Monday, February 29, 2016

Apple Invests $1.2 Bill in Israel

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
The culture of Apple is even more top secret than that of the CIA - at least, that is what the Apple folks like to brag about.

Apple has invested over $1.2 billion in Israel over the past three years. They have opened two huge centers and employ 800 creative thinkers. 400 employees were recruited over the past two years.
Apple in Israel has developed new chips and new designs, especially on the security side. Steve Jobs
loved the idea of working with Israeli brainpower and Tim Cook followed suit. Cook secretly visited Israel last February.

Secrecy is a value at Apple. Apple workers cannot even speak to other Apple employees outside their neighborhoods (the Apple term for their insulated work group) about the material they are working on.

Yes, Apple has purchased several Israeli companies for hundreds of millions of dollars, but that is nothing compared to the investment they are making in tech teams in Israel.

The head of the Israel component in Israel is in the inner circle of the innermost circle of Apple. Johnny Srouji is the senior vice president for hardware technology. There are only two other Apple hardware development centers in the world - one in Austin and one in Silicon Valley.

Apple is going to continue to recruit and grow in Israel. That's because Israel is the ideal place to develop people, ideas and of course, product. 

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Saudis in A Cash Crunch

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Saudi Arabia is in a cash crunch. The Saudis have burned through almost $100 billion of their cash reserves putting them way over budget. They are even thinking of selling shares of Aramco, their state owned oil company.

Aramco could be the most important company in the world right now. Selling part of it could be a huge risk, or, it could buy Saudi Arabia the time they need to prop themselves back up.

The Saudis are in this financial hole as a direct result of the drop in oil prices.
Given the oil market and given the nature of the Saudi oil reserves which stands at about 300 billion barrels, Saudi Arabia has only 5 to 7 years left as king of the mountain.

They need to get the price of oil back up and they need to start being more fiscally responsible.

Saudi Arabia is trying to do good in the region. Most of the $100 billion deficit that is now crippling them comes from their decision to protect the Arab world and keep it in relative check.

If the Saudis lose their power it is not they alone who will suffer. If the Saudis lose their position of power, it will result in a reshaping of the Middle East.

We, the West, have an interest in this, too. 

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Elections in Iran Today

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Today is the day. It is election day in Iran.

Two elections are taking place. One election is for the Majlis which is the Iranian parliament. One election is for the Assembly of Experts.

Today's elections could reshape Iran as we know it - but the deck has been stacked against change.
There are 6,200 candidates running for about 290 seats in the Majlis. The exact number will be determined in relation to the total number of voters.

There are 88 slots in the Assembly of Experts.

Every candidate running for either the Assembly or the Majlis must be vetted by a special committee.
Most candidates running for the Assembly of Experts did not pass the vetting process. Only 1% of the 3,000 reformist candidates passed the process making it almost impossible for them to actually get elected.

The moderates have united with the reformers in the hope that, against all odds, if they are well organized, they can beat out the hardliners who will divide the vote.

The moderate/reform unity group has issued a list of suggested candidates. The list was published on social media and contained only 30 recommended candidates for the Majlis and 18 for the Assembly of Experts.

They need many more than 30 members of parliament. However, 30 is a modest expectation and can serve as an important bulwark for their platform.

It is possible that there are other underground lists. If there are, in the end the unity group could garner 146 seats and that would certainly change Iran. 

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Iran Will Pay Terrorists $7000

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

On Wednesday Iran once again showed their true colors.

Iran's ambassador to Lebanon held a press conference on Wednesday and announced that Iranians will not abandon the cause of the Palestinians.

And I quote: "Iran will not abandon the Palestinian people, who are faced with killing, theft, and expulsion." He continued: "The blood of the martyrs will bring the liberation of all Palestine from the sea to the river."

The ambassador announced that Iran will pay $7,000 to the family of every terrorist who dies while trying to perpetrate their act of terror. He also announced that Iran would pay $30,000 for every home that is demolished by Israel. "The decision firstly includes giving an amount worth $7,000 to every family of a martyr of the intifada in Jerusalem."

