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PA: The Wild West
By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 31, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

On Wednesday the Palestinian Presidential Compound in Ramallah was attacked by Palestinians. They shot it up.

About 16 al Aksa Brigade members attacked the office of President Abbas.
They were making a point. It was an act of intimidation.
They wanted their old positions back and better conditions.
They thought themselves stronger than the president and his current security team.

Another incident:
A Palestinian roadblock was burned after Palestinian police stopped three Palestinian car thieves.
There was a shootout and a large mob began to attack the police.
The police ran.
The mob burned down the roadblock, burned tents that were set-up there.
The mob burned Palestinian flags.

Abbas ordered the arrest of the gunmen.
But he had already ordered that they be disarmed.

Now Abbas has to make a decision.
Either he acts against this hooliganism or he is consumed by it. Those same people who perpetrated terror against Israelis are now terrorizing him and his people.

It seems like the Wild West, mid-East style, to me.

Cool Heads Must Prevail
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday March 30, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The Gaza redeployment will go through. Tempers are already beginning to rise.

There is a real threat that some residents and their supporters will turn to violent measures.
Effie Eitam, a settler leader and head of the National Religious Party secretly told the Minister of Internal Security that it might even be a good idea to disarm the settlers.
When word got out, settlers promised immediate violence if there was even an attempt to disarm them now.

The army's plan for redeployment involves using mature, older, experienced reservists rather than fresh 18 year-old recruits.
They hope that the military response will be mature and responsible given the tensions and pressures of the moment.
The plan is to have on hand 8000 police and 16000 troops.

There are ways of protesting that are illegal but still acceptable.
Blocking intersections is illegal but acceptable.
Defying an army order to evacuate by sitting with locked arms or chaining yourself to your home is illegal but acceptable.
Using a gun. Illegal. Unacceptable.

Settler leaders must control their constituency.
The army must keep things calm and make sure violence does not escalate.
Difficult as it will be, cool heads must prevail on all sides.

Why Sharon Won
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 29, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

So many people were certain that Ariel Sharon would fail.
Instead, he passed with flying colors.
He defeated the referendum he never wanted and passed the budget he needed.

People were so excited at the prospects of Sharon's failure, that in place of properly analyzing the playing field, they began to believe their own rhetoric.
But, no surprise to me, the Israeli prime minister won both the battles many had predicted would topple his government.

Voila! Sharon totally outclassed his opponents.

This is how he did it:

Sharon created multiple plans. And he was prepared, if need be in the end, to compromise on one or two of the issues within each plan. If things turned bad, he was immediately ready to approach the situation with an alternative plan.

Sharon decided that the budget and the referendum needed to go through, but he knew he could and would compromise on the referendum in order to pass the budget. He knew that in the end, he would win the popular vote if a referendum were taken.

Brilliant tactics and exceptional execution.
It would behoove others to take note. This is how one wins in politics.

By Micah Halpern

Monday, March 28, 2005


Don't be misled. Mainstream media does not always have it right. Sometimes the media, just like real people, morph reality into myth.

I am here to analyze today's reality as Israel prepares for a Gaza redeployment. Yes, redeployment. And yes, it is an inevitability, it is the reality. Redeployment will happen. It's what Israelis want, despite the myth to the contrary.

We hear of a potential civil war. We read how the masses are against the redeployment. We are told that if there were a referendum, redeployment would be stopped.

It is simply untrue. The masses in Israel are in favor of the redeployment. Not afraid of a referendum! The masses in Israel want out of Gaza. And they want it with or without an agreement with the Palestinians.

How do I know this? I look at the evidence, the facts, what has already happened, not what people say, will, or should happen. Most people call it analysis, but what they really do is subjective analysis, basing observation on what they want to happen, not on what is objectively happening. That's the difference between us. The media, naturally, love to grab on to the more extreme elements, leaving the public to deal with a picture that is more skewed than actual.

When the vote came to pass, the Knesset, Israel's parliament, could not even turn the bill to allow for a referendum on Gaza redeployment into a cliffhanger. No nail biting. No close call recounts. 72-39. That was the vote. 72 Knesset members voted against referendum. I'd call that a resounding failure for those in favor. Reality has to have set in, not for extremists who see this emotionally, but for those for whom the only legal way to stop the Gaza redeployment would have been a referendum. For them, the game is over.

What happens now? A reshuffling. Israel's public agenda will now be reshaped and news priorities need to be reworked and revised. And those ministers in the government of Ariel Sharon who have been vociferously against the Gaza redeployment will now have to make hard choices. They either stand firm on prior commitments and be ousted from the government, or stand firm with their prime minister, grin and bear it, in support as Israel prepares and then leaves Gaza.

