Sunday, June 30, 2013

Egypt Heats Up

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

As I write this I am watching a real time, live, feed from Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt where protestors have massed in the hope of ousting new president Morsi on the first anniversary of his inauguration.

The press reports that thousands of people are gathered around the square.
In the time I have been watching, the numbers have expanded. If there were 200,000 in the square a few hours ago there are three times that now - and it is still growing.

They are shouting "Erhal" which translates to mean "leave" and "step down."

All kinds of people are there. Even women. Women have, until now, been absent from events of this type because of the great dangers, the attacks and the rapes that have occurred during protests.

As the heat breaks and the approaching evening brings cooler weather
I anticipate that even more Egyptians will emerge. I am convinced that this anti-Morsi protest will top one million chanting attendees.

There has been only minimal violence so far. Unfortunately, yesterday, a young man from the United States in Egypt to teach English to locals was stabbed in the chest in Alexandria and died from his wound. The fact that he was actively Jewish had no bearing on the attack.

The crowd in Tahrir Square is serious. They want Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood out. Now. 

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Erdogan To Visit Gaza July 5

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

First came the murmurs. Then some spotty hints. Now we have confirmation.

On July 5 Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey, will visit Gaza. This is big news. This is a very important statement from the Turkish prime minister.

Making the trip to Gaza is a domestic and an international statement. Erdogan is in the midst of a major civil crisis in Turkey, a crisis in which secularists are rebelling against his point of view and are upset by his Muslim-style shift away from the classic style of Ataturk.

Going to Gaza shows the citizens of Turkey that he, their leader, cares about the downtrodden.
The move also positions Erdogan as a Muslim player and a Muslim leader in the larger world. He becomes one of only a few world leaders who will have visited Gaza. The last Muslim leader to visit Gaza was the emir of Qatar. The emir visited for the same reasons. Of course, he also promised $8 billion in aid.

I am certain that Hamas will ask for money - and that Erdogan will comply. That part of the visit will not go over well at home in Turkey. The Turks have not had a good year economically. They want aid to be spent at home, not spread around abroad.

The people most hurt by aid given to Hamas in Gaza by Turkey are the students and the anti-Erdogan protests.

This trip is like taking two steps forward and one step backward for Turks, but one giant leap forward for the Muslim world. 

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Egypt: Do or Die Weekend

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

A leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was shot dead in an execution yesterday. It was an attack on the Muslim Brotherhood office. There was no mistake or misunderstanding.

The Muslim Brotherhood blames those who supported Mubarak.

The timing of the attack was no accident either.

This weekend begins a slew of anti-government, anti-Morsi and anti-Muslim Brotherhood protests. The date mark exactly one year since Morsi ascended to power.

The secular masses have organized huge demonstrations. The Brotherhood has pledged to defend the honor of Morsi and to defend their values against the secularists.

I predict that, coupled with the protests, will be counter protests. And I predict that there will be violence between the groups and with the police and the army.

This weekend will tell us whether there will be a coup in Egypt and whether the Egyptian army will step in. It all depends on how violent it all gets.

The calculus is simple --- the more violence, the more likely the coup. 

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Will Russia Pull Out Of Syria

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Vedomosti is the Russian business daily. AFP (Agence France Presse) ran a piece citing Vedomosti that took me by surprise. In fact, I find it hard to imagine that the report is correct.

It said that Russia was packing up and leaving Syria. That they are only going to be leaving 3 to 5 war ships in Tartus, the Russian naval base in Syria.

The newspaper claims that there are no longer any Russian military personnel on the ground in Syria and that the Naval facility is operating on a skeleton crew.

The paper clarified that the number does not count the Russian technical advisers.

The reason it is so hard for me to believe this story is that Russia does not want that their $3 to 4 billion naval facility to fall into the hands of the rebels --- especially the al Qaeda rebels. They will do anything to make certain that does not happen.

That said, 5 warships can easily include the Russian aircraft carrier which is a mini air force and army all by itself. There is no doubt in my mind that Russia will not, at this stage, pack up and leave. There is too much at stake. If they were going to leave they would be doing so in order to throw a bone to the United States.

There is no way that Russia will leave Syria at this point. I need to find other substantial and reliable sources to confirm this story. 

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

US & Russia Can't Agree on Syria Meet

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The United States and Russia really want to have a conference to solve the crisis in Syria. But they cannot agree on so many items, that their 5 hour meeting about the meeting ended as a dismal failure.

