Thursday, February 28, 2013

Egypt Court - Shut Gaza TUnnels

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday an Egyptian court ruled that Egypt must destroy the tunnels that connect Egypt and Gaza. The case was brought before the court because last year 16 Egyptian border guards will killed by Palestinians from Gaza who came through the tunnels with weapons.

The security of Egypt is at stake. The Egyptian court would not act if the violence was only one way, if it was directed only at Israel.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's national security adviser Ossam Haddad has said on several occasions that Egypt cannot not permit the two-way flow of smuggled arms through the tunnels.
Ynet quotes Wael Hamdi, the lawyer that brought the case, and Judge Farid Tanaghou, who ruled that Egypt must destroy the tunnels.

Ynet reports "the court ruled to make it obligatory that the government destroy the tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip." 

"I filed the case because I was worried about the state of national security in my country after the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power and its unclear policies and links with Hamas" said Wael Hamdi, the lawyer who brought the case.

1.5 million people travel through the tunnels every year. There are 450 major tunnels and 750 smaller ones. Some think that there are as many as 2000 tunnels. 1/3 of all of Gaza's imports come in through the tunnels.

While it hurt only Israel, Egypt turned a blind eye to the tunnels.

But now Egyptians must act because these tunnels add to the lawlessness and anarchy that pervades their country. 

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nasrallah in Iran w/ Cancer

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

At this point I have no doubt that Sheik Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, departed Beirut by plane and went to Teheran.

The move was made in classic Middle East style. First, there were rumors. Then officials denied the rumors. And then came full blown press coverage explaining how he left and where he went.

As a rule, Sheik Nasrallah does not travel. When he does it is in total secret to reduce the risk of assassination. He very seldom leaves his secure home in Southern Lebanon. Leaving Lebanon and going to Iran now was a big risk, but a risk that needed taking. Nasrallah is said to be in a hospital.

Most Lebanese media coverage of the trip reported that the 52 year old leader of Hezbollah suffers from cancer - and it is getting worse. A second theory making its way around Lebanon and Syria is that Nasrallah wounded by Syrian rebel shelling and in need of Iranian medical attention.

If he has a full recuperation the entire episode will mean nothing except to show that Iran manages even the medical care their proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon.

However, if Nasrallah is hurt, or dies, or cannot fully return to his position there is the potential for real anarchy in Hezbollah.

That power vacuum will not be good for the West or for Israel. 

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Will US Keep Hormuz Open

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Financial Times raised a very important issue in a piece they ran yesterday. The piece was about increased imports of oil from the Middle East, but that was not the profound part.

The Financial Times raised the following question: If the United States becomes more and more energy independent, as has been the trend and their objective, will the United States still devote and invest so many resources into keeping the Straits of Hormuz open.

The United States now dedicates huge amounts of military hardware and manpower to patrol the Straits of Hormuz and make certain that they remain free and open. The Straits run between Iran and Oman and about 33% of the world's oil passes through every day.

But if the United States is no longer a large purchaser of that oil, will they still protect the Straits?

The answer to that question was not given in the piece.
But the answer is probably --- yes.

The price of oil is determined internationally. A crisis anywhere, especially in the Middle East and even more so in the Straits of Hormuz, would mean a huge spike in the price of oil for the world and especially for the United States.

It would continue to be in the best interests of the United States to keep the Straits of Hormuz open and safe in order to keep the price of oil stable. 

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Ahmadinejad Admits Econ Harships

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The other day Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an unusual and truthful comment on Iranian tv. It was picked up in the Washington Post but almost nowhere else.

Ahmadinejad said "[t]his was a very difficult year for our economy."

He went on with his assessment saying that the United States is engaged in a huge and powerful economic attack on Iran which has had an impact on Iran's economy. He said that many of the tactics the US and the Western world have applied against Iran have been unfair and certainly illegal.

Ahmadinejad then outlined his expectations for this coming year's economy saying that he anticipates growth in numerous markets. His big emphasis was on domestic production and export and self reliance. He explained that in 2013 Iran would emerge victorious against the United States in the economic war.

This admission is as revealing as it is extremely unusual. It is a signal to us that Iran was hit far more deeply than we expected. 

