Friday, June 29, 2012

Syria Thought it Was Israel's F-4

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Syria shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom fighter jet last Friday. The incident ignited an already tense relationship between two countries that share a 900 mile border.

Turkey has said that in 2012, Syrian helicopters crossed into Turkish air space five times. From now on, they say, Syrian aircraft in their air space will be considered hostile and not simply pilot error.

But yesterday, Syria came up with and an interesting excuse. The Syrians are saying that their investigation suggests that the people manning their anti-aircraft battery assumed that the F-4 was Israeli - not Turkish - and that explains why the plane was targeted and downed.

The F-4 is an American plane and the Israeli air force is almost all American fighter jets. But since 2008 Israel has not flown the F-4. Now the Israeli air force almost exclusively flies F-15 & F-16.

Back in 2000 Israel still had about 100 F-4's but in today's competitive aerial fighting environment the F-4 cannot hold its own.

Syria made a huge error. Nice try at covering it up, but not at all even plausible. Bad intel and worse training.
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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Israeli Cherries in Iran

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Wild and preposterous reports circulated throughout Iran yesterday. And then the impossible was confirmed.
Cherries sold in the markets of Iran were imported from ---- Israel.

How is that possible? There are no trade deals between Israel and Iran. There is no relationship between Israel and Iran. And yet - it has happened before. This is not the first time Iranians have tasted from the forbidden fruit of the Promised Land.

The cherries arrived through a third party. They were exported from Israel to a vendor and when Iran wanted cherries, these are the cherries that were sent.

It happened with Israeli oranges in 2009. Unlike the cherries, the oranges came wrapped and stamped with the words "Produce of Israel." In the case of the cherries, they probably arrived in a crate labeled "Product of Israel."

They were sweet cherries when they left Israel, I hope they didn't leave a sour taste in the mouths of Iranians.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Egypt Politics or Rhetoric

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

CNN reported yesterday that new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi intends to appoint a woman and a Christian as deputy presidents.

This is a welcome message to the West and acts to allay the fear that Morsi represents the Muslim Brotherhood movement which has repeatedly articulated anti-women and anti-Christian points of view.

Those points of view have been articulated by Morsi, as well, but that was before he won the election.

It is not clear whether the new president will actually appoint a woman and/or a Christian or if he is simply changing his stance on women and Christians. But saying what he did was the right thing to say and to the right audience.

The official stance of the Muslim Brotherhood is that women should not be part of politics - period. They have been the bulwark behind violence against Christians and have been behind attacks against Christian churches. Morsi himself has never condemned any attack on Christians.

So how much of this is just political rhetoric - we will know soon enough. 

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Oil Under $80 Best Weapon Against Iran

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Oil closed below $80 per barrel yesterday. That is great news for proponents of sanctions and pressure against Iran. In February, oil was $110 a barrel.

As of July 1st the European Union will implement a total ban on Iranian oil.

Earlier this year Iran was producing 3.5 million barrels per day.
Since the pressure began building, that number has fallen to 3.1 million.

It is doubtful that Iranian oil production will fall much below this. Until now, as one country shifted its oil supply away from Iran, another shifted to Iran in an almost seamless transition. China and Japan alone account for 20% of Iran's oil and if anything - they both need and want more.
Iran has been preparing for this day.

The Europeans might shut their valves but the valves of China and Japan are open wide. Indian and South Korea have received exemptions from the United States allowing them to import Iranian oil - and that is exactly what they are planning to do. 

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Hamas & Fatah At Odds Over Egypt Pres

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

As soon as it was announced that Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi won the presidential election in Egypt the calls of congratulations came pouring in.

The United States, England and Turkey are among the many nations that offered standard, diplomatically imbued, blessings.

The interesting messages are those delivered by the so-called "friends" of Egypt.
Hamas: the win is "a historic moment and a new era in the history of Egypt." It is a "defeat for the program of normalization and security cooperation with the enemy (Israel)."

Fatah: "We congratulate Doctor Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, on his win in the Egyptian presidential elections, and his election as president of Egypt."

You don't even have to read between the lines, it is all spelled out clearly in word and in tone: Hamas sees eye to eye with the Muslim Brotherhood and Fatah would have preferred the secular candidate.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ahmadinejad in Venezuela

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Ahmadinejad is in Venezuela again.

An official Venezuelan newspaper ran a story, timed for this visit of the Iranian leader, recalling that during his visit to Venezuela in 2006, the Venezuelans gave Iran an F-16 fighter jet.