Biggest among the casualties is Benjamin Bibi Netanyahu who has been fomenting against the Gaza plan for the past several months. A former prime minister and member of Sharon's Likud party, Netanyahu had big plans. He had hoped to gain the momentum of the referendum to oust Sharon and land himself back in the front seat. But his Knesset colleagues had other plans and have let Netanyahu know that his plan is, plain and simple, kaput!

Sharon is still the man in power and any minister who votes against his plans in this Knesset will be summarily fired. He's not kidding. Ariel Sharon's epitaph has been written many times over, but never etched in stone. Always undaunted, he rises from crises continues thumping along.

Referenda are never a good idea in national politics. The people sitting in Knesset are there because they have received the people's choice awards, they are there to represent parties based on the people's voting choices. Complaining that the process is antidemocratic or that it takes away power from the people or even that the leopard changed his spots is a political form of crying over spilt milk. Electing people and parties to lead the country, that's democracy.

If my analysis had been wrong, it would have been a tight Knesset vote. The irony is that there really was a sway to swing the referendum. If the pro-referendum contingents had approached the process rather than antagonized Sharon, the prime minister most probably would have capitulated. Why do I say that? Because I read the signs and there were significant signs of movement toward the referendum on Sharon's part. Now, now it is dead in the water.

Instead of eulogizing Sharon, it is now the referendum that is being laid to rest.

Kook - Ghadaffi
By Micah Halpern

Sunday March 27, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

In 1969 Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi took over power in Libya.
At the Arab League Summit he said that he was the longest ruling leader in the Arab world.

That may be true, but he also had lots of other things to say, things that people all over the Arab world are repeating.

He called for Syria to stay in Lebanon because it preserves the peace, "Better to have Syrian guns than the guns of other nations."

He called the UN Security Council a terrorist organization while Kofi Annan was in the room.

He called the Palestinians and the Israelis idiots while PA President Abbas was in the room.

He said Islamic extremism and terror was caused by Western arrogance and "oppression, injustice, arrogance, insults, contempt and the humiliation of this (Arab) nation."
He said "Listen to us."...."If you ignore us, you will lose in the end... If they want to combat terrorism, they should respect the Arab world."
Ghadaffi is definitely a kook.
But he is a kook who openly articulates what many in the Arab world only think.

Arab Summit Summary
By Micah Halpern

Saturday March 26, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The Arab League has gathered.
They decided on the best way to approach the Israel issue.
They chose to adopt the Saudi Plan of 2002.
The essential issues to keep in mind concerning this Arab League Summit are:

First: only 13 of the 22 counties were even there (hardly a vote of confidence)

Second: of all the problems that the Arabs are confronting, strange that their major issue is the attitude toward Israel (serious problem of priorities)

Third: the Jordanian plan was rejected even before the summit began (the realistic plan was shot down before it even had a chance)

Fourth: Libya's plan calling for the creation of a single Palestinian/Israeli state called Israstine was rejected (phew, at least that)

Fifth: newspapers across the Arab world covered the Summit with a sense of frustration (the papers saw the Summit as far removed from their people that they called the Summit redundant and corrupt and one commentator called it a Summit with a serial number)

Sixth: Lebanese papers accused the Arab League attendees of being pro-Syria (that's a little topsy turvy)

Seventh: the official Saudi paper blamed Israel for sabotaging the summit. (no sense of real accountability, just a love to hate)

That's all on paper. Now we'll see what really happens.

Kurtzer: The Undiplomatic Diplomat
By Micah Halpern

Friday March 25, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Dan Kurtzer, the United States Ambassador to Israel, has once again inserted his foot in his mouth.

His announcement, in a closed door meeting last week, that there is no understanding between the US and Israel that large settlement blocks will remain in place in the final peace arrangement, is just the latest example of how very undiplomatic this chief diplomat really is.

Now he denies having said that.
But the report came from a transcript of the presentation.
He is dead wrong.

There is a letter from George Bush to Ariel Sharon clearly articulating that things are different today than they were in 1967, and that a total Jewish evacuation of the West Bank is not realistic.
Maybe Kurtzer was playing bad cop.
Maybe he was floating a balloon.
Any way you look at it, he was not being diplomatic.

Kurtzer also said that Israeli leaders and diplomats do not understand nuance.
Again, not very diplomatic.
But at least there, he got it right.

Egypt: Changes to Come
By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 24, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Gamal Mubarak, son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has announced that he will not run for election.

