Sunday, March 31, 2013

Gas Flows in Israel

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Gas is flowing.

Tamar, one of several Mediterranean natural gas fields, is now open and flowing to Israel. It took a long time and a lot of money, but this is the start of Israel becoming energy independent. That is a monumental event.

When the project began, many people thought it was a pipe dream - and now a huge deposit of natural gas is flowing underwater to Israel.

Tamar is located about 56 miles off the coast of Haifa. The drilling went down 3 miles below sea level. It takes 30 hours for the gas to travel from the field to Ashdod where it will be processed and then sold.

The hope is that Israel will become totally energy independent by 2035. That will happen when this field, Tamar, together with other fields like Leviathan which is scheduled to open soon begin producing more and more gas.

The kicker is that Israel will become an exporter, a supplier of world gas - not simply a consumer. That will change the balance of power in the Middle East. It will change the balance of power in the world. 

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

The New Middle East

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

Al Jazeera is reporting that 5 simultaneous bombs exploded in Iraq killing 18 and wounding well over 100 people. All the bombs were placed near Shiite mosques and the plan was to murder as many Shiites as possible en route to Friday prayers.

The increase of violence in Iraq has been virtually unreported in the West. There is almost no interest in what happens there anymore. The main reason for this is the famous cliche "out of sight out of mind."

The fact that the United States is no longer in Iraq means that Americans have no real interest in covering this fast emerging anarchy.

One would have hoped that Iraq would have learned a lesson in peaceful coexistence after so much US money, training, weapons, aid, military manpower and so many professional agencies spent so much effort that internal tribal and inter-religious conflicts would subside and that Iraqis would work together in order to rebuild their country and live together rather than reverting to the primal desire for one group to murder another.

But that just is not the case.

Imagine - if this is happening in Iraq, what is going to happen in Libya and Egypt and in Syria and Tunisia.
I am not hopeful about a new Arab Middle East. Not hopeful at all.
I foresee much more death and internal killings before these countries and their citizens settle down and build non-confrontational, non-threatening, quality lives for themselves. 

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Friday, March 29, 2013

1Yr Prison for Facebook Pic in PA

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A Palestinian Authority court in the West Bank has sentenced a journalist to one year in prison. It happened just yesterday

His crime was posting a picture on his own facebook page. The picture was a depiction of Abbas as a traitor.

Over the past few months human rights groups have lodged a series of complaints against Abbas for the way in which he is cracking down on civil rights in the West Bank.

Most often the people targeted by Abbas have been Hamas members. I agree that Hamas must be reigned in, especially in the West Bank, in order to control, rule and protect the Palestinian Authority. But this case is about a facebook picture.

A free and critical internet is part and parcel of the new media.

PA leadership must make a distinction between serious threats to their power and frivolous exercises in free speech. Once they accomplish that, they can focus on the real threats and not waste their time on facebook pictures or gratuitous tweets. 

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Egypt May Fall

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Three divers were arrested as they were trying to cut Egypt's underwater internet cable.

The cable enables access to the internet for the entire country. The Egyptian Navy discovered the divers and apprehended them.

There is no better portal to the outside world than the internet.

But that doesn't sit well with many Egyptians. These people believe that if the cable was cut, people would be focusing on important issues of Islam and not distracted by the sins and horrors of the internet.

A major part of Egypt does not want Egyptians to be corrupted by influences from the outside world.
President Morsi and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party agree with this principle and yet, the navy prevented the cable from being severed.

This incident underscores the tension between Egyptian leaders and the armed forces. This incident is another glaring example underscoring how there is no real leadership in Egypt right now. 

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Golan is Safe

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

As I have mentioned before, the Syrian side of the Golan Heights is
up for grabs.

Over the past week there have been several strikes from Syria into Israel. Rockets from Syria have landed in Israel and Israel has returned fire

One very strong possible scenario is that Israel will enter Syria in order to secure certain areas - especially if either Hezbollah or al Qaeda takes control of those areas near the Israel border.
Given the rockets and the threats it is only natural that Israelis fear that they may be a risk of war.

In response to the enveloping fear Army Chief of Staff Benny Ganz issued a calming statement. He said: "We can and should visit the Golan Heights - it is peaceful, safe and beautiful. We mustn't disrupt the routine of our lives due to this or that incident."

