Friday, May 31, 2013

Hezbollah Evicts Hamas

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Two best friends are now feuding in the Middle East. And the feud is ugly.

Hezbollah and Hamas have been cohorts for decades. They have been partners in arms, in training, in ideas, in just about everything - except that one is Shiite and the other is Sunni. Hezbollah and

Hamas were able to put aside this looming divide for the great goal - hating Israel.
But yesterday Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah expelled all Hamas members from Lebanon, effective immediately. The conflict is over Syria and support for Assad.

Hezbollah is fighting for Assad and Hamas has sided with the rebels. Hamas has made repeated and numerous public statements supporting the rebels. In response, from the outset of the revolt, Assad evicted
Hamas from Syria.

This is just another example of how fractured and unpredictable the Arab world is today. 

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Abbas is in A Cliche

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas is really caught up in cliche. He is up the tree without a ladder. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He is up the river without a paddle. I could go on.

The US is really putting pressure on Abbas to join the Israelis and sit down at the negotiating table. But Abbas has promised his people over and over that there will be no negotiations while there is still settlement building of any kind, to any degree, by Israel.

If Abbas comes to the table he appears weak to his people and to the rest of the Arab world. If he stays away he alienates both the United States and Israel.

Here is what he must do. Abbas must allow himself to be publicly dragged and heavily enticed to come to the table. Public reluctance will be the bone he throws to Palestinians and all other Arabs and coming to the table will be the present he delivers to the United States.

Abbas must ask for, even demand, a high price to sit at the table. He must make his demands public so that the mighty US and powerful Israel succumb to his Palestinian demands.

Then and only then can Mahmoud Abbas come to the table.

All that having been said, I do not think Abbas capable of taking the next step and actually cobbling out an agreement - but as I said, that is the next step. 

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pink Balloons Upset Taliban

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Yazmany Arboleda is a 31-year-old artist who lives in New York. He created quite a controversy by giving out free pink balloons in Kabul, Afghanistan over the weekend. The Taliban called it an attack on Islam.

How can giving away 10,000 pink balloons be an attack on traditional Islam? How can it symbolize the West's attempt to destroy Islam?

The artist wanted to put some joy and fun in the lives of the residents of Kabul who he says have suffered so much over the past years.

But on Sunday this is what Qari Habib wrote in Pashto about the balloons.

"Was it a balloon show or a mini-skirt show?"

"The West is using different techniques to promote their culture in Afghanistan. Sometimes they do it in an undercover way."

"Some girls were without headscarves, with tight jeans and tops on, and even with mini-skirts on the streets.
The boys were also dressed in Western-style outfits."

"After distributing some balloons, they wandered around Kabul aiming to break the culture of hijab."

Pink balloons could mean so many things ... and yes some could be offensive to Islamic society. But as Freud famously said: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." 

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Is Europe Changing? More Islamic Terror

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A French soldier was stabbed and killed by a Muslim terrorist in Paris just days after a British soldier was beheaded in London. And only a few weeks before that, a Muslim terrorist stabbed a gendarme. While stabbing the police officer the terrorist shouted "Alahu Ahkbar," "Allah is great."

These are critical signs about what is happening in Western Europe. People are starting to ask whether the idea of multiculturalism has failed. Some are suggesting that the tensions between Muslims in Europe and their host cultures are akin to a seething caldron about to over boil resulting in tremendous conflict.

In the past, immigrant communities in Western Europe more or less
remained true to their own traditions, but assimilated culturally.

They wanted to be French or British or Belgium while still remaining whatever they originally were.
In today's Europe many community leaders and schools do not emphasize assimilation and acculturation. Instead, they emphasize separation.

This new immigrant, this new response, this new style --- poses a huge dilemma for Western Europe.
In the past those who did not assimilate were shunned by the masses and were not successful. They were mere vestiges of the past.

Today, in Western Europe, entire communities refuse to acculturate.

A cultural war may be on the horizon. 

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Russia Nixes Missile Sale to Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

An interesting report ran in the Sunday Times of London and was picked up by almost every Israeli website. The report made a surprising and unconfirmed declaration.