Iran is trying to exercise influence in the region. They want to be seen as the patron of all Islamic activity against outside, non-Islamic, influences. Do not be fooled - they are not building bridges with Sunnis and Shiites.

Plain and simple Iran wants influence and power and they want to be seen as the only Islamic authority that has challenged Western powers like the US and Israel.

Iran is quick to tell everyone who will listen that after all the challenges they have been put through, Iranians have emerged victorious. They encourage all other nations to follow them to grandeur and greatness. 

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

OPEC Will Not Cap Output

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
When you join a cartel you are making a commitment to live up to the agreements made by the cartel. OPEC is no exception.

So when a decision is made to cap oil production, like OPEC and Russia did last week, everyone else must fall in line.

There is, however, an incentive to cheat - an incentive to sell more and make more.
Last week's agreement was an attempt to stem the 18 month long downward price of oil. The agreement was to cap production at January's levels.

And then Iran decided to reject the agreement. Actually, Iran's oil minister called the entire plan ridiculous and a joke. Iran wants to produce more and more oil because sanctions against them have been lifted and they are not yet up to their full potential.

In other words, they need the money.

So does Russia, Venezuela, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. If Iran continues to produce more and more oil thereby lifting the ceiling, the price of oil will drop even more. And all those oil producers whose breakeven point is above $35 to $40 will be crushed.

And that, of course, includes Iran. Saudi Arabia's breakeven point for the production of one barrel of oil is $30. The Saudis can afford to make only $5 per barrel. They will make less, but in the long run, as other countries drop out, they will make more.

Now we know that the other OPEC members did not agree with the Russian deal on limiting the output of oil.

We will see what happens next. 

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

China's FM Visited Iran

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday I wrote about the Russian defense minister's visit to Iran. Today I want to tell you about the visit of Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, to Iran.

Iran wants Chinese tourists.

The Iranians just concluded a huge tourism fair and China was there for the second year. If Iran can woo Chinese tourists they can profit exponentially. Since the movement to lift sanctions began nearly a year ago, Iran has been investing in convincing Chinese leadership and tourists to come and visit.

Iran has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in improving their hotels and in creating a tourism infrastructure. They hope to lure 3.5% of the traveling Chinese tourists to Iran.

Several universities have started offering Chinese language courses.

But most importantly, the Iranians have streamline the visa process to less than 48 hours for a 6 day visa which can then be extended to 30 days upon arrival.

There are now direct flights between Iran and China three times a week. This will make vacation travel much easier and it will also make business trips much easier for the Chinese. An automatic outgrowth of the improved travel and the streamline visa process is that many more Chinese companies and investors will arrive in Iran to evaluate the potential risks and growth.

These are very good signs - for Iran. 

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Russian Def Min Visits Iran

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Most of the international media reported that US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan on Sunday.

Yet none of the media that I read even mentioned that on Sunday Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Teheran Iran.

This is very important news. Both Iran and Russia are allied in Syria and are propping up Assad and preventing ISIS, al Qaeda al Nusra and the rebels from ousting the Syrian dictator.

Thousands of Iranian advisors and revolutionary guards are on the ground in Syrian and in Iraq directly confronting ISIS, al Qaeda al Nusra.

The Russian defense minister needs to strategize and make certain that everyone is on the same page. Russia is aggressively bombing and they are weakening the ISIS and al Qaeda / Al Nusra stronghold and even passing those cities back to the Syrian army.

Russia's biggest obstacle right now is maintaining the newly freed regions. Iran and Russia need to figure out how to make certain that ISIS and al Qaeda and al Nusra do not retake these strategic areas. This is the reason for the recent horrific terror attacks in Damascus.

In order to understand what is happening out there we need to look beyond our limited US news coverage and see a bigger and broader picture of events.

With this larger and more informed view our own leaders will be able to make better decisions that take into account the many factors that are at stake. We need to take off our blinders and take in the big picture. 