Ganz is delivering multiple messages with that statement. One message is clear. The army chief of staff does not foresee the region becoming a warzone during Passover. He knows that there are increased tensions on that border, but in his estimation, that is far from an unstable, unsafe situation. 

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What Really Happened to Prisonier X

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
The real story of prisoner X will emerge over time. Some of the pieces have already started to fall into place.
Allen Zygier was arrested and imprisoned in Israel. He was actually placed in the cell built for Yigal Amir, the infamous assassin of

Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. Cameras recorded his every move 24/7, and yet, he successfully hung himself using his bed sheet.

Why did a young Australian Jew, a father of 2 young children (one of them a new born) commit suicide?

Allen Zygier was a Mossad agent. The walls were collapsing around him. He had been in the field in Europe, principally in Italy, and he was not delivering. So he was brought back to Israel and reassigned to Tzameret.
Tzameret is the division within the Mossad that gathers and sifts through material collected from the field. It is a desk job. Zygier did not take well to being benched.

And here is where things got out of hand. On his own, Allen Zygier decided to prove himself. He decided to get back into the field by finding informants. He went in search of Hezbollah informants and found them. In order to convince the informants that he was who he was, he proved that he was a Mossad agent. And then he gave his informants the identities of two other Mossad informants who were then captured by Hezbollah.

The people Zygier was trying to recruit double crossed him. They used him and gained extremely sensitive information from him. The

Mossad was unaware of the extent of the damage. They only found out only as when they disciplined Zygier for stepping out of bounds.

Zygier then spilled the entire story and the Mossad realized that his naive attempt to curry favor cost them both an operation and an informant in Lebanon.

Actually, Zygier was willing duped into giving over information to Hezbollah. The shame and the magnitude of the crisis he caused were overwhelming. It is assumed that Allen Zygier could no longer live with the knowledge that he was tricked into betraying his dream and his home. And so he ended it all. 

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Monday, March 25, 2013

PA Hid Monument from Obama

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Every now and then PMW, Palestinian Media Watch, unveils a gem of an issue that no other media outlet even comes close to finding.

PMW is the watch dog of Palestinian media, headed by an American/Israeli named Itamar Marcus.

Yesterday PMW released a story explaining that during the Obama trip to the area, the PA removed an offensive monument in Bethlehem. It is a monument that President Obama would have found to be a real shocker.

In words and in picture, the monument tells of the total destruction of Israel and the start of a revolution. It shows a map of Palestine without Israel, glorifies terror and embraces the total annihilation of Israel replacing it with a Palestinian State.

There is more than one of these monuments, all strategically placed around the PA. The Bethlehem monument was the only one that would have crossed paths with the president of the United States.

Which proverb works best here? Is it one picture is worth a thousand words. Or is it actions speak louder than words.

Kudos to PMW for uncovering this subterfuge. It was an act carefully and purposefully orchestrated by Palestinian leadership. 

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why Israel Apologized to Turkey

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

There has been much debate as to whether Israel should have apologized to Turkey for the 2010 raid of the flotilla en route Gaza that resulted in the deaths of nine Turks.

This is not a question of right and wrong. It was.
Now it is a question of security.

Israel was legally and morally justified in preventing the ship from reaching Gaza. They were right in boarding the ship. They were justified in protecting themselves.

So why was apologizing correct?
Because the apology is about improving Israel's safety, not about being diplomatically correct or legally right.

When there is tension between Israel and Turkey the door is open to potential threats. An apology closes that door. The United States - Turkey - Israel link is now reconnected. And the threat of fallout from Syria can be better defended.

The spillover of Islamic extremism, especially al Qaeda extremism emanating out of Syria is very real and it is very difficult to confront. Having Turkey as an ally will make Israel’s defense more effective.

Admittedly, the calculus puts aside the past and the question of who was right. But it focuses on the present and the future and that is far more important - and that is why Prime Minister Netanyahu did what he did and said what he said. He made the right move. 

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Israel Apologizes to Turkey

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Israel and Turkey have reconciled. Netanyahu called Erdogan and apologized - and the apology was accepted. Erdogan responded saying that Turkey and Israel will now normalize relations.

Turkey and Israel have been in crisis since May 31, 2010 when Israelis commandos boarded a Turkish ship which was part of a flotilla en route to Gaza. Nine people on board the ship were killed.

