Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hamas Sends Message to Obama

By Micah Halpern

I've Been Thinking:

Many issues are afoot.

This past week Abdullah King of Jordan met Haled Mashal, the Hamas politburo chief, in Amman.

We were told that the discussion was about Palestinian statehood. We naturally assumed that Abdullah was trying to convince Mashal to reconcile with Abbas so that the Palestinians can unite and make a state.

Well, not quite. It seems that one of the things they discussed was a way to empower Abdullah so that he becomes a mediator between Hamas and the United States.

There is more. We are now being told that Mashal asked the King of Jordan to deliver a message to President Obama informing that Hamas now accepts the idea of two states.

That information must be verified and then, if it is true, it must be publicly pronounced.
There is no question about it - if Hamas announces that they accept the idea of two states it removes one major obstacle in the path of the United States leading to direct discussions with Israel.

Of course, there are several other huge problems to be overcome before Israel and any Palestinians sit down and talk. One of the most significant is the sponsorship of terror by Hamas.

But there is no doubt that the US would look very positively on Hamas if they publicly announced their recognition of Israel within the '67 borders. 

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kerry Confirmed - Hagel in Line

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Senate approved John Kerry as the next Secretary of State of the United States.
The vote was 94 in favor and 3 opposed.

That should be no surprise.

The big event will be Thursday when Chuck Hagel comes before the subcommittee. They will grill him. Grill him about what he said and what he thinks about Iran and about Israel and about the role of the United States.

The biggest question will be what Hagel thinks the US world view should be.
Is Hagel an isolationist? If he is might possibly nix him - the only thing that might nix his appointment.

Nothing short of that will tarnish Obama's Hagel nomination. 

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Iron Dome in The North

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Israel has repositioned one of the batteries on the supper effective anti-rocket system ... called the Iron Dome.

The Israelis moved a set of Iron Dome anti-rocket rockets to a site just outside the city of Safed.

The Iron Dome is the system that, without a doubt, saved hundreds if not thousands of lives during Operation Pillar of Defense that took place late last year. The land-to-air system locks on to incoming rockets, triangulates and then shoots. As it travels at extremely high speeds the Iron Dome re-triangulates and then destroys the incoming rockets mid-air so that they do not hit their targets.

The Iron Dome was created to combat against Hamas in Gaza and the incessant launching of rockets into Israel.

So why has an Iron Dome battery been moved all the way up north to be near the near the city if Safed?
The answer is Hezbollah. There is real fear in Israel that Hezbollah will again start to lob rockets into Israel- maybe even gas filled rockets. Repositioning the Iron Dome serves both to protect and to intimidate.

It is to let Hezbollah know that Israel will shoot down any foreign object entering their air space. 

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Huge Blast in Iran Nuke Lab

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

This story has still not been covered by Western press.

Earlier last week there was a huge explosion in Fordo, the 2nd most important nuclear development site in Iran. The blast was so huge that people felt it miles away. The Teheran-Qoms highway which runs close to the site of the blast was closed for hours.

Fordo has 2,700 nuclear rods, or centrifuges. It is a serious atomic location, second only to Natanz which has 10,000 nuclear rods.

Fordo was always thought to be impregnable. It is built deep into a mountain and is totally underground. It is so deep underground that bunker buster bombs have been thought to be useless against it.

But this explosion was not spontaneous, it was not some freak accident. The report on the incident suggests that it was an act of sabotage.

That proves that saboteurs and spies can get anywhere.

When you add this act of sabotage at Fordo to the computer attacks that have been plaguing Iran and the continued accidents happening around the country you can only come to the conclusion that an anti-Iranian nuclear program is in place.

There is clearly a system set up to destroy the Iranian atomic infrastructure. And it is doing a good job of it. 

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Abbas on New Is Coalition & His Demnads

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The World Economic Conference in Davos just ended. Leaders have gone their separate ways, some to attend other conferences.