The US and Russia could not even agree on the date and the timing of a meeting. And they could not agree on who should attend the meeting.

Who should attend is the biggest bone of contention.

Should Iran come? Russia says yes, the US says no. Iran is one of the most important players influencing what happens on the ground in Syria. And Russia follows immediately after-- but should their desire take precedence over the desire of the United States?

And they could not agree on who would represent the rebels.

This is a classic example of "hand tied diplomacy." The hands of both parties are tied, now they must return home to get a better understanding of the flexibility of their country regarding these critical issues. So they agreed to meet again in order to meet again.

In the end, the next meeting will probably not result in a conference. The tide has changed in Syria and by the time the US and Russia resolve their issues, Assad will be well on his way towards wiping out the rebels. In the end, a US/Russia conference on Syria will be a moot point. 

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rockets From Gaza Shatter Quiet

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The quiet lull that had settled in between Gaza and Israel has been broken.

A series of rockets has been launched from Gaza into Israel. Some of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile triangulation system. But others fell on Israel's border communities.

The Israeli air force struck back, hitting launch sites and weapon storage caches inside Gaza.

It is clear that the shooters were not Hamas - the relative quiet/lull was broken by the Islamic Jihad. But
Hamas is in charge of Gaza. Islamic Jihad is the second largest group.
What was Islamic Jihad's motivation? They risk an internal conflict with Hamas.

It all has to do with Syria.

Hamas has called for and is supporting the rebels and Islamic Jihad is supporting the Assad regime. Iran has withdrawn its support for Hamas but it is definitely still supporting Islamic Jihad.

This internal tension is extremely important to understand. Islamic Jihad is preening for Iran. Islamic Jihad is clearly illustrating to Iran that Hamas is not - I repeat, is not - totally in charge in Gaza and that Iranian agenda can be put into play in Gaza for the right amount of money.

If Hamas wishes to survive this internal dispute they have one option: they must crush the Islamic Jihad.
If Islamic Jihad persists in their rocket attacks into Israel I expect Hamas to crack down very hard and eliminate the ability of their foe to challenge Hamas on the local and the regional scene.

If Israel ends up being the beneficiary of this in-fighting, so be it. 

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Egypt: Army May Take Over

By Micah Halpern

I've Been Thinking:

The Egyptian army is starting to move towards what may turn into a full blown coup, or at the very least, a show of military strength and power.

The Egyptian chief of staff is also the minister of defense. His name is General Abdel Fattah el Sissi. He was appointed by Morsi.

Because he has remained silent through much of the conflict it was assumed that he, and the military, will back Morsi.

But that seems not to be the case.

Over the past few weeks there has been much publicity about the June 30 anti-Morsi rally and protest. Over 15 million signatures have been collected and the attendees and supporters hope to oust the president. The date June 30 is significant because that is the anniversary of the election that placed Morsi in power.
Sissi has made it clear that many things that Morsi has done have hurt Egypt. He has also made it very clear that the Muslim Brotherhood will not be permitted to attack the protestors.

Minister of Defense Sissi seems to have changed his stance of when on intervene. Until now he had hinted that the military would intervene only in national crisis when the collapse of the state was impending. Now listen to what he just said:

"Those who think that we (the military) are oblivious to the dangers that threaten the Egyptian state are mistaken. We will not remain silent while the country slips into a conflict that will be hard to control."

"It is not honorable that we remain silent in the face of the terrorizing and scaring of our Egyptian compatriots. There is more honor in death than watching a single Egyptian harmed while his army is standing idly by."

Sissi gave the parties a week to work out their differences. After that, the army may be stepping in to protect the protestor and maybe to even oust Morsi.

Stay tuned. June 30 is only a week away. 

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Palestinian Snipers Fight For Assad

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A group of Palestinians are fighting for the Assad regime and against the rebels.
CNN ran a piece in which their correspondent followed a team of Palestinian snipers. He watched from their perch as a Palestinian sniper picked off rebels and followed the opposing snipers in their perch.

In urban warfare snipers are one of the most effective and essential tools. They keep the enemy from freely moving and wreak havoc and fear. An effective sniper can instill a sense of trepidation in your every move, always waiting for the silent distance shot which can be so deadly.

The CNN correspondent asked the commander of the Palestinian sniper unit to describe his enemy. "They are mostly Islamists from al Qadea and Jabhat al-Nusra. Mostly foreigners from the Emirates, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also Syrians and Palestinians."