This is a very big step on Egypt's part.
It is a formal extension of Egypt's move towards new democratic reforms.
It means that the next leader of Egypt will not be the son of the current ruler.
The announcement shakes an axiom that was assumed obvious and inevitable for years, if not decades.

The reason for this decision is manifold.
But it is probably a combination of three important factors.

#1 pressure to reform, and hence, have serious as opposed to pre-determined elections
#2 Mubarak the son has no military experience and would probably not be able to convincingly lead a government that relies so strongly on army
#3 Mubarak the father does not want to let go of leadership, even and especially, to his son.

This decision will have a huge impact on Egypt. It may be the first step towards paving the way for other new and important democratic changes.

More Bombs in Beirut
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday March 23, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Since Rafik Hariri's assassination in Beirut on February 14, there have been 2 terrorist bombings in that once beautiful city.

One explosion took place this past Friday night in a cafe in downtown and wounded 11 people.
The second explosion occurred this morning in the mostly Christian area of Jounie just north of Beirut. 4 people were killed. The explosion took place at 1:30 AM local time in an entertainment area for clubs, discos and shopping.

The objective of this terror is to try to destabilize Lebanon and show how very important it is to keep Syria in place to maintain safety and peace.
The assumption is that the people of Lebanon will succumb to fear and rush to accept the Syrian and the Muslim extremists.
At the same time they are stimulating terror against Israel in order to deflect attention from Lebanon.

The Syrian sponsored agents/terrorists think in a way that only they can understand.
They threaten civil war.
They threaten a mass reign of terror.

It reminds me of mafia protection rackets - pay for protection against the very people that threaten you.

al Qaeda Attack in England
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 22, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The Scottsman, a British newspaper, ran a very troubling story today. I pray that the English are prepared to handle the implications and fallout.

The paper reveals that Sir David Omand, co-director of counter terrorism in Great Britain, divulged that England has knowledge of an impending al Qaeda attack.

The objective of the attack is to cripple the infrastructure of England. Electricity and other power sources. The telecommunications grid. Banks. Transportation. From the briefing, it seems the terrorists want to focus on local governments.

The idea is to overwhelm computers with viruses and emails causing them to crash and shut down. And according to Sir Omand, the people involved in this plot "have a very high level of technical awareness."

Is this something new? Is British intelligence more sophisticated than other intelligence communities?
No. It's not new. But it does show a heightened sense of awareness and intel. And that is always good.
The US and Israel have been aware of these types of threats for a very long time.

Specifically, there are substantial fears that our microwave weapons, which can burn out all computers, might fall into the wrong hands and be used by terrorists against us.

For more info, I have a chapter on this in my book What You Need to Know About: Terror.

By Micah Halpern

Monday March 21, 2005


They call themselves freedom fighters. I call them thugs.

They call themselves heroes. I call them well-armed bands of hooligans.

They are terrorists.

Terrorists know the power of intimidation and they use it well, terrorizing even the people they claim to defend.

Terrorists feel themselves above the law of any land and glorify their own cause with displays of might and machismo.

Hamas. Islamic Jihad. Suicide bombers in Iraq. ETA in Spain. Al Qaeda. And the IRA. They are terrorist groups one and all. They rely on the complacency born out of fear of their constituents. But it is that silence that is used as cover for their brutal actions.

Until now. I hope.

It's taken five women, enraged over the brutal murder of Robert McCartney, their brother, innocently visiting a bar in Belfast and killed in front of countless eye witnesses who are now too scared to come forward with the truth, to say "enough." Too scared, because Robert McCartney was killed by terrorists, murdered by IRA thugs.

And now, the bereaved McCartney sisters, women who are neither scared nor intimidated, women who are righteously angry are cracking the wall of silence that protects these streets thugs and simple criminals whose behavior and strategy more closely resemble the acts of the mafia than the militias and armies they claim to be.

In the terrorist world symbols play an important role. Terrorists fight for symbols that mesh with their own ideology and attack symbols that run counter to their beliefs. That's why al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Centers, the world's most obvious symbol of materialism and greed. That's why Iraqi terrorists attack the UN and Red Cross. And that's why Hamas attacks discos.

Is it enough for five now-celebrated women, feted by the White House, to shout "enough!" It's a start. And the reason it will be effective at all is because it is locals standing up against locals.

If 10,000 Palestinians took to the streets and rejected terror as a vehicle for fighting Israelis, Palestinian terrorists would be forced to take notice. If 10,000 Palestinian university students shouted that young terrorist thugs are hampering their ability to achieve normalcy, the terrorists would be forced to respond. When the people upon whom the terrorists depend for their cover are no longer cowered into silence and submission and are empowered enough to turn against them, terrorists are left with one of two alternatives. They are either forced to clamp down on their communities, mafia style, or to change their approach.