The jet came from a batch of twenty-three F-16 jests that the United States had sold to Venezuela in 1983. According to the report the F-16 was disassembled and loaded on to an air force 707 and flown to Iran where it was reassembled.

The obvious purpose in giving the plane was to allow Iran to calibrate their air defense systems. The United States and the Israelis use F-16s.

The US and Israel are aware of this transfer and know that more than half of the original F-16s have been sold to other countries - all for the same reason.

The upside it that the F-16 of 1983 barely resembles current F-16s and that Israel has gussied up their versions with their own electronics.

If Iran is basing their air defense system on the level of 1983 F-16s, they have to make serous estimates about the current capabilities of the F-16. That is serious guesswork.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Clinton Finally Gets Iran

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

I was very impressed when I read the transcript of the conversation between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State James Baker, moderated by Charlie Rose.

Four years later, on the issue of Iran, Clinton showed a real understanding of the nuanced and complicated nature of the country and of how decisions are made there. Four years later, she almost gets it.

She explained that there is serious debate inside high levels of leadership within Iran.
She explained that there is a significant part of Iranian leadership that actually wants to be attacked because of the benefits that would emerge after a Western or Israeli attack.

She explained that there are those who know that the Iranian economy could be galloping ahead if only the Iranians backed down - and that backing down is not that big a step considering the benefits that would be reaped.

About all this, Secretary of State Clinton is correct.

Missing from her analysis is the machismo and ego aspect of the equation.
Granted, backing down is simple for some - but for Iran it is nearly impossible. Because the issue and the conflict have become so public, backing down would be tantamount to public humiliation.

The United States may not care much about that part of the equation, but for Iran, it is a really big deal - or in this case, a really big deal breaker.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

China & Japan Buy Iran Oil

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Japan and China have found their way around the problem of importing Iranian oil. South Korea and India are trying to do the same.

The biggest issue they have to contend with is how to cover the insurance of ships carrying Iranian oil. As of July 1, 95% of all oil tankers shipping oil from Iran will lose that coverage because they have been insured in Europe. The total embargo begins in 2 weeks.

The Japanese parliament has allocated $7.6 billion to cover any loss. China has said that they are comfortable with Iran using its ship to transport the oil. Those two countries are the biggest market for Iran totaling 620,000 barrels a day. The breakdown is 120,000 for Japan and 500,000 for China. China does not want to be totally dependent on Saudi oil so it is essential to keep Iranian oil flowing. Japanese import of oil rose 7% this May as compared to May 2011.

The estimated breakdown for June and July from last year to this year is exactly the same.

The most important point is that there are ways around the embargo and Japan and China have already found them while India and South Korea are still seeking ways to import Iranian oil. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

40 Rockets Fall in Israel

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking: 

Yesterday afternoon over 40 rockets were shot into Israel from Gaza. Four people were injured - one moderately and three lightly.

This was the worst single day of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel in years. It happened as the Egyptian presidential election results came rolling in and the day after an al Qaeda attack in the Sinai aimed at Israeli contractors building a security fence.

The attack clearly came after a command was given in Gaza to attack Israel.

The Israelis are evaluating their response.

As they do that, a two year old Palestinian was killed in her home by an explosion. The Palestinians said it was an Israeli airstrike reprisal but the Israeli air force said there were no sorties into Gaza.

The truth is that the girl died from a bomb misfired by the terrorists in their own home.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Palestinian Poll

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) just published a very telling study.

The study showed that a vast number of Palestinians believe that they do not live in freedom and that their leaders and institutions are corrupt. They indicated that they believe that if they vocalize critique, they will be punished. They answered that there is no freedom of press.
72.9% of those asked answered that PA institutions under Abbas are corrupt. 61% answered that institutions under Hamas are corrupt.

Only 23% answered that they live in freedom in the West Bank. Only 15% answered that they live in freedom in Gaza.

This is a damning report especially because half of those asked answered that the solution to their economic problems should be to have talks with Israel and get foreign aid. The question was clearly asked as a ruse.

The answer was: fool the world in order to get aid.

There is no doubt that the Palestinians are in very difficult circumstances. The only way for them to get on their feet is to become economically independent and to root out corruption.
Not surprisingly, it has nothing to do with Israel, it is all an internal Palestinian issue. 

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Monday, June 18, 2012

More Church Bombings

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

Yesterday three churches were bombed in Nigeria and 19 people were killed in car bombings. Dozens were wounded in the explosions.

This violence has been continuous for months now.

Thirteen churches have been bombed in the past few months. Gunmen enter and spray the worshipers with their bullets.

After the bombings yesterday Christian youth went on a rampage pulling Muslims from their cars, beating them and even killing some of them.