It said that according to a senior Russia official, the Russians will not follow through with their agreement to provide S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. The report asserts that Russia fears that the missile will fall into the wrong hands and could be used against civilian targets in Israel.

"We are very much concerned about this; the large Russian community in Israel is a major factor in our attitude to Israel, and we will not let this happen," the official told the Sunday Times.

The report concludes that Russia wants assurances that Israel will no longer attack Syria now that the missile deal is off.

All this was supposedly agreed upon a few days ago during a trip made by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to Russia. The entire trip lasted only a few hours.

Until now, until this announcement came out, that trip was publicly evaluated to be a major failure.
Of course there is no confirmation on this. And given the current state of affairs in the region it is highly unlikely that Israel would agree in advance not to strike Syria. But I certainly look forward to finding out more about this whole matter. 

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Saudis Warn Iran Nukes

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

We do not spend enough time discussing inner disputes within the Muslim world. Some of the tensions within that world are enormously illustrative in explaining the various angles and sides in the Muslim inner conflict.

I will even go as far as to say that some inner Muslim divisions might never go away.
For example, earlier today Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, held a press conference with the foreign minister of India in Jiddah.

Here is what al Faisal said about Iran and the nuclear issue: "We stress the danger of the Iranian nuclear program to the security of the whole region."

No Western force put those words in his mouth.

There are centuries of distrust and even hatred between Iranian/Persian and Arab worlds. They are arch enemies with great animosity. The last thing Saudi Arabia wants is to see the Iranians become a nuclear power. If for no other reason than that it would mean that the Iranians have a leg up on the Saudis.

If the Iranians become a nuclear power before the Saudis do, it could trigger a Middle East arms race. 

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Muslims Sympathize w Terrorists

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The beheading in London has some interesting elements that should be addressed.

The most important is that the sympathizers, those who support the actions of the two Islamic terrorists, see a very different scenario than do most of us.

I am not referring to British foreign policy that was so coldly presented in front of the camera by the terrorist. I am referring to the fact that terrorist sympathizers will see the victim, Lee Rigby, as a military target.
To them it does not matter that Rigby was a drummer in the band or that he was out of uniform. He was coming from the base and he was a full time soldier. In the eyes of the sympathizers, just as in the eyes of the terrorists themselves, that means Rigby was a valid target.

Reuters ran an interview with Imam Omar Bakri - who was deported from England and is a teacher of these terrorists. The Imam expressed his pride and his surprise that terrorist Michael Abeolajo had the courage to fight and defend Islam. The Imam said that he was happy to see Abeolajo, "standing firm, courageous, brave. Not running away."

"The prophet (Mohammad) said an infidel and his killer will not meet in Hell. That's a beautiful saying," Iman Omar Bakri said. "May God reward (Adebolajo) for his actions."
"If you breach the covenant of security with Muslims you are digging your grave," he said. "I cannot condemn what Michael did. I don't see it as a crime as far as Islam is concerned."

Bakri also spoke bout moderate Muslims and those Muslims who condemned the attack. The Imam said that his form of Islam was winning the bulk of converts in Britain and scoffed at the "moderate chocolate" Muslims who he said are "always melting the way the West wants them to be - they never stand for what they believe." "They are just a waste of space."

Everyone does not see the world as we do. For certain elements of the Muslim world, terrorism = heroism. 

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Bibi's Peace Plan

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Israel. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and then went to Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority, and met with President Mahmoud Abbas.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague is doing the same loop.

Netanyahu has said all the right things - the critique he is getting is for saying and not doing.

Here lies the problem. Netanyahu does not want the peace process to move ahead but he must pay lip service to the peace process for the sake of the United States and for his own electorate. The vast majority of Israelis, like the United States, favor a two-state solution.

Up until now Netanyahu has bet on the fact that the Palestinians would not be able to come to the table and, if they did sit down at the table, they would not be able to deliver. It never hurt Netanyahu to say all the right things.

Now the question is this: how effective will Kerry be to in aiding the Palestinians to deliver on issues related to security, police protection, justice and education.

Kerry's success will result in calling Netanyahu's bluff and forcing his reluctant hand.