The African Union Summit followed Davos. It was there that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stood up early Sunday morning and said that "the Israeli coalition's makeup might change, but the Palestinian's demands for the negotiations will not change."
Abbas made clear exactly what Palestinian demands are: "the freezing of settlement construction, releasing prisoners and solving the core issues like Jerusalem and the refugees."

The most interesting insight to emerge from the recent Israeli election and the formation of the new coalition is that the Palestinian issue is not a significant variable. In fact, it is way down the list of priorities and, for some, it is a negative issue.

Despite lip service from the White House saying that the Palestinian issue is important and lip service from the Arab world saying it is important, there has been almost no pressure on Israel or on the Palestinians to solve the problem.

That is revealing. 

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Egypt 2nd Anniversary

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Torching is a mode of communication in Egypt. In Egypt, they torch things.
Until now I have spent quite some time explaining that the Islamists of Egypt have torched Christian sites.
Well, the tables have been turned.

Yesterday the Islamic Brotherhood offices in Ismailia Egypt were torched. Youths broke in and set the office on fire. And in three other cities in Egypt similar clashes occurred between the police and youths protesting the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.
There were huge demonstrations.

In Cairo the police shot tear gas into the crowd to prevent them from storming the presidential palace.
In Alexandria a court was attacked by demonstrators shouting "Muslim Brotherhood this is the last day for you."

In Suez 4 people were killed. 186 civilians and 45 security personnel were wounded.
It all happened as the result of anti-Morsi, anti-Brotherhood, demonstrations that turned into riots. And it took place on the second anniversary of the revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

What the Egyptians really need now is stability and tourism to jumpstart their economy. But there will be no tourists, no jumpstart and no stability. There will be more violence. 

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Bibi & Wife Vs Coalition

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Forging a coalition is without a doubt the most difficult part of the election process in Israel.

After a long, hard fought and often ugly election battle, compromises and promises must be made in order to obtain the required 60 Knesset seats. Election planks and platforms are first weighed and then cast away in favor of the issues of power, control and of course, prestige.

Well before results were in, Netanyahu called potential coalition partners. Immediate calls went out to ultra orthodox Shas which then won 11 seats, ultra orthodox United Torah which then won 7 seats and the anti  ultra orthodox Yesh Atid (There is a Future) which in the end won 19 seats immediately.

But Netanyahu did not call his natural partner, Ha Bayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) party, a modern Zionist orthodox party which garnered 12 seats until late Thursday. And there is a simple reason for that.

Netanyahu's wife Sara did not want him to make the call. There is bad blood between the leader of The Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett, and Sara Netanyahu. It goes all the way back to the time when Bennett was chief of staff in the office of the prime minister.

No doubt there has been much pressure in the Netanyahu household to avoid a connection with Bennett. Netanyahu needs to weigh the sides - the wrath of his wife or a successful coalition insuring his position as prime minister. It is not an easy decision to make.

Sarah has a strong hold on her man. But the prime ministry may be even stronger - and, despite the protestations and a clash of personalities, Bennett can only help Netanyahu.

Sara will probably lose this battle, but she will come back later with a vengeance. 

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Israel Not Right Wing

By Micah Halpern
Thursday January 24, 2013

I'm Predicting:

For months now commentators and analysts have been talking about the radicalization of Israeli politics and bemoaning the fact that mainstream Israel was leaning more and more to the right.
They were wrong.

These trained observers of Israeli politics swallowed hook, line and sinker the Palestinian line. That line is simply anti-Israel.

Anything that is not decisively pro-Palestinian is seen by commentators as rabidly right wing and as an extremist point of view.

By now the picture of true Israeli society should be perfectly clear.

The Atid party, a centrist party, gained 19 of the 120 Knesset seats and is now the 2nd largest party in the Knesset only after Netanyahu's Likud. Both these parties seem to want to join forces.

To do that, each party will have to compromise, or give in, on certain essential platforms.
Most important is the universal draft - a requirement that every Israeli serve in the army.

