Monday, December 31, 2012

Arabs Will Not Help PA

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The head of the Arab League visited Ramallah together with the Egyptian foreign minister yesterday.

They of course congratulated President Mahmoud Abbas on his UN victory and explained that they must continue pushing in that vein in order to achieve Palestinian statehood.

Now for the kicker: Last month the Arab League promised to contribute $100 million dollars a month to keep the Palestinian Authority afloat.

The real reason for this visit was to explain that the money is not coming. Not this month - and maybe not at all. Certainly, not in the numbers that were proclaimed and broadcast across the world.

This is the reality. The only group that really gives significant money to the Palestinians is the United States. And it is for that reason if no other that the US should have been much more forceful about stopping the PA from making their move in the UN. 

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Al Qaida Puts Bounty on US Amb Head

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Al Qaeda has posted a reward, or even better, a bounty of 3 kilos of gold for the murder of the US

Ambassador stationed in Sanaa, Yemen. In US dollars that is roughly equivalent to $160,000.
Al Qaeda also said that that they will pay 5 million Yemeni Riyals, about $23,000, for killing any US soldier.

The announcements went up on al Qaeda sites across the internet.
They explain that they are offering the gold and cash rewards to "inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad."

Al Qaeda is constantly in search of tools for motivation. This is just another very good example.

In this example Al Qaeda is not looking for recruits or planning attacks. In this case they are hoping that highly motivated lone wolves will act on their own. The lone wolf is almost impossible to stop in advance. 

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Israeli Elections

I've Been Thinking:

Israeli elections are around the corner, scheduled to take place on January 22nd. Conventional wisdom has it that the Likud Israel Beiteynu party will win the most seats.

But the most recent polling is telling another story. All three recent polls show that the newly combined party is slipping. It is slipping so far down that the polls are now only giving Likud Israel Beiteynu 33 seats.
Of the 120 Knesset seats, right now the polls are giving the left bloc about 43 seats and the right bloc about 47 seats. The Ashkenazi Hareidi party appears stable at 6 seats and the Sefardi Hareidi party is showing 11.
All three Arab parties combined, Taal Hadash and Balad, also come to 11 seats.

Of the 43 on the left, Labor has 17, Hatuna combined with Yesh Atid gets 11 and Meretz gets 5.

The big winner is Habayit Hayehudi which is a revamp of the old National Religious Party (NRP). It is polling at 15 and is grabbing voters from Likud.

That only leaves 2 seats open for play.

A month ago I assumed that Likud would walk away with this election with a huge plurality. I must revise my estimate. Likud Israel Beiteynu will still be the largest party, but not by as much as I originally thought. I had also thought that Labor had seen its last days. Now it looks like Habayait Hayehudi will be the third largest party in the next Knesset and that Labor has new life and will once again come in second.

The older parties have been reinvented. Their new incarnations are grabbing voters.


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Friday, December 28, 2012

Muslims in Germany

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Muslim extremism is taking a new path in Germany.

On Christmas Day a university student from India was walking home in Bonn, Germany when Muslim men stopped him. They asked him what religion he was.

And then they demanded that he convert to Islam. They warned him that if he declined - they would cut out his tongue.

The young man just ignored them and continued walking. Two men tackled him from behind and beat him. And they took out a knife and cut his tongue.

The attackers ran, jumped into a car and sped away. Hopefully, they will be found and brought to justice in Germany.

Police in Bonn confirmed the incident and said an investigation is ensuing. The university student was taken to a local hospital and his name has not been released.

Germany is a Western democracy. One of the definitions of Western democracy is agreeing to disagree.

How can anyone in a Western democracy even begin to justify these actions to themselves and to others? How can a group of young men roam the streets and not be condemned by their own peers who should be telling them their action is reprehensible and unacceptable?

This act is the height of arrogance. 

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bibi Meets Jordan King

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Two Israeli news stations have citied a report that ran in the London based Arabic daily Al Quds al Arabi.
The report, which ran yesterday, said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had visited Amman, Jordan and had a long extensive discussion with King Abdullah.