It's a risk, but one worth taking.

Terrorists know that they cannot be successful without local support. The only way to defeat terror is for locals to show terrorists for what they really are. Only then will others be less afraid and only then will the truly evil characters in these terror groups be forced to disarm and modify their behavior.

Palestinian terrorists. Iraqi bombers. Al Qaeda. Take note. The tide is turning because those people upon whom you count are slowly becoming more and more willing to turn against you. Everyone take note of what the McCartney sisters are doing.

Palestinian locals. Citizens of Belfast. Citizens of the world. Pay attention. Let's learn the lesson of five women fighting valiantly - without arms - to restore dignity to their own lives and by extension, to ours.

Terrorism works best when it has the support of locals.
So does the fight against terror.

Is Hizbullah Kidding?
By Micah Halpern

Sunday March 20, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Sometimes, leaders in the Middle East positions are so single minded and single purposed that their thinking moves them far, far from reality.

Case in point: Sheikh Nasrallah, leader of Hizbullah, and Al Manar TV, aka Hizbullah Television.

The Hizbullah leader announced on Saturday that the real reason Al Manar TV is being pulled off the satellite airwaves in Europe is that the station dares to defend Palestinians against Israelis. He said that anyone who defends the Palestinians will be attacked by the Zionists and by their friends.

Hello. Who does he think he's kidding? I read European papers, monitor the media, watch the press coverage. The European media, on the majority, is vehemently anti-Israel and just as vehemently pro-Palestinian.

But even the Europeans, despite their own publicly broadcast prejudices, recognize the difference between reality based coverage and the so called "news" and "culture" depicted on Al Manar.

Al Manar TV is being pulled because it advocates hate and violence.
And in the free world, hate and violence cannot be justified.
That, Mr. Nasrallah, is the reality.

By Micah Halpern

Saturday March 19, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The United States, in the name of freedom and democracy, is planning to nudge the greater Middle East in the direction of freedom and democracy, Middle East style, of course.

There are some issues that worry me about this transformation.

I am convinced that a true majority of the masses really do want liberalization and democratization. But... there are two buts.

But # 1- The people now in charge, i.e. the powers-that-be in the oil states, and the dictators do not in any way want change nor are they willing to relinquish control, power and wealth.

But# 2- There is a large and very vocal religious minority in the region. That minority is very well organized and, most importantly, very violent. They see democracy as an American import. In their eyes democracy is anathema to Islam.

Does that mean that the United States should just butt out? No.
It means that the United States had better make certain that before introducing and influencing change, they have a very good plan. An in depth plan specific to each place recognizing the differences in locale.

It is not enough to just speak of freedom and democracy.
Direction. Support. Aid. Action will speak louder than words.

PA-Ceasefire: Trick or Treat
By Micah Halpern

Friday March 18, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The inter-Palestinian agreement to continue "the calm" between Palestinians and Israelis that was signed in Cairo the other day continues to bother me.

I am happy to see that the new PA government is beginning to display signs of leadership. It's important that they are actively involved in monitoring and engaging terror groups within the Palestinian population.

But the idea is to disarm the terrorists, not placate them.

Here is what begins to really worry me.
The Cairo agreement was composed of 6 principles.
Principle #3 states that the continued building by Israel of settlements and the fence would be a violation of the calm by Israel.
Well the fence is being built.
The fence saves lives.
The fence is essential to Israel's short-term security.
Principle #3 is the perfect - sanctioned - excuse for the terror groups to violate the calm, the ceasefire.

Abbas must disarm the terrorists. Abbas must make certain that there is only one law of the land and one security force.
To do otherwise is to make a political and security mistake.

Watch Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 17, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

This ceasefire between the Israelis and the Palestinians is worth discussing.

The Palestinian parties got together in Cairo and decided to extend the temporary ceasefire with Israel to the end of 2005. The PA would have preferred a permanent ceasefire, but that was pie in the sky.

No way Hamas and Islamic Jihad would agree to a permanent ceasefire.
What did they agree to?
They agreed to desist from attacking, reserving the right to fight the Israeli "occupation".
What does that really mean?
It means that they can and will violate the agreement.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad gain a double portion here.

Point #1: They get the PA off their backs, and in exchange for joining the ceasefire they will be given a serious role in the government and will also be running in the upcoming legislative elections.

Point #2: The extremist terrorist groups now get credibility in the public eye and in official PA eyes, and they will use that to leach votes and popularity from the PA. They will campaign on a hard line platform to keep the PA from making bold and important concessions to the Israelis.