Up until now Netanyahu has done all that can be expected. The only way the Israeli can do anything more is if the Palestinians are brought back to the negotiation table. 

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Momentum Shifts in Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

In Syria, the pendulum swings almost daily.

After several weeks of momentum on the side of the Assad regime, the pendulum has begun to swing back and forth. From Assad to the rebels to Assad and now back towards the rebels.

Momentum is about "feeling." Big wins, losses, massacres - the triumphs and tragedies of war - are what cause the momentum to shift.

The rebel group al Qaeda al Nusrah captured a Syrian army base killing 40 soldiers and Assad affiliates. The base is near Nayrab which is on the road from Aleppo going west to the Mediterranean Sea.

This was a huge blow to Assad. Not just because he lost 40 soldiers but because he lost them to al Qaeda. In addition, the army base was on an extremely crucial access point.

The Syrian forces were not the best trained or the best equipped, but losing to al Qaeda was a significant psychological setback for Assad's soldiers. 

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Iran: 2 Nixed as Pres Candidates

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
The Iranian committee that vets candidates for president has nixed two popular people from next month's presidential elections.

Both men were expected to be disqualified. But there was still a chance that the Guardian Council, the committee that makes these decisions, would have been swayed to make exceptions.

Former president Rafsanjani was barred from running because he is simply too old. The requirements for a candidate in Iran say that you must not be older than 70. Rafsanjani is 78.

The second disqualified candidate is Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. He is only 53. But Mashaei had an unfair advantage and that is why needed to be sidelined. Mashaei is very close with President Ahmadinejad and was his former chief of staff.

The kicker, or perhaps the kiss of death, was that when Mashaei went to register as a candidate Ahmadinejad accompanied him. That was in violation of Iranian election law and Mashaei could not benefit from his public association with Ahmadinejad.

The presidential field is still very large. Over the next week the few contenders will the most potential will begin to emerge. 

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Obama Calls Lebanon Leaders

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

US President Obama spoke on the telephone with Lebanese President Suleiman yesterday.

Obama emphasized his concerns about Syria and about the possibility of the conflict spilling over into Lebanon.

He also explained that he was concerned about Hezbollah which is located in Southern Lebanon, and with their role in supporting Assad.

This is all true.

The real problem, however, emerges in that in Lebanon, Hezbollah is independent. President Suleiman has no control over Hezbollah. If anything, it is Hezbollah that has tremendous influence over Lebanon.

There is no question that Hezbollah is on Assad's side in Syria and they are fighting to help maintain his position.

Most telling is that Obama felt the need to even mention to the president of Lebanon his issues with Hezbollah. 

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Syrian Rebels Now Fight Each Other

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Coverage of Syria is pretty biased. It is extremely difficult to get a sense of what is actually happening.

We generally refer to the people fighting Assad as the rebels. But the situation is more complicated than mere labels. Assad and his forces are supported by Hezbollah fighters and Iranian advisers.

The rebels are composed of many groups. Some of the rebels are locals, others are foreigners. Some of the rebels are secular and others are al Qaeda.

Internal bickering between rebel groups has escalated to the point where they have now begun to fight one another. In the northern Syrian city of Aleppo rival rebel groups, both Islamic, are fighting one another. They are kidnapping each others' fighters.

A group called the Judicial Council accused the group called Ghurabaa al Sham of robbing their factories. And now, after about a week of fighting, both groups have taken prisoners.

This is just the beginning. It is highly unlikely that tensions will scale down between the two groups.

Assad is taking advantage of the internal feuding. Assad's forces, together with Hezbollah, began a major offensive with the support of jets and helicopters. The plan is to start taking back strategic areas in the north around Aleppo. These rebels are playing right into his hand. 

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Syria - Missiles on Standby

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Syria has set its highly advanced and extremely accurate Tishreen surface-to-surface missiles on standby. And they are aimed at Tel Aviv.

Assad has put the alert command into place. Syria is to launch the missiles immediately after getting the command.

All this is in this morning's Sunday Times of London.

On Saturday, Clarin, an Argentinian newspaper, published an extremely rare interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad saying that the rebels are getting intel and support from Israel.