Interestingly, the other new and newly huge party in the Knesset, Habayit HaYehudi or The Jewish Home, believes in the same principle. They all also believe in similar social issues with Atid, like the breakdown of the power of the ultra orthodox rabbinate.

These two new parties, both led by young new political leaders, compose 30 Knesset seats. That is exactly 25% of the Israeli parliament. They are not extremist, they are a real reflection of the new Israel. On social issues they are more similar than one might be led to believe.

With Netanyahu and his 31 seats, Lapid with his 19 seats and Bennett with his 11 seats these parties combined have 61 seats, a perfect number. Just over half of the 120 seats needed to form a government.

My bet is that these three parties will form the coalition Netanyahu needs to govern. 

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Israel Election Surprise

By Micah Halpern
Wednesday January 23, 2013
 I've Been Thinking:

Elections in Israel are over -- finally. Now the real work begins.

The earliest and the most obvious result to come in from this election is that the polls were off, really off. If polling in general is difficult, polling Israelis is nearly impossible.
Israelis never vote for what they want.

Israelis vote to punish or to check or counter check.

Because almost no Israeli actually votes because they support a particular point of view, the swing vote is more volatile than any mathematical variable.

In the end Netanyahu's combined party of Likud - Beiteinu got 33 seats. The second largest party won 19 seats and it is the brand new party called Yesh Atid which means "there is a future". Yesh Atid is lead by brand new party head Yair Lapid, a former pro soccer player, tv talk show star and media personality. He is the son of Tommy Lapid who was an outspoken and even more popular media personality who also used his fame as a catapult into politics. His mother is one of Israel's leading authors.

Yair learned well from the father. His party ran on an anti'ultra religious platform. The most significant point it embraces is a universal draft - a direct assault on the ultra-religious and one more socially progressive policies - another assualt. He is realistic on Palestinian peace.

Lapid and his Yesh Atid Party could hold some important cards if they join the Likud - Beiteinu coalition. 

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Elections in Israel

I've Been Thinking:

Israelis are about to vote.

On the lighter side, one candidate's water broke and she ran to the hospital with Zippi Livni, the party head, accompanying her.

On a more serious note, and this is an issue that concerns me a lot, on the eve of the election Shas is giving out blessings and amulets in exchange for votes.

The amulets are called kamayahs.

Giving blessings in exchange for a vote is totally illegal. It is even more powerful an incentive in certain communities than paying people to vote.

The kamayahs come from Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party and one of the undisputed greatest rabbis in the world today.   So even non religious people and certainly people who are religious  will vote in exchange for a kamayah that promises economic success.

Shas was fined 37000 shekels which is a out $9000.

The fine is a drop in the bucket and will have no impact.
The kamayah will most certainly have an impact on this election. 

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More Riots in Egypt

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Rioting has rocked Alexandria, Egypt for the past two days. The rioters burned down a court house and the police trucks that transport riot police.

These riots are taking place outside the court that is hearing the case of six policemen on trial for using excessive force in January and February of 2011. The court house is located near the Italian consulate. Without explanation, the judge trying the case stepped down yesterday.

Egypt is about to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the rebellion that ousted Hosni Mubarak. That rebellion began on January 25 and ended when Mubarak stepped down on February 11. About 900 people were killed in the uprising, 300 in Alexandria.

Riots are also taking place in Cairo. Four people died and twelve were wounded including two police officers during the conflict with police and it still does not appear that quiet has been restored to either Alexandria or Cairo.

As we get closer and closer to January 25 and February 11 Egypt will be swept up in even more violence and even more conflict. The countdown has begun. 

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Israeli Election - Hours Away

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Israeli election is just hours away. Tensions are rising. Hatred and anger are permeating the process.

Some of the smaller parties with no chance of getting the minimum number of votes needed to attain seats in the Knesset are dropping out.

Shas leader Ovadia Yosef has proclaimed that the newly reconstituted Jewish Home party, in Hebrew called HaBayit HaYehudi, formerly called the National Religious Party, is composed of thugs and not only are they thugs but they are not even religious thugs.

