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Be Smart
By Micah Halpern

Monday February 28, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Mixed messages are being sent out from the Palestinian Authority.
I find that very troubling.

In diplomatic and not-so-diplomatic exchanges revolving around Friday night's terror bombing, Israel and the US have pressured Palestinian leaders to catching the group that planned the attack and to prevent others attacks from happening.

Abbas, the president, condemned the terror in no uncertain terms.

But listen to what Abu Ala, the Palestinian prime minister, said yesterday:
"If Israel wants to halt contacts with the Palestinians, it is free to do so,"
"That's their affair. What do they expect from us in a case like this - that we shed tears?"

What a telling outburst.
The diplomatic answer would have been along the lines of "we shed tears for all the innocents people murdered in Tel Aviv" which was the cookie cutter response so often made by Arafat after attacks, followed by his "innocent Palestinians" disclaimer.

Cry? Of course not! But be sensitive, diplomatic and smart!

Bush Diplomacy is Working
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 27, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Liberalization in Egypt!

And all because George Bush and Condi Rise cranked up their diplomatic pressure on Egypt.

Egypt just agreed to amend its constitution and allow for possible opposition in their upcoming elections.
If this is true, if it does happens, it will be a huge development and it could have a very significant impact on the entire Middle East.

The administration has been hitting hard at "The Great Nation of Egypt" at almost every opportunity, in almost every foreign policy speech, at home and abroad and even in the State of the Union Address.

The pressure got even greater when Rice chose to drop Egypt from her next Mid East trip. Publicly, the administration described the change in itinerary as a response to democratic backward slipping, tying it to the arrest in Egypt of a leader of the political opposition.

Exerting this type of pressure was brilliant.
This is masterful diplomacy.
Putting Egypt on the itinerary and then dropping her because of non-democratic activity sends out a real solid message to the entire region.

Well done.

Abbas sink or Swim Fighting Terror
By Micah Halpern

February 26, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The mass murder terror bombing at a club on the Tel Aviv Beach last night tests the commitment of those who support the most recent efforts towards peace between Palestinians and Israel.

Obviously, the person most critically tested by this attack is the Palestinian president, Abbas.

The United States, Israel and, not incidentally, most of the world including the Arab world, want to see if Abbas can actually find the people responsible for the attack and then, at least arrest them.
Thus far he has arrested to 2 people.

Islamic Jihad from Damascus has claimed responsibility.
But remember, Hezbullah sponsors the Islamic Jihad.
Israel believes that the Islamic Jihad is responsible.
Intelligence reports state that Hezbullah has been recruiting for bombers.

The 21year old bomber was a member of Islamic Jihad. He was a student. In his pre-murder video he explained that he was acting in order to attack the Palestinian Authority for cooperating with the US and acting in their interests.

If Abbas cannot succeed now, the peace process will be seriously threatened.
If Abbas cannot control the terror now, his leadership, itself, blow up.
The world is watching.

Everyone is Shutting Tunnels
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 25, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

This week, Palestinians discovered and then shut down 12 more underground tunnels used to scuttle arms from Egypt to Gaza.

Last week 4 Palestinian police were caught in another arms tunnel, one of them died when the tunnel collapsed.
Egyptians are also beginning to stop the construction of terrorist tunnels for the purpose of smuggling arms into Gaza.

Enforcing the clampdown in both directions makes it all that more effectual.
These are all small, important steps forward aimed at reducing terrorism.

As significant as these are to the West, they are also in the interests of the involved countries.
Egypt wants to show the US that she can command and take charge. Palestinians want to show the US and Israel that they are capable of leadership and keeping the peace.

Good will gestures, even if borne out of self-interest, should not be minimized.

Bombs Can Slip Thru
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 24, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Israel's police tested their hospital security today.

They hid 4 dummy bombs in ambulances and sent them into the hospitals.
3 got right through. 1 was discovered. What a failure!

The warnings are out there blasting as loud as ambulance sirens.
** Ambulances and hospitals have already been placed high up on the target lists of terrorists.
** Terrorists have already successfully used ambulances to carry bombs across checkpoints.
** There have been numerous alerts that terrorists were trying to steal ambulances to use as vehicles to conceal and transport bombs, even to blow them up.