He said:
"Israel is directly supporting the terrorist groups in two ways, firstly it gives them logistical support and it also tells them what sites to attack and how to attack them. For example, they attacked a radar station that is part of our anti-aircraft defenses, which can detect any plane coming from overseas, especially from Israel."

There are two reasons for this important declaration.

First, is to try to isolate the rebels by saying that they are being aided by arch enemy Israel. Second, is to justify a Syrian strike against Israel. Israel has already attacked Syria three times and in doing so they are aiding the force which is dedicated to ousting his regime.

This new status makes the already unstable regional atmosphere even more combustible. 

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kerry To Israel Again

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

United States Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Israel next week.

Expectations have dropped since I first wrote about this impending visit three weeks ago.
The plan has not changed, Kerry with attempt to breathe new life into an old and dead interaction.

Kerry has two agendas to carry out on this quick trip. He will visit Israelis in Jerusalem and meet with Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. He will attempt to sit them down - face to face.

Before arriving in Jerusalem, Kerry will visit Amman, Jordan.

There he will meet with some of the Syrian opposition groups. It is very difficult to meet with the rebel groups of Syria because each one has different loyalties – but none of them are pro-Western.

Kerry believes this trip will have substance to it. I think if will be a lot of fluff. 

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Russia - Why They Supply Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Moscow is asking why they are being publicaly challenged about supplying weapons to Syria.

"I do not understand why the media is trying to create a sensation out of this," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is quoted by AFP as saying. "We have not hidden that we supply weapons to Syria under signed contracts, without violating any international agreements or our own legislation."

He is correct. Russia is not hiding anything and they are not violating any international laws. They are trying to protect their investment in Syria. They have invested in hardware and in infrastructure. And they have invested in human capital in the form of Bashar Assad himself.

Here's the rub: While Russia is not violating international laws there is no doubt that Syria is violating their contracts with Russia. The contracts say that the weapons will be used in defense and that they will not be transferred or resold. That they will not be given to terrorist organizations.

Russia asserts that there is nothing else they can do other than insist that the contacts be held up.
Unfortunately, that is not enough. 

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Syrian Brutality - Eating Hearts

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

It is as gruesome as it was extremely effective. Abu Sakkar, the head of the Syrian rebel unit called Farouk Brigade, is on video cutting open the chest of an Assad fighter.

Abu Sakkar slashes the rib bone and skin and then cuts out the heart, lifts it in the air, and says I will "eat your hearts." Then Abu Sakkar takes a bite.

This is a particularly brutal unit of fighters. And they are not thought to be Islamist, Marxist or secularist. They are just known to be extremely brutal.

The message is very clear. Everyone in the field knows what is at stake - and outsider should not misread the field. Both sides in this battle for Syria are grotesquely brutal.

I expect that this video will be countered with other, even more brutal, butchery carried out by the Assad camp. 

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bibi Asks Putin to Stop Missiles

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just returned from China. And today he is off on a very quick trip to Moscow where he will meet with Vladimir Putin.

On this trip only a few aides will join him. His wife and driver, part of his usual entourage, will not be traveling along on this one.

The purpose of the trip is to try to stop Putin from supplying Syria with missiles. Which missiles is still yet unknown. Russia has already delayed the delivery of certain weapons. But Israel would obviously prefer that the deals all be cancelled.

How does Russia justify their selling weapons to Syria? Simple, they want to prevent what happened in Libya from happening in Syria. In Libya, if you recall, a no fly zone called by the United States was used to justify ousting Ghadaffi.

With these weapons it would be very difficult for the United States to fly and attack. Obviously it would also be hard for Israel to fly over Syria and attack. But that does not concern Russia.

Russia wants to help make certain that Syria remains secure and that Assad stays in position without external forces invading. That is their bottom line.

Netanyahu will have to use every diplomatic trick and economic incentive he has to persuade Russia to back off on supplying these missiles to Syria.


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Monday, May 13, 2013

International Conference on Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Russia and the US are planning an international conference about Syria. Their objective is to bring the conflict to an end.

The Syrian government in exile, known as the Opposition, is not certain that they will attend. They have been plagued with problems despite succeeding in electing a prime minister, Ghassan Hitto.