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

N Korea Preps Cyber Attack

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

South Korean intelligence has announced that North Korea is planning to disrupt and disturb the West by means of a cyber terror attack.

This revelation comes shortly after North Korea launched a satellite during the first week of February. And it comes on the heels of a hydrogen bomb test carried out by North Korea in January.

The saving grace is that North Korea is not the most sophisticated electronic and computer savvy military, but it does have resources and can certainly cause damage - especially to South Korean and it can be a serious thorn in the side of the West.

According to South Korean reports the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has told his generals to move ahead on plans for a cyber attack.

There are many responses. Our systems must be on the alert. 

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Russia Ups The Stakes Again

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Russia has once again upped its game in the Middle East.

The Russians are carrying out 100 bombing sorties per day. They are covering the entire region and succeeding in their game altering plan.

They have deployed their most sophisticated spy plane. The plane is called the TU-214R and it is the size of a commercial airliner. The TU-214 actually is a commercial plane, adding the letter R signifies that it has been modified and turned into a spy plane.

This plane can track communication - including US transmissions. It takes photo-like images with perfect clarity. It tracks hidden and camouflaged targets. It is outfitted with SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) which enables it to see things up close, deep inside targets. It has electro optical systems letting the Russians see all around the region.

This plane is the best and latest technology when it comes to spy equipment. Imagine US AWACS on steroids.

There is a caveat. The TU-214R is a slow moving plane. It needs protection. That protection comes from jets and ground support.

The deployment of these planes and this game changing move proves, once again, that Russia does what Russia wants to do. They know that the United States will not shoot their planes down.

This is a new level of interaction between the United States and Russia who have, up until now, kept the lines of communication open vis a vis air missions.

In a related issue - the United States asked Russia not to strike at its special forces that are on the ground now is Syria. The US is worried that Russian sorties will also target the US military.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Israel Preps for Cyber Terror

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Israel is merging eight of their cyber units and forming one, large, cyber defense division. This division will be responsible for the defense of Israel's infrastructure.

It was a good decision. In Israel today, the water, electric, communication systems and even airports are all vulnerable to cyber attacks.

This new division will be tasked with stopping the two greatest cyber threats facing Israel and all other nations.

One threat is the injection of malware that will, when commanded, cause extensive damage and harm and shuts down its target.

The other threat is the threat of spying, it is the threat of a malware program that allows the enemy to see inside deep and hidden secrets.

The threats are not merely theoretical. Because of one of these attacks Turkey recently lost electricity for 20 hours. The country was left the country powerless and in crisis. And in December, Ukraine was hit by an attack that left 33% of the country without electricity for 3 weeks. The airport in Kiev was shut down for 48 hours because they had no electricity.

Israel's systems are off line. They do not use public internet, instead, they use an internal communication system. That makes the system more secure - but not impenetrable.

There is no doubt that a huge attack is around the corner. It is just a question of when and where and how much ultimate damage will, or will not, be caused.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Politicians Lie

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Politicians lie - especially when they deliver speeches and hope to convince the audience of their point of view. And once a politician, always a politician.

It came as no surprise when former President Bill Clinton said that the San Bernardino terrorists never visited the Middle East.

This is what he said:

"We got to have a strong defense, we got to have tough diplomacy. Also, in a world where the borders look more like nets than walls."

"Keep in mind, the people that perpetrated that travesty in San Bernardino had never been to the Middle East. They were converted over the social media."


Yes -- Tashfeen Malik was born, in Pakistan but she lived in Saudi Arabia for most of her life. Her husband and American born citizen, Syed Rizwan Farook, visited Saudi Arabia numerous times. He even went there for several weeks in 2013 as part of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

We need to keep the facts straight. 

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Iranian Elections in 10 Days

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Ten days from now, on February 26th, elections for the Iranian parliament and for the even more important Guardian Council will be held.

In a new move, Iran's reformers and moderates are merging to create a united list called "The Alliance of Reformers and Government Supporters." This group combines those who want reforms with Rouhani supporters - which explains the rather unusual choice of name.