In Nigeria today there are terrible Muslim / Christian tensions and the authorities are not cracking down on the violence. There has been no major attempt to reduce the tensions to accept each other.

I predict that the killing will continue. 

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Israel May Build Islands

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Israel's cabinet has approved a plan to explore building islands off the coast of Israel. It is a brilliant idea.

The purpose of the islands will be to house infrastructure industry like water purification, electricity generation and fuel refineries. These islands will open large plots of land that until now have been restricted for public works.

Israel needs to make certain that the islands are defensible and that they remain stable. These are not simply factories, they are essential components of Israel without which Israel’s very life will be sucked out in a matter of hours. They must be secure from natural threats as well as military and terror threats.

It can be done. The question is: at what cost. 

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Egypt Elections

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Egypt is voting for their president. Saturday and Sunday are the two runoff days.

This election takes place two days after the Egyptian Supreme Court dissolved the 75% Islamic controlled parliament. The two candidates running for president are polar opposites. One represents the Islamists, the other served as PM under Mubarak and was head of the Egyptian air force.

As of now it looks like voter turnout is lower than it was in the first primaries for president - and significantly lower than the parliamentary elections of six months ago.

This is all expected.

In the first elections for parliament, the people of Egypt rejected Mubarak. First elections always are like that, a rejection of the past. But as time passes, people realize that the new alternative, in this case the Islamists, know even less about governing than the regime they have just rejected. They return to the middle in the hope that this time around they will be able to oust the extremists they have just voted in to power.

The Supreme Court laid the foundation for this by disbanding the parliament. Now we wait for the results. 

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Coup in Egypt

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday Egypt's Supreme Court disbanded the Egyptian parliament, effective immediately.

In one fell swoop the Supreme Court pulled power from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nuri Party, the two Islamic parties now in control of the parliament.

The Supreme Court also struck down a law preventing Mubarak cronies from running. That means that non-Islamic candidate Ahmed Shafik who had served as Mubarak's prime minister can run for office.

Since the original parliamentary elections were held six months ago, support for the Islamic parties has dwindled. They have been seen as partisan and have not been successful at uniting Egyptian. The parliament is fractionalized and has not been effective in --- just about any area.

Disbanding the parliament almost certainly assures that the new election will usher in non-Islamists and guarantee the election of Shafik as president over Mohammed Morsi of the Islamist party.

This was a Supreme Court coup and it was very effective. If the new president can take the reins and really start to lead it will prove to be even more effective. 

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

New Cold War

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

There has been speculation in certain corridors that the conflict in Syria is causing major dispute between Russia and the US.

The big question is whether this conflict can lead to another Cold War.
The answer is absolutely not .

This conflict could, however, cause some serious instability around the globe. It has divided the major powers. The split puts the United States and the West on one side and Russia, Iran and China on the other.

The two sides have conflicting goals about the world and power and Syria is the pawn that they are fighting over. Syria is just a small example of the difference. Add Iran to the equation and the issue becomes even more pronounced.

Those differences will not create a cold war. All the parties share economic ties. There is much that binds them. They will continue to pursue their own self interests and those interests, despite differences and even conflicts, will ebb and flow.

That is the nature of today's foreign affairs.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Iran Plans Nuke Sub

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday Iran announced plans to build their own nuclear submarine.

That would be a nuclear powered submarine, not a submarine carrying nuclear weapons.
A nuclear sub can stay underwater for an unlimited amount of time and never need to resurface. It can stay at high speeds all the time and it runs very quietly. A diesel sub can only stay submerged for a few hours at high speed.

Nuclear subs are new and highly sophisticated weapons. They are not nuclear bombs but their nuclear technology makes them very dangerous. The only down side to the nuclear powered sub is that the nuclear core gets hot and gives off a thermal signature unique to nuclear subs. So if you are looking for it - you can find it.

Iran says they are not developing nuclear weapons and that is an outright lie. Nuclear submarines are weapons. Definitely, weapons.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Flame is Now on Self Destruct

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Flame computer virus has received a self-destruct command. This Flame is the most recent virus to ravaged Iran.

Symantec issued a statement a few days ago saying that it seems that infected computers have received a command to destroy all traces of the Flame. The computers were also blasted with numerous other confusing commands which will mislead investigators.

It appears that researchers are getting too close to understanding the virus and cracking some of its important keys. When that happens they will be able to unravel the mystery of the actually creator of the virus.