The Opposition will meet in 10 days in Turkey to discuss, debate and decide whether they will or will not attend. The reality is that despite their name, Opposition members will have no power in the meeting and no ability to garner power within Syria. And yet - they still may be given control by the United States.
Ceremonial, figure head control rather than actual political and military.

Iran has announced that they are in favor of the international meeting and would volunteer to be the intermediary between the regime and the rebels. The problem with that gracious suggestion is that Iran has not been invited to the conference.

The United States does not want Iran at the conference. But in reality, it is Iran - not the United States - together with Russia that really has the power to broker a deal in Syria. 

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Syrian Death Toll Reaches 80,000

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported today that the death toll in Syria has topped 80,000.

That 80,000 number should not come as a surprise. The Observatory is a British based pro-rebel - anti regime group.

According to the report, half of those killed have been civilians.

Now the math gets important. Of the 40,000 non civilians killed almost all have been rebels. Take away 10% of that number and you have 4,000 regime soldiers killed in the conflict. That means that 36,000 rebel fighters have been killed.

That is, if the 40,000 number is correct. Whatever the exact number is, many more rebels have been killed than regime soldiers. And that continues to be the case. Intelligence sources say that several thousand foreign fighters cross the border into Syria every month replacing the several thousand that were killed.

To prove the point of The New York Times ran a picture of a Chinese rebel fighting against the regime. 

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Protests in Egypt Against Israel

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A huge anti-Israel protest, coordinated by the Muslim Brotherhood was organized in Cairo, Egypt yesterday.
It was the first anti-Israel rally of this size since Morsi was elected president of Egypt. Ostensibly, the reason for the protest was to voice opposition to Israel's strikes against Syria.

Placards, signs and banners pronounced Death to Israel. Israeli flags were burned and the crowd shouted "Liberate Palestine from the sons of monkeys and pigs." "We will chant it over and over, Israel is our enemy." "The people want Israel destroyed."

This was a direct attack against Morsi. It was a show of displeasure.
The Muslim Brotherhood is saying that Morsi and Egypt has become too close to Israel. The message is that Egypt must pull back and defend Muslims.

The sentiment being echoed on Arabic Op-Ed pages is that the Arab world was silent after Assad murdered, actually massacred, over 300 Syrians in Banias. But now Iran, Turkey and Egypt are voicing displeasure over the Israeli strikes which did more damage to the Assad regime than anything that has happened to the Syrian leader in the past two years.

How ironic. The only country keeping Bashar Assad in check is Israel. 
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Friday, May 10, 2013

Church of Scotland Says Bible Not Literal

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The Church of Scotland released a 10 page paper challenging the right of Israel to their ancient land.

The essence of their statement is that the Bible should not be used to resolve political conflicts. According to the Church of Scotland: biblical "promises about the land of Israel were never intended to be taken literally."
This is indeed explosive.

It can be easily said that both Jews and Muslims have competing textual claims to the Holy Land. In both great works extremely important events take place in the land. To say that what is written in the Bible is not to be taken literally is more than to belittle the Bible, it is downright blasphemy. And blaspheme according to Christian standards, not just Jewish standards.

Is the Bible now to be understood as a metaphor and not as the foundation stone of Judaism and Christianity?

There is little question that understanding the Bible requires many layers of analysis. The test of Abraham and the and the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22 which takes place in Salem, or, Jeru Salem is one of the most powerful pieces in all of religious literature.

On every level that story must be understood as a covenant between the progenitor of the Hebrew people and God who no longer desires human sacrifice. To remove that story from Jerusalem and remove the covenant between God and Abraham is to destroy the essence of the monotheism.

The test was not an accident. The chosen location was not serendipitous. It is the foundation of monotheism. That is why the Temple of Solomon was built on that spot and why, at the center of that Temple rests the Foundation Stone - at the place where Abraham bound Isaac, the place where the angel intervened and prevented the father's sacrifice of his son. 

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Finally Egypt Permits Bond Sales

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

In Egypt yesterday President Morsi signed the Sukuk into law.