This is great insight into the conflict.

Who is siding with whom? Al Qaeda is al Nusrah and the rest are almost all foreigners to Syria - even some Palestinians.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Crisis in Egypt --- Soon

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

The situation is now at the point of near crisis in Egypt. Morsi is barely holding on to his regime and secular masses are starting to organize.

The secularists are pinning their hopes on a political climax set for June 30th at an enormous rally they have planned.

Thus far 15 million people have signed a petition to oust Morsi and hold new elections. The letter only began circulating 3 weeks ago and has caught on like wildfire.

The number 15 million is important.
The organizers wanted to exceed 13.2 million and they have done so with ease. 13.2 was their goal number because it is the number of votes that Morsi received in the presidential election.

Everything related to the rally is high energy.

There is a new Android app that makes fun of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. It shows the followers of Morsi as sheep, blindly following the leader. A campaign worker is seen walking the streets collecting signatures. In the background is music and speeches of Morsi that point out the contradictions and gaffs and political mistakes he has made. The campaign worker runs over as many sheep as possible.

The Muslim Brotherhood has also organized a rally. But there has been little real response to their effort.
I do not envision an all out civil war in Egypt like there is in Syria. But I do expect to see serious violence in the streets and I definitely anticipate that the demonstrations will get out of hand.

There is plenty of pent up frustration. As the political and emotional heat rises, so do tempers and violence. 

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Friday, June 21, 2013

New Palestine PM Resigns

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Just a few days ago I wrote about the new Palestinian Prime Minister. Rami Hamdallah was British educated and received his PhD in English.

He was an outsider to politics. And that is why he was chosen by Abbas, the president.

The big question was this: could Rami Hamdallah handle the position of prime minister, the pressure, the fighting, the turf-wars and the egos? Many thought he would be consumed by the beast called Palestinian Politics.

We have the answer. Hamdallah has resigned. His deputies were Abbas people and they reported directly to Abbas, bypassing the prime minister. They had no interest in sharing power with Hamdallah.

They viewed Hamdallah as an unnecessary person in a job that they were already filling.

There was tremendous conflict. As prime minister, Rami Hamdallah had no power and no role. On Thursday, after his submitting his resignation, he left in his own private car. Hamdallah did not take the official car and driver, a symbolic way of saying I have had enough, I am truly out of here.
Abbas will most certainly accept the resignation and move on.

There is no election process in the Palestinian Authority. Abbas is the sole leader. In Gaza, Hamas has the same policy under Ismail Haniyeh.

In neither place is there any challenge to leadership. 

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

NSA Snooping -- Perspective

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

It is time for a little perspective on the NSA snooping scandal.

There is no doubt that the information took America by surprise. That is because our leadership has never appropriately explained that this information is being gathered by them.

But in the year 2013 everyone in the US should realize that there is no such thing as privacy. Anytime you go outside you are photographed. Anytime you use a phone or computer hookup you can be tracked.

Not simply by the government ... by thieves and by every person and organization trolling the waves.
If there is anything I can honestly say with 100% certainty it is that there is nothing we do that can be kept private. Today, the only expectation of privacy you have is with your lawyer and in your bedroom, provided there are no electronics on line in either room.

This NSA issue is important, but when looked at dispassionately, it appears that only 300 US lines were targeted. And only 10 people in the NSA are permitted to discuss the information with the FBI.

The United States must monitor terrorists around the world, and when those discussions and/or leads come to the US, they must follow the information and connect the dots.

That is what they did. The fault lies not in doing what must be done, it lies in so poorly explaining what must be done and why. 

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hamas Summer Terror Camps

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
It is summer time again. And that means that Hamas is running their "terror for kids" camp program.

Hamas expects that there will be 100,000 kids in the summer camps.

Much of the program is dedicated to training. The curriculum has toy weapons, live fire, crawling under flames, swinging through smoke and the like. There are mock kidnappings and mock interrogations.

Hamas perceives the camps perfect recruitment centers. In addition to providing the children with something to do in the hot Gaza summers, Hamas instills and brainwashes their core values.

Interestingly, the largest camp system for Hamas children in Gaza is run by the UN. UNRA expects that they will have 150,000 campers. What do you know, but the UN facilities and storage areas have been vandalized.

The UN is hoping to provide an alternative to the Hamas thesis of education. The UN educational program may not be pro Israel, but it is certainly a thorn in the side of Hamas and Hamas will continue to sabotage and intimidate and do everything they can to mitigate the role the UN has in the lives of Hamas children. 