It seems that President Obama made it all happen. At his final press conference in Israel, at the airport, as he was leaving, the US president said that the United States values the friendship it has with its allies Turkey and Israel.

Obama probably convinced Netanyahu to apologize, then called Erdogan, prepped him, and put Bibi on the phone.

Until now Israel official said that they "regretted" what happened on the flotilla ship, but never apologized.

Israel offered to pay compensation but that was not enough. Turkey needed that word. They needed an apology. Once done, it has all gone back to normal. And now Turkey is willing to accept the compensation that Netanyahu had originally offered.

Why was an apology so significant --- pride. It was about Turkish national pride.
And in the interest of regional stability --- Israel can now afford to apologize. 

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Obama Speech in Jerusalem

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

There is little doubt that the Obama trip to Israel has been a raging success. Israelis feel that the US president finally "gets Israel." They're right. But my point is that Obama always got it.
This is just a change in tone style.

During the first four years of the Obama administration one might think that Barack Obama did not understand Israel. He did.

During the first four years of his administration Obama was treating Israel to tough love. Now he is trying a different tactic.

This change in style makes the interaction between the leaders of the United States and Israel - and by extension their citizens - much more pleasant. While the past four years were filled with angst and frustration now the interaction is convivial and both Israelis and friends of Israel feel better about that change.

But there is no change in message.
And that's an important distinction.

Look at this quote from the famous speech delivered by Obama yesterday --- "It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished."

Hundreds of settlers are in prison for violence and for plotting against Palestinians. So are hundreds of soldiers. But there is not one single Palestinian in a Palestinian jail for violence or terror against Jews.

The Obama speech at Binyanei HaUma was populist. Obama tried to create a division between the masses and the Knesset elite. His aim was to sidestep those duly elected to power. He wants the masses to tell the leaders to take risks.

The overall tone of the Obama trip to Israel is romantic. His goal was to get the Israelis to join his team. And in that, he is succeeding. During the first four years of his presidency Obama dangled the proverbial stick in front of Israel. That did not have the desired impact. Now he is dangling the carrot. 

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Obama Quotes Yoni Netanyahu

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Barack Obama has been very successful during the first leg of his Middle East trip.

He has been charming and convincing. He is extremely gifted and knows how to show empathy, making people feel that he really cares about them.

In a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Obama quoted Yoni Netanyahu - the brother of the prime minister who died in Operation Entebbe saving Israelis and other Jews hijacked and held under the reign of Idi Amin in Uganda.

The president said: "On Friday I will visit Mount Herzl, among the fallen buried there is Yoni Netanyahu." He continued by quoting Yoni, "Don't forget that strength, justice and staunch resolution are on our side."

Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, is a hero for Israelis. So, too, is Yoni Netanyahu. Yoni was a modern day David, a role model for his brother and for almost every Zionist living anywhere in the world.

Herzl is buried twenty yards away from Yoni. I wonder if Obama will wander over and pay tribute at that grave as well. I wonder if anyone has told Barack Obama about Herzl. I hope so.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Riots Against Christians Again

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Again, a mass riot against Christians in Egypt.

Hundreds of Muslims in the south of Egypt ran and rioted yesterday. They destroyed Christian shops. They tried to destroy both large churches in town of Ban Suef.

It all started because of rumors that a Muslim girl was kidnapped by Christians who then converted her. But there is no evidence - and the young woman has not been found. The young woman in question was last seen leaving her home with a passport, gold and a Muslim male friend. She is college age and probably left the country.

The local prosecutor clearly suggests that there is no link to this or any other Christian kidnappings of Muslims. But truth and facts are less powerful than rumor and traditional hatred.

Two sets of rumors stoke the fire that sets off these riots:
# 1: the fear that young girls are being forcibly converted by Christians
# 2: the building of new churches and the renovation and add-ons to older churches

Egyptian Muslims have no incentive to stop killing Egyptian Christians. Expect more rioting, more violence, more anarchy. 

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Obama Billboard Defaced in Bethlehem

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

President Obama is scheduled to touch down in Israel at 12 noon on Wednesday.

The planning for a Presidential visit is enormous as is the security.

On Friday at 12:30 President Obama is scheduled to visit Bethlehem.

This will be his second foray into the Palestinian Authority, first will be the day before on Thursday.

It has become more and more evident that the people in the PA are not welcoming Obama. A huge billboard with Obama's picture was put up in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The huge sign was ripped down and defaced yesterday - with a swastika.