Sukuk is the equivalent of Islamic investment bonds. If all goes as planned, Morsi may have just begun to create a system that will enable Egypt to sell and raise money for the development of the nation.
Islamic law, known as Shaaria, rejects the concept of interest so normal fixed market bonds are not permitted.

Money cannot produce money. It can only be used as a measurement of value. So, simple interest is shunned. So too are credit cards, most other conventional uses of money and other interest payments. It is permitted to rent and it is permissible to get paid for services.

There is a very important aspect of Sukuk called Maslaha. Maslaha is when there is overwhelming public need and hence the money may be used and invested to create a larger collective good. By creating an aspect of public need in the bond, one can mitigate the potential investment loss.
And that is a method of creating a kosher Sakk (the singular of Sukuk.)

Hopefully this new law will permit Egypt the basics and they will pull themselves up and out of a serious economic crisis.


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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Syria & Iran Threaten Israel

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Syrian President Bashar Assad met with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi yesterday. At the press conference following the meeting Assad said that Syria will deal with Israel.

What most interested me was his comments about the new resistance front which will be the Syrian Golan.
"Resistance" is code for fighting Israel.

Not long ago Assad pulled his forces from the Golan in order to bolster his forces in Damascus. He let al Qaeda and Hezbollah battle it out for control of the heights. But now, over the past week, Assad has sent his forces back into the Golan to confront al Qaeda.

Since the momentum has shifted in general in the battle between the rebels and the regime, Assad has become far more cocky. Even the Israeli strike against his advanced weapons seems not shaken him or deterred his rhetoric.

It is certainly clear that Iran is solidly behind Bashar Assad. That might be the added psychological edge he needed. 

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How the Arab World Responded to Israel Bombing Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
One might assume that the Arab and Muslim world are up in arms about Israel's strike against Syria. But the opposite seems to be the case - with several exceptions.
The blogosphere is full of people condemning the Arabic world and their leaders. Here is an example of what is being said:

"Thanks to Israel. Shame on the Arab and Muslim leaders." This blogger is saying that the only force in the world attacking Syria and protecting Syrians from Assad, is Israel.

"The Egyptian President's Office condemns the Israeli attack in Syria… Did you hear any condemnation from it for the Banias massacre?" In Banias possibly over 300 people were murdered last week by Assad's cronies and there was absolute silence.

"I'm for the resistance (the Arab name for the armed struggle against Israel) and want it to win, but I'm confused."

"Only Iran loyalists object to the Israeli attack and condemn it, since they're afraid for Iran's allies such as Hezbollah and Assad, not because they hate Israel." This happens to be true. Loyalists condemn the attacks saying that Israeli is siding with the rebels. And that makes people uncomfortable.

It is clear that no Arab force has even thought to challenge Assad in the way the Israelis did with precise rocket attacks striking at the regime’s armaments stockpiles.

I am not surprised by the reaction of the Arab world. I am deeply surprised that the West has not even covered this. That shows just how little the West understands the region and the conflict. 

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Why Israel Hit Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Yes, in the course of 48 hours Israel struck Syria twice and targeted very specific sites.

All day today people have asked me if the strikes are connected to Assad's use of chemical weapons. The answer is flatly NO.

Even asking the question assumes that the major motivating force behind the action is seen in the context of a US issue - in this case the RED LINES that President Obama laid out last year.
Israel struck Syria because it was essential for their - ISRAELI - security.

Israel has a very sophisticated anti missile defense shield. It is a combination of the Arrow, the Patriot and the Iron Dome.

However there is a saturation point. And this was seen in the last conflict with Hamas in Gaza. At the time Israel was able to intercept a significant amount of the rockets - but some got through simply because of the sheer numbers that were launched.

Syria has a significant amount of very dangerous missiles as does Hezbollah. The transfer of SA-17s, Fatah-110s and SCUD-D's to Hezbollah or even receiving any more arms within Syria would be a game changer.

The SA-17 and the Fatah-110 are extremely dangerous. The SA-17 is a Russian battery designed to down fighter jets. It would be very threatening for Israeli aircraft and could hinder an Israeli air force strike against Hezbollah or Syria. The fact that these weapons were being transferred, that they were taken out of storage to be moved into Lebanon, meant that Israel had to act. The Fatah 110 has a range of 250 miles and can strike anywhere in the entire north of Israel.