Other than the obvious -- that security is severely, perilously, lax and lacking -- several essential lessons must be drawn from this test.
Hospitals, schools, places of religious assembly, public spaces, they must all be treated alike.
Drills and practices must continue in all public and pedestrian areas.
Terror will never be completely eradicated but practice and vigilance are the only way to improve security.

Even in Israel, a country in a state of heightened of alert things slip through.
Imagine what is happening in the US.

Expel Extremists
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 23, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Holland just expelled 3 Muslim clerics for incitement and endangering the country.

Muslim preachers, Imams, set a significant tone for the Muslim community. We must not forget the limitations of freedom of speech -too often, their tone is negative.

The rest of Europe, and yes, even the great United States should take notice.

The British, the French, the Belgians are being deluged by Muslim extremists. Local Imams are preaching the end, the total destruction of the West.

Laws need to be changed and dangerous preachers should be deported.

Another country, Germany, has plenty of laws against incitement and racial hatred. And yet, they have regularly failed to convict terrorists. Instead of convicting, they have started deporting terrorists and inciters of terror and those people who are part of a terror gang. Most often they deport to Turkey, because there it is easier to try and convict Muslim extremists.

The US must start looking and more importantly, listening, to what is being said in local schools and mosques.
Dangerous messages must be stopped.

A String of Palestinian Cities
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 22, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday President Bush clearly expressed his expectation that the future Palestinian State not be a "string of territories."

The concept is called "territorial contiguity." It means that all land should be connected in order for it to be a viable state and government.

Let's take a look. Hawaii, Japan, The Philippines, Fiji, and the list goes on. Almost none of the Pacific Island countries have territorial contiguity, they are separated by vast distances and spaces. And yet, they govern.

The point is this:
A state is run by the people and by the leaders who serve in government.
Land mass, size, shape, and location are not determining factors of statehood.
Liberty, freedom, equality, those are the essentials needed for governance - by the people and for the people - in order to establish and maintain viable statehood in today's world.

The people must be connected, not the territory.

By Micah Halpern

Monday February 21, 2005


What's the mood? What's the mood of the people?

For years, that was the question. It was always a rather annoying question, but it certainly was popular, especially at lectures. If asked that question today, I would give the same answer I always gave.

The mood is mixed. Today, Israelis fall into one of two camps. Camp one is optimistic. Camp two is fearful. There is no middle ground.

Those in the optimistic camp are convinced that Prime Minister Sharon is leading Israelis down the path of peace. They are optimistic that his motives, movements and decisions will ensure a safer future, a safer Israel. They are optimistic that soon the rest of the country will be convinced that withdrawal is the right way to go, the best way to go, the only real way to allow all Israelis to get on with their lives. Their optimism is pure and simple.

Those in the fear camp deal with a range of emotions that are anything but simple and trust nobody's motives, certainly not the motives of elected officials, to be pure.

Fear is a complicated factor in Israeli life. Seeds of fear relate directly to the past. The Palestinians are talking the talk and walking the walk, but are Abu Mazen and his Palestinian followers for real? Can a zebra really change its stripes? Or are they just setting up Israel by "pulling an Arafat" - saying what other needs to hear and doing whatever they want.

If the Palestinians are "pulling an Arafat", then Sharon is leading Israel not down the path of peace but down a dreamy-eyed and foolish path of self-delusion and self-destruction. Then Israeli lives will have been lost in vain. Then Israel will have to, once again, invade Gaza to protect Israeli citizens. Then Israel will have given up much and gotten, in return, nothing.

Not only does the fearful camp worry about the Palestinian issue, but also about the Israeli issue. It is no exaggeration at all to say that internal Israeli tensions are on the rise. Those who fear, fear a Jew versus Jew scenario. They fear that Israelis in favor of a withdrawal from Gaza will fight those who are not.

Fear is founded, but not fear of a civil war, that is an exaggeration. The real fear should be the fear of extremists.

There are people in Israel today determined to derail the Gaza plan. Their plan centers around an attack on a big, important target - on someone like a government official, a member of Knesset, on the prime minister. There is an organized campaign maligning the Sharon government. The prime minister and his government, now a national unity government, have been called traitors, collaborators and even Nazis. Since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin these expressions send up a red flag in Israeli society. Threats have been made against the life of Ariel Sharon. Those responsible for the security of the prime minister are on serious alert. The threats are real.

