, as a rule book that gave you the moral guidelines to get into heaven or to lead a decent life, not to be cynical about it.
Q: How do you think this has impacted us as a culture and the way we engage in religion and politics and public life?
A: One thing we miss in this is the potential to enlarge our minds and hearts and spirits. I think the Bible is the springboard to opening all kinds of ideas, thoughts, beliefs about what our life is about. And I think without it, it narrows our perspective and gives us a much more truncated view of what the possibilities are. I don’t think we’re getting as much of the larger picture by avoiding the source that has been that pathway to all kinds of discovery. (It’s been the pathway to) entertaining most profound thoughts about what possibly we might belong to beyond ourselves or our immediate communities.
Q: You write in the book about the emergence of “Bible-less Christianity.” Can you talk about how you see that play out in American culture?
A: The background, of course, is that the Reformation gave at least a segment of Christians access to the Bible in a way that hadn’t happened before. Most of our history has been a rather Bible-less Christianity that was dictated or defined mostly by the hierarchical church, not by people who read the Bible. … We gained the freedom to approach it, and then in the current age, we have ceded that exploration to media, to entertainment forms, to prepackaged interpretations that are delivered in video, audio and pulpit forms so that there’s a substitute Bible that isn’t the Bible, per se, at the same time that people aren’t reading.
Hizballah Units Grouping on Israel’s Golan Border
Sept. 7….(DEBKA) A large Hizballah force, backed by the Syrian army and pro-Iranian Shiite militias, is building up outside Quneitra, just 2km from Israel’s Golan border. The Lebanese Shiite fighters, under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officers, are streaming into southern Syria, armed with tanks and artillery. night, Sept. 5, Iranian state-controlled media shed light on this movement, reporting that the combined force had “completed preparations necessary for an extensive operation in southern Syria,” adding, “Hizballah aims to put an end to the presence of armed men in the area close to the border.”
The nature of the “armed men” was not specified, but the goal of the new operation was clear: after evicting the assorted anti-Assad groups, including the Islamic State, holding territory “close to the border,” Hizballah and its backers planned to regroup on the Syrian-Israeli boundary.
This would position Iran and its Hizballah surrogate ready to realize their six-year old design, which is to open a second warfront against Israel. Western and Mid East sources have told debkafile that the triple army is in high spirits after last week’s successful operation in Aleppo. By snatching back parts of the city they lost in mid-August, the Syrian army and its allies managed to cut off the rebels’ supply lines from Turkey. It was then that some Hizballah units were detached from the Aleppo arena and redirected to the Quneitra front in southern Syria to face the Israeli border.
Those sources report that the incoming troops were sighted this week when they arrived at Madinat al-Baath and Khan Amabeh, the main Syrian army bases on the Syrian Golan. They came with tanks and heavy artillery. Seen for the first time in the Quentra sector were heavy, self-propelled KS-19 artillery batteries, which are Russian anti-air guns adapted to ground warfare. They have a range of 21km and a firing capacity of 15 shells per minute.
The newly-arrived Hizballah force appears to have set the capture of Syrian rebel-held al-Hamdiniyah 2km from the Israeli border, as its first objective. Debkafile’s military sources note that the Iranian media attached photos of Israel’s security force opposite Quneitra to their reporting on the new move, thereby framing the target of the Syrian-Iranian-Backed Hizballah build-up. This fast-approaching development poses two tough questions:
1. Will Israel lie down for the avowedly hostile Hizballah and Iran to occupy territory along its eastern border?Israel officials have repeatedly emphasized that these forces would not be allowed to take up positions on the Golan border, a message Russia most certainly passed on to Damascus. If Hizballah and its allies go through with their planned offensive, Israel will have to consider serious military action to prevent them from reaching the border fence, i.e., an operation on a scale quite different from the small-shot IDF reprisals for rockets or shells straying across into the Golan from fighting on the other side.
2. Will the advancing Iranian-led force have Syrian air cover? If it does, the Israeli Air Force will also be involved in aerial combat over the Golan.
Colorful Floor of Jerusalem's Temple Reconstructed
Sept. 7….(ISRAEL TODAY) After 12 years of painstaking work, Israeli archeologists were able to reconstruct seven complete tiles from the 600 pieces of tile found in the debris resulting from the Palestinians' reckless and illegal diggings on the Temple Mount. The Muslims are clearing out Jewish history in order to build a third mosque, the largest in Israel. The tiles in question were found as part of the special Temple Mount Sifting Project supervised by Gabriel Barkai and Yitzhak Dvira.
Prof. Barkai has told Israel's Ynet news portal that the seven reconstructed tiles "are of exceptional beauty, and were probably used for the Temple Mount porticos … The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius has described the floors of the Temple Mount as colorful … and here for the first time we have a glimpse of one aspect of the beauty of the Temple Mount."
Originally imported from Rome, Asia Minor, Tunisia and Egypt, the tiles were cut to different geometrical shapes and most likely were laid by foreign craftsmen sent by Emperor Augustus to his friend Herod the Great.
Franky Schneider, a specialist in decorative ancient floors who works with the sifting project and who reconstructed the tiles, said that the floor style, called Opus sectile, was the most exclusive type of tiling of the era.
Schneider and Dvira will present their findings in the annual conference of Megalim (City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem) . Scheduled to speak at this conference is Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Dore Gold, who will address UNESCO’s treatment of the subject and its consequences on archaeological research in the State of Israel.