Israel needed to prune the trees. They needed to reduce the amount of long range, highly sophisticated, missiles that could be used against them. That was the reason for Friday's attack.

The reason for Sunday's attack was to strike at the SCUD - D's.
These rockets have a huge range and if launched, could hit anywhere in Israel. Again Israel has a defense against most of these weapons - but the threshold was crossed and the sheer numbers of weapons to be used against Israel needed to be reduced. 

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Israel Strikes Syria

I've Been Thinking:

Within two days Israel has twice struck targets in Syria. The fact that Israel is not confirming the strikes is normal and not a serious issue.

What is very important is that these strikes, one on Friday morning and one on Sunday morning, speak of a plan with a larger objective - not simply a onetime aerial strike.

Identifying the exact targets of the strikes has been more difficult.

If Friday morning's air strike was undertaken only to prevent game changing rockets from moving into Hezbollah control, which is a modest objective, why strike again on Sunday?

The Sunday attack came because the message that Israel was sending out on Friday was not heard by the Syrians. It looks like the target of the Sunday attack was an airport near Damascus, a storage and transfer site.

There has been much guessing about whether Israel crossed Syrian airspace to carry out these missions. The problem with that theory is that the Russians are in control of the space. There are ample methods of attack by missiles that do not put Israeli pilots and planes at risk.

One method would have been to fly over Lebanon. The other option is use smart bombs like the "Popeye." The Popeye can be shot dozens of miles away from the target. It hugs the ground. That could easily have been the choice of weapon.

Further details will emerge - with time. 

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Japan-France Build Nuke Plant for Turkey

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Mitsubishi of Japan and Areva SA, the French energy company, just signed a $22 billion deal to build a nuclear power plant in Turkey on the Black Sea. The construction should be complete in 10 years.

For Turkey this is a watershed. The Turks spent $60 billion last year experimenting and trying to come up with alternatives that would break their energy dependence. This deal was one of the conclusions they came to.

The biggest problem is that all but two of the nuclear plants in Japan are closed. They are all getting overhauled as a result of the 2011 Fukushima meltdown.

That aside, for Turkey this could create a real sense of energy stability despite the fact that there will be no results from the nuclear plant, no improvement and absolutely no energy for at least a decade.

On that time, by that time there may be a better, safer and cheaper alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Only time will tell. From the perspective of Turkey, the government is proactively addressing the problem - and that is always a positive. 

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Land Swaps for Peace

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Tzipi Livni and Shlomo Molocho are in Washington, DC. They are, respectively, Israel's minister in charge of the peace process and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chief special negotiator.

Livni and Molcho are in DC to follow up on meetings held last week between Arab League representatives and Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden. For the first time ever leaders of the Arab League suggested that they would support land swaps with Israel. That is revolutionary.

I do not think that Bibi is too very happy about the suggestion, but none the less, he must move on it.
Hamas is not too happy either. The official response given by Ismail Haniyeh, the PM in Gaza, was: "Palestine is not land for sale, exchange or purchase." Khaled Mashaal, the international head of Hamas, rejected the idea outright.

Who is pleased? The United States. And many Israelis are excited, even if there is only a minute possibility that a land swap might actually happen. Even the suggestion of a land swap by the Arab League is a sign of flexibility on issues of land and borders - flexibility that has never before been shown towards Israel by leaders of the Arab world. 

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Assad Makes An Appearance

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking.

Bashar Assad made a rare public appearance yesterday. The last time the leader of Syria was seen in public was March 30th.

In celebration of May Day Assad visited the Damascus electric power station.

May Day is about unions, socialism and Marxism. It is a long stretch from all that to the Bathist government of Syria. But when you are fighting a brutal, drawn out, civil war like the one Assad is fighting embracing May Day - if only to help gain support of the socialist and the workers - seems like a good idea.

Assad needs to show that he is still engaged and still on top on things.

Assad must make periodic public appearances to show that he is not

Assad needs to give the impression that he is maintaining control.
Even if it is all a facade. 

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