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Iran Marches to Nuke Status

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

In just a few days Iran will meet once again with Western powers to discuss the Iranian nuclear program.

One might naturally assume that in light of that looming event Iran would be on its best behavior. But no, not Iran. This weekend Iran announced that it is most certainly working to go online with nuclear technology.

The Iranians have announced a plan to open 16 new nuclear sites. They said that Busher was expected to be fully operational within the year. They also announced that they have discovered new reserves of uranium.

Originally it was thought that Iran would have to import uranium in order to service their nuclear capabilities.
With this new discovery Iran will no longer be reliant on the price of uranium, they will be able to provide their own.

Iran marches forward to unchallenged nuclear capabilities. 

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Al Qaeda in Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Jabhat al Nusra is the most important group fighting against the ruling regime in Syria.

Founded on January 25, 2012 - only about 13 months ago - they continue to grow in ranks and have become very effective at striking regime targets. Attacks perpetrated by Jabhat al Nusra include car bombs in Damascus, bombing the TV station, suicide bombing in Aleppo, and the Taftanaz attack which was an attack against an air force base with 48 helicopters. This group has also been responsible for brutal executions in Sarqeb.

Jabhat means "the front" and Nusra means "support." It is often mis-translated as the Support Front but the full name of the group is, Jabhat al-Nusrah li-Ahl al-Sham and that means "The Front for the Support of the Syrian People." And "the front" refers to the battle front.

Jabhat al Nusra is al Qaeda. They are growing because more and more al Qaeda members are crossing into Syria to participate in the battle to oust Assad. They are also getting more and more defectors from the other anti-Assad rebel groups operating in Syria.

Those who cross into Syria to fight with them are well trained.
They bring weapons and other armaments. They swell the ranks of Jabat al Nusrah by several thousand a month.

The smaller rebel groups are purely anti-Assad. Jabat al Nusrah is Islamist. They embrace the entire al Qaeda line. But in the end, despite al Nusrah's expanding ranks, the numbers of the rebels are dropping fast. 

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Christians Live in Fear

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Since the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power in Egypt, the Christians there have been living in a precarious and especially dangerous situation.

And we only know half the story, because most anti-Christian attacks in Egypt go unreported.

This week Al Balad news service covered threats made to Coptic Christian religious leaders. The Coptic Christians were told to convert to Islam or die. These threats were issued in the city of Safaga, near the Red Sea. They were made by a new group called Jihad al Kufr which means "holy war against the heretics."

In Islam, the punishment for heretics is death.

In Fayoum this week the church was attacked - twice. Last week two boys, one nine years old and the other ten years old were arrested for desecrating the Koran. They were playing on a garbage heap and in the heap there happened to be some remains of a Koran.

On a subway in Cairo Muslim in hijabs and burkahs grabbed two Coptic Christians and forcibly cut their hair. That is the third time something an incident like this has been perpetrated.

The situation is not getting better for the Christians of Egypt. Of the 85 million people who live in Egypt, 9 million are Christians.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Saudis Behead BabySitter

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Let's begin at the end. Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador from Sri Lanka.
The move came in response to Sri Lanka pulling their ambassador in Saudi Arabia.

How did the situation get to this point?

It began in 2005 when a then 17 year old Sri Lankan babysitter was charged with smothering a four month old baby Saudi baby to death. On January 9, 2013 the babysitter was beheaded. In response to the beheading Sri Lanka announced a travel ban to Saudi Arabia on all women under 25.

Many international organizations condemned the beheading.

Saudi Arabia executes people who have violated laws that they deem fundamental to their social fabric. Drugs, robbery, adultery and more serious crimes like murder are all met with the same punishment - beheading.

The United States has made its point of view known to the Saudi government, but no country and no diplomacy will have an impact or influence on the policies of Saudi Arabia. Saudi policy is ingrained into Saudi life and is a fundamental component of Saudi legal culture.

This is Shariya -- Islamic law. 

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hagel -- Why?

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

I still believe that Chuck Hagel will be confirmed by the Senate. I do not think it is a wise decision. If I were advising the president, I would suggest that he find a new nominee.

The reason Hagel will be confirmed as Secretary of Defense comes down to simple math. The Democrats
only need 51 members to approve the confirmation and they are a majority of 55 in the Senate.