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Monday, June 17, 2013

WHat Can The US Do In Syria?

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The US has officially concluded that the Assad regime has used gas against the rebels. It is clear that the red line that President Obama drew has been crossed.

So what can the United States do? There are no good options.

The administration has finally concluded that the rebels are not good guys and that there are many groups of rebels. The US now, should I say finally, realizes that a significant part of the rebels are al Qaeda.
Arming the rebels would be arming enemies of the United States. And the rebels are fighting each other. So even if the US gives weapons to rebels who are not anti-US, those same weapons could easily be given to, or taken by, rival rebel groups.

Drawing the red line was a political mistake. It was originally simple rhetoric. But then the president and his administration repeated the phrase so often that, in the end, the result will be that the United States loses face in the Middle East.

The United States now sees the downside of keeping Assad in power. If Assad stays in power, US interests and strength in the region could be severely damaged. The US will lose clout and Mid East leaders will be more likely to enjoy the courtship of Russia and Iran. Ironically, Russian and Iranian leaders are men of their word, not mere rhetorical wordsmiths.

Worse case scenario US weapons fall into the hands and arsenals of al Qaeda and Bashar Assad emerges victorious. If that is the way things play out, be assured that it will negatively impact the United States for the very long term.

All because of the need to publicly articulate a red line. 

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Iran's New President - Rohani

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

A new president has been elected in Iran. Hassan Rohani has won over 50% of the votes in the primary eliminating the need for next week’s run off.

Rohani was one of 6 contenders. All of the candidates were extremely well vetted. All were on good terms with The Grand Ayatollah, otherwise they would not have been permitted to run.

Rohani is being touted in the West as a reformer - and that is not true.

Rohani won for several reasons. He has the most flexible personality of all the contenders. He had a much broader electoral base than the other contenders. He crossed over ideological lines. And he was Khatami's candidate which is why he is being referred to - erroneously, as a reformist.

Rohani was also Rafsanjani's candidate, which made him a pragmatist. He bridged groups while the other candidates split the conservative vote.

In the end, and this is all that matters, The Grand Ayatollah is pleased because Rohani is someone he can work with to create domestic and foreign policies based on broad consensus.

Rohani is exactly the opposite of Ahmadinejad. One represents internal bridges, the other represented isolation. 

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hamas Losing Funds

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

There has been some media coverage about Iran pulling its support for Hamas in Gaza.

The Iranians have said they will not support Hamas because Hamas supports the rebels in Syria and Iran supports the Assad regime.

Now Sweden has also announced that they will no longer be sending aid to Gaza. The Swedes say that the funds are simply not going where they should be going. The aid was supposed to help set up real government institutions and accountability. And that has not happened.

Qatar who pledged $8 billion to Hamas has fallen way short of their pledge and they are not planning on giving any more. Qatar seems preoccupied with other issues.

It seems that the Palestinians in Gaza are in for a very long, hot, difficult summer. And I mean that both literally and figuratively. 

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Iran's Elections

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

Yesterday 50 million Iranians went to vote for president. Ahmadinejad's term has come to an end.
Six candidates ran in this primary election. In a week, the top two contenders will face off in a runoff.

Do not mistake appearance for reality. Yes, there is a popular vote in Iran, but the only vote that actually counts is that of the Grand Ayatollah.

Think of the popular election as a variable that the grand Ayatollah uses to consider when making his decision. On the eve of the election yesterday the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei said: "What is important is that everyone takes part" He was speaking live, on state television, as he cast his ballot in the capital, Tehran.

He continued: "Our dear nation should come (to vote) with excitement and liveliness, and know that the destiny of the country is in their hands and the happiness of the country depends on them."
Of the 6 candidates, only 3 have a chance. One is the mayor of Teheran, Ghalibaf, former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their preferred candidate. Another is the protege of Ahmadinejad, a candidate named Meshai. And the last one with any chance is an independent conservative named Jalili.

I predict that Jalili will be the next president of Iran. I choose him because he is both conservative and independent. The Grand Ayatollah can shape him and form him and direct him without outside political influences. He is the Ayatollah's type of man.

In the cases of the others there is far too much external baggage that comes with the candidates. We will see what happens in just a few days. 

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Pay Attention to Egypt

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Everyone has been preoccupied with the protests in Turkey and the fast changing events in Syria. Egypt has fallen to the back burner, but that doesn't mean that it is a country at rest.