The group is, of course, running against much more radical candidates and parties. Their hope is that by uniting they will succeed.

This election is seen as a referendum for or against Rouhani and his moderate stance - including the now infamous nuclear deal with the West. The most significant reason for Rouhani winning the previous election and becoming president of Iran is that the parties on the right of Iran's political spectrum split their vote. There are many more conservative hard liners parties than rightist parties in Iran, and during the last election the moderates were able to unite around Rouhani.

There are 290 seats in the parliament. 12,000 candidates were originally hoping to run but that number is now down to a mere 6,200 which includes 586 women.

The reformers are hoping that they will draw the young vote. 60% of Iran is under the age of 30.

If the hardliners remain divided and if the youth come out to vote for the moderates, there is a strong chance that Rouhaini and his cohorts might actually take over the Iranian Parliament and if that happens it could be an electoral earthquake.

Imagine Iran with a parliament that supports Rouhani and his moderate outlook. 

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Turkish AntiSemitism

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

The ruling party in Turkey is the AKP and it is an Islamic party. Erdogan, the president of Turkey, is the head of an Islamic party.

And yet, I was still surprised to read in Vahdet, the official Islamic newspaper of Turkey, that a major Turkish writer and thinker said: "I believe that the gorillas and chimps living today in the forests of North Africa are cursed Jews. They are perverted humans that have mutated."

The author and thinker is named Syefi Sahin. He writes regularly for the paper and deals with issues of Islam. His bio says that he is a physician which should imply education and exposure to science.

Sahin says that "Jews terrorize the scientific world" and claims that Darwin was a Jew. In his world view, "The aim of [Darwin's] theory is to turn the non-Jews away from their religion, to harm their faith, and to make them suspicious about their religion. Darwin, being a Jew, believed, lived, and was buried according to his religion. His real targets were the Muslims."

Sahin says that monkeys came from Jews and he quotes from the Koran "Whomever Allah has cursed and punished, and those he turned into monkeys, pigs, and Satan worshipers, occupy the worst place [in his eyes], and they are perverts that have deviated from their path."

Sahin claims that the Jews convinced the world that Darwin was right and that they control the banks and science.

He defends Islam when he says that we Muslims have our brains and the truth and Allah and that will protect us from the Jews.

Syefi Sahin is not some nut on the fringes of Turkish and Islamic society. These thoughts and writings are published in a mainstream paper in Turkey and the paper is a mouthpiece of the ruling party.

The significance of this is gigantic. It underscores a serious and gaping synapse between the point of view presented by the leadership of Turkey to the outside world and the point of view disseminated to the people of Turkey who read the country's mass circulation newspaper.

Turkey has a serious ax to grind. 

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Not A Cold War

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Putin and Obama spoke today.

They talked about the Syrian talks and the future cease fire in Syria. It seems that Putin and Obama have had an understanding about what should happen in Syria for quite some time and it is only now becoming public.

The plan, or even better, the understanding between Russia and the United States was drawn up, but Obama was queasy about it. The reality is that Russia is bearing the lion's share of the work. That is because Russia is on the ground in Syria. Yes, Russia has gone above (literally) beyond their role and has shut down the airspace of Syria for most of the day by enacting their own anti-air defense system which protects Assad and that infuriates Obama.

The basic understanding is that Russia will confirm that Syrian forces and Iranian and Hezbollah forces as well as their own forces will hold to the cease fire. But the United States must get the rebels to stop - and that is the stumbling block. All the rebel groups do not agree to this agreement and they certainly are not at all connected to the US, especially because many of them are al Qaeda connected.

It's a mess.

The saving grace is that I can finally prove to people that the United States and Russia are not
engaged in a modern day "Cold War" - it is a question I get all the time. Obama and Kerry and their underlings are in constant contact with their counterparts in Russia. That's called communication, not a Cold War.