The verbal campaign being waged during demonstrations around the country against the Sharon government and the Gaza plan is the preamble for the greater attack. Exaggerated claims are being made suggesting that the government more closely resembles a dictatorship than an elected democracy. Hiding behind the democratic right of free speech, extremists are setting the stage for the big attack.

But who are the true extremists, the people ready to go to any lengths to stop the withdrawal from Gaza, the people ready to fight, even to kill, their neighbors? They are not the people blocking traffic at intersections and at the entrance to Jerusalem. They are a very dedicated and motivated group of Israelis who exist beyond the protests, who are waiting in the wings before making their entrance. What are their names?

Two groups of people are monitoring, very carefully monitoring, what goes on at intersection demonstrations and organized protests. Those who want to prevent the big attack and those who want to perpetrate the big attack.

Israel's Internal Security Services, known as the Shin Bet or the Shabak, is equivalent to the FBI. They need to be able to anticipate what might happen in the future. In this case, they need to know who the real players, who today's true extremist leaders, are. They need to monitor their actions, to get into their heads and to prevent them from acting before it is too late.

The second group, the true extremist leaders, the people my Bubbe would call "no goodniks" are monitoring the demonstrations as closely as the Shin Bet. True extremists are not controlling the demonstrating, but they are participating. They are thankful for the demonstrations for providing them cover. The more people in favor of demonstrations, the broader the support for their plan. Extremists are monitoring and measuring the tone at demonstrations in order to determine the exact right time to act.

Extremists need to know if their big attack will gain the support of other activists or if their action will marginalize the masses. That is why they monitor demonstrations. They are taking the pulse of the nation. They are judging the mood of the people. They are also watching the religious leadership very carefully. They will try to anticipate if the rabbis will condemn, condone or simply acquiesce to an "action." They are reading the religious press and scouting the synagogues and religious schools to hear what people are saying about actions and activism.

Activists are doing exactly what the Shin Bet is doing. Both sides know the other is out there. Both sides assume that there are moles and double agents. Both sides are experienced, well organized, well trained and well stocked with weapons.

Who will get to whom first?

Extremists in Israel
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 20, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The Gaza pullout won an overwhelming majority in Israel's cabinet vote today.

The 17-5 vote in an essential cabinet decision further anchors Ariel Sharon's position and encourages the prime minister to continue with his withdrawal plan.

That being said, as withdrawal plans turn into reality, internal Israeli tensions - Jew against Jew -will continue to rise.
These tensions will continue until 1 of 2 things happen: the pullout is complete, or until real violence breaks out.

Israel's internal security services, the Shin Bet, equivalent to the FBI, are trying to identify extremists and then anticipate their moves. It is no easy feat.

The extremists are a small and very organized groups.
Vocal extremists are not necessarily the truly dangerous people.
A 40 person protest disrupting traffic at the entrance to Jerusalem is significant and may be illegal but may not involve any of the dangerous people.

The really dangerous people are observing carefully. They are planning something that they think will disrupt the Gaza plan. They are planning something big, an attack against the Sharon and his government. They are setting the stage by demonizing Sharon as the enemy, or worse - calling him a traitor or a nazi.

That is the trail the security services must follow.

Putin Get Real
By Micah Halpern

Saturday February 19, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Vladimir Putin is convinced that the Iranians are not constructing a nuclear reactor for weapons. The Russians think that the Iranians are interested in investing in alternative energy sources.

The Russians are actually helping the Iranians construct their main reactor in Busheur.

Putin said, "The spread of nuclear weapons on the planet does not aid security, it does not strengthen security. The latest steps from Iran confirm that Iran does not intend to produce nuclear weapons and we will continue to develop relations in all spheres, including the peaceful use of nuclear energy."

Is Putin living on this world? Nuclear Energy!!!!

Why is one of the most oil rich countries in the world interested in investing in alternative energy?
This is an essential question.
We need to know the answer.

In Iraq: Mass Murder in Context
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 18, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Four bombs went off in Iraq today including 2 in mosques and 1 on a religious procession, in total, killing close to 50 people.