Everyone needs to keep their eyes on Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Everyone, especially the PA.

Hamas Watch w/ Care
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday March 16, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Things are changing quickly in the world of Hamas and, surprisingly, they seem to be rolling with the punches.

Hamas has now decided to run for Palestinian Legislative Council elections.
Hamas is considering extending the "Hudna," the ceasefire, the quiet, that Abbas has implemented with Israel.
Hamas may be forced, due to US pressure, to temporarily close their Syrian offices and find exile in Damascus.

These are big changes. But what do they all mean?
Running in Palestinian elections means that Hamas de facto recognizes the establishment of both the Palestinian Authority and Israel because it means that they are willing to become part of a government that negotiates with Israel.

Extending the Hudna means a ceasefire with Israel may become more permanent and more stable, something Hamas has always been loath to do.

Once expelled from Syria there are only a few places Hamas can go, in the past they went to Jordan and Iraq but both those options are closed to them right now so the most likely place for Hamas to end up would be Iran or on "Hizbullah Land" in Southern Lebanon.

Hamas. Watch Carefully.

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 15, 2005


The question is: How do you navigate a minefield without getting yourself blown up?
The answer is: Be careful. Be smart. Use a map.

Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak has just returned from a visit to Syria's president, Bashar Assad.

Mubarak is the dean of Middle Eastern Arab leaders. He is debonair, he is stately. He rose to power after the death by assassination of Anwar Sadat. He has experience with extremists.

Assad is a whippersnapper. He is British educated and an ophthalmologist by training. He inherited his position after the death of his father. He wasn't the first choice. First choice, his brother, was killed in racing accident. This Assad came to power through default.

What was the meeting between these two Arab leaders about? Sitting in luxurious surroundings, in an environment so opulent that it makes the West Wing look drab, the two discussed events of the day.

I'm not a fly on the wall, but I am an analyst. And I'll bet that, after the requisite exchange of common pleasantries, these are the topics the two men discussed:
Syria in Lebanon
Syria and Iraq
The United States in the Middle East
Israel and the Palestinians
Syria and Israel

When Mubarak comes to Damascus he comes as the leader of the moderate Arab world. He is one of the most significant friends of the US and of the West. Egypt is one of only two Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Egypt's Mubarak was in Syria as elder statesman, ready to impart wisdom and understanding on the much younger and less experienced Assad. Mubarak was hoping to help Assad navigate the mine field.

Egypt is a symbol in the Arab world. When Mubarak comes calling, it is a significant and important step in regional diplomacy. Assad, I am sure, did not absorb a word Mubarak was saying. He heard the words. But he could not understand the implications. Assad has always been and still is, a skeptic.

So, what did Mubarak have to say? What did Assad actually hear?

MUBARAK says: Pull all your army to the border. Do it fast and this mess and international media frenzy will pass. Stop agitating everyone and drawing attention to what you are doing. Take a few positive steps to ease the pressure.
ASSAD hears: Lebanon is mine, it is mine to play with. There is no agitation. You are the one who does not understand if you are telling me these things.

MUBARAK says: Stop violating the border. You are endangering the entire region.
ASSAD hears: ...absolutely nothing... he cannot even understand why Mubarak is talking.

MUBARAK says: Tread carefully. The US is more involved and more aware than ever. The United States will probably leave the region soon and not invade Syria. But that also depends on you. The quieter you are, the sooner they leave.
ASSAD hears: My policy is effective against the United States. The risks are very low.

MUBARAK says: There is real progress going on. But you must stop supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad in order for Abbas to succeed.
ASSAD hears: True, I have to be more careful. I must give more support for the subversive forces.

MUBARAK says: The only way to get anything from Israel is to accept them. Then you negotiate. That is how to get everything you want.
ASSAD hears: I understand. That is why Egypt is a weak and underdeveloped country.

In the end, despite the good will and best efforts of Hosni Mubarak, Bashar Assad is totally unaware of the realities around him. That is the only way to explain the assassination of Hariri, the Lebanon issue and the Iraqi border. He sees and he senses none of the dangers around him. Assad is being very poorly advised.

The information, the intel Assad is provided with by his own intelligence gatherers is skewed to mesh with their leader's own pre-conceived notions and inaccurate observations. And that, for the Middle East and for the rest of the world is not only troubling, it is dangerous.

Bashar Assad is leading his country through the mine field. The only question we are left with, is how many others will be hurt as the field explodes.

Syria Imports Israeli Apples
By Micah Halpern

Monday March 14, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Today 200 tons of Israeli apples from the Golan Heights crossed over into Syria. The apples were exported to Damascus under the supervision of the UN.