And some very troubling graffiti has been scrawled in public places.
In big black letters, on the outside wall of the new break-off party called the Movement, or Hatenuah in Hebrew, someone wrote: Yigal Amir was right.

Yigal Amir is the convicted assassin of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. His stated reason for the assassination was Rabin’s desire to pursue a peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Hatenuah is a centrist left party. While it embraces a peace agenda, that is hardly the only plank in their platform. But they are likely to be one of the largest parties wanting to advance the peace process.

Any reference to violence - especially talk of assassination, must be condemned by all parties. I repeat, condemned by all parties.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Again Christians Attacked in Egypt

I've Been Thinking:

Christians are once again being attacked in Egypt.

In the province of Qena, Christian shops and the local churches were firebombed and stoned. The violence began when Muslims left their Mosques after midday Friday prayers.

The claim is that a Christian owner of one of the Christian shops molested a Muslim girl and that was what triggered the mobs to attack Christian businesses and churches and other properties.

In an unusual and nearly unprecedented act the police arrived at the scene of the massive mobs, shot tear gas into the groups to disperse the crowd and attempted to restore order.

Qena is situated halfway between the Northern cities and the resorts of the Red Sea. It is situated on the east bank of the Nile.

Despite the green beauty of the vegetation and the perfect location for travelers, Qena has been hard hit in these difficult economic times in Egypt.

Tension between the Christian minority and the Muslim majority in the region is as common as it is extremely violent. And rest assured it is not going away. 

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Friday, January 18, 2013

McDonough to Be Obama Chief of Staff

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

President Obama is most likely going to appoint Denis McDonough as his 6th chief of staff. McDonough is currently the Deputy National Security Adviser.

General agreement has it that McDonough is well respected in the White House and that the President likes and trusts him a lot.

He is from Minnesota. He is one of 11 children.

After coming to DC to study for a master's degree at Georgetown University, McDonough spent his entire career on the Hill. He was aide to the House Committee on International Affairs. He was a staffer for several senators.

And in the 2008 election McDonough was one of the key foreign policy people in the Obama campaign.

To gauge just how much a part of the inner circle McDonough is, take another look at the now famous picture of the War Room during the raid on Osama bin Laden. McDonough is the one sitting right next to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Iran's Space Program

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Iran is expanding its space program and is going to send a monkey into space in February. The last time they tried this, the monkey died.

Hamid Fazeli, Iran's Director of Space, said yesterday that Iran would be entering another rocket into space as part of the 34th Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Their first venture into space took place in 1979.

Surprisingly, Iran has a very successful space program. They have successfully launched at least three satellites. The Omid in February of 2009, Rassad in June of 2011 and Navid in February of 2012. The Iranians had planned on another launch in May.

Other than the monkey, Iran has successfully sent other animals in to space including a turtle, a rat and worms. They are plans for a human launch sometime before 2020.

I monitor the Iranian space program because the exact same capabilities needed for space launches are needed to launch nonconventional warheads.

No puns intended, the Iranians are advancing their space program at rocket speeds. Unlike their nuclear programs, their space program flies under the radar of international weapon monitors. 

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

IAEA Hopeful w/ Iran

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the UN which is head quartered in Vienna, Austria has arrived in Iran.

The IAEA arrived in order to attempt to jump start their inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities. The most important item on the IAEA agenda is to create a framework through which they can then approach their purpose and fulfill their mission in Iran.

Herman Nackaerts, deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, spoke to the press yesterday before taking off for Iran.

Nackaerts acknowledged that it is an open secret that Iran does not wish the IAEA to succeed. Still, there is a small possibility that a framework may yet be hammered out.

Iran is not against the principle of the inspections. And that is the IAEA ace in the hole.

They just don't intend for the IAEA to find anything. But that's another story. 