This is not farfetched. And it has been confirmed by several members of the prime minister's inner circle.
The main topic of their discussion was the threat posed by Syria should they use non-conventional weapons.
Israel confirmed that they believe that the weapons are currently safely stored in Syria. They could not be certain, however, as to whether or not any chemical weapons have yet to be used during the conflict.

Israel and Jordan have history. In 1994 Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty but recently King Abdullah has been very critical of Israel and of Netanyahu.

There is important symbiosis between Israel and Jordan. They need one another and they especially need intelligence from one another. And they share enemies - and these enemies work tirelessly towards the destruction of both Jordan and of Israel. 

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Iran Navy War Games

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Guess what?

Iran has just announced that they will conduct another set of maneuvers in the Straits of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf over the weekend.

The commander of the Iranian navy made the announcement yesterday.
The war games will encompass one million square km. It will include navy, air force and ground missile systems.

The announcement asserts that the exercises are purely defensive.

The commander of the Iranian navy is correct in that the real objective of the maneuvers two fold. First, it is all a show, a grand, show. For internal consumption it will show the Iranians that they are a formidable force. And it will show the rest of the world, all of which will be watching, that Iran is not a push over.

The second and more important objective of these exercises is training. The Iranian navy is in need of training and rehearsal.

This really is, even more than a show, a training maneuver.

The Iranians know how to work a public relations angle, they know how to spin a story. 

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Churches Burned on Christmas

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

It is Christmas and that means that churches and Christianity will be under attack by hateful Muslims around the world.

It used to be that these attacks took place almost exclusively in the Middle East and in Muslim countries - but this year Christian communities in Austria and Australia have also been under attack.

The largest mosque on the Australian continent is the Lakemba Mosque, located in the suburb of Sydney called Lakemba in New South Wales. A fatwa, or religious edict, was issued on their Facebook page saying that it is a sin to celebrate any form of Christmas.

The Mosque caught a huge amount of blowback and took down the posting, but the sentiment was clear.

In Austria three churches were set on fire. All the churches were in the city of Amstetten and they were most probably targeted by the same arsonist or arsonists. One of the churches was set ablaze while services were in session. Pictures of the fires show significant damage to the buildings.

Attacks against churches will continue during Christmas season. The purpose is to lash out at Christian success. It is religious persecution born out of jealousy. What a way to prepare to welcome the year 2013. 

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Russians Coming - US Leaving

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A few weeks ago I reported that the US 5th fleet was stationed off the coast of Syria. Well, it has just pulled back and is now on its way back to Bahrain.

The 5th fleet is composed of dozens of ship and tens of fighter jets and a fighting force of 4,000. The aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower is the focal point of the fleet.

Why is the fleet leaving?

Probably because the Russians are coming back to Syria. No one wants a conflict in Syria between Russia and the United States.

After the US gave Syria's neighbors Turkey and Jordan patriot missiles, Russia countered by giving Syria five sets of the modern and extremely effective hypersonic rocket system called the Iskander. It has a range of 280 miles and can fly 1.3 miles per second with a 1,500 lb. warhead.

The Russians have already trained the Syrians on how to use the rocket system. This system has yet to be beaten. The Iskander gives Syrian forces a major advantage over all encroaching forces.

It is a defensive weapon and no foreign attacking rocket or aircraft is safe when the Iskander is in the area. 

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Syria's Economy

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

Predicting what will happen in Syria is almost impossible to do. But there are some indicators.

Like Russia: Right now, it seems as if the pendulum is swinging toward the rebels and that Russia is hinting that Assad's time may be coming to an end. But that pendulum can just as easily swing in the other direction any day now.

Like the money flow: I have been following the flow of money in Syria with great interest. Assad tapped into his Central Bank which 22 months ago had $18 billion in reserves, by now it is depleted by half.

Like the economy: Normally, civil wars are terrible for an economy. Before this conflict Syrian currency was 48 pounds to one US dollar. At one point it went to 105 pounds per US dollar. The currency is now coming down and hovers in the range of 90 plus Syrian pounds per one US dollar. That is s huge injection into the local economy - but not as it should be from the Syrian Central Bank.