Last year on this day exactly massive bombings in Iraq murdered over 181 Shiites. Why?

Ashura. Because of the holiday of Ashura.
No one knows about Ashura. And that is part of the problem.

Ashur means fast.
Ashura takes place on the 10th day of the Muslim month of Muharram.
Ashura commemorates the killing of Muhamed's grandson, Hussein, in 680 when he attempted to take over the caliph.

Holiday traditions include fasting and marching while self flagellating, that's right, whipping oneself. Believers also slit their foreheads and splash blood.

Not surprisingly the Sunnis also celebrate Ashura but from a very different angle. Sunnis celebrate the day Noah left the ark. For them it is the day of atonement (Yom Kippur) on which ancient Arabs fasted, long before the creation of the month long fast of Ramadan.

Without going out on a proverbial limb --- Next year, regardless of what happens between now and then there will be another set of explosions on Ashura.

It's all about the context of the conflict.
And that is that part that our leaders and their advisers just do not get.

The British Lost Plutonium
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 17, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

We are worried enough about lost nukes from Soviet weapons.

And then the UK comes along and admits that in 2004 there was a numerical mistake and that 30k (66 lbs) of plutonium is unaccounted for.
In 2003, the same annual study showed that 19k (41 lbs) went accounted.

Both of these accounting disturbances at the Sellafield Nuclear Plant were reported as part of the annual study. The British say that this is just an accounting flaw. That it is to be expected. That no actual materials left the facility.
The problem is there is no way of knowing that. We only know that there should have been 30 more kilos of plutonium and that they are not there.

What can you do with 30 kilos of plutonium?
It is enough to make 7 nice size bombs.

This mishap or flaw needs more explanation.
We should find out what is happening.
We must insist that the system of accounting for plutonium is improved.

Iran's Nukes
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 16, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The hoopla over today's explosion in Iran, in the port city of Deylam located north of Busheur, is a typical reaction.

This explosion signifies the problems that we face and points out our own limitations with regard to Iran.

Why the commotion?
Deylam is 100 miles away from the Busheur.
Busheur is a military base with an $800 million nuclear reactor project.
In our world, that is like saying that there was a small explosion in Philadelphia and asking whether Washington DC was safe.

Israel said they were not responsible.
The US said the same.
It probably was just an accident.
It could have been a gasoline delivery truck that exploded.
The problem is that we just do not know, and we will probably never really know for sure.

We know so little about Iran, even less about their program let alone their people.
Questions about Iran's nuclear energy and nuclear weapons abound.
Our reaction to whatever it really was today points out how on edge we all are.

Who Killed Hariri?
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 15, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Rafik Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon, is dead, murdered.
We need not shed tears, but we must struggle to understand.
Deciphering the motivation behind and ramifications of this assassination offers us an essential lesson into the workings of the Middle East.

Lebanon could be a world player. It could be a mini-Switzerland.
Lebanon was once the baking capital of the MidEast.
Lebanon is a little country with tremendous economic potential, but that potential will never be realized as long as it continues to be occupied by Syria.

Hariri was a Sunni Muslim with ties to the Saudis.
Hariri was public about his opposition to the Syria occupation.

Only 2 groups could have gained form his demise.
* Anti Saudi Shiites in Lebanon.
That would make the assassination religiously motivated.
* Syria backed assassins.
That would make the attack politically motivated.

What must happen in order for Lebanon to regain prominence as a great center for business and trade and vacation?
Quiet on the streets. Syria must leave. Hizbullah must be controlled.
Bilateral talks with Israel must be reestablished.

Welcome to the Middle East, a place where ideas and religious conflict are always/often motivating forces for murder.

By Micah Halpern

Monday February 14, 2005


For me, the glass is always half full.

After the death of Arafat. Those were words repeated by analysts and pundits, diplomats and world leaders. No one knew what would happen after the death of Arafat. Few predicted any change. The conventional wisdom said more of the same. More double talk. More mixed messages. More disappointment. More hiding behind local conflict. More blaming the other. More blaming Israel and more blaming the US.

And look what happened. Now, just a month since Abbas has taken over as president of the PA, there seems to be real movement on the Palestinian side. It is not yet time for celebration but it is certainly a time for us to be, I believe, cautiously optimistic.