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hamas Closes Tunnels - Weather

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Hamas leadership in Gaza made an important announcement yesterday.

They will shut down all tunnels.

The tunnels run from Egypt into Gaza. Almost everything is brought through those tunnels except for weapons, explosives and rockets. Even trucks and livestock come into Gaza by way of tunnels.

So why did Palestinian leadership in Gaza shut down the tunnels thereby halting the import of many and necessary goods? Because the weather was endangering the goods and the lives of workers.

Too many tunnels have collapsed because of the many rains this season. The other day six workers were lost in the tunnels.

The tunnels are actually illegal in the eyes of Israel and Egypt. They are perfectly legal to the Palestinians. Legal, but now unsafe. 

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Iran Elections June 14

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

Elections for president of Iran will take place exactly five months from now, on June 14th.

The new president will replace Ahmadinejad who has served the maximum two terms in office.
A series of messages have been sent out to all candidates. The messages are saying: Do not criticize the system.

The 2009 elections saw a revolution that almost toppled the Islamic regime. Most of the leaders of that revolution are still under house arrest. Many of the followers and much of the infrastructure has since been dismantled.

This time around the candidates will be vetted. The real victor will be a party player.

So far the candidates are Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, a prominent lawmaker named Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and ex-Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei.

My money right now is on Larijani - but things can always change. 

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Palestinians Squat in E-1

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

On Friday, during the wee hours of the morning, just before sunrise - 200 Palestinians joined by foreign activists came to the area known as E-1 and started pitching tents.

E-1 is the area that received prominence immediately after the UN General Assembly decision changing Palestinian status to that of observer. It received prominence and attention because immediately after the UN vote Israel announced that it would be building in E-1. And that announcement was met with international outrage aimed at Israel.

In reality, Israel did not build in E-1 - they just announced plans.
Now Palestinians have erected a temporary outlet there.

The Israeli Supreme Court will most certainly rule that the Palestinian tents must be evacuated. There is no doubt that the outpost is a provocation.

And yet, I have heard no international outcry against the Palestinians. The international community is probably waiting for Israel to initiate the evacuation - then there will be an outrage.

The inconsistency and the irony should not be lost. 

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

US Ship Rams Ship in Hormuz Again

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

It happened again yesterday. And it is extremely embarrassing.

A US nuclear submarine struck a ship in the Straits of Hormuz. No one was hurt. But the periscope of the sub was destroyed.

Evidently, the sub hit a fishing boat with its periscope. No damage was done to the civilian fishing vessel. According to an official Navy report, after the incident the fishing boat continued along unnoticed and unchanged in speed.

The statement from the 5th fleet reads "continued on a consistent course and speed offering no indication of distress or acknowledgment of a collision."

This is just one of many instances of US naval ships ramming one another and other vessels in the very narrow, very crowded, Straits of Hormuz.

It proves several important points:
The Straits are very hard to navigate.

The home team advantage goes to Iran which has much smaller subs.

For the US, even the best and most technologically proficient ships cannot be on top of one another without hitting one another.

Believe me, the Iranians are getting a good laugh about this - and it is at the expense of the United States.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Egypt & Iran Try To Make Nice

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Iran and Egypt appear to be mending fences.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi visited Egypt yesterday. The press coverage of the visit underplayed the dramatic differences between the two countries.

The differences are gargantuan. Iran and Egypt are diametrically opposed over Syria. Religiously, one is a Shiite country and the other Sunni. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979 and then the assassination of Egyptian President Sadat there has been nothing more than a frigid cold relationship between the two nations - and it has never thawed. Iran even named a main square in Teheran after Sadat's assassin.

The Iranian Foreign Minister, a Shiite, spent some time meeting with new Egyptian President Morsi, a Sunni, and other Egyptian Sunni leaders. He met with Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar - one of the most prestigious centers of learning in the Sunni world

The leaders attempted to put on the face of unity. President Morsi was invited to visit Iran. They emphasized their commonalities and their similar orientation.