The rebels are getting huge foreign currency injections. That is how they pay for the war. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey, the US and even some European countries must be pouring dollars into Syria. They are giving it to the rebels, paying them to fight. Money changers across Syria report rebel commanders selling dollars.

This is all counter-intuitive. In times of crisis people buy dollars to be safe and protect themselves against uncertainty. In this case they are selling dollars - large amounts of dollars. The foreign money is almost all US dollars and those dollars are keeping the pound stable.

Despite the analysis and the expertise and past experience, nobody knows what will happen next in Syria. 

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why I'm Against Hagel

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, has not been formerly nominated by the president - but he is the leading candidate for Secretary of Defense.

I am against the appointment - but not for the standard reasons. I will admit that Hagel has positioned himself against Israeli and, at times, against classical Western diplomatic policies especially when suggesting a sit down with Iran or when refusing to sign on to a letter condemning Hezbollah.

On these issues he is simply wrong. And there is place for disagreement. Hagel is not a friend of Israel but neither is he an enemy. Just because you are not a friend it does not necessarily follow that you are an enemy.

So why am I opposed to Hagel becoming the next United States Secretary of Defense? Hagel is a poor choice because of his personality. Hagel enjoys making people angry, he enjoys throwing out controversial comments and ideas. He loves to get a rise out of people. He gets a perverse thrill out of it.

That is not the kind of character that should be heading the DOD. 

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Polling in the PA

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A new study was just release by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, a Palestinians outlet that often takes polls and then presents and sends out messages about issues of import to the Palestinians.

They took a poll of 1200 people.
62% favor negations with Israel over a solution.
75% believe that the UN vote was justified.
51% feel that more violence against Israel is required.

If an election were held today, 43% would vote for Abbas and 29% would vote for Ismael Haniyah the head of Hamas.

These figures underscore conflicting realities within the Palestinian community. Palestinians are interested in a solution - but they also feel that attacking Israel is okay.

Most importantly, we now know that Mahmoud Abbas is much more popular than most people thought he was. 

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Syria Sends Gas to Lebanon

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

According to yesterday's Washington Post a Syrian defector is saying that Syria removed 100 kilos of chemical weapon components used for Sarin nerve gas.

According to the report the components were moved to Lebanon from their storage facility near Damascus.
The report described how, almost a year ago, two men with Lebanese accents arrived at the facility and were trained in how to mix the two gasses isopropanol and methylphosphonyl difluoride. They then removed and took100 kilos back to Lebanon.

The real shocker is that Syria has about 500 tons of isopropanol and methylphosphonyl difluoride. The gasses are kept separately. When mixed, they become chemically activated or - in military terms, they become weaponized and can then be used.

Once weaponized, the material must be stored carefully so that it will distribute properly. Once mixed, it has a very short lifespan so it must be used very soon afterward or it becomes oxidized and is not dangerous.
Sending 100 kilos to Lebanon is hardly a significant amount and hardly a serious threat. But it us enough for a single, localized, target. 

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Syrian Rebel Leader- Kill Christians

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Another major Muslim leader has called for the murder of Christians.

Ahmad Al Baghdadi Al Hassani is one of the leaders of the rebels in Syria fighting against Assad. He told
Christians to convert or die. He gave solace to the women, saying they could save themselves by marrying Muslims.

This announcement came just hours after another rebel leader exclaimed that after Assad, the rebels will turn their sights on Israel.

It is essential to understand something.

We in the West yearn to overthrow dictators and thugs. We want to support the oppressed against the oppressor. But sometimes, in the Middle East, the alternative is far worse the current ruling thug.

There is no doubt that a significant percentage of the rebel forces in Syria right now are either from al Qaeda or have an affinity for al Qaeda. Another significant percentage is deeply entrenched in extreme forms of Islam. These are people who reject any - I repeat - any interaction with the West or with liberalism.

Supporting rebels against thugs may not be the best idea. 