This was the first export from Israel to Syria since 1967. The 6 trucks loaded with fruit were just a start - 7,000 tons of apples are expected in Syria per month.

This is a very large development. I am certain that the more exchanges take place, the more likely relations will thaw. Relations will not become normalized any time soon, if ever, but in order to engage in imports and exports the involved parties must sit down and talk. And that is a big deal. This could only help Syria at this stage.

Right now, the Israeli-Syrian border is very quiet.
Right now, the Israeli-Syrian is an example of "good fences."

But there is always fear and caution on both sides of that border.
It is only 40 miles from the border to Damascus.
Geographically, at least, the distances are very short.

Palestinian Infighting
By Micah Halpern

Sunday March 13, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

To think that all Palestinian factions come together as one big, happy family is to make a serious mistake.
There are fights and internal tensions. There is jockeying for power and for the media spotlight.
There might be an implosion within Palestinian society.

Look at what happened at Hebron University today.
Hebron University is a university not dissimilar to many Western institutions of higher learning, that is to say, a hotbed of political activism, particularly, extremist activism.

Hamas held a rally on campus today.
Fatah members starting shouting out their slogans.
The rally turned into a rumble.
At least 9 people, including a journalist who required 10 stitches in his head, were hospitalized.
The ironic part - Islamic Jihad, also in attendance at the rally, became the buffer between the other rival groups.

Why did this happen?
Because of Hamas' popularity among the younger generation.
Hamas, generally, does very well in Palestinian student elections.
Fatah knows that.
And Fatah feels their hold slipping in the generation gap so they act, and react, in order not to lose their grip on Palestinian society as a whole.

Today a rally turned into a rumble, tomorrow - who knows.

Iran Nukes: Not Complex
By Micah Halpern

Saturday March 12, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Western leaders do not understand Iran. If they would simply listen to what Iranian leaders are saying, it would not be difficult to ferret through the confusion.

Here is what the foreign ministry spokesman, Asefy, said today on Iranian State radio:
"Iran is determined to use peaceful nuclear technology and no pressure, incentive or threat can force Iran to give up its rights."

That sounds pretty clear to me.
The two methods the US and Europe have agreed upon in their effort to influence Iran, freeing up trade and diplomatic pressure, will not influence Iran.

So what can you we do to influence Iran?
Determine other, more likely to succeed, methods of influence.

Further isolation
Crank up Muslim pressure
Track down and monitor monies
Put pressure on the corporations and countries they do business with
Threaten military attack
Execute surgical operations and strikes crippling parts of the nuclear development campaign

Iran cannot be allowed to call the shots.
Iranian peaceful nuclear technology is an oxymoron.

A Very Short Distance
By Micah Halpern

Friday March 11, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

I just received another report that most of the Syrian troops in Lebanon are out, and that the rest could probably leave within 12-24 hours.

Syria has relocated troops in the past. It's no big deal. They bring troops home and then back out again depending on the need. Right now, Syria needs to have troops pulled westward.

Moving troops in Lebanon is no big deal, either. The best intel I can glean says about 15,000 - 20,000 Syrian troops were in Lebanon. That does not take into account the troops just on the border, on the Lebanese side of the border. During the course of any given year those numbers can climb to 40,000, even more.

Relocating Syrian army personnel is child's play. The distance between borders is very, very small. To get from Beirut, which is on the Mediterranean coast in the east, to the Litani River is only about 30 miles and from there to the Syrian border is just another 10 miles. Think of it as an easy commute.

Americans, commentators and decision makers alike, cannot really understand the distances - or, more correct, lack of distance - we are talking about here. It is truly a stone's throw.

Believe me, Syria knows the distances very well.
And Syria knows exactly how long it will take to move right back into position. They have done it before.

Hizbullah: Nice to their Mothers
By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 10, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Various commentators are speaking about Hizbullah's good side.

You can be a terrorist and still be nice to you mother.
The US does not understand this.
Neither does most of the Western world.
The Arab world understands.

Yes, Hizbullah is a terrorist organization. They are responsible for the murder of 320 Americans in Lebanon in 1983 alone.
Yes, Hizbullah operates hospitals, soup kitchens and schools. They provide day care for families and medical clinics.
Yes, Hizbullah has a fully trained and well armed militia.

These are some of the reasons that Hizbullah is so popular in Lebanon.
Another prime reason is their anti-US, anti-Israel, anti-Western approach to things.

Despite the humanitarian services they provide for their own people, Hizbullah is, without a doubt, a terrorist organization.