But it is nearly impossible to unite Shiite and Sunni. It is not just about centuries old injustices. It is also about injustices that took place recently. 

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hagel is a Poor Choice

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Israel is not happy about being in the limelight because of President Obama's decision to choose Charles Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, as his candidate for secretary of defense.

The position Israel has been thrust into is one of the most uncomfortable positions a country can be in vis a vis the United States.

The debate over Hagel has turned into a question of how critical one can be of Israel and still remain in the mainstream of politics and power in DC. Israelis cringe when the issue moves to the power of the American Jewish community and the power of the Israeli lobby.

Without meaning to, pro Hagel Israeli well wishers have started sounding like anti-Semites and anti Hagel Jews are sounding like people who see anti-Semites lurking behind every bush.

Yes, Hagel has been very critical of Israel. So has President Obama. I don't think that he should be given the position, but Charles Hagel will almost surely become the new secretary of state.

I don't think he is appropriate for the position not because of his stance on Israel. Hagel shoots form the hip, he enjoys controversy. I don't think that those are qualities that the United States needs or wants in a secretary of defense. 

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rebels Have Gas Too

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Western leaders have been keeping the truth from the public on the status of lethal gas in their country.

In what must be an attempt to avoid mass panic, they have not let it be known that Syrian rebel fighters are in possession of poison gas agents. Now let me remind you about who Syrian rebel forces are - they are either out and out al Qaeda members or al Qaeda affiliate members. How did they get them? Defectors brought the components with them when they joined the rebels and they also captured some. The US actually has trained rebels in how to deactivate and secure the gas when it is captured. The opposite side of the same coin is knowing how to activate and use the poison gas. These rebels were trained by CIA personnel in Jordan.

To make matters even worse, Assad has supplied Hezbollah with the gas. He did this in order to get them out the range of the rebels.

Poisonous gas falling into the hands of terrorists was supposed to be a red line in the sand for Western leaders. Supposed to be, but is not. In the north of Syria near Aleppo, serious fighting is taking place in the town of Al Safira - a short 1.5 miles away from a base that contains the largest stockpile of gas in Syria.

The rebels want to get into that base. Assad fought hard to protect it. The Russians actually came to his rescue and helped secure the poisons. The United States is still unclear if this deadly weapon was simply shored up or if the gas was relocated.

Either way the question right now is who will be the first to use poison gas as a weapon - will it be the rebels or will it be the regime. 

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Does US Sympathize w/ Israel

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A new Pew Center poll just came out. The results are surprising and it is essential to publicize and learn from them.

The new Pew poll shows exactly the same information it has shown for the past consecutive six years.

50% of Americans sympathize with Israel
10% sympathize with the Palestinians
13% say that they do not sympathize with either side
23% do not even offer an opinion on the subject.

When you look at Democrats only, the percentage that sympathizes with Israel is much smaller. Only 33% of Democrats side with Israel while 22% sympathize with the Palestinians.

Although the trend is not fluctuating, several of these numbers are very troubling.

The fact that only 1/3 of Democrats are pro-Israel and 1/4 are pro-Palestinian is deeply worrisome can lead to an erosion of the support that Israel receives from the United States. If the strength and support Israel receives from the United States is to remain a foreign policy assumption, the numbers of Democrats supporting Israel must be shorn up and expanded.

If that doesn't happen, Israel might turn into just any other country in the eyes of America. 

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Monday, January 7, 2013

PA Now State Of Palestine

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Yesterday President Mahmoud Abbas gave the order for Palestinians to change their official name from "The Palestinian Authority" to "The State of Palestine."

All literature and all symbols are to be changed immediately to reflect their new status.

Abbas and company are riding the wave of their success at the UN. The UN vote changed their status to that of observer state in the United Nations. That vote, even though it passed, was a violation of the UN charter.

This move is even a greater violation. It is a violation of the treaties signed between Israel, the Palestinians and the United States in the Oslo Accords.

