Available on Amazon. Syria: Refugees and Rebels

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Click the picture to be taken directly to my book on Amazon.

Syria: Refugees and Rebels Book Cover

Syria: Refugees and Rebels Book Cover

My book is 21.6 x 21.6 cm or 8.5 x 8.5 in perfect bound softback with a laminated cover. 102 pages with an introduction of why I went to Syria as well as a brief history of the Syrian Revolution. Images are a combination of Colour and Black and White. The photos are in 3 sections, The Refugees, Life in Aleppo, The Rebels

A little more about the Author and book below:

Book Publicity

Book Publicity

Breathing with Two Lungs

Russell Chapman:

Take the time to read this. Daniel makes a lot of sense.

Originally posted on Mind-Crawl:

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Starting wars are easy. Ending them is another story. While you know exactly how you are going to start the battle, you have not the foggiest idea how to end it. Israel wisely started out the operation in Gaza with limited goals but then as the dynamics of war took over other objectives began to present themselves. As the tunnels threat manifested in all its terrible glory, destroying these subterranean passages became objective no. 1. As Hamas fighters keep on crawling out of more and more tunnels, it has sadly become apparent that previous claims made by the IDF about full control over the tunnels were premature. Now we are told that dealing with the tunnels entails a much larger commitment. Where will it all end?

If you ask the warmongers in Netanyahu’s government, they’ll answer with a bellicose retort, something along the lines of: “we can’t stop now”, “we have…

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The reason why there will never be peace between Israel and Palestine

Watch this cartoon. It is brilliantly simple at demonstrating the problem of Israel and Palestine as both sides claim the land as their own.

One of my favourite beaches

One doesn’t really associate Scotland with sunny beaches, however its long coast line, often in wonderfully isolated areas, is full of stunning surprises. This is one of my personal favourites, Durness beach on the north coast of Scotland, not far from Cape Wrath, is for me perfection. On a sunny day the sea is azure and the sand is golden as you look out towards the Arctic Circle and watch the birds speed diving into the ocean to catch fish.

Fortunately this area is so isolated that only the most determined will make the journey. The road that leads to this secret paradise brings you through some of the most ancient volcanic landscape in the world, travelling though it you feel as if you are in a land before time began.

Durness Beach

Durness Beach

 

The only way to get to the beach is to drive through this landscape that time forgot.

Beyond Time

Beyond Time

The risk associated with sanctions on Russia

First the USA imposed sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine and now Europe is on the verge of agreeing a package of sanctions to match. I am no fan of Vladimir Putin but the more I think about the probable effects of sanctions against Russia’s energy, banking, defense and technology sectors the more I see problems ahead.

This article is not about the rights or wrongs of sanctions or who is guilty of what in the current conflict in Ukraine. This article is simply about looking ahead at potential consequences.

I want to start by considering the frame of mind of Vladimir Putin. This is a man who has been in power for a long time now, over time he has become increasingly isolated in the sense of having little direct contact with the Russian people, but also with the majority of politicians in Russia, he avoids going to the Duma or congress as much as possible. Instead his main contact is through a small court of those he feels he can trust. The members of this court depend on keeping the status quo in Russia as their fortunes depend on it as much as Putin’s. Finally, Putin is also very close to Patriarch Kirill of the Orthodox church who is responsible to singing the praise of Putin from the pulpit to the common Russian people and keeping their support.

It is quite interesting when you watch Putin give interviews or when he is seen in public, to study his body language, not only this but also his micro expressions. These are facial expressions that last only a small fraction of a second and we have no control over them. I make a habit of watching politicians on TV with the sound off, it is more interesting to study their body language and facial expressions. Watching Putin, it has become clear over time that while he likes to give the impression of being the the ‘big man’ there comes across a real sense that he is on his own and he feels it, not only this but he is not always secure in himself. He compensates for this by putting on the macho act. Deep down he comes across as an injured and actually very sensitive person who tries to hide this about himself and so compensates by being aloof and hard. In Russian culture, leaders must always be strong and never show any sign of human weakness. However, it takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to keep the facade in place, particularly when there is a lot of external pressure. It can lead a fundamentally insecure person to become more erratic over time and possibly snap given enough pressure.

I will come back to Vladimir Putin’s state of mind in a moment. Now it is time to look at what the direct effect of sanctions could be in the next weeks and months. Russia is financially quite fragile, huge amounts of money are being taken out of the Russian economy and placed in other countries for safe keeping. I’m not talking about dirty money but businesses that don’t trust the Russian economy. This is creating liquidity problems and at the moment the price of oil is not high enough for the Russian central bank to be able to top up its cash reserves. Russia’s main banks are also facing their own liquidity problems. Then there is the fact that many companies have to refinance their debt over the short and medium term, to the tune of some $200billion if memory serves me correctly. Add to this the fine of $50 Billion that Russia has been ordered to pay by the Hague Court for its actions over the Yukos energy company and you begin to get an idea of how potentially unstable Russia really is. Sanctions will add a lot of pressure to this situation. While the intention is for sanctions to modify Putin’s behaviour in Ukraine, there is a very real risk that they will lead to a collapse of the entire Russian economy and all the related instability which would accompany the collapse.