The process is slow. One small step followed by another small step and then another. One stage at a time. It is very important not to get ahead of the process. Rushed, hyper enthusiasm and blind acceptance are concepts of the past. We now know that the road to progress is paved with negotiations and verifications. Negotiate and verify, negotiate and verify.

There has been massive movement on the Palestinian side since the death of Arafat. Abbas is moving it along.

In his recent interview with The New York Times the Palestinian president signaled another very important step in the process when he actually articulated his belief that the Palestinian war with Israel might indeed be over. In his assertion that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is now speaking a different language, the Palestinian leader paid the Israeli leader the ultimate compliment.

I agree with Abbas. At this point there is little doubt that Sharon has changed his message. He is now pushing ahead on a path that few if any could have predicted not only five years ago, but even last year.

During Arafat's tenure, when Abbas served as prime minister, he could not - no way, no how - convince Arafat to make any headway. He could not persuade The Chairman to make any change in the status quo, not vis a vis the Israelis, not vis a vis the terrorists. The efforts of Abbas to take a different look at situations were regularly stymied. And then, his resignation was accepted by Arafat.

When Abbas announced his candidacy for president of the Palestinian Authority and even after he began his tenure as leader, analysts sat back for several weeks and just watched. To their dismay, he did not surprise them.

At first, Abbas lived up to all non-expectations. He was the classic fence sitter. Adopting a typical style of Arab leadership, one that sometimes works, he changed nothing and tried to please everyone. Had Abbas continued in this manner it would have meant a continued state of ambivalence about Israel, about terror and about the West. But then - he changed his ways.

Now it seems that Abbas has sprung into action. He is trying to improve the life of the average Palestinian. He is trying to make a mark on the world.

In an obvious example of pro-active leadership Abbas is, clearly and specifically, delineating his wish list from the United States and Israel. He composed his list in an order that he believes will allow him to sell the package to the Palestinian people.

The overriding issue right now and one high on the wish list is the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons. Sharon has complied. Israel has begun releasing those prisoners who have completed 75% of their terms. Yes, it is only a gesture, but gestures become important foundations in positive, forward, step-taking.

Abbas has also undertaken another issue, one that is important to the Palestinian sense of self and is also a very important gesture towards Israel and the West, towards Palestinian terrorists and towards Palestinian security leaders. Abbas has begun firing security personnel who have failed at suppressing and stopping terrorists, security personnel who have failed at doing their jobs.

In firing those security personnel who conspire with terrorists Abbas seems to be sending out signals. Israelis are being told that Abbas may be serious about cracking down on terror. Terrorists are being warned that the pendulum may be swinging away from them. To the Palestinian people Abbas is saying that there may be serious headway and give and take with the Israeli side.

Abbas is definitely no longer sitting on the fence. Instead, he is in the process of building fences - figuratively. Just figuratively.

By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 13, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Rumors abound, all about Israel:
Disengagement might well result in civil war.
Vast numbers of soldiers will disobey orders.
The majority of Israel is against the Gaza plan.
A large segment of the population is not in favor of the moves Sharon is taking.

The people spreading these ideas are, in fact, interested parties.
They ARE lobbyists trying to motivate and upset the masses.
They ARE painting a false doomsday scenario.
They ARE representatives of extremist, not mainstream, groups.
They are NOT representative of the Israeli people.
They are NOT evaluating the trends in Israel.
They are NOT representing the rabbis of the soldiers.

They are successful because they are a small, vocal, well organized and well funded group. Anyone articulating these ideas should be immediately shunned.
What they say is not newsworthy, it is not worthy of coverage.

Is there a threat to Ariel Sharon's life and to the lives of others in his government? Yes. There is. But not because of the Gaza Plan. Because of extremists who think they are above the law.

Ceasefire with Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Saturday February 12, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas and Islamic Jihad may be pushing along the road of support for Abbas,

Hamas and Islamic Jihad clearly heard what Abbas, their would-be nemesis, had to say.
And they are now considering a ceasefire.
Of course, they do not call it a ceasefire they call it "a quiet."

Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not even recognize Israel's right to exist. It is hard to have a ceasefire with a party that does not exist. But they listened to "Brother Abbas" as they called him.