Terror is Hizbullah's method of attack.

Israel's Big Mouth
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday March 9, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Just because you are from the region does not mean you understand what is going on there.

I am referring to US frustration with Israel over Israel's constant haranguing of Syria to get completely out Lebanon.

We would call it "piling on" or "riding the wave."

In almost every public statement emanating from Israel by a major politician over these past few weeks the emphasis has been on Israel's desire for Syria to leave Lebanon. They have even made reference to Lebanese opposition groups that are courting Israel.

Here is the problem.

In order for this pressure to work it must be seen throughout the Arab world as being "in the best interest of the Arabs." Certainly, not as a US issue. Definitely, not as an Israeli issue.

If there is even a hint of any external influence, especially Israeli influence, the momentum will boomerang. That is what yesterday's rally, attended by 500,000 people in downtown Beirut, was all about. It was more an anti US/Israel protest than a pro Syria rally.

To make this happen, the parties involved must play it smart.

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 8, 2005


I think it is important to discuss the redeployment of Syrian troops.

Anyone who thinks that Syria is packing up troops and returning home needs to relearn some basic truths of the Middle East and the relationship between Syria and Lebanon. Syria does not even have an embassy in Lebanon.

Syria is pulling back or redeploying --- Syria is not getting out of Lebanon!

Actually, according to Israeli intelligence reports, Syria removed soldiers from Beirut, but installed an entire new layer of intelligence gathering. Soldiers out, intelligence gathering in. They bolstered their spy network. What Syria could not accomplish with soldiers they will accomplish with technology and spies.

So, what's really happening?

In order to understand the Syrian-Lebanese relationship, we must understand the Hizbullah terrorist organization. Hizbullah is sponsored by Syria and by Iran. They are an extremely dangerous and they are a well organized terrorist network. They call themselves the "Party of God." Their main objective is to attack Israel, to attack the United States, to attack Western forces. They were responsible for the 1983 Beirut bombings that killed 320 Americans. They contain their activity to Lebanon or to just south of their border, in Israel.

When Syria is hurting Hizbullah is hurting. That is not just an economic equation but an existential equation. Syria gives Hizbullah cover and Syria gives Hizbullah power. It gives them intel and insight. It is their international eyes and ears.

If the Syrians withdraw to strongholds in the Bekka valley, the place incidentally where Syrian hashish fields are cultivated, Hizbullah's back is exposed.

In order to understand the Syrian-Lebanese relationship, we must also understand the life and mindset of the average Lebanese citizen.
The average Lebanese citizen feels for and understands the issues at stake and may actually even support attacks against Israel and the West. But only in theory. Not when it impacts on their livelihood.

The Lebanese are realistic. They know Israel is there to stay, if not forever, at least for the near future. They see that Israel is economically successful. That knowledge, that vision, that understanding is what makes Lebanon unlike every other Arab country in the region.

A Lebanon independent of Syria and responsible only to itself and its citizens would be an enormous step forward in stabilizing the Middle East. A Lebanon independent of Syria would be a gargantuan move forward in the fight on terror in the region.

But can it happen?

The best case, but improbable, scenario would have Lebanese local opinion forcing Hizbullah to conform to the changes and join mainstream Lebanon. Given Hizbullah leadership, there is small chance of that happening.

There is, however, another way. Hizbullah is its own state within a state. It has its own region, taxes, schools, charities, hospitals and army. I say, USE THAT. Cut them off. Isolate them. And then, let Israel attack Hizbullah at will. It is the only threat that has even a possibility of squashing Hizbullah and, as an added benefit, lending support to the rest of Lebanon.

I do not know that it will work. I do know that it is a possibility that never existed until this very moment.

Remember, as Lebanon's citizens remember, they have already lived through and been torn asunder by civil war. If Lebanon fails to control or remove Hizbullah now, Lebanon may slip into a far worse situation. To isolate Hizbullah, they must show them to be a group that is not at all interested in the overall good of Lebanon. And they must do it now. Now. Now is when they have the opportunity like never before. Now is when we, the West, need to trust the Lebanese to handle this situation.

By forcing the issue on Hizbullah, the Lebanese would be taking a stand. It would be a pro-Lebanese stand, and that is very important. It would not be a pro-Western stand, not a pro-Israel, not a pro-anything else stand. A local,
pro-Lebanese stand.

Certainly, we would need to expect Syrian support of Hizbullah. And, certainly, we would be privy to anti-Western, anti-US, anti-anything-modern rhetoric and even action. Local tensions and even internal terror are to be expected. But the Lebanese might just be able to pull it off. And it would be worth the price.