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PA & Hamas

By Micah Halpern
Tuesday December 18, 2012
I've Been Thinking:
So many people interested in Middle East goings on have been so focused on Israel's announcements about new settlements, even obsessing over them and shouting about how settlements have become an obstacle to peace with the Fatah - PA, that they are totally missing an important, developing, news story.

Here is the story for all who have missed it:
Hamas refused to grant Fatah permission to hold a rally in the central square of Gaza. Meanwhile, the PA has been permitting Hamas to hold repeated rallies in their cities and towns over the past two weeks. And those rallies are the trigger that is sewing the seeds for an Intifada that just may oust the PA.

The PA will not take this lightly. They must clamp down on Hamas.

At this point the prime goal of Hamas is to oust the PA and then make their move against Israel. They cannot achieve Part Two until they have accomplished Part One. This is the main reason why unification between
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority will never work.

Hamas believes that they need to control both Gaza and the West Bank in order to effectively challenge

Israel. It cannot be done from Gaza alone. That explains why Hamas is now so active in Ramallah and other large cities in the West Bank.

Hamas is creating an infrastructure to take over the PA and then attack Israel. That's the story - and it is one of the biggest stories in the Middle East right now.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Syria What is the Best Move

By Micah Halpern
Monday December 17, 2012
I've Been Thinking:

Right now, it is very PC to side with "the rebels" against Assad in Syria. And the United States has thrown its support behind "the rebels." But "the rebels" are not one entity. The rebels are an extremely divided group.

One set of rebels are, in fact, al Qaeda. And another set of rebels are Salafis.

The leader of the Salafis in Jordan spoke at the funeral of a fellow member who killed himself in a suicide bombing earlier in the week.

The Salafi leader made the following statements:

"We tell Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, get ready. The army of the Prophet Mohammad is coming your way." "Those carrying explosives in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will find you, Allah willing."
"The next fight is between us and you."

"Take over Damascus and then head to Tel Aviv ... As far as we are concerned, Palestine stretches from river to sea, from Rafah to a-Nakura. We will not rest until Palestine is liberated."

Do not be deceived. Those fighting to oust Assad want to destroy Israel. These groups aka "the rebels" are even more virulent in their hatred of Israel than the rebels who ousted Mubarak in Egypt.

The West and Israel must be very careful. You may support "the rebels" against Assad but know that they are not your friends.

The lesser of these two evils is still very, very, evil. 

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Call for a 3rd Intifada

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
The National Union Battalions has declared that the 3rd Intifada has begun.

The group called National Union Battalions is composed of members from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah.
Their YouTube video explains their goals.

They are now passing leaflets throughout the West Bank and sending out links to their video.

I do not think that they have enough momentum from the masses yet to call the situation "Intifada" which means "uprising" in Arabic. But they are stoking the coals.

The National Union Battalions wants more people to come out, more road blocks and more rock throwers and Molotov cocktail throwers. They have been sending around videos of Israeli soldiers running away from Palestinian youths throwing rocks. The videos proclaim these events as major victories for the Palestinians.

Although it is clear that they are not victories, these videos are from the psychological standpoint, very powerful motivation tools for attracting young Palestinians to throw rocks and go riot. The feeling that results from forcing heavily armed Israelis soldiers to run away must be thrilling.

Israel needs to decide on a very clear path of response. Too heavy a hand could truly force the 3rd Intifada into happening and too light a hand could motivate the masses to join in more acts of uprising. 

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Not An Intifada Yet

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

It is not quite an Intifada -- not yet. But if the Israeli army does not properly handle the unrest in the West Bank it will turn into an Intifada.

Over a thousand people marched toward the check point in Hebron and dozens others marched in towns and cities throughout the West Bank.

They came marching to attend PA sanctioned rallies.

The PA sanctioned rallies were called to officially celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas. It was a dangerous decision the PA made to permit Hamas to march because the inevitable violence could have turned not only against Israel, but also against the PA itself.

The rioters threw Molotov cocktails and rocks. Soldiers fired tear gas.