Yes, they certainly have significant differences of opinion and objectives, but they are also working together. Yes, Russia is making a play for a greater role in the world and wants to become a major power, but they are not yet there. Yes, Russia is gaining in influence, but they are still playing catch up. We are not on the brink of a world war and it is not in Russian's interest to promote a world war.

Russia's main interest is to propel itself into an even more relevant player. 

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Turkey Gives US an Ultimatum

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Turkey has thrown down the gauntlet with the US. Yes - with the United States of America!!!

Turkey has almost no allies anymore. The United States has been a strong friend of Turkey for the past 60 years. But Turkey has chosen to give the US an ultimatum - it is accept our ultimatum, or else.

The US must abandon the Kurdish fighters in Syria or lose Turkey as an ally.
The idea that Turkey would even think of saying this publicly, that they would call in the US ambassador to Turkey and issue the ultimatum is just mind boggling. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel and even Iran have all deserted Turkey and are no longer their allies.

The United States used to refer to Turkey as their "most reliable ally in the region." No more.
The Kurds of Syria are the only true fighting force that has had any real success against ISIS. The raid at Tishrin, for example, was a joint operation that was successful only because of the Kurds who were the foundation of the raid.

But the Democratic Union, aka the PYD in Syria, is an outgrowth of the Kurdish Workers Party - the
PKK. And the PKK has been at war with Turkey since 1984.

Turkey has used the cover of ISIS to strike at the Kurds and the Kurds have hit back at Turkey.

The United States cannot abandon the Kurdish PYD. That would mean cutting off and abandoning their only reliable set of trained and vetted fighters on the ground in the region. These Kurds are great fighters. They are fighting for their land, for their families and for their lives. If they lose to ISIS they will lose everything - including their heads.

These Kurds will not run away like Iraqi soldiers or Syrian Sunnis did. They are motivated to fight. The United States needs them.

Turkey is over playing their hand. They have not even offered all that much in the first place. 

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Twitter Shuts Down Terrorists

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Twitter has stepped up and shut down 120,000 accounts that have supported terror. Bravo!

Since the summer of 2015 Twitter has increased the number of their teams that respond to complaints and have dedicated other teams to searching on their own to make certain that user rules are not abused.

This was their post: "We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism and the Twitter Rules make it clear that this type of behavior, or any violent threat, is not permitted on our service."

"As the nature of the terrorist threat has changed, so has our ongoing work in this area."

"We also look into other accounts similar to those reported and leverage proprietary spam-fighting tools to surface other potentially
violating accounts for review by our agents."

"We have already seen results, including an increase in account suspensions and this type of activity shifting off of Twitter."

Much of this material is in English. One in five people creating these types of accounts preferred English. And 75% preferred Arabic.

Twitter is starting to take this situation seriously. They are not the purveyors of this message - they are simply the tool. At first, all social media hosts claimed they even though they had no responsibility, they would examine and investigate and even remove those who preached hatred and death.

That is a passive approach. It responds only to complaints. Now
Twitter is actively going further and investigating on its own. This is a must do. All other social media providers should follow Twitter's lead. They must be proactive and seek out and investigate sites similar to those already removed. 

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Shocking Response By Arab MKs

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Three Arab members of the Israeli Knesset have been have been punished by the Ethics Committee for visiting the families of terrorists and broadcasting it on their social media sites.

This is not a significant story. One would expect that.

But when one of the Knesset members, Basel Ghattas explained the entire situation on Israel Army radio -- that is what should have caused a volcanic eruption and a public outcry. Yet surprisingly there was almost no coverage of his comments and no real response.

These were his words.

"If [Israel] wasn't occupying the West Bank, these children would not have to kill Jews." He synopsizes the entire issue and lays blame at the "occupation". He makes his inflammatory claim on Israeli army radio and it goes almost without response.

That is shocking. 

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Does Iran Support Hamas?

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Hamas has announced numerous times that they have not received any monetary support from Iran since 2009.

But the new spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, said that Iran does support Hamas, in principle because part of Iran's foreign policy is to support Hamas in its fight against Israel.