What keeps playing through my mind is what Putin might do if he is really pushed into a corner. He isn’t the sort of person to back down even if he knows he is wrong, that would be showing weakness, as I said before it is likely that as the pressure increases he will become more erratic and possibly more dangerous. Imagine a wounded bear that has been cornered, this is the situation we are potentially looking at.

When one man has absolute power and he only allows a small group of those he trusts to be close to him, such a person will react very aggressively if he feels his power is being threatened. Sanctions, for good or bad, could have many unintended consequences, not only for Russia but also the wider international community.

Ebola. A new development

In the past, outbreaks of the Ebola virus have flared up and died down fairly quickly and have also been relatively limited in the areas affected, mainly rural areas. The current outbreak which started in March in the west African country of Guinea is displaying a disturbing new trend which I will get to shortly.

Since March, the Ebola virus has killed at least 660 people. While that number may not seem much, many more die of malaria, it is the virulence, the ease with which the virus can spread which is starting to sound alarms in a way not seen before. Although the Ebola outbreak began in Guinea, it has since spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. There are also unconfirmed reports of the infection in Ghana.

Thankfully the virus has not mutated so that it can be transmitted through the air. However, it is highly transmissible by touch, either by direct contact with an infected person or touching a surface they have touched. The incubation period of the virus is between 2-20 days, the length of time before an infected person starts showing symptoms. In that time many people can be infected by a carrier without even realizing it.

I have been following the situation for a while via The World Health Organization website but today I decided it is time to write, due to an important new development. Reported in The Guardian of London newspaper today there is an article, which tells of a Liberian civil servant who flew in to Lagos international airport in Nigeria while infected with Ebola. He was already showing symptoms and collapsed shortly afterwards and died. The point to make is that Lagos is a major hub, many Europeans, Americans and Chinese use it when they go on business to Nigeria which has an important oil industry as well as other natural resource industries. If others from that part of the world have used the airport while infected but not yet showing symptoms, the risk of Ebola spreading and becoming transcontinental grows enormously.

It is well worth keeping an eye on the development of the situation. Hopefully it will die down but it is always best to be prepared.

Middle East crisis. Region on fire

Now it is finally recognized that Iran and Syria helped ISIS get started, it is time to look at what happens next in the MIddle East crisis as the storm clouds continue gathering.

The Middle East is on fire and the speed with which events have happened has taken many by surprise. There is a real potential for further escalation of the chaos which is engulfing the region. ISIS control a vast swath of territory which crosses the border between Syria and Iraq. The fighting in this area is growing in intensity. Add to this the current war between Hamas of Gaza and Israel and it becomes clear we are living in critical times.

Among all this chaos, the most stable country in the region is Iran. It is a country with a very rich culture and history. They are not Arab, they are Persian, there is a huge difference in mentality between the two. The Persians are strategic, long term planners and extremely good game players. They understand the power and effectiveness of well run institutions when it comes to managing the population. The leadership in Tehran is also totally amoral and ruthless. One fact which escapes many is this, although the leadership portrays itself as being very religious, it is not. Rather it uses religion as a way of uniting Shia muslims under a common banner.

Against this background, Iran together with the Assad regime in Syria permitted and helped ISIS to grow. The objective being the creation of chaos in Sunni muslim regions of Syria and Iraq. In Syria it allows Bashar al Assad to now portray himself as the only possible stabilizing force in the country, that all rebels are terrorists, taking attention away from what was a popular uprising and using extremists to create a sectarian conflict. The vast majority of fighting by ISIS in Syria has been against moderate rebels in Sunni areas rather than the Syrian regime which is Alawite and Shia. In Iraq ISIS has been focusing most of its efforts on Sunni areas of the country, now it is concentrating a lot of attention on Baghdad and its environs.

While Iran and Syria helped ISIS become established this is not to say they have total control over the organization. Recently Syria has engaged ISIS fighters in battle as have Iranian forces in Iraq. They are not engaging ISIS at a huge level but this is part of the play by both Syria and Iran to create an image that they are the good guys, needed to help combat the expansionism of ISIS.

There are conversations happening that the USA should consider working with Iran to combat ISIS. Not in the sense of boots on the ground, although the neo-cons would love for this to happen and may yet get their way, but in other more discreet ways. If this were to happen it would work entirely in Iran’s favour. Allow me to explain why. By so doing, it will mean that Iran becomes accepted as the dominant power in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on the other hand will be humiliated and forced to accept the situation. Most of this has already happened and is the reason why KSA is working to improve its relations with Iran. The other part of Iranian strategy is to continue using ISIS to create chaos in Sunni areas while fighting them in areas that have Shia populations. It really is playing both sides of the coin as it did in the past, when it allowed Sunni group Ansar al-Islam, the fore-runner of Al Qaeda in Iraq to pass through its territory. Yes, Shia Iran has cooperated many times in the past with Sunni extremist groups. Now the fighting is coming closer to Baghdad on a daily basis, with its mixed Sunni/Shia population we can expect to see Iranian involvement increasing as it works to show it is the good guy by helping resist the group it created. The leadership of ISIS understand this but the foot soldiers of ISIS who are fighting on the ground have no idea they are being used.