On Wednesday, in Hebron, a female border guard saw a young boy pull a handgun on her fellow soldier and point it to the back of his head. The Israeli border guard instinctively drew up her weapon and shot and killed the boy. It was later discovered that the gun in the hand of the boy was a toy.

The picture of the Israeli border guard has been sent around the internet with the word "criminal" splashed on it and a warning that "we know who you are."

With each passing day the anger and the violence increases.
 The tide has to be reversed to avoid another Intifada.

Unfortunately, the PA does not realize how much is at stake. Hamas really wants an Intifada. For Hamas an Intifada would effectively mean taking over the West Bank. That would oust the PA totally and completely.
The Palestinian Authority does not realize what they have unleashed. The PA still does not get it. The never will. 

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Palestinians Get Cocky

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
 The Palestinians are emboldened.

Since last week's UN resolution changing the status of the Palestinians to that of non-voting member, we have seen some significant changes in Palestinian diplomatic bravado.

The following was reported in the London Arabic paper, Al Sharq al Awsat: King Abdullah of Jordan came to Ramallah this week and emphasized the need to return to the negotiation table with Israel.

The paper said that Palestinian president Abbas responded by saying that several conditions must be met before he returns to the table.

And only then will he evaluate the attitude of Israel to the new situation of the Palestinians and determine whether to continue negotiations.

The first condition is that Israel recognize Palestinian state borders within the '67 borders. Next, negotiations must pick up where they broke down under former Prime Minister Olmert which was the swapping of Israeli land for 2.8% of the West Bank. And of course, all settlement activity must stop.

Setting conditions in order to start talks is inevitably an excuse to quit. The conditions are what need to be negotiated.

The Palestinians believe that they have the full commitment of 138 nations behind them. The problem is that peace needs to be negotiated with Israel - not with the 138 countries that voted for the change in Palestinian at the UN.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Inspections in Iran?

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is returning to Iran this week. No major interaction has taken place between the IAEA and Iran since January.

At the meetings the IAEA hopes to get permission to inspect and tour Parchin, a huge nuclear facility outside of Teheran. The IAEA suspects that nuclear explosive tests took place in Parchin earlier this year.

In photos Iranians are seen in plowing under earth and shipping it out - ostensibly to hide the remains of nuclear fallout from the experiment. This is known in the nuclear business as "sanitizing a site."

In addition to Parchin the IAEA wants permission to interview Iranian scientists and try to find out what is happening.

The IAEA hopes that the pressure for sanctions will soften IranĂ¢€™s point of view and allow their inspectors some latitude.

I am not as optimistic as the IAEA.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Syria - Almost 2 Years

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The civil war in Syria has been dragging on for 21 months.

The figures are staggering. Syria is a relatively small country. 22.5 million people live in Syria. Most of them have been seriously impacted by the conflict.

As of now the there have been about 45,000 deaths. And 509,000 refugees have fled the country - that equals about 2.5 percent of the population. The refugee figures come from the UN. The fatality figures are an estimate.

The destinations of the refugees are Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan.

As we plot and monitor the crisis so far in Syria it seems clear that the pendulum swings back and forth. Assad is on the rise and then he is on the ropes. The resistance is more effective and then they are less effective. Until the rebels unite it will be very difficult to oust Assad.

It is impossible to predict the future of Syria. As long as the air force and most of the army still stand behind Assad he will not step down and he will continue to inflict serious damage on the rebels. And the country will remain torn and shattered. 

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Syria Impacts Lebanon

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

What happens in Syria has an impact on Lebanon. That should come as no surprise to anyone following the Middle East.

Lebanon is in many ways attached to Syria. And so the civil war of Syria is also being fought on the streets of Lebanon.

Sometimes the fighters are armed gangs that support one side against the other. But the most common place for the fight to be pursued is in the media - on television, radio, newspapers and on the web.
Syria supports Hezbollah in Lebanon. So does Iran. Iran also supports Bashar Assad of Syria. The relationship between Syria and Lebanon is so very close that until very recently, Syria did not even have an embassy in Lebanon - they simply saw Lebanon as a Syrian province.