And yet, there are several reasons why Hamas and Islamic Jihad may continue with this period of quiet:
** They are afraid to call Abass' bluff.
It could mean terrible, Palestinian against Palestinian, bloodshed and they might lose
** They fear failure on the street.
If they fail to convince the masses, it will be a long-term loss.
** They feel that they are in a PR battle and backed into a corner.
They are pressured because Israel is conforming by releasing prisoners and returning exiled Palestinians.

This is a very precarious situation.

The Hamas vs Abbas Option
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 11, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Palestinian President Abbas is putting his foot down.
He is firing his own security chiefs for failing to stop acts of terror.

This move is extremely important.
It is another major step forward towards maintaining the ceasefire.
It positions Abbas as a leader whose actions speak as loudly as his words.
It will force the Palestinian street to debate the Hamas vs Abbas option, to decide if they want continued violence or a resolution of the conflict.
It means Abbas is no longer on the tightrope, he has decided to confront terror from within.
It means that Abbas realizes that the terror will destroy his society if it is not stopped.

This is best considered as another step in the right direction.
Now, he must follow through, we must follow up.

It is a good sign, but celebration is premature.

$100,000 for a Suicide Bomber
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 10, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Iran and the Syria are trying to upset the applecart.

Iran and Syria sponsor Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Hezbollah is offering $100,000 to anyone volunteering to be blown to smithereens on a suicide bombing mission in Israel.
The thinking behind this lucrative offer is that a break in the ceasefire might force Israel to retaliate.

$100,000!!!! That is 4x's more than Saddam Hussein's highest offer at the peak of his sponsorship of terror.

And -- there are even rumors in intelligence circles that there is a Hezbollah contract out on the head of the new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

For certain parties in the region, conflict is the preferred status quo.
It is essential that we recognize and remember this.
For those thinkers, it is an all or nothing game.
Right now they cannot destroy Israel, so they wait - even in a status of war until they have the opportunity and capability.

Why is that so frightening?
Because it is the direct opposite of the position of real politik.
Realistic issues dictate moderation.
Israel is on the map, deal with it.

Watch the Subststance
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 9, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Now that the Sharm Summit is over, it is time to monitor 2 items:
Substance & Symbols

Words were spoken. Hands were shaken. Pictures were taken. Smiles, smiles, smiles.
Nothing was signed.

Israel has officially called the agreement a "cessation of violence" - not a "ceasefire."
Yesterday, the day of the summit, the official PA website continued to run the cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating little Arab children.

We must carefully watch what both sides say and what they do.
We must monitor how each side follows up on violations.
We must demand that the parties be held accountable for any violations.

It is too easy to simply smile and say the summit was a success.
Reality must change on the ground, that is real success.

Summit - Just a 1st Step
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 8, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The Sharm Summit ended with an oral agreement. Not an end to the violence, not even a ceasefire, an oral agreement.

Is that success or is it failure?
It is what we call a first step. A very impressive first step.

Two things must now happen simultaneously.
Palestinian President Abbas must act to prevent the terror. He must educate his people, teaching them that non violence is the new, preferred way to go

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon must choose not to act. He must not retaliate and he must not launch operations against terrorists.

These are important steps forward.
They are hard tasks to accomplish.
If the leaders don't make these attempts, all newly gained hope is lost.
If they don't do it quickly, it will be one step forward, many steps backwards.

About Summits & Symbols
By Micah Halpern

Monday February 7, 2005


One day summits are always exciting. Less for what they accomplish, more for what they symbolize.

In these quickie, multi-partied affairs, meetings and discussions are normally pro forma. Most of the summit day is spent officially articulating ideas that are already known to all. More important than the formal ideas and more easily accomplished in forums of this type is the simple exchange of informal ideas and the breakdown of personality stereotypes.

The Middle East Summit in Sharm al Sheikh, albeit one day long, holds special significance.

This summit means everything to the participating parties, the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Jordanians and the Egyptians and to the summit sponsors who also happen to be Jordan and host country Egypt. This summit is being held by, and exclusively, for neighbor nations in the Middle East. There are so many internal and external factors trying to prevent this particular summit from happening that getting it together and pulling it off is a triumph.