Comments made by Hagel before an audience at Rutgers University in 2007 show just how off base he is.
He suggested that the State Department is a branch of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The ridiculousness of that comment shows just how out of line things have gotten.

If there is any genuinely pro-Arab agency in the US government it is State. And the Arabists there have good reason to be pro-Arab if for no other reason than that they must deal with the geopolitical reality. In their eyes it is a numbers game - there are some many Arabs and so many Arab countries that they must be addressed.

The State Department clearly has an anti-Israel bias, that is the way it is and that is the way it always has been. How could anyone, especially a sitting member of the armed services committee, even entertain any other idea.

The biggest kicker is that yesterday The Wall Street Journal exposed that the academic department that invited Hagel to speak at Rutgers was sponsored by Iran. 

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why Egypt Flooded the Tunnels

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

One of the most common questions posed to me over the weekend was - why has Egypt flooded the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

The answer is that Egypt has been hurt badly by weapons and by people making their way through the tunnels all in order to attack Egypt.

The reality is that now only 30% of the goods in Gaza come through the tunnels and almost all of that is illegal. Compare that to the 100% figure of only a few months ago.

This is the answer, according to Reuters, given by Essam Haddad, President Morsi's National Security Adviser, to the tunnel question: "And on the other side, we would not like to see arms smuggled through these tunnels either in or out, because we are now seeing in Sinai and we have captured actually across Egypt heavy arms that could be used in a very dangerous way."

Last week Egypt stopped two tons of explosives making their way to the tunnels en route to Gaza. The Egyptians stopped the delivery en route because once they are in Gaza the goods can be allocated for operations against Egypt.

Six months ago, in August, terrorists from Gaza attacked and killed 16 Egyptian police in the Sinai.
This week alone two sets of Israeli security teams are meeting in

Egypt to discuss mutual interests. Egypt says they will shout at Israel to open up the border even more - but they really want to hear what Israel knows about al Qaeda and other terrorists.

Terrorists almost as interested in destroying Egypt as they are in destroying Israel. 

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Barbie & Ken to Israel

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Every once in a while something fun happens on the world scene, something that makes me smile.
Last summer two Italians visited Israel. They went for a vacation and for the purpose of creating art.

The two were photographers, so naturally, they brought their cameras. They also brought Barbie and Ken. And then they took pictures of the dolls against the backdrop of the great sites of Israel. Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, the Western Wall.

Those photos are now on display. They have been featured in very popular Italian fashion and art magazines and even in Vanity Fair.

What makes this an even more interesting story is that in Iran, Barbie and Ken are outlawed because they are Western influences.

They were officially banned in January of last year. And just yesterday the Iranians outlawed Buddha so that it is now illegal to sell any doll of Buddha in Iran.

Barbie was created by a Jew woman named Ruth Handler on March 6, 1959. Handler was the co founder of Mattel. She named the doll after her daughter Barbara and then, in 1961, when Ken came along she named him after her son.

It is intriguing to see that dolls can have such an impact on the world that one country bans them while another takes pictures of them and publishes those pictures as art. 

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nasrallah Tells His Plan

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Secretary General of the Hezbollah Sheik Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech from an undisclosed location. The speech was broadcast across Lebanon and Syria yesterday.

The speech was given to mark Martyrs Day and was entitle "The Road Back to Palestine."

In the most essential section of his speech Nasrallah spoke about Israeli attacks. And he described how Hezbollah is prepared for a confrontation with Israel.
Nasrallah - wily, deceptive, hateful Nasrallah - gave away a strategy.

The secretary general of Hezbollah explained that in Lebanon, they are used to power shortages but Israel will not be able to survive with a small power stoppage. Nasrallah said that they will target Israeli power sources and the entire country will buckle and fall into darkness.

Of course he is incorrect, but Nasrallah is thinking strategically.

He is trying to identify targets that will create the most pain for Israelis. Then he will try to evaluate how it is possible to effectively attack those targets. 

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Syrian Insight from the fmr PM

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The former prime minister of Syria, Riyad Hijab, appeared on Al Jazeera yesterday. Hijab offered important insight into the situation in Syria.

He stressed that the opposition will not compromise on their position that President Bashar Assad must leave.