I am certain that all of Bethlehem does not feel the same way as those who tore down and defaced the sign, but we have not heard from those Palestinians. 

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Egypt Teetering on Collapse

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

There were brutal lynchings in Egypt yesterday.

Two men were caught stealing a motorized rickshaw. They were dragged to the public square which houses an open air bus station.

They were beaten, stripped and hung upside down.
3,000 people watched. 3,000 people shouted "kill them, kill them." They were killed - but only after they were beaten, stripped and hung upside down.

Witnesses describe and pictures depict a gruesome act of vigilantism.

Last week the Egyptian interior ministry called on the public to make citizens arrests because the police were on strike and law and order was turning to chaos. But vigilantism is almost worse than the chaos.

There is no real sense of safety on the streets of Egypt. There is no justice.
Egypt is teetering, it seems to be on the verge of total collapse.

The rise of Muslim Brotherhood militias will push the anarchy to a new low. 

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Iran Puts Destroyer in Caspian

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
The Iranians have just placed a naval destroyer in the Caspian Sea.

This is significant for several reasons.
# 1: The Caspian Sea is landlocked. It is sometimes called the largest lake in the world. (Despite the fact that it is salt water)
# 2: The Caspian is filled with oil reserves. And along with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and of course Russia, Iran is drilling very aggressively there.
# 3: There is no treaty and no agreement as to who controls what in the Caspian.
# 4; There is very little military presence in the Caspian, certainly not on the level of a heavy naval destroyer.
The world has paid little attention to the Caspian Sea in discussions of Iran's oil, always assuming that it is a sealed and controlled area. But much of Iranian oil exports have been from that region for that very reason. From the looks of things Iran is going to pick up oil exports from the Caspian Sea. 

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bibi Forms a Coalition

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Netanyahu coalition was finally agreed upon and all the parties that are "in" have signed.
On Saturday night, immediately after Shabbat concludes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring his coalition list and the accompanying agreements to Israeli President Shimon Peres who will accept it and the government will be sworn in.

This will all happen only minutes shy of the deadline. Had the potential coalition members not reached a compromise President Peres would have had to enlist someone other than Netanyahu to form a government and create a coalition. That's the law.

The government needs to have at least 60 seats, half of the 120 members in the Knesset.

This government has 68 seats.
Likud-Beteynu - 31
Yesh Atid - 19
Bayit Haeyhudi - 12
Hatuah - 6

It is a small government composed of 4 parties. And Netanyahu gave up quite a lot to the partners. In Israel, the winner actually loses. He must give away some of the most important minister portfolios to keep his coalition happy.

In this case Netanyahu is anticipating that his partner Avigdor Lieberman, the Beteynu part of Likud-Beteynu, will splinter off.

And when he does Netanyahu will still have a narrow majority. Just enough to govern.


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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Obama's Israel Trip

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The US Presidential visit to Israel is fast approaching. Expectations are extremely low on many fronts. Two segments of this visit, however, have caught my attention.

The president of the United States of America will not address the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Even Jimmy Carter addressed the Knesset. Instead, the wise men and women advising Barack Obama have told him to take the message to the Israeli people, not the politicians.

Obama will bypass the politicians who, like in every working democracy, can sometimes be pretty petty. But the Israeli Knesset represents the democracy of Israel. It is an institution. And that institution demands respect.

Not addressing the formal Knesset is an anti-democratic and a populist act. Not addressing the Knesset is an act of terrible disrespect for the election process. Obama may not like them, but the members of the Knesset are the people duly elected and chosen by Israelis to represent them and their ideals.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Presidential advance team has invited the newly crowned Miss Israel, Yitish Aynaw, more often called by her nick name Titi, to the grand gala hosted by Shimon Peres at the President's residence.

Titi hails from Ethiopia. As she put it: "Ten years ago I was walking around barefoot in Ethiopia and I never imagined that one day I would be in the Land of Israel, meeting the Israeli president and the president of the United States. I could never have imagined such a powerful and exciting situation."
Nay to politicians, Yea to beauty queens. That's the Obama presidency. 

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Golan is Up For Grabs

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Syrian Golan Heights is up for grabs.

While the Syrian army can still make a play for the Heights, it seems pretty clear that they are not actively in control of much of the Syrian Golan right now. If we were unconvinced of the role the army is playing - or rather not playing in the area, the UN has given us some concrete proof.