Syria and Turkey continue to percolate and even bubble over --- and big problems continue to brew in Egypt.

A massive opposition demonstration is scheduled to take place in Egypt on June 30th. A petition launched in late May against new Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi has already gathered 7 million signatures. That is 10% of the country. Remarkable. The petition is called "Tamarod" or "The Rebel." The signers want Morsi out.

The protest has a name. It will signal the start of a new movement and is to be called "The June 30 Revolution."

Several Islamic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have announced a counter demonstration. The counter demonstration will take place on Friday June 21 - the week before the opposition demonstration. If the early counter demonstration is successful and throngs of people attend, it will most likely result in pushing more secular and Christian Egyptians to the June 30 protest.

Either way, Morsi's days seem to be numbered. Along with Syria and Turkey, Egypt is spinning out of control. 

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wounded Syrians Tagged w Note to Israeli Drs

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
The other day two wounded Syrians were brought to Ziv hospital in Safed.

When they arrived the medical team noticed that tacked on to one of the wounded men was a letter, in Arabic, describing the wounds, the treatment and the surgery that had been performed earlier.

The letter is extremely polite. It reads: "Dear Respectable Surgeon, Hello. This patient is 28 he suffered from a bullet wound to the chest and shrapnel to the diaphragm and liver. " ... "His chest has been opened and the bleeding is stopped."

It goes on to explain several other procedures that were tried and offers some recommendations. Most importantly, it lists the medications that the patient is on.

According to the Israeli hospital they were able to operate on the Syrian patient and save his life. The original surgery performed in Syria and the information garnered from the letter was very helpful.

The letter is wrinkled. It is signed by the Syrian physician and dated 10-6-13. The letter ends, "Please do what is necessary. Thank you in advance."
המכתב ששלח הרופא הסורי

Twenty Syrians have recently been brought to Israeli hospitals for emergency surgery. This is the first time where there has been any collaboration between the Syrian and Israeli medical teams. 

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Israel Thwarts Terror Attacks

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel has thwarted five major terror attacks and prevented thirty kidnappings since the beginning of the year.

This is significant because these are potential attacks and kidnappings that we know about. These were attacks where the terrorists were caught and apprehended. But there are countless others that are thwarted by the terrorists themselves.

In most attacks gone awry the terrorists abort their mission and there is no way of knowing how many of those attempted attacks/attempted kidnappings that may be. A terrorist could cancel for numerous reasons, but most often it is because when the terrorist arrives at the target he or she realizes that the target is secure.

When that happens the terrorists, even the suicide bomber, turns around and tries to blend back into the background. The suicide bomber wants as many people to be hurt and killed as possible. If he is not able to approach his target and get the bomb into position for maximum effect, he will abort.

In all probability 5 attacks and 50 kidnappings is really 10 attacks and 120 kidnappings. 

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Syria: Rebels Feel Crunch

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The rebels in Syria are feeling the crunch. As Assad gains more and more momentum they ratchet up their moves.

A major call has been sent out through al Qaeda and other Islamic websites for fighters to swarm to Syria - because without them, the fight will be lost.

Assad's forces, combined with Hezbollah fighters and Iraqi followers of the Shiite religious leader Muktar al Sadr, have joined together and they are now creating a pincer move against Aleppo which had been under rebel control since last year.

Al Qaeda forces from Syria and Iraq publicly executed a 15 year old boy from Aleppo. He was brutally, publicly, murdered and his parents forced to watch. The crime was heresy.

The boy was reported to have said "even if Mohammed comes down from heaven I will still not be a believer." The boy was overheard saying this in the street while selling drinks.

Al Qaeda needed to make an example of him. They shot him through the mouth and then again in the neck. Their goal is to motivate people to toe the Islamist line.

On the rebel side, volunteers are getting uniforms and weapons and then shaking down locals for goods and money. But they are vastly outnumbered in terms of personnel and arms.

In Syria right now the real ruler is anarchy. 

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Iran Asks US For Israel's Red Lines

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

I do not often quote the website Debka. It is a site that focuses on and gives insight and intelligence about what is happening in the Middle East.

My major critique of Debka is that they have no real edit function.
Whatever comes in goes out. There is no filter on the intel they report prioritization of possible outcomes.

It is, however, excellent raw data - even when the data is inaccurate.