And that fear of being discovered explains why the creators of the Flame virus sent out the command to self-destruct.
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Monday, June 11, 2012

US & Iran Playing Games

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The United States has expressed serious disappointment about Iranian discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Now Iran is telling Russia that not enough preparations have been made to insure a successful meeting in Moscow. The meeting is scheduled for June 18 and 19.

Both Iran and the US are playing games.

The United States wants to make it clear that the international community has dropped the ball and that they are letting Iran slip away without any significant effort or compromise. Iran, on the other hand, is prepping Russia for failure in the talks they plan to host.

Iran wants to get more and the United States wants to give less.

Guess who will get what they want.
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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Egypt TV: Beware of Strangers

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

We all know that Egypt is in the midst of significant transition.

But, despite it all, they still need tourists to survive.

Tourism is Egypt's largest single economic branch and the industry been hit very hard by the unrest. Tourism is an even larger contributor to the Egyptian GNP than their oil and gas industries.
So imagine my shock when I saw that Egyptian national TV was running ads sponsored by the government to "Beware of foreigners, they may be spies."

Xenophobia in Egypt is off the charts. This is worse than Egyptian hatred of Israel.

After an outcry from people who understood the danger these ads can do, the Egyptian National Television Authority finally pulled the ads. They said they pulled them for fear that they may be misunderstood.

There is very little to misunderstand.

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Palestinian Games at the UN

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The summer has begun and that means that diplomatic games at the UN have also begun.
 The Palestinians are testing the waters for September's General Assembly.

Last year they attempted to qualify for full membership. Yesterday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was in Paris. In his press conference with newly elected French President Hollande, Abbas said that the Palestinians will attempt to upgrade their status again, this year, at the GA.

The difference from last year to this is that now the Palestinians want to upgrade to the status of non-member state. That will entitle them signature on numerous treaties and membership on committees.

In order to become a non-member state the PA must be accepted by 2/3 of the General Assembly. Whereas last year in order to get full membership, they needed the approval of the Security Council.

The Palestinians now have observer status. The PLO organization sits as observers in the GA.

A change in status would be a huge boost to the Palestinians internationally. Hollande of France is wholeheartedly behind the move. 

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Big Mess in Egypt

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Egyptian presidential election is just one big mess.

The Supreme Court of Egypt is scheduled to publish a ruling two days before the June 16 - 17 presidential runoff. The ruling will determine if Ahmed Shafik is eligible to run.

Shafik was disqualified under a law passed and accepted by the ruling military. The law said that former cronies of the Mubarak government could not run for president. Ahmed Shafik was prime minister under Mubarak.

Shafik was originally disqualified but appealed and the election committee let him run. The election committee then referred the entire issue to the Supreme Court. Now it gets even more complicated. The head of the election committee, Farouk Sultan, is also president of the Supreme Court.

If the law is constitutional, then Shafik cannot run. If Shafik cannot run, there is no need for a runoff - but there will be the need to redo the elections. If Shafik can run then so can other candidates like Omar Suleiman former head of intelligence was also prevented from running in the primaries because of their affiliation with Mubarak.
Like I said, a real mess. 

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Russia Wants Iran In the Loop

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Russia suggested that Iran be invited to the next international meeting discussing Syria.
Russia was suggesting that Iran become part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded to the suggestion by saying that it is "hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing the Assad regime's assault on its people."

Iran is deeply involved in propping up Assad. Iran is giving Syria intel, training and operational assistance. They are supplying weapons and even tactics and advice.

Clinton thinks that inviting Iran would be preposterous. The problem with Clinton’s analysis is that Russia is giving Syria the same exact help that Iran is giving Syria.

Just like Iran, Russia is giving Syria intel, training and operational assistance. They are supplying weapons and even tactics and advice.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Polls & The Jewish Vote

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Day in, day out, the polls keep coming in. It is, after all, a presidential election year.

The most telling and truthful polls will only emerge a few days after both the Democratic and Republican conventions conclude.

Immediately following each convention the parties get a bump. Then tensions and temperaments calm down and that is when the polls that are worth paying attention to come in.

A few days ago poll came out and caught my eye. It was sponsored by Workmen's Circle aka the Yiddish Workers Association.

The final results of their internet survey of 1000 people showed a 68 / 32 Obama / Romney split. That would put it 10 points off the 2008 78 / 22 Obama / McCain split, and still have two thirds of Jews voting Democratic.

On closer look, that is not what the survey showed at all.

The actual results of the survey showed a 59 / 27 split with 14% undecided. The pollsters just divided the 14% in exact proportions - 59% of 14 going to Obama and 27% of 14 going to Romney.