To be honest, there is very little the USA can directly do about ISIS. If they put boots on the ground then all Sunni muslims, extremist or not, would be against them. The memory of American troops in Iraq and the mess they created is still very much an open wound.

In the longer term the prognosis for the Middle East crisis is one of increasing volatility. The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza will probably lead to a 3rd intifida, there are already calls for this to happen. The current conflict is different, with wide coverage on social media of what is happening in Gaza there is a lot of outrage being directed at the Israeli government, unfortunately there is a lot of anti Semitism about now too, many people now equate being a Jew with being a murderer. What is happening in Gaza, the shedding of innocent blood of women and children is on the hands of the Knesset and the IDF. What the fallout of the current situation will be is hard to say exactly, but this situation will not be allowed to die down as in times past. Social media has put the images of what is happening in the minds of everybody around the world in a way which has never before happened. When global public opinion is focused on the actions of one country then you can be sure there will be consequences.

ISIS will continue creating chaos in Syria and Iraq but will not stop there. Long term objectives are to spread chaos to KSA with the objective of capturing Mecca. They will also have Jerusalem in their sights as they consider it to be one of their holy places. They are not worried about triggering an even bigger conflict in the region, they believe they are doing the work of Allah even if that were to lead to world war 3

All the while Iran will remain aloof as it gives the appearance of having no involvement in the creation of chaos. The only way for this to change would be if some destabilizing situation were to unexpectedly develop in Iran. My personal view of this is to expect the unexpected.

Finally Turkey, it is the wild card of the region. It is slowly progressing down the road to becoming an authoritarian regime. It also allowed ISIS to import heavy weapons from Libya through its ports and across its borders into Syria. Turkey is a majority Sunni population country which until the fall of the Ottoman empire was the spiritual leader for Sunni muslims worldwide. It is a well understood fact that Turkey misses its glory days. As the Middle East crisis develops and instability increases, it will pay to watch Turkey very closely.

The outlook for the Middle East is tempestuous to say the least. As always it is the ordinary people who will suffer the most. While there is the possibility of the short-term situation leading to increased terrorism threats around the world, the current situation means that those who go to fight for ISIS are concentrating most of their energy on expanding the Islamic State that covers territory in Syria and Iraq. For the time being they are generally too busy where they are now to concentrate on terrorist attacks in Europe or the USA. However, as time goes on, the threat level will increase as they consolidate power, it will become necessary for some sort of direct international intervention, more likely than not under the auspices of the United Nations. The only way to deal with a supranational threat will be via supranational organizations.

I hope you found this article interesting, if you did then please share

Ex Syrian diplomat explains Syria ISIS connection

Bassam Barabandi, ex Syrian diplomat with the foreign ministry who served in Washington, has given an interview into the inner workings of the Assad regime. It is a fascinating insight well worth reading. He goes into detail explaining the ISIS Syria connection.

One of the key points he makes is how the growth of ISIS was not only permitted but encouraged as a way of increasing sectarian division and diverting global attention away from Bashar al Assad’s actions against the Syrian people.

You can find the article at this link Inside Assad’s Playbook: Time and Terror.

The interview I did with Zaid Tlass in April last year also gives interesting insight into how the Syrian regime works. Link: Interview with Zaid Tlass

On a side note it is nice to be vindicated in my views and analysis of the situation, that ISIS is an instrument of Iran and Syria. I received a lot of negative feedback saying that it could not possibly be true. Today I can say quite happily that I was about the only person in the West who was correct in making the connection between ISIS, Syria and Iran.

Bank Espirito Santo. Holding company files for creditor protection

Espirito Santo International, the holding company of Portugal’s 2nd largest bank, filed for creditor protection late Friday evening after financial markets closed.

Not to say this will trigger part two of the financial crisis which began in 2007 but it does demonstrate the continued fragility of the global banking system. Saying this, it will be very interesting to see what happens as the threads of debt are unwound. When markets open on Monday I will be watching closely to see the reaction.

UPDATE 22/07/2014

Yesterday I was curious to see how markets would react to the news about Bank Espirito Santo’s holding company. The Portuguese stock market, the PS120, stayed flat, increasing by 0.05%. For now markets seems to be discounting the level of risk. Admittedly, Espirito Santo is not a big bank in relation to the likes of Credit Suisse, its market capitalization is $3.7 billion versus the $44.5 billion of Credit Suisse. The risk is in the fact that there are many banks in the periphery of the Euro-Zone which are equally fragile, when added together the figures will begin to become serious. I just checked the price of Credit Default Swaps for Euro-Zone banks, the cost of insuring against a debtor not being able to pay, and prices for insuring against a bank default in the Euro-Zone are starting to increase again.

This situation is a slow burner but it is inevitable that we are going to see another banking crisis in Europe. I will update this post as the situation develops.