Debka recently reported that Iran has approached the United States through back channels in order to have them ask Israel exactly what their red lines are.

And, indeed, the United States has dispatched a messenger to ask Israel that very question. It is not clear how, or even if, Israel responded.

If true -- it is interesting that Iran seems to be interested in finding a way to down from the very high tree that they have climbed. 

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Assad Near Victory

By Micah Halpern
I'm Predicting:

Bashar Assad, with the help of Hezbollah, is taking back Syria.

I am repeating the prediction I have made several times already. By the end of summer, the Syrian regime will be back in place - and exacting revenge on all those who challenged the president these past two years.
As you read this the Assad forces and Hezbollah are launching an operation to retake Aleppo.

Aleppo is the largest city in Syria with just over 2 million people. It is 180 miles north of Damascus. Aleppo is located in the northwestern part of the country.

Damascus, the Syrian capital, only has about 1.7 million residents and it is situated in the south of Syria.
Most of Damascus is in the hands of Assad. There are only two or three communities still holding out and under rebel control. The Syrian regime has begun a series of operations to take back those communities, also.

I would say that by next Sunday, a week from today, Aleppo and all of Damascus will be back in the hands of Assad. The rest of the country will be brought back under his control within the next few weeks. 

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

US Tests Bunker Buster

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
YNET reported on Friday that the US has successfully completed a series of tests with their newest and most potent Bunker Buster bomb, the GBU-57.
The United States publicly announced the success of the GBU-57after first sharing the results of the tests with their allies.
They released this information in order to reassure the West, especially Israel, that the new weapon in the possession of the United States can easily wipe out the underground nuclear silos that Iran has so infamously created to protect their own atomic program.
Rest assured that Iran, too, will be getting this message. 

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Al Qaeda & The Middle East

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Ayman Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda, has a new audio tape that was broadcast though the internet yesterday. For 22 minutes Zawahiri gave long and explicit directions to al Qaeda followers throughout the world.

Zawahiri called for a jihad against Israel and against Assad of Syria. The Jihad that Zawahiri is calling for is not the introspection or deep religious thought that some apologists for Islam so often repeat. He explicitly called on Muslims to unite against America, Israel, Assad and Iran.

He said: "Lions of the Levant, unite around this honorable goal and rise above sectarian affiliations."

He said: "America, its agents and allies want you to shed your blood and the blood of your children and women to bring down the criminal Baathist regime, and then set up a government loyal to them and to safeguard Israel's security."

He said: "There is no solution for Palestine except Jihad."

He said: "Every free Muslim in Palestine should unite with his Muslim brothers to implement Sharia (Islamic law) and rule by it, and make it a reference above all references, and to liberate Palestine in order to set up an Islamic state, even if the West hates that and calls it terrorism and extremism."

Zawahiri uses very different metaphors in Arabic than bin Laden did - but make no mistake, the message is the same.

Oust all western influence, defeat all none Islamic totalitarian states, replace them with Islamic states, united stand together against the anti Islamic western forces. 

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Assad Takes Back Crucial City

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Al Qusayr has been retaken by the Assad regime with the help of Hezbollah. It took a few days of fighting, but now all the mines have been cleared and the fighting has stopped. The city had a population of about 40,000 people before the fighting erupted two years ago.

Al Qusayr is in south western Syria, about 35 miles from Homs and right on the border of the northern border of Lebanon. It is an extremely important city strategically speaking.

Al Qusayr has always been composed of Sunnis, Alawites and Christians. Before the revolt the majority were Sunnis with a large minority of Christians and some small handful of Alawites.

The largest chariot on chariot battle in history took place in Al Qusayr (then called Qadesh) in 1274 BCE between the Egyptians under Ramesses II and the Hittites.

From the beginning of this rebellion the rebels controlled Al Qusayr. They brutalized and publicly executed people who were thought to be informants. The city was the epicenter for many defectors from the Syrian army and it actually had a defector tank in its rebel armory.

Until yesterday, the Assad regime had repeatedly failed in trying to recapture the city. Assad won the city back because, this time around, most of the fighting was done by Hezbollah. 

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Iran Nuke Site Busher Might Not Be Safe

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Major concerns have arisen about Iran's nuclear status. The fear is that the only active nuclear energy plant in Busher has suffered serious infrastructure damage from the several enormous earthquakes that hit the region in April and May.

Diplomats are saying that they have real concerns that there are meter long cracks in the facility - despite statements made by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that there has been no damage.