The name Palestinian Authority was supposed to be the interim title of the entity to be changed to something more permanent after a negotiated settlement that would create the State of Palestine.

Unilaterally announcing the name change will further push off negotiations and mutual agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

I wonder how the United States, Israel and Western Europe will react. I wonder if they will react. 

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Israel Elections

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

There is little doubt who the next prime minister of Israel will be. Barring some freak historical crisis Benjamin Netanyahu will be Israel's next prime minister after the January 22nd election.

The only real question is which parties will become part of his coalition.

Do not be deceived because Netanyahu and his party are right of center. The current coalition took in Labor from the left as well as the Lieberman-led right wing party called Yisrael Beitaynu, Israel is Our Home, which has now become a partner with Likud.

The best possible option for Netanyahu would be to take either the left or the right - not a mix. Other parties are intoxicated by the possibility of getting a ministry, so almost any party is a potential coalition partner - but not necessarily in the best interest of the prime minister.

On the left Lapid is pushing to be part of the government joined with other centre-left parties like Kadima and even Labor.

Right wing parties are also hoping to lock up the coalition. Habayit Ha'yehudi leader Naftali Bennet could easily join a Netanyahu coalition if he takes 15 seats, which is a distinct possibility, and Netanyahu takes 35. That would leave only 10 seats open for other parties to negotiate over.

And if Shas, the Sephardic party gets 11 seats it is an easy right-of-center coalition. This would be ideal for Netanyahu. The fewer parties in the coalition the fewer headaches and the more stable it is.

Only time will tell. A coalition with the left is, once again, certainly a strong possibility. But in this time around I would bet on a Likud / Shas / Habayit Ha'yehudi coalition. 

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Israel Shelves E-1

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Remember the announcement about building in the area known as E-1?

Remember that announcement that came the day after the UN vote to change Palestinian status. Remember the announcement that caused the world to stand up and condemn Israel. Remember the announcement that resulted in Israeli ambassadors around the world being called in to their host countries in order to explain themselves.

Well, it seems that the announcement was just that - only an announcement. The plans were approved long ago when Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister. The they were put in a drawer. After the UN vote Israel dusted them off to use as rhetoric. These were simply plans to build 3000 housing units in E-1.

The great part about plans on paper that came out of a drawer is that they can be put right back in. And it seems that is what has happened.

In politics and in diplomacy there is a huge difference between announcing something and actually doing it. In this case Israel wanted to tell the world that they were the masters of their own destiny. No matter how much flack they would take, they alone would decide what was in their own best interest.

The most critical Israeli point of the entire announcement was that Israel was declaring that if the Palestinians were taking unilateral steps (by going to the UN) then Israel would, also unilaterally, announce the building of 3000 new housing units in E-1.

In diplomacy rhetoric is seldom what it seems. The louder the message the more likely it is to be misleading. 

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Israeli Products in Lebanon

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Lebanese have launched an investigation.

A bag containing four peppers was discovered in the Spinneys food store in Sidon. And in the bag the word Israel appeared. The authorities and the army were called in - and they found ten other bags. They also discovered that the original barcode was scratched out and a new code had been attached.

Israeli products in Lebanon.

This is not the first time. There actually are many Israeli products to be found in Lebanon, but most are technology and biotech and medical products. And there are many who are up in arms about those also.

Spinneys is the largest food supermarket in the Middle East. Now headquartered in Dubai, it was originally opened in Egypt in 1924 by a British soldier. Spinneys has huge purchase power and transport/delivery power. They buy products internationally and send them wherever they need to go based on quality and price.

These peppers, like many fruits and vegetables in the Middle East, were purchased in Israel and then the labels were swapped in Cyprus. Cyprus is where much of these things happen. Cyprus is the perfect, if you will, middle man.

Unbeknownst to many haters of Israel there are probably many, many rewrapped and repackaged Israeli products including meats, vegetables and technology now are sold in the Arab countries.

Those who boycott Israel are actually, albeit unwittingly, enjoying and savoring some of Israel's best products. 