The United Nations has made it very clear that they are thinking of pulling all their people from the Golan because of the kidnapping of 21 UN observers several days ago. Croatia saw the writing on the wall weeks ago and withdrew all their personnel.

The Golan is now being fought over by al Qaeda rebels and by Hezbollah.
This is not good news.

Whichever group gains control of the Syrian Golan Heights it will be a murderous, volatile, terror group - sitting directly on Israel's border.

Al Qaeda and Hezbollah have each expressly pledged to destroy Israel and the conflict between the forces of Assad and the Syrian rebels has provided both groups with new and more advanced weapons with which to attack Israel.

Those weapons include chemical weapons.

Unfortunately, the only thing we can do is watch carefully and wait patiently. That's not much.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Iran May Say No Nuke UN

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

First it was the Iranian press, now Western press, too, is buzzing about a pseudo announcement made by Iranian Vice President Mohammed Rezza Rahimi.

The Iranian vice president is quoted as saying that in front of the United Nations, Iran will declare that they do not have ambitions to attain nuclear weapons.

This declaration is viewed as a public pronouncement of the "fatwah" the religious edict handed down in 2005 by The Grand Ayatollah Khamenei in which, it is said, he declared that it is "forbidden to produce, store, or use nuclear weapons."

Is this serious? Is Iran trustworthy?

One thing is for certain. This is another move by Iran in a much larger game.

This orchestrated move is an attempt to roll back international sanctions. It is also an attempt to reduce tensions and pull Israel and other Western countries away from the brink. The brink, in this case, is the point at which Israel and/or the West launch a pre-emptive military strike against Iran.

Now, if there is a strike against Iran, it will appear as if Israel is the aggressor.

Does Iran intend on backing away from their enrichment. The answer is a resounding no. Actually, it appears that Iran is doing exactly the opposite. 

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Saudi to Stop Beheadings

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Saudis are holding meetings. They are considered stopping beheadings - replacing them with firing squads.

In attendance at these meetings are representative of the health ministry and the interior ministry who are saying that there are just not enough trained swordsmen in Saudi Arabia anymore. And those who are trained are so over booked that they come late and that delays the execution.

Remember - quite a few crimes in Saudi Arabia warrant the death penalty.
 In addition, execution is the punishment for murder and rape.

And apostasy, which means turning away from Islam, is a very big sin and that punishment is heading.
In Saudi Arabia the punishment for any form of drug infraction is death, as is the case with armed robbery.

Beheading someone takes skill and strength. Firing squads are much easier to man.

Every country faces its own demons and dilemmas.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Iran Blocks Internet

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Iran is blocking all access to outside internet. This is all in order to prepare for their upcoming June 14 presidential elections.

So, as of yesterday, the only sites and information that Iranians can access are ports that are legal and permitted.

All VPI's or Virtual Private Networks have been closed. A VPI is computer program software that enables a user to access the internet as if they are sitting somewhere else in the world. An Iranian in Tehran can sit, conceivably, sit on his lounge and watch Gilligan's Island on YouTube and the computer thinks he is Munich.

Now Iran has blanketed shut all ports to VPI's. They also shut Skype and Viber which are calling and internet communication software.

There are still ways around the blocks for Iranians, but it is becoming more and more difficult.

Iran wants to manage the access to all information. That is one of the key reasons why, despite their claim of a democratic election, they are truly a dictatorship, a theocracy. 

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jihadis Test Rockets

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Jihadist groups are the ones I worry about most. Their actions are especially hard to predict - and their rhetoric closely resembles their actions.

There has been a significant rise in Jihadist group activity in the Sinai desert over the past few weeks.

This is what happened today: A Jihadist group launched a rocket from a central Sinai city toward the Suez. It was a test run. They say that the rocket, with a range of 30 miles, was originally Israeli pilfered after the last conflict in Gaza. The Jihadists say that they have numerous rockets just like this one.

Israel fears that these rockets will be used against them.
The Egyptians harbor the same fear.

The Egyptians fear that the Jihadist will use these rockets to attack the police stations and military posts trying to control the spread of anarchy created by the Jihadists.

And there is no better example of that than what is happening in Sinai. 

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

More Problems in Egypt

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

Things in Egypt have just gotten even more complicated.