He said that there is no way that Assad will step down from power peacefully and or his own accord.

He didn't say it in so many words, but we have a stalemate.

The most interesting point made during the interview came when Hijab asserted that Syria is actually being run by Iran.

We in the West have had a sense that the essential strategies of the regimeĆ¢€™s battle against the rebels were decided by Iran. As a result of this interview we now know that the influence of Iran over Bashar Assad's Syria is wider and stronger than we possibly imagined.

With that information the pieces all fit into place. Now I fully understand how, against so many odds, the Assad regime has lasted so long and why it is not about to buckle anytime soon. 

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Bahrain, 2 Yrs of Protests

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A 16 year old boy was shot to death in Bahrain yesterday during protests marking the 2nd anniversary of the movement to challenge the monarchy.

As a result of the shooting the protests got much more violent. Movement leaders are calling for the masses to gather tomorrow at Lulu aka the Pearl Center of Manama, the capital city of Bahrain.
Lulu, as it is called, is the most recognizable symbol of Bahrain.
Two years ago, at the beginning of the protests, Lulu was the center of the protests - it was Bahrain's Tahrir Square.

At the time of the first protests police forcibly cleared Lulu and have kept it clear ever since. Calling protestors to mass there is an invitation for violence.

In the past two years the protests have not achieved much and not much has changed. Bahrain is composed of a majority of Shiites, but it is controlled by a minority Sunni leadership. It is about a 70 -30 split.
Shiites want more involvement in Bahrain society, specifically in job opportunities and in government. They have yet to find a way of achieving their goals. Increased violence is certainly not the way to go. 

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Israelis Vacation in Greece

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Israel broke its own record in 2012.

This past year, 400,000 Israelis visited Greece. When you think about it, 400,000 Israelis doing anything is impressive.

There are almost 8 million people currently live in Israel. That means that, statistically, one in every 16 Israelis visited Greece in 2012. In real terms, it probably means that some people visited Greece more than on time during the year. But the number is still very impressive.

Greek Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni is actually on a trip to Israel to drum up even more tourism.

Israelis love to travel and they love junkets. Until recently Turkey was the pace to go. But ever since the May 31, 2010 flotilla debacle, Israelis have been reluctant to visit Turkey. As a reminder, the flotilla ship that Israel boarded was Turkish, tensions ensued, and since then Turkey has been on the warpath.

Israeli tourism to Turkey disappeared completely after the 2010 flotilla but it is now creeping up. Last year ELAL Airlines brought 270,000 Israelis to Turkey, the number for charter flights were negligible.

As much as they like to travel, Israelis like to be liked. Israelis are voting with their feet. So they are going to and spending money in Greece, the arch enemy of Turkey, instead of giving money to a country whose government is constantly, publicly, berating them. 

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

N Korean Nuke Test

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday North Korea conducted a nuclear test. They exploded a nuclear bomb that, according to Russian observers, was 7.5 kilotons. That makes this test a slightly larger version than their previous test explosions.

The test was met with condemnations from capital cities across the globe. But nothing more than condemnations and announcements.

Iran watches and learns from North Korea. In perfect, true-to-form Iranian style, they too condemned the North Korean test.

The North Koreans have been conducting nuclear tests since 2006 and almost nothing has happened to them because of their continued nuclear explosions and continued nuclear development.

That is precisely what Iran is counting on.

Certainly, boycotts and embargoes have been leveled against North Korea. But in general, they have been left alone.

Sounds like a plan for Iran. Last year Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak called North Korea an "ice breaking ship for Iran."

Everyone now observing the nuclear programs of both North Korea and Iran can only concur with the Barak analysis. 

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bibi Accepts 2 State Solution

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech in which he said that he believes in a two-state solution. His ideal situation, he said, is two states for two peoples.

Why is this speech so significant? Because ever since his first speech on the subject, delivered on June 14, 2009 at Bar Ilan University, people have said that they do not believe him. They think Netanyahu said what he said at Bar Ilan because of pressure from the United States.

Many people do not trust Netanyahu. His detractors say that his actions over the ensuing three years did not lend credence or in any way support a two-state solution.