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Syria Tomorrow

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Look at Syria with a critical eye.

If Assad is ousted, it is almost certain that the regime that replaces him will be a regime that embraces Islam as law. It will be an Islamist government. If Assad is ousted, the regime that replaces him will almost definitely be anti-Western, anti-United States and anti those who disagree.

The astounding part of this analysis is that, historically, Syria had tended to be anti-militant. In fact, the vast majority of today’s Syrians rejected the Muslim Brotherhood which has been a presence in Syria for decades.

So why shift now? Part of the answer has to do with who the people involved in the rebellion against Assad. Outside forces, like al

Qaeda, have been playing a large role in Syrian politics. In addition, the Salafis - who make the Muslim Brotherhood look liberal, have been centrally involved in Syrian politics. And of course, Jahbat al Nusra, which the US State Department labeled as a terrorist organization, is garnering more and more support within Syria.

Jahbat al Nusra wants shariah, Islamic law, to prevail. They have forbidden the use of tobacco and they have been known to pull cigarettes out of mouths as people pass through checkpoints .
Bottom line: despite their secular proclivities, the Syrian masses have begun to embrace the Islamists. 

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Arab Demographic Crisis?

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics just came out with a study and a prediction.

They say that by 2016 there will be an even amount of Jews and Palestinians living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. And by 2020, they say, Palestinians will significantly outnumber Israelis.

There are 11.6 Palestinians across the world. 4.4 million live in the West Bank and Gaza. (2.7in the West Bank, 1.7 in Gaza). The study suggests that there will be 6.5 million by 2016 and 7.2 million by 2020.
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics bureaucrats are hoping that their study will lead to a huge demographic crisis with Israel. But they are wrong.

One of the main reasons for Israel's unilateral evacuation of Gaza was to push off that demographic inevitability. And the demographic reality is a major push factor for creating a Palestinians State in the West Bank.

Without their highlighting it, this Palestinian study proves the opposite of their intended conclusion. The demographic crisis will not happen.

Since 1997 the average Palestinian family has declined in size from 6.4 per family to 5.6. That is a severe drop in just a decade. If that trend continues --- and there is no reason to assume it will not because as societies become more comfortable they have few children --- the number will decline even further.

This trend of smaller and smaller Palestinian families has proven true over the past few decades. The natural growth rate for Israeli Jews will continue to remain constant at 5.6, if there is any change it will be an increased family size.

In sum, the 1,648,000 Arabs living in Israel are not a serious demographic threat. Two years ago Arabs in Israel numbered 1,535,573 which amounted to 20.1 % of Israel's population. Today they are at 20.6%.
That increase in population is hardly a threat and it does not indicate a crisis on the horizon. 

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Christians Under Attack in Middle East

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Christianophobia is the name of a new study from England published by the highly regarded think tank Civitas.

The study documents how the Christian community of the Middle East is being targeted and is in rapid decline. It states that there is a direct correlation between the rise of militant Islam and the persecution of Christians.

The Civitas study asserts that Christian leaders and others do not stand up and defend the persecuted Christians because they fear being labeled as racist.

The study expresses the fear that there will continue to be more persecution. It asserts that The Muslim world mistakenly understands Christianity to be a Western religion.

The Christianophobia study argues that over the past 100 years 1/3 to 1/2 of all Christians who lived in the Middle East have either been killed or fled. Where Christians once made up 20% of the Middle East, they now make up 5%.

An interesting twist to this study was added by the Hebrew news website YNET, the website of the mass distributed newspaper Yediot Ahronot.

YNET discloses that there are 158,000 Christians living in Israel and that is 2% of the Israeli population. In the year 2000 when the Pope visited there were 130,000 Christians in Israel. In Israel, the Christian population is thriving. Christian have the highest graduation rate of any group in Israel - 64% for Christians, 59% for Jews and 48% for Muslims.

Israel is the exception in the Christianophobia study. 

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