The messaging is unclear. Does "support" mean actual money, or doesn't it.

And certainly, since 2011 when the Syrian crisis began Iran was livid that Hamas supported ousting Assad while Iran was propping him up.

At this moment, even if Iran gave money to Hamas they might reject it, despite their massive need for funds. They might reject Iranian Shiite help because it might upset the Sunni leaders that have stepped in to fill the void in supporting Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza.

Iran is interested in erecting another front in the region and they will want to bribe Hamas - but it looks like some of the people in the region are not interested in having Iranian/Shiite influence re-arrange their lives.

Talk about mixed messaging. 

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Hamas Executes Leader

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Hamas has executed one of their senior leaders. His name is Mahmoud Eshtewi and he was convicted of unnamed "moral and behavioral violations." A Hamas tweet said that Eshtewi confessed to spying for Israel since 2007.

They later said that he was executed for various crimes.

Mahmoud Eshtewi disappeared from his family last year. He was arrested and interrogated and confessed. He came from a very prominent family and the family protested outside the home of Ismail Haniyah, the head of Hamas in Gaza, to find out where Eshtewi was being held. Security services threatened the family and dispersed them.

Hamas has executed dozens of people for collaborating with Israel. In this case, Hamas believed that Eshtewi gave Israel the location of Mohammed Deif the Hamas strategic mastermind. Israel attempted to target Deif at least four times.

Hamas could not tolerate even the thought that one of their senior leaders gave Israel the most secret location of their most treasured symbolic military leader. He needed to be executed and everyone needs to know that. 

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Did Israel Destroy Gaza Tunnels

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Does Israel have a secret weapon that can make tunnels in Gaza collapse?

Over the past two weeks nine Palestinians, including at least two high level Hamas commanders, have been buried alive in two or three tunnel collapses.

There is no doubt that Hamas has been rebuilding their tunnel infrastructure and hopes, once again, to attack Israel using this secret underground weapon. And it has been reported that Israel is fast at work developing new technology to combat the tunnels.

So did Israel cause the collapse of the tunnels?
The best answer is - maybe.

Yes, Israel is developing and testing new weapons and yes, they may have done the deed. Israel will never take credit for the sabotage, but Israel did warn Gazans to stay far away from the tunnels.

Israelis may be playing into a conspiracy that Israel has these great powers but sometime the conspiracy theories are actually true. 

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Good News & Bad News w/ ISIS

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Good news and bad news.

The good news is that the number of ISIS fighters has not increased over the past year. The bad news is that the number of ISIS fighters has not decreased over the past year.

That is the official report by the US military.

The United States puts the number of ISIS fighters at somewhere between 19,000 and 35,000. I would say that the number is between 30,000 and 40,000.

The worst news is that this handful of ISIS fighters is turning the region and the world upside down. Billions of dollars are being spent in order to confront this group and they still remain the same in numerical strength and in capabilities.

The region and the world have been dedicated fighting ISIS - and they have not yet been able to degrade their strength.

I can only hope that next year we will be able to say with conviction that ISIS numbers have been seriously reduced.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

CBS Played incorrect Headline

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

When three terrorists attack two female soldiers in Jerusalem, murdering one of the soldiers, a nineteen year old named Hadar Cohen, and injuring the other woman - that should be news, even international news.

But when the three terrorists who attacked these female soldiers were killed, that became the headline news headline - not the terror and not the murder of the female soldier.
CBS news website plastered a headline that read: "Three Palestinians Killed as Daily Violence Grinds On."

Excuse me!

That was a perversion of the truth that does not follow the story line and, moreover, is simply not true.

The Palestinians were terrorists. Two of them had guns, the third had a knife. They had already shot and stabbed the soldiers and were continuing on their way when they were stopped. You do not stop terrorists by asking them to put down their weapons. You neutralize them. You stop them from murdering more innocent victims. Yes, they died -- but hardly in the fashion described in the CBS headline.

CBS later changed the headline to: "Palestinians Kill Israeli Officer, Wound Another Before Being Killed."