Just look at the forces trying to prevent this event from happening. Terrorists are trying to derail it. Extremists in ideology rather than in action don't want to see it happen. Countries with a vested interest in continued instability in the region are trying to stop it. Parties that think any agreement between Jews and Arabs is wrong are viscerally and vocally against it. The list goes on.

And yet, this summit will go on, because attendance in Sharm symbolizes that the parties are more vested and more serious than they have ever been before in forging a workable, livable, plan for the region. It means that the "big boys" Jordan and Egypt are assuming a serious role in the success of the summit and, consequently, in the effort being put forth to bring stability to the region.

The phenomenon that is the Sharm Summit is what I call the nature of the demise of Arafat.

During Yasser Arafat's lifetime this would never have happened. It couldn't have. It didn't. Jordan and Egypt both have a lot a stake in what happens between Israel and the Palestinians. With Arafat's demise they can, individually and together, put into play the plans that may convince the people on the street in the region to support a peaceful resolution.

Both Jordan and Egypt share borders with the Palestinians. Instability is fluid, it can easily ripple over the Palestinian border into either sovereignty. Both Jordan and Egypt have extensive experience in tackling terror and other extremist groups. That's something the Palestinians need to learn. Both Jordan and Egypt have paved the way toward peace with their own treaties - warmer or colder - with Israel. Both the king of Jordan and the president of Egypt are excellent mentors for the new Palestinian leadership and can show, by example, how to achieve the end goals through peaceful means and not through violence.

Importantly, if not ironically, is that one of the key successes of this Sharm Summit is keeping the United States out. Out of the summit. Out of the mix. It's a success because it telegraphs to every onlooker that this summit is a local initiative, that this summit is not sponsored by the corruptive influences of the USA.

As a basic rule, public US involvement puts the cabash on almost any policy in the Middle East. Condi Rice, might be in the region, but she is not an invited guest. In not inviting the secretary of state, the Sharm Summit might be able to garner credibility among those numerous skeptics who think peace is a tool of the United States in a quest to corrupt Arab society.

There are several reasons why it is right for the United States not to be in attendance:

** Reason #1 The US must let the parties in the region discuss these issues on their own.

** Reason #2 The people on the street in the region need to feel that discussions are not being forced by the US or by other external and world pressures.

** Reason #3 It is very important that Egypt be seen as host and as in charge.

** Reason #4 Egypt and Jordan are jockeying for control in the Arab world and after the summit they will be working together to help spearhead a pro-Western perspective.

** Reason #5 It is essential to side with Egypt and Jordan and not Saudi Arabia, the other power in the Mid East, specifically because Saudi Arabia represents pro-Islamic forces often contrary to the West.

Condi's visit to the region is a huge boost in an already optimistic period. She has made it clear that the US will help stimulate movement toward rapprochement. But she didn't need the Sharm Summit to do it. Coming to the region and meeting the parties on their individual home turfs is what she needed to do. Did she accomplish anything or cover new ground? No, she didn't.

The visit of the secretary of state, like the summit, is not about substance. It's about style and it's about symbols.

Never, never, underestimate the importance of symbols in the Middle East.

Condi's Irony and the Mid East
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 6, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

It is a proven fact.
Whenever international attention is focused on negotiations between Israel and an Arab partner, threats of terror increase exponentially.
The phenomenon also holds true when a high level US dignitary is in the region.

In order to better secure Israel and the visiting foreign dignitaries during those periods, Israel sets up additional and surprise check points.
Tuesday's Summit in Sharm between Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinians and Israel now coupled with the presence of the US Secretary of State in the region increases an already tense situation.

Here's the irony of it all:
Condi Rice is speaking to Israel about those very checkpoints.
She is asking Israel to reduce and even eliminate the checkpoints.
She wants checkpoints reduced to a minimum, now, when they will be at a necessary all time high.

Statistics are clear.
As soon as you take down or ease up on the checkpoints, terrorists slip in.
Checkpoints prevent terror.
The first best step in eliminating checkpoints is having Palestinians stop the terror and control the terrorists.

Airline Risks and Security
By Micah Halpern

Saturday February 5, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday local NY news stations reported that two Delta flights destined for US were "at risk".

Flight 119 from Paris and Flight 81 from Amsterdam were thought to have security problems, yet both landed without incident.