There have been riots over the past few weeks, expressions of discontent with the system and with the government. In addition there have been acts of violence and crackdowns against the protesters. Scores of Egyptians have been killed.

Now the police have begun to walk away from their jobs and to strike. They are fed up with being blamed for the crackdowns and the violence.

The security services have tried to move in to act as police and the Muslim Brotherhood has said that they themselves will step in and become the police.

If Brotherhood people act as police the problems will worsen exponentially. Giving the Brotherhood power and weapons will permit them carte blanche to crush any form of descent and any religious or cultural entity of their choosing.

My prediction --- Expect even more problems, more violence and more extremism to emerge out of Egypt. 

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Friday, March 8, 2013

US Reneges on Honor to Egyptian

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Today Secretary of State John Kerry and First Lady Michelle Obama were scheduled to award the International Women of Courage honors.

Samira Ibrahim, a woman from Egypt was scheduled to get the award.

The State Department and the First Lady were drawn to Samira because she was the woman who challenged the virginity tests that were applied to women who came to protest at Tahrir Square.

Had she received the award, it would have been devastating. Yesterday, finally, just in the nick of time, the State Department and the First Lady decided against giving Samira Ibrahim the award.
As early as July, in fact, in the July 18 issue of the Weekly Standard, Samuel Tadros called our attention to the twitter feeds of Ibrahim. What she says would knock any Westerners socks off- for example, she congratulated Hitler for his success in murdering Jews.

And even after the Weekly Standard piece came out, Samira Ibrahim continued her vitriol. On 9/11 2012, the anniversary of the worst terror attack in world history, she tweeted, "Today is the anniversary of 9/11. May every year come with America burning."

Then after the July terror attack in Bulgaria she tweeted, "An explosion on a bus carrying Israelis in Burgas airport in Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Today is a very sweet day with a lot of very sweet news."

And here she is quoting Hitler in August, "I have discovered with the passage of days, that no act contrary to morality, no crime against society, takes place, except with the Jews having a hand in it. Hitler."
Who vetted this decision to have Samira Ibrahim receive this prestigious award? Does standing up to the tyrants in Tahrir Square whitewash those quotes and obvious biases?

Those quotes should have automatically disqualified her for the award and it should not have taken the administration months to recant ... only hours before the awards.

There was a major snafu here. Damage was done even if the award was not presented. 

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

In Syria Both Sides are Evil

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Tuesday was one of those very bad days in Syria. It was a day that was extremely illustrative of what is happening on the ground and how complicated things are for Syrians.

Reading Western press coverage one get the impression that there are good guys and bad guys in Syria. Assad is bad - and he is. The rebels who oppose him are good - but they are not. There are no proverbial white hats and black hats in Syria. In Syria, they all wear black hats - or kafiyahs, if you will.

On Tuesday rebels kidnapped 21 UN international observers. They are holding them as ransom. The demands have yet to be made. This was not a mistaken kidnapping, it was a well planned and well executed operation.

On the same day, Tuesday, Assad's air force bombed the cities of Homs and Raqqa killing dozens of rebels and others and wounding countless numbers of Syrians.

What we learn from this sliver of conflict is that both sides in Syria do really evil things. Unfortunately, seldom are the rebels ever analyzed, no less covered in the media and if they are, it is only when they strike at Assad forces. Public decapitations - and there are many, are seldom ever reported.

Bashar Assad is a murderous thug ... but do not think that the alternative to Assad is any less cruel and ruthless. Mainstream, opposition rebels in Syria are, if not full blown al Qaeda operatives, at least affiliated with and in sync with al Qaeda.

The West must think hard before offering help in Syria. 

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

US General Says Sanctions Don't Work

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

General James Mattis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. Mattis is head of US Central Command, he is the most important US military person in the Middle East.

In brief James Mattis testified that Western diplomatic efforts and sanctions against Iran have not had the desired impact. The sanctions have not, he said, brought Iran to its knees.

Actually Iran is continuing its traditional role of denial and of obstructing international agency inspections at their nuclear facilities. And Iran continues to enrich uranium far beyond the needs of any peaceful and/or scientific demands.

Mattis did say that the United States still has the ability to bring Iran to its knees. He even suggested that the US still has several additional, untried, tools to use against Iran that do not include a full military strike.

The testimony of Mattis made it clear that Iran is using diplomacy to their own advantage. The Iranians are delaying the West from moving seriously against them thereby giving themselves permission to continue with their enrichment plans.