To quote the prime minister: "I believe that a framework to peace is what I outlined in my speech in Bar-Ilan University - two states for two peoples: A demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state."
But, Netanyahu cautioned, the Palestinians must remove their preconditions.

"To reach this solution means to negotiate in good faith. That means you don't place preconditions. For the past four years the Palestinians regrettably place preconditions, time after time. My hope is that they leave them aside and get to the negotiating table."

Obviously this speech yesterday was very well timed. Barack Obama, President of the United States, is planning to arrive in Israel on March 20th - exactly 5 weeks from now.

Meanwhile, the White House has made it clear that expectations should be lowered about this trip to the Mid East. 
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Monday, February 11, 2013

Negotoating w/ Iran

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Iran has responded to the call for renew negotiations with the West.

Iranians are in mid-celebration of the 34th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. This is a good time to comment publicly about renewing negotiations and other issues of interest. Even Syrian President Bashar Assad took the opportunity to send congratulatory wishes.

Yesterday President Ahmadinejad announced that: "We are prepared to conduct talks but not under pressure, with a gun pointed at our heads." Of course, he then also continued to announce that Iran will be victorious over all its enemies.

The argument about not negotiating "with a gun pointed" at your head resonates powerfully. In essence, Iran is saying: What kind of negotiations do they want, do they want us to just accept the point of view of the United States, that is hardly a negotiation.

The Iranians have thought this out very well. Those non- Westerners paying attention to this conflict think that Iran is being reasonable when they volunteer to enter negotiations as equals, and not simply receive dictates and jump at every demand of the US.

Unfortunately they are correct. But there is more to the story.

The US and the West are now, finally, making demands of Iran because they realize that after years of failed negotiations Iran is steadily marching toward nuclear weapons.

I will say point blank that if the United States wants to get anywhere with Iran they must adopt very different tactics.

Sanctions and dictates have not and will not work. The carrot and the stick is what works. And the most important carrot for Iran is respect. 

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Egypt Bans Youtube

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

In Egypt yesterday a court ruled to ban YouTube.

The logic is that on YouTube, anti-Muslim films are being circulated and - worse yet, viewed.

But despite the decision of the Egyptian court, Egypt cannot ban YouTube. They do not have the technology to ban or to block it. It is ridiculous to even think about.

YouTube is an essential vehicle for democracy movements. They film events and post videos of anti-democratic demonstrations. They post videos of police brutality. They post real time unedited tape of what is happening.

Banning YouTube in Egypt is like trying to forbid gravity from working within Egyptian borders. Whether they like it or not, it happens and there is nothing they can do about it. The best idea is to try to understand YouTube and use it for your advantage.

In and of itself, this ban tells us volumes about the attitude of Egyptian courts and leadership on modern technology and information and the dissemination of details and about the inner activities and workings in Egypt.

YouTube allows all of us "in." The leaders of Egypt do not want us to get too close and see too much. Egypt wants all of us to keep "out" of their business. 

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shame on the IDF

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Remember how impressed everyone was with the Iron Dome, the anti-rocket battery system that helped keep Israel safe during last year's operation known as Pillar of Defense.

Remember how when Hamas in Gaza was lofting hundreds of rockets into Israel and the Iron Dome shot them down.

Personally, I was so impressed with the results of this defensive system that on a yearend wrap-up on Shalom TV I suggested that the Iron Dome be the "Jewish Man of the Year for 2012."

It has now become clear that the operators of the batteries that save so many Israeli lives live in sub standard conditions. Their tents are pitched in water and the water seeps in. They are sleeping in water. Their only bathrooms are port-a-johns. They do not get hot food. They have not hot water.
Shame on the IDF!

Iron Dome operators of have no base to go home to during their three years of military service. Traditionally, an IDF combat soldier returns to base and gets a hot shower and kitchen cooked hot meal after completing a mission.

Quoting from YNet: "One soldier noted that sometimes the toilets get blown away by intense winds and that food delivery is often delayed. 'How hard or expensive can it be to find a solution for us?'"

The soldiers actually describe how parents organize hot food deliveries. These soldiers are entitled to much more. They are true heroes. At the very least they should be given a toilet and hot water and provided with a cot that does not sit in water.

 Shame, shame on the IDF. 