Syria murdered the political leadership it did not like in Lebanon. Literally. They acted with impunity.
Lebanon is more open, richer, better educated and much more cosmopolitan than Syria, but the Lebanese were there to do the bidding of Damascus. And the divisions and conflicts within Lebanon only served to assist Syria in manipulating Lebanese society and leadership and causing more strife.

Lebanese who were supportive of Syria got a pay check from Syria and they did what they were told. So again, it is no surprise that those supporters hired by Assad are now attacking supporters of the Syrian rebels on the streets of Lebanon.

Expect more conflict on the streets of Lebanon.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Arabs PLedge $100/month to PA

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The most important decision to emerge from the recent Arab summit is that they - Arab countries - will provide the Palestinian Authority with $100 million per month.

It is all the result of the UN vote which changed Palestinian status to that of observer state from organization.
Now, Arab countries are stepping forward with commitments.

According to World Bank figures, the PA actually needs $243 million per month. They will get $100 million from taxes collected by Israel. But that still leaves a serious deficit. The vast majority of PA costs go to paying their 153,000 civil servants.

The $43 million difference must be made up by taxes. And so far, the PA has failed miserably at collecting taxes. For that matter, they have failed at almost every element in the bureaucratic infrastructure that is the foundation of government.

The $100 million from Arab countries is a very important injection into their economy but - despite the promises, very seldom do Arab countries honor their pledges, especially to the PA. And if they do, the money never gets there on time.

And then there are the questions of who will be collecting money and how will it be transferred? These are some of the questions left unanswered at the summit.

Getting aid is fine, but the bigger problem facing the Palestinian Authority is building an economy - an economy that can sustain itself so that it does not have to live on the dole. 

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Shocking Perfume in Gaza- Kill Jews

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

I could never have made this one up.

A new Perfume has hit the market in Gaza. It is called M-75. M-75 is the official name of the Iranian Fajr rocket that was shot toward Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense.

The fragrance comes in both male and female scents. It also comes with a message. The message is: this perfume is "worthy of the victory in the Gaza Strip."

I have already written about how the name Fajr has become very popular since the operation - but a perfume?!

Sadly, it is not the first time this has happened. After the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah a Lebanese company came out with a fragrance called "Perfume of Resistance."

I cannot imagine what it is made of and how it was developed. The Palestinians may call it perfume, but it probably the watered down version known as toilet water. A main line fragrance costs 100 million to develop and that process takes several years. The science behind perfumery is extremely sophisticated as is the marketing.

Here the marketing plan for both fragrances is very simple: Celebrate the killing of Jews. 

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Maashal in Gaza

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Halad Maashal is in Gaza.

Maashal arrived yesterday and will be in Gaza for 48 hours celebrating both the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas and the recent Hamas victory over Israel.
Maashal is the head of Hamas.

He is officially in exile and, according to Israel, not permitted in Gaza.

In 1997 after a gruesome terror attack in a market in Jerusalem then Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the assassination of Halad Maashal.

Two Mossad agents approached Maashal in Amman, Jordan and spritzed him in the ear with a poison. But they botched the mission and the two agents were subdued by Maashal's driver and arrested. After the antidote was delivered and Maashal's life was saved, the agents were released.

As another part of the deal to free the agent Hamas prisoners in Israel jails were released - including Sheik Ahmad Yassin, known as the Blind Sheik.

Maashal is a major symbol for Hamas and for Israel. His arrival to Gaza raises some big issues. Should Israel try to assassinate him and this time succeed, what will be the fallout? 

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Israeli Elections

By Micah Halpern
Friday December 7, 2012
I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday, the Israeli election committee officially closed the list of parties eligible to run in the January 22, 2013 election for the 120 seats in Israel's 19th Knesset.

34 parties are now registered. Several parties may still drop out, but no more can be added. Each party must now submit their list of viable Knesset members. The Knesset has 120 seats and each party will choose the people and the order of their list. Some parties will vote on it, some will have a committee choose and some will have their list chosen by a rabbi.