Undecided voters swing. They can go either way, they do not breakdown proportionally.
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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

China - 23 Yrs After Tiananmen

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday was the 23rd anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

Those 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations rocked the world - and yet, not much has changed when it comes to human rights in China since then.

The Chinese government has blocked all internet key worlds and searches for anything that could connect to a commemoration of the protests.

Even the numbers 23 - for the anniversary; 6 - for the month of June; 4 - for the date and the words "candles" and the expression
"never forget" have been bared.

Movements that embrace freedom have been harshly oppressed in China over the past 23 years.

The rise of the electronic information age has been very helpful to supporters of freedom. It has enabled a freer flow of information. But the government of China continues to do its best to control that information and to restrict access that the citizens of China might otherwise have.

The Chinese cannot memorialize what happened 23 years ago, but we can. And we should.
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Monday, June 4, 2012

Egypt and Mubarak Sentence

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

On October 6, 1981 Hosni Mubarak assumed the presidency of Egypt. On June 2, 2012 he was sentence to life in prison.

Mubarak was one of the most powerful leaders of the Middle East. But situations change as the winds blow in his part of the world. Some of the most stable leaders are ousted - going from feared dictator to reviled exploiter. And indeed, Hosni Mubarak has suffered a tremendous fall.

The Book Samuel described the fate of many leaders saying: "Oh - the mighty have fallen."
On hearing the verdict Mubarak must have been both relieved and shocked. Shocked that he was convicted, relieved that he was not to be executed.

We cannot even come close to understanding the second thoughts Mubarak must be having about his handling of the riots in Tahir Square last year. He certainly could have put them down with great violence, but chose not to - never foreseeing that his openness to the protesters would bring him down.

The sons of Mubarak were exonerated for the events that took place during those few weeks. Perhaps that gives the former dictator of Egypt some solace.

We have no idea of what lies ahead for an Egypt without Mubarak. One thing is certain. Those winds continue to blow and they will bring much more change to the country Mubarak so loved.
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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Egypt Stops Gas to Gaza

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Egypt is prohibiting gasoline from entering Gaza.

This is the third stoppage in a month. The gas the shortage has become a crisis in Gaza. Electricity has been reduced from the generating station to 18 hours a day. The generator is powered by gasoline.

The gasoline is sitting in the port and has not been permitted to make its way to Gaza. Months ago Israel gave the green light and is now hands off. It is Egypt that is stopping the flow of gasoline to Gaza.

The crisis is even more serious because illegal gas has not been smuggled as frequently as it has in the past which means that the shortage is greater than the figures show.

But interestingly, no one is shouting at Egypt. Qatar delivered the gasoline. Its vessels now sit in port. One of the reasons for the silence could be because the Egyptians are to blame.

Could it be that the world is not interested when Egyptians oppress Palestinians?
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Saturday, June 2, 2012

US Wants Daqduq from Iraq

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Ali Moussa Daqduq is on the US wanted list. He is living free and high on the hog in Iraq. The United States has asked for his extradition.

Daqduq is a member of Hezbollah, he is also an Iranian agent. He was in US custody as of March 2007, ten weeks after he planned a very well executed attack on US soldiers and leaders in Karbala Provincial Joint Command Center. The attackers wore US-like uniforms, had US IDs and drove US vehicles - and then they murdered five US citizens.

Daqduq admitted that he planned and executed the attack. In an act of friendship and diplomacy, Daqduq was handed over to Iraqi custody and tried by Iraq. And then the Iraqi court dismissed his case for lack of evidence - despite the confession.

In Iraqi law all evidence permitted into court must be collected by Iraqi inspectors. Ali Moussa Daqduq gave his confession to the United States.

The US wants Daqduq back. This is a test of the relationship between the US and Iraq.
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Friday, June 1, 2012

Russia Delivers Arms to Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The United States has condemned Russia for shipping arms to Syria.

A Russian cargo ship docked and unloaded massive amounts of weapons and then headed on to Greece.

The most important point to note in this scenario is that Russia is still selling high tech weapons to Syria. By doing so, they are telegraphing to the world that they do not believe that the regime of Bashar Assad is going to fall.

Russia also recently signed a fighter jet deal with Syria and will soon be delivering the YAK fighter jet to the Syrian air force. The YAK is one of Russia's most advanced weapons. They would not hand weapons of this caliber over to a teetering leader holding on by the skin of his teeth.

Russia has a very different point of view from the United States on what is happening in Syria.
 When asked, the Russians cynically respond by saying that selling and delivering weapons to Syria is not illegal - it is just against the wishes of the United States.

Most significantly, selling to the Syrians is in the best interest of Russia. 

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