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Fatwahs Against Egypt Opposition

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Egyptian TV has been broadcasting testimonials by clerics justifying the public mass rape of women in Tahrir Square.

And at least three clerics have issued Fatwahs, religious edicts, calling upon Egyptians to kill opposition leaders. Some of these clerics have also read their statements on television.

This behavior is not new for Egypt. In the 1990's Fatwahs were issued against political leadership and many leaders were then assassinated. At that time is was all a part of an Islamic uprising.

This time around the Islamists are in power and they are the ones threatening to murder their opposition.
Listen to this dialogue from Egyptian TV:

A very popular Imam named Mahmoud Shaaban described the actions of the opposition, which is called the National Salvation Front, this way: they are "setting Egypt on fire to gain power." And so: "the verdict against them under God's law is death."

Shaaban called both Muhammed ElBaradei, the former UN Arms Inspector and Noble Prize winner, and Hamdeen Sabahi, another leader of the National Salvation Front, traitors.

In a TV interview Shaaban said that "they have repeatedly spoken about toppling Morsi." Later in the program he qualified his statements saying that the government should carry out the verdict, not private citizens. But he did not go so far as to urge citizens not to participate in assassinations.

In another striking and appalling statement another very popular Imam named Wagdi Ghoneim issued a video statement pleading with Morsi to crack down on the protestors throwing stones and shoes and shouting outside his palace. He said: "The verdict under Shariah for those who seek corruption on earth is to be fought, or crucified, or have their arms or legs cut off or be exiled from earth." In other words this Imam is saying that the protestors and those who lead them should be killed.

And then he added: "Strike with an iron fist. Otherwise, the country will be lost at your hand and they'll say it is your fault. They'll say Islam doesn't know how to rule and that it's the Islamists who wrecked the country."
Shaaban, on the other hand, said: "We will kill the criminals, the thugs, the thieves and those who give them money and those who help them with words. No mercy with them."

One cleric calls for the people to act. The other calls for the president to act. They are both calling for bloodshed. That's the new Egypt.

These are very bold, very public, statements. And if anything they are incitement to violence and murder. As we have already seen - in Egypt, a Fatwah is seen as a license to kill. In this case - it is a blessed license to kill. 

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Abbas with a Faux Pas

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A "faux pas" is a very embarrassing misspeak.

In French it actually means a "false step" or a "misstep." It is a gaffe and normally something that you would really regret having said.

The faux pas I am about to tell you about takes place at the Islamic Conference in Cairo. The same conference Ahmadinejad is attending.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is speaking and thanking the host, the president of Egypt. In addition to thanking him for hosting the conference, Abbas also wants to thank him for supporting the UN vote which changed the status of Palestinians.

But Abbas misspoke.
 Abbas thanked Mubarak instead of Morsi.

Abbas began his comments with the words "President Mohammed Hosni."

He then stopped and corrected himself saying "Mohammed Morsi."
Mubarak's first name is Hosni. In the video, Morsi was pretty pokerfaced but he did show a real sign of frustration after the gaffe.

What caused Abbas to misspeak? He will never tell. We can conjecture, but we will never know for sure.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Egypt Up in Arms About Ahmadinejad

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been met with some serious negative receptions in Egypt.

While in a Cairo mosque, a Syrian living in Egypt tried to insult Ahmadinejad by throwing a shoe.

During a visit to Al Azhar University, a massive group of protestors swarmed around Ahmadinejad and tried to prevent his access to the university. Al Azhar University is, without a doubt, the greatest Sunni Islamic institution in the Muslim world.

The Salafis who partnered with the Muslim Brotherhood during the election but who are far more conservative than even the ruling Brotherhood Party, came out with a statement that Egypt should not normalize diplomatic relations with Shiite Iran.

There is ample Muslim law justifying the rift between the Sunnis and Shiites. This conflict is not simply about recent history. It is about basic, fundamental, differences in approach towards Islam. 

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ahmadinejad in Cairo

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Islamic world is changing.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad is visiting Egypt today. He will be there until Thursday. This is the first time an Iranian head of state has come to Egypt since 1979.

Ahmadinejad will be attending an Islamic conference on Wednesday and Thursday. But first, on Tuesday, he will be meeting with Egyptian leaders. Obviously, the president of Iran will meet with Egyptian political leadership.