Of the 34 parties only 10 to 15 will make get enough votes to be viable. A party must receive 2% of the vote to be eligible to sit in the Knesset. This 2% threshold restricts marginal and small parties.
In the last election, in February of 2009, 13 parties were elected.

Only 4 of those parties won more than 10 seats. Kadima won 28, Likud won 27, Israel is Our Home won 15 and Shas won 11 seats.

Since then, Kadima has totally imploded. Likud and Israel is Our  Home have merged. In all likelihood, this time around Shas will again get at least 10-12 seats or perhaps even 15 seats. One or two new parties will probably emerge and garner 8 or 9 seats - enough to exert some control and pressure on the larger parties. But in the end, these new parties like so many others before them they will have no staying power. The new parties that emerge are usually single issue parties, or parties based on a single personality.

I expect the total amount of Arab seats to remain the same at 11. And I expect the ultra religious Ashkenazi seats to remain at 5 seats. I also expect Labor to drop from 8 to 5 or 4 seats.

The big winner will be the Likud Israel is Our Home party which will get at least 42 seats in this election. Should they hit the 50 mark which is not totally improbably, it would make the task of cobbling together a coalition government that much easier. The leading party only needs 61 seats to form and maintain a government.

January 22nd is approaching fast.
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Thursday, December 6, 2012

E-1 Spit at the US

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Israeli decision to move ahead on a plan to build in Area E-1 has raised many people's ire. Some supporters of Israel are asking: Why spit in the face of your ally, the United States?

The US did everything it could to avoid the UN vote on Palestinian which would change the status of the PA to that of observer.

Nothing else could have been done to prevent the resolution on the floor of the General Assembly.

What is E-1?

It is an area of about 4.6sq miles that abuts Maalei Adumim and is called Maveseret Adumim. It is the area that would connect Maalei Adumim to Jerusalem. It is an area that runs next to several Arab villages including Abu Dis and Isawiyah.

In the 1950's the Jahalin Bedouins were relocated from the Negev near Tel Arad to what is now known as Area E-1 because the area was necessary for military and defense use. In 1994 then Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin officially made E-1 part of Maaleh Adumim. In 2008 a multimillion dollar regional police headquarters was completed there.

Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Bibi Netanyahu have all wanted to implement construction in E-1. For Barak and Olmert the idea was two-fold. It was a check to Arab development that was going east and it enabled a road which would bypass Jerusalem going from Bethlehem to Ramallah on the other side of Maalei Adumim.

These plans were discussed in the Taba Talks. At the time the Bush administration forced Israel to desist from pursuing the plans because it would be seen as inflammatory and destructive to the peace process.

So, yes. Israel's decision to advance the E-1 plan is spitting in the face of the United States. 

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Jordan King to Visit Ramallah

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Jordan's King Abdullah plans on visiting Ramallah tomorrow, Thursday.

This will be the first visit of a head of state to Ramallah since last Thursday's UN vote changing the status of the PLO from an organization to an observer state.

Only a few dozen miles separate Ramallah from Amman, Jordan. The trip will take the king no more than a few minutes by helicopter.

The purpose of the visit is very significant. King Abdullah of Jordan is telling Israel that Jordan is firmly behind the UN change and Palestinian statehood. Jordan has much at stake in a successful Palestinian state especially because Jordan is composed predominantly of Palestinians.

Disorder or political unrest in the Palestinian Authority will certainly flow over the river to the Hashemite kingdom.

In Jordan, at this moment, there is a very strong anti-monarchy movement being led by the Islamists. They would gladly join forces with the Palestinians if they could in order to oust the king.

Going to Ramallah is not ceremonial. Going to Ramallah is an essential political move by Hussein. The fact that the visit also effectively embarrasses Israel is a double bonus for Jordan and for the Palestinians. 

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Iran Thinks Assad is on the Way Out

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A newspaper in Lebanon that is supportive of the Syrian rebels recently reported that Iran believes that the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad may be coming to an end.