We have come to expect sensationalism of this type from Al Jazeera. Their online English website ran the headline: "Three Palestinians Shot and Killed by Israeli Police At Damascus Gate in Occupied East Jerusalem. More Soon..."

The Israeli Government Press Office is considering rescinding press credentials of the CBS staffers responsible for the headline. This is, they maintain, much more than shoddy or amateurish journalism or amateurish. This is a blatant rewrite of the facts. And that is reprehensible.

The person or persons responsible for this slanted portrayal of the news should at least be disciplined, perhaps even lose their job.

Journalists have a responsibility - they must present that facts and tell the truth in an unbiased way. 

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Russia Ousting Saudis as Oil Seller to China

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:
Russia is now ousting Saudi Arabia as the main supplier of oil to China.

This is a major move and it is critical in understanding the power of one country and its influence on the world.

If Russia is now out playing Saudi Arabia in oil in China, it is not only getting more cash in its coffers, but it is also seen on the world stage as upstaging Saudi Arabia at its own game.

That translates back to important issues in the Middle East where Russia, along with Iran, is supporting Assad in Syria and Saudi Arabia is doing everything in order to oust Assad and harm Iran and Russia.

In 2010, Russia was only providing 7% of Chinese oil while the Saudis supplied 20%. Now it looks like they are both somewhere between 13% and 14%. And for several months last year Russia won the oil export game.

Russia is making a serious move and the Saudis are trying to fight back.

Yes, they all can use the money given the drop in the price of oil. But more than money - what they really need is influence and prestige. 

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Iran's Newfound $Billions

By Micah Halpern
I've Been Thinking:

Iran has announced through their media that all $100 billion of frozen assets are now unfrozen.

Most of the money was kept in banks in China, South Korea, Turkey, India and Japan. It sat and earned interest.

The Iranians are now accessing those assets.

Iran is now reconnected to SWIFT, a Belgian-based cooperative that transfers monies from bank to bank. For years no foreign banks were located in Iran so all funds needed to be transferred through SWIFT.

Much of the money will remain abroad. This is telling. It tells us that the Iranians are nor fearful that their funds will be frozen again in the future.

Keeping the money abroad makes it very simple for Iran to transfer dollars after they purchase the many, much needed, goods - like planes from France, that Iran needs and Rouhani plans to procure.

Watching how Iranian leadership conducts itself now that the sanctions against them have been lifted is an important key in understanding how Iran views the future. 

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Monday, February 1, 2016

ISIS Attacks Shiites

By Micah Halpern

I've Been Thinking:

ISIS exploded three bombs in southern Damascus yesterday. The bombs exploded nearly simultaneously, killing over sixty people and wounding many more.

The first was a car bomb, the other two were suicide bombers who ran into the crowd of those who were trying to help the car victims, blowing up as many people as they could.

The location was very critical for ISIS. It was a Shiite holy site and the traditional burial place of Zaynab. The site has been very well protected by Syrian and Hezbollah forces because of its symbolic value.

Zaynab was the daughter of Ali and Fatima. Fatima was the daughter of Mohammed. That means Zaynab was the maternal granddaughter of Mohammed. The split between Shiites and Sunnis is all about Zaynab and her parents.

In the famous battle of Karbala, the brother of Zaynab, named Hussein, leads the battle and loses the battle. Zaynab tends to the wounded and is then brought to Damascus. The Koran records how the severed head of each leader was held up and displayed. With each head a story is told.

According to the Koran, Zaynab is making noise and the leader asks an adviser "who is this arrogant woman?" Zaynab answers, "Why ask him, ask me. I am daughter of Fatima granddaughter of Mohammed."

One of the major tensions between ISIS, al Qaeda, Salafis and other Muslims - especially Shiite Muslims, is over holy tombs and holy sites. ISIS views their very presence as pagan and wants to destroy them.

This ISIS attack in Damascus was not simply aimed at murdering the masses. It was a direct strike at the hero of Shiite Islam and the traditions of Shiite Islam.

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