I hope that this was not news to the Senate committee. 

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Israel Warns Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Israel is starting to set the stage for another strike against Syria.

Over the past few days Syrian shells have fallen into Israel. Now both the Israeli representative to the UN and the Israeli prime minister have gone on the record saying that the conflict in Syrian cannot spill over into Israel.

Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador the United Nations, delivered a letter to the Security Council and all 15 members. The letter describes how the conflict in Syria is resulting in rockets landing in Israel. The important part of the letter is that Israel reserves the right to respond.

From Israel's point of view, "response" is not necessarily simply a hit back at the place that launched the missile. Israel reserves the right to respond and attack the source of the conflict.

That could mean striking Assad sources or rebel bases. It gives the Israelis carte blanche to hit anywhere and anything in Syria. 

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Locust Plague in Egypt

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Egypt has been plagued by locust over the past few days. The video is eerie, evoking images of Moses and ancient Egypt.

Swarms of black locust drop like clouds, falling on crops devouring them. They bounce off cars. It is Biblical.

Israel is concerned that Egypt is not doing enough to eradicate the locust. There is a significant danger that the locust will make their way to Israel, so Israel has begun to take precautions. Hotlines are up for anyone who sees the swarms. Major pesticides are in full stock.

But what the Israelis will inevitably do is dig huge ditches on their border with Egypt at the anticipated crossing points. The trenches must be equipped with kerosene. When the locust come, the Israelis will light the trenches.

Because locust fly low, their wings will be singed by the heat of the fire and they will fall in the ditches.
This is one problem that Egypt did not need right now. 

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Kerry in the Middle East

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The new US Secretary of State is on a whirlwind trip and his focus is the Middle East.
John Kerry has an agenda. He pledged to give the Syrian rebels $60 million, but that will exclusively be in the form of food and medical aid. $60 million is a drop in the bucket and food and medicines are not what the rebels need.

The rebels were at least hoping for night vision goggles and protective armor, which they are now lobbying to get from England.

The United States cannot give material aid to the rebels even if they are vetted because the chance are just too high that all that aid will then go to al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliated groups.

Today Kerry is in Egypt trying to urge the Egyptians to conform to the IMF request to enable billions of dollars of international aid.

Kerry is also urging that they find a national consensus around which to rally and put aside their inner conflicts. And it should be no surprise that Kerry and the Egyptians spoke about Syria.

Kerry wants to prove that he and the United States can help stabilize the Middle East. But to do that, he has to be more convincing. As of now there has been no real affirmation that the Middle East has any faith in the US point of view or even wants their involvement.

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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Oil Prices Fell Due To The Sequester

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Oil prices dropped yesterday.

The price of oil per barrel dropped to $90. The most significant reason for the fall is the all powerful sequester.

Because of potential cuts across the board, the entire economy is in jeopardy of a free fall. As a result - oil process dropped. Add to that the slowdown in all markets across all spectra in China and you have price changes.

The world economy is elastic, it is very responsive to changes. And oil prices are extremely responsive to US consumption.

The US is the largest consumer of oil in the world consuming 19, 150,000 barrels per day. This is far more than the EU, which is the second largest consumer, at 13 million barrels per day. All total the EU and the US compose 33% of the world's oil. This proves just how important the US economic conditions are to the global price of oil.

We heard about the sequester for weeks and not a single person spoke about consequences other than the layoffs and the cutbacks.

Oil. Sequester. Expect a huge global impact. 

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Friday, March 1, 2013

Talks w/ Iran

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The meetings between the six Western countries and Iran have finished and Iran is satisfied. These were the first real discussions since June and they took place in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

To quote Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili: the Westerns tried to "get closer to our viewpoint."

The West offered Iran an easing of sanctions if they stop enriching uranium at Fordo. From reports, the message from the West was less strident but it was the same message: Stop enriching uranium.

Iran has said that they are willing to talk and negotiate. And they agreed to another meeting in April. But Iran said that talks and negotiations are not capitulations - talks do not mean that Iran must agree with everything the West demands.

So Saeed Jalilli was pleased and intimated that there was real hope. But hope for Iran is a softening of the West's position. It is a major softening in terms of rhetoric.

Iran is correct - negotiations cannot be a fait accompli. But the US should have adopted a nicer tone years ago - now is the time for firmness. 

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