The Busher plant opened in September 2011, but plant construction was begun in 1975 by Germany and was completed by Russia. They say that there was no damage to the plant and that the construction was designed to withstand an earthquake of 8.0 on the Richter scale.

The first big April quake was 7.7. May's quake registered 6.6 the first day and then 5.2 the next day. These are very large quakes erupting almost right on top of the nuclear facility. And the tremors are not single events - they are regular, ongoing, strong shakes of the ground around the supporting walls that protect the nuclear core.

There is no question that these acts of nature had an impact on the integrity and the safety of the entire nuclear power plant.

I would be worried. And I would not live anywhere close to Busher.
Remember Chernobyl. 

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reasons For Riots in Turkey

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

It is important to view the rioting in Turkey with the proper perspective.

Thousands have been arrested. The destruction is very ugly. But what has been happening in Turkey for the past four days, without letup, is not an Arab Spring.

Part of the success of the rioting is due to the Arab Spring, but Turkey is the most democratic of all Muslim countries - they have free elections - and the concept of Arab Spring is antithetical to democracy.

Current leadership in Turkey, under Recep Erdogan, has been in place since 2003. Erdogan won three landslide victories. But now the time is approaching for municipal elections and Turks are using the opportunity to express their frustration.

Turkish protestors are all secularists. Erdogan is a liberal Islamist.

The protestors are calling Ergodan a dictator. They reject his ideas and his policies. They are frustrated by his economic policy and his foreign policy. They are angry. The Web is lit up about
the protests.

Erdogan, for his part, has called the protestors hoodlums and looters.

The protests originated with a rejection of the re-planning and redesign of trees in Taksim Park in central Istanbul. The government was planning on pulling up trees. But we all know that these protests are not about trees - they were the fuse that ignited the anger and hatred.

When Erdogan said that the park re-planning will go on as planned, he showed just how distant he is from the message of the protestors. And the protestors are spelling and acting out their message loud and clear. 

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Syria Issues Travel Warning For Turkey

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Turkey is now in the middle of a severe social crisis.

Throngs of people have taken to the streets in Turkey's largest cities to show their displeasure with Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They call him a dictator. The internet, the blogosphere and twitter are filled with attacks against the leader of Turkey. In response, thousands of Turks have been arrested.

While this is happening, Syria has announced a travel warning about Turkey. Beware and be careful when traveling to Turkey, they say.

The Syrian foreign ministry and its embassies have published warnings about the dangers of traveling in Turkey.

Look who's calling the kettle black.

But it's working. Just yesterday, Sunday, on the second day of the riots, 7000 Syrians crossed back into Syria from Turkey. And last week at least 20,000 Syrians returned to Syrian from Iraq.

It sounds strange, but Syrians are finding safety in their own war torn country. The irony of that situation should not be lost. 

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Iran & Rusia Helping Assad

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

It should come as no surprise that the Russia and Iran are helping Syrian President Bashar Assad stay in power.

Yesterday the Washington Post reported that the Russians and the Iranians are providing advanced, sophisticated weapons to Assad which causing the pendulum to shift in his direction.

The specific weapons the piece referred to are drones.

The piece quotes rebel force leaders saying that they have seen many more drones in the sky recently and that they successfully shot down several of them. After downing the drones the rebels saw that the drones were made in Iran and Russia.

There is no doubt that Russia and Iran are helping Assad and that they are providing important military assistance that includes weapons and technology. They are also providing tactics and intelligence.

In some cases the gift of drones may have included more than just the weaponry. Some of those drones actually may have been operated by Russia and Iran, not Syria. 

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

15,000 International Troops Gather in Jordan

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Next week 15,000 troops from 18 countries will participate in a drill in Jordan. The drill will last two weeks and the countries have said following the drill they intend on leaving their troops in Jordan in case they are needed in Syria.

Here are some of the countries participating in the drill, Britain, Bahrain, Canada, Czech Republic, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Lebanon.

The participating countries are saying that the purpose of this drill is to create a response to Syria in the event that things go from bad to worse.

So far, at least officially, the 18 countries are there to potentially offer humanitarian aid. They are also there to help with logistics. And yet, some of the countries are already using terms like "intervene" and "create a no fly zone."

At this point I do not see these 15,000 troops crossing the border and joining the rebels. The main reason for that is that the rebels will see them as a threat. So the task of these soldiers is clear - to provide humanitarian aid and move people to safety. That help should not be underestimated. 

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