More importantly, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will meet the Sunni leadership of Egypt. Egyptian Muslim Sunni leadership is the most important in the entire Muslim world and it all comes out of Al Azhar University in Cairo.

Iran represents Shiite Islam and Shiite and Sunni leadership has been at odds for 1,000 years. This attempt at reconciliation is a move to bridge a gap that has separated Muslims for centuries.

They will meet. And they will agree to disagree. They will agree on their mutual hatred of the United States, of the West and of Israel. They will agree to avoid the differences which have caused them so much hatred over the past 1,000 years. 

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Israeli Chief of Staff in DC

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Israeli Army Chief of Staff Benny Ganz has just begun a five day trip to Washington, DC.
This is an essential trip not only for Israel but also for the United States. The purpose of this trip is to solidify relations and continue dialogue between the countries. It is critical in terms of planning and approval.
Ganz is very comfortable in DC. He was the Israeli army liaison in DC just a few years ago. He knows the players and they know him.

Specifically, Jerusalem and Washington will talk about Syria and about Iran. Then they will cover other problems in the region.

Most importantly Ganz will be testing the waters to make certain that the US and Israel see eye to eye on certain red lines.

Obviously there are major differences in points of view. The United States wants to hear that plans can be implemented that will help and not hurt the region. Think of this as a longer version of the briefings that led to the Israeli bombing of Syria last week. 

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Iran Ran a Hoax

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

It was a hoax. And much of Western intelligence swallowed it hook, line and sinker. I was no exception.

Last week I reported about an explosion in Fordo, the Iranian nuclear site located deep underground.
Intel from around the world was spinning. An explosion in a seemingly impregnable site deep underground, probably by sabotage, was big news. At the time I was shocked that the United States would not comment about the explosion and that there was little to no coverage of it in US press.

Turns out, it never happened. It was all a big - and convincing, hoax cooked up by Iran.

I assume that the purpose of the hoax was to smoke out saboteurs. A good way to monitor people they have suspicions about by gauging their reactions and levels of interest. A good method for checking on international spy agencies which want to know if their people were involved and reach out for more and more details. And that's when the Iranians spring their trap.

In this case the United States and the White House were correct. They repeatedly said that they have no details and no knowledge of an explosion in Fordo. I don't say this often, but kudos to the White House for acting responsibly vis a vis Iran. At least, this time. 

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Riots in Egypt Again

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

For nine days there have been massive riots in Egypt. They are getting worse and more violent by the day.
The riots are demanding that Morsi step down. Dozens of Egyptians have been killed every day. The numbers of total deaths has reached over a hundred.

Police are brutal in putting down the protests. The army is waiting to see what they should do.
Protestors have tried to storm the presidential palace. They have succeeded in throwing stones and shoes and even firebombs into the compound.

Stones and firebombs are obvious. But shoes?

The throwing of shoes is a curse in Islam. The throwing of a shoe is a statement of serious rejection of a person and their ideas.

We will see what happens in the coming few days. Will the police clamp down more and will the Muslim Brotherhood take to the streets to defend their leader and confront the protestors. 

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Israel Bombs Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Predictably enough, the day after Israel conducted an airstrike against a Syrian target a flurry of responses came flying.

The Syrian Electronic Army claimed to have attacked 60 Israeli websites. When the story was checked out it was discovered that only a few of the 60 sites on their list were actually down, and some were down due to internal issues. But there was great bravado on the part of the Syrian Electronic Army.

The Iranians said that Tel Aviv would pay for the Israeli air strike.

The Arab League condemned the strike.

Now - it is still unclear what was targeted in the strike.

If you believe the Syrians, a weapons factory was hit and four guards were killed. The factory was part of their poison gas program.

The United States and Israel are saying that a convoy of trucks carrying Russian made SA-17 missiles destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon was hit. For Israel and the US the rockets were a game changer and could not be allowed to reach their destination.

The truth, I assume, is probably a combination of the two. Israel probably hit both the poison gas weapons factory and the convoy. It would not have been too difficult a task to accomplish.

Syrian air force and anti-air craft batteries are now on high alert. I find that funny because there is almost no chance that Israel will strike two nights in a row. But you never know.

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