The threats were called in. Neither of the cockpits were at risk of being forcibly entered.

The question is: At what point do you take down a plane or land early or even return to the airport of embarkation.
The answer is: It all depends on the level of risk. Clearly, in both of these cases communication was constant and the risk was defused or resolved through confirmation on the ground. When the risk is greater and intel is sparse and communication is negligible you have to send the plane home or land it early.

And when the risk is even greater, we have to consider downing the plane.

Rice & the Peace Summit
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 4, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

It is going to be busy next week in the Middle East.
Condi Rice will be on her first official Secretary of State visit to the region.
Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinians and Israel will be meeting in the glorious Red Sea resort of Sharm a Sheikh participating in a Peace Summit.

Rice should not attend this Summit even if invited.

Reason #1 The US must let the parties in the region discuss these issues on their own.

Reason #2 The people on the street in the region need to feel that discussions are not being forced by the US or by other external and world pressures.

Reason #3 It is very important that Egypt be seen as host and in charge.

Reason #4 Egypt and Jordan are jockeying for control in the Arab world. They will be working together to help spearhead a pro-Western perspective.

Reason #5 It is essential to side with Egypt and Jordan and not Saudi Arabia, the other power in the Mid East. Saudi Arabia represents pro Islamic forces often contrary to the West.

The US and specifically Condi Rice will get reports from all the parties.
Those reports and their emphasis will be a very import vehicle for analysis.

Summit in Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 3, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

A peace summit is set for Sharm el Sheik next week.

Egypt is host. Jordan and the Palestinians are coming. So is Israel.

Yesterday, Egypt's National Security Adviser General Omar Suleiman invited Ariel Sharon to the summit while they were having a face to face 40 minute meeting in Israel.
What happened next? Suleiman returned to Egypt and met with none other than Haled Mashal, the head of Hamas.

Suleiman reported on Israel's concessions in relation to the ceasefire and tried to convince Hamas to join in the ceasefire.
Mashal retorted that Israel's concessions were not enough.

Egypt is trying to exert pressure on the extremists. They have far more power than the new Palestinian President Abbas.
There is more of a chance of Hamas joining a ceasefire when Egypt insists and Jordan requests than when the Palestinian begs.

In the Arab world, Egypt has a proven track record fighting extremists.
In the Arab world, Egypt is still the big power.

Syria & Jordan Mend Fence
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Syria and Jordan are mending relations. That is a gargantuan step in the Middle East.

The (very tall) young and relatively new Syrian president Bashar Assad ventured to Amman, Jordan to meet the (quite short) young and relatively new Jordanian King, Abdullah.

The two spoke in December, but this was the first time since April 2004 that Assad has been to Jordan.

Together, in Amman the two rulers resolved a border dispute concerning an area all of 165 yards big that Syria had taken and now returned.

Far more important were the topics covered by the Jordanian and Syrian on regional issues. They included Iraq and the Palestinians, Egypt and the US, the Iraqi elections, the role of the West in their region and the specific US presence in the area vis a vis Syria.

Jordan wants to be a leader in the Middle East.
Her Arab neighbors believe that Jordan, i.e. King Abdullah, can play the role of a trusted broker in almost any serious conflict there.

Egypt wants the Arabs to step forward and help the Palestinians.
Jordan does not want to be outdone by Egypt.
In meeting the Syrian president, Abdullah is shoring up his power base.

Watch Turkey
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Keep your eye on Turkey.

We need to spend significant time understanding, watching and asking Turkey for help.

Turkey is one of the key players in the Middle East. If we watch well, we will be rewarded with a superior understanding of the region.

Turkey is the only long standing democracy in the Arab world. It has a healthy yet mixed attitude toward the West.

Turkey's population is highly educated and highly motivated. It is home to a significant percentage of Muslim extremists.

Turkey borders Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Turkey and Israel have a developing relationship, with the usual ups and downs of official diplomacy.

Turkey can be the perfect liaison on almost every issue in the Middle East.

This week, Israel's Military Chief of Staff visited Turkey. It was the first time ever such a trip took place. Last year, the Turkish chief went to Israel. During the meeting I believe that they probably sealed a $1.5 billion arms deal and arranged for important joint training operations.

The better we understand Turkey, the better we will be able to predict the future.

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