An interview with Middle East expert Rick Francona on opening borders to Christian refugees, World War III, ISIS, and reducing the conflict between Israel and Gaza.
As a retired USAF intelligence officer and Middle East specialist, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona provides analysis and commentary on various Middle East topics. He is an acknowledged Middle East expert.
Currently, he sits live on television as a CNN Middle East military analyst.
“Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona is a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, a veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. His assignments included the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency, with tours of duty in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, and operational duties in virtually every country in the Middle East.
Throughout the first Gulf War he served as the personal Arabic interpreter and advisor on Iraq to General Norman Schwarzkopf and later co-authored the report to Congress on the conduct of the war.”
He wrote Ally to Adversary - An Eyewitness Account of Iraq's Fall from Grace, about his experiences in Iraq.
“In 1997 and 1998, Rick Francona served in the Department of Defense counter terrorism branch and led a special operations team in Bosnia that captured five indicted war criminals. That hunt is the topic of Rick's latest book, Chasing Demons - My Hunt for War Criminals in Bosnia.”
In all, Rick Francona has given the greater part of 40 years to the service of the United States.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona shared his thoughts this week on the current situation across the Middle East:
Considering your experience in the Middle East, how do you see the ISIS situation in Iraq and across the Levant unfolding?
RF: ISIS, or as they now call themselves, The Islamic State, may eventually constitute a real threat to our interests in the region and the United States itself. If they are successful in retaining the territory that they have taken from Syria, Iraq and now Lebanon, and create a de facto state, that might just provide the type of springboard for terrorism operations abroad. Think Afghanistan 1996 when the Taliban took over that country.
What would you like to see happen in Iraq?
RF: Hopefully, those Sunnis in the areas of Iraq and Syria that have rallied to the ISIS cause will at some point realize that the ideology espoused by ISIS is far too radical for them and they will rise up in a manner similar to the "Anbar Awakening" in 2007-2008 against al-Qa'idah in Iraq/Islamic State of Iraq. As I have said, perhaps the "marriage of convenience" of anti-Shi'a factions will result in a divorce.
With Sharia law in effect, should the United States open its borders to fleeing Christians under persecution in the Middle East, as France has?
RF: Of course. If this does not fit the U.S. immigration definition of refugees who fear for their lives, what is?
Wouldn’t this Christian persecution be tantamount to how the Jews were trapped in Europe during World War II?
RF: Very much. Anyone who has seen the photographs and videos of the executions, crucifixions and beheadings cannot draw any other conclusion. This is beyond persecution - it borders on eradication.
How does ISIS affect the United States?
RF: Right now, the United States is only moderately affected, but that will change as they attempt to establish a true state in the areas over which they have seized. If they are able to retain that territory, they may be able to establish a training ground for any number of radical Islamist jihadist groups - including Americans who can easily return to the United States and mount attacks. This is not my idea, ISIS has already said that this is their plan.
The problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza have been ongoing recently. What should the United States be doing?
RF: I think we are playing the right role now, but I am a bit puzzled about Secretary of State John Kerry's earlier attempts to broker a ceasefire without talking to the Egyptians and Israelis. His talks with Qatar and Turkey did not sit well with the Israelis, who view those two states as Hamas' primary financial and political supporters. I see Egypt as the key here, and we should be supporting their mediation.
How would you resolve the conflict?
RF: Ideally, I would like to see the Palestinian Authority reassert control over the Gaza Strip. I am not sure that is going to happen, but that would probably be the best way forward.
Can the conflict be resolved, even temporarily?
RF: Hopefully, there will be another ceasefire, but that will be just like the past ceasefires - it will work for about two years, and we will be having this conversation again. The problem with attaining a ceasefire now is Hamas' need to get something for the loss of their strategic weapon - the offensive tunnels - and two- thirds of their rocket inventory, with the loss of 1900 Palestinian lives. They have very little to show for it, and have to find a way to remain relevant in the eyes of the Gaza population.
What underlying problems are there which are not generally covered by the media?
RF: The solution to the problem in Gaza is not just Gaza - it has to be a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue. As long as the Israelis are not serious about a two-state solution - and I do not believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is - there will be no resolution to the problems either in Gaza or the West Bank.
The Middle East has several hot spots, with small nations and rogue groups being propped up by larger wealthier nations. Are we essentially in a proxy World War III?
RF: Short answer - no. If we were to get involved in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, that might lead to a proxy war.
Should our troops continue to be sent to the Middle East?
RF: At some point, we may not have a choice. If ISIS is successful in establishing a quasi-state in the Levant, it might pose such a threat to the U.S. homeland that we may have to act. Although we may not want to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East, the other guys - the bad guys, if you will - get a vote as well.
Today, Rick resides in Oregon.
Find Rick Francona online at Middle East Perspectives.
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