The paper relates that Ali Larijani, Iranian speaker of the parliament, told Syrian president Bashar Assad that at the point of no return, Iran will host him. Supposedly Assad responded by saying he has only two options - death or victory.

The newspaper added that the tone used by Larijani was one of farewell. It seems that this is not a change in Iranian policy - it seems that this is the exact same message that the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei gave to Assad months ago.

More important than the message here, is the medium. The entire episode was reported in a media outlet that supports the rebel cause against Assad. It is a tool which sends a message of hope to those fighting the regime. The message says that even Iran, the greatest supporters of Assad, has concluded that the regime will soon fall.

I do not know if the assessment is correct. I can say that the death total is getting higher and higher. And it seems that many more rebels are dying than Assad loyalists.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Turkey Wants Patriot Missiles

I've Been Thinking:

Hillary Clinton is traveling to Europe this week. Her first stop is Prague where the Secretary of State will discuss their energy problems. The most important leg of this trip will be Brussels where Clinton will join with the other NATO foreign ministers.

The most significant issue on the agenda in Brussels will be Turkey's request for Patriot missiles. The Patriot is an American made anti-surface-to-surface missile battery.

Turkey has fears that Syria will launch chemical weapons at the rebels and may - either accidentally or deliberately, strike Turkey.

The Turks say that they have intelligence to that effect and they point to several Syrian rockets that have already gone awry.

There is no doubt that Syria has at least several hundred ballistic missiles with chemical warhead capability. The chemicals Syria is thought to have are mustard gas, a form of sulfur that burns the skin terribly, and the nerve agents sarin and vx.

In 2003, during the Gulf War, Turkey received two sets of Patriots batteries. They were Dutch and German manned and in place to protect Turkey. That is their hope once again.

It is very unlikely that Syria will launch such weapons. And even less likely that they will use them to attack Turkey. But Turkey is correct in wanting to be prepared for all contingencies and if the Dutch and the Germans agree, there should be no significant reason to deny the request.

The discussion in and of itself is significant because it shows us that, finally, NATO is starting to take a real interest in Syria and the Middle East.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Who Supported Israel and the UN

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The same question has been asked of me over and over and over again since the UN vote of Thursday. It is a question worth raising and answering.

The question is: Which are the eight countries who voted together with Israel against the Palestinian state?
The vote was 138 - 9 with 41 exemptions. Given that 132 nations already had diplomatic ties with the PA the vote was a slam dunk from the outset.

The answer as to which countries supported Israel will blow your mind.

The United States and Canada were the only countries in North America to support Israel. That's two.
The only European country to support Israel was the Czech Republic and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting there today to thank them personally. That's three.

Then there was Panama. That's four.

The other four countries were Pacific Island nations that most people have never even heard and would never find on a map.

Nauru has 9,378 residents. Palau has about 20,000. The Marshall Islands has 68,000 residents. Micronesia, which has supported Israel in the past, is a huge metropolis by comparison with 111,000 residents.

Four of the countries eight countries that threw their support behind Israel in the United Nations vote have a combined population of about 200,000 people. You can fit them all in a few blocks in New York City. 

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Saturday, December 1, 2012


By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Palestinians and Mahmoud Abbas are in 7th heaven. They never anticipated just how glorious it would feel to so publicly defeat Israel and the United States.

Israel is still feeling the sting of the trouncing. Only eight other countries took their side at the United Nations. They feel totally abandoned and the scope of the loss is hard to quantify.

Never before has this kind of near total rejection of Israel's POV ever happened on the international diplomatic stage.

Part of it had to do with the point of the argument which was, admittedly, hard to win. 132 of 193 countries in the UN already have diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority. Actually, more countries in the UN have diplomatic relations with the PA than have with Israel.

Even if people disagreed with the argument it was, nonetheless, valid, logical and most importantly - legal. The UN violated one of its own preconditions by voting in a change of status for the PA. They are giving country status - the name Palestine - to something without borders.

One response to the whole situation is to quote from Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. In the1950's Ben Gurion said about the UN which is referred to as the OOM in Hebrew, OOM SHMOOM!

There is nothing more that can be said. 

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