This is one of the most important opportunities the West has seen in decades. Let's not mess it up. Local pressure might work. Western pressure will certainly fail.

Syria in Lebanon-The Long Run
By Micah Halpern

Monday March 7, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Syria is in Lebanon for many reasons. A little international pressure will not easily push them out.

Remember: 20% of Syria's measly GNP is produced in Lebanon. That is an essential component of any decision they make.

Remember: Syria's hashish is grown in Lebanon's Bekka Valley and then sold around the world.

Remember: Syria has no embassy in Lebanon. Syria does not see Lebanon as an independent state. Syria views Lebanon as a province of greater Syria.

Remember: Syria has promised to leave Lebanon in the past. What they did instead was a temporary relocation of troops.

Remember: Troops will be removed in stages. The first stage is to move them out of Beirut.

Remember: Syria thinks Lebanon is theirs, to control and to benefit from.

Syria is very good at this game.

PA Executing Collaborators
By Micah Halpern

Sunday March 6, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

4 Palestinians are about to be executed. They have been sentenced and will be killed by firing squad, under orders of the new Palestinian government. 16 others await the same fate.

What was their crime?
Collaborating with Israel!

PA Prime Minister Abbas has the final word. He asked for advice from an Imam. The Muslim religious authority advised to follow through with the punishment. And indeed, that is what will happen.

What is wrong with this picture?
Well, just about everything.
But specifically, Palestinians will be executed for collaborating with Israel, the country their own government is right now in the process of negotiating with.
Isn't the ultimate goal of negotiating peace and coexistence?

Imprison them if you think they acted wrongly or compromised your national security. That is what the US did to Pollard. But do not execute.

Here's the true irony. Abbas is now advising his Justice Ministry to prosecute terrorists against Israel as "agents working for a foreign enemy" for "jeopardizing the national interests of the Palestinian people."

You cannot have it both ways.

Lebanon, Israel & Syria
By Micah Halpern

Saturday March 5, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Lebanese opposition liberals have called on Israel to help the United States oust Syria from Lebanon.

Amazing, but true.
A significant minority in Lebanon realizes that their neighbor to the south, the Jewish State, might just be able to assist them in their struggle for independence from the their neighbor to the east.
The call has gone out to Israel and to the US to save them from Syria.

There's more. On the very same day that Israel was asked for assistance, a group of Lebanese soldiers interrupted Hezbollah forces as they were launching katusha rockets aimed, of course, at Israel.

Calling on Israel for aid. Stopping rockets. Is this a new era for Lebanon?

I prefer to look at these as small signals that determine direction.
Seldom do the public statements of politicians help.
It is not only what is being said, but rather, what is being done in conjunction with the verbal messages that allow for a clear understanding of this region.

Lebanon may be turning a corner on her relationship with Israel and the West, but do not expect Syria to stand by and watch from the sidelines.

Palestinian Wild West
By Micah Halpern

Friday March 4, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

There was a shootout in Nablus between Palestinian gunmen and Palestinian police today. 6 were wounded.

At the beginning of the week new PA interior minister and security chief, Nassir Yousef, was in nearby Jenin on an official visit. While he was there Palestinian gunmen, under the leadership of Zakariyeh Zabeyda, shot up the street outside the municipal building. Yousef ordered the arrest of Zabeyda. There was a tense scuffle. It ended with no arrests and a sit down between the men.

Zabeyda was upset that Yousef came to "his" town without "his" permission. "Every city has a gate that one must go through" he said.

Think of it as the Wild West, Middle East style.
The situation with Zabeyda is just one example. Every town and every city in the PA has several armed gangs roaming the streets and terrorizing the people.

Commentators refer to this as "Abbas's tightrope".
I say, NO!
Abbas, through Interior Minister Yousef, must disarm these people.

It is not a difficult choice to make.
Control the gangs, you govern, you win.
Allow the gangs to rule, you will not be able to lead, you lose.
The end.

RICCO for Terror
By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 3, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Sheik Abu Bakar Bashir was just cleared, I repeat, cleared, of all but one charge in the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing and the 2002 disco bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The attacks murdered 214 innocent people. Mostly Westerners.
The sheik is the leader of Jemmah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asia branch of al Qaeda.

Indonesian prosecutors could not prove that the Sheik provided inspiration or even support for the attacks. They could not pull together a conspiracy charge despite his numerous sermons and myriad statements to that effect.

What a perfect example of the pitiful state of counter terror activity around the world.
Almost everywhere that terrorist are brought to justice, the cases against them are weak and often lost.
Germany, Italy, France, the US and even Israel.
Some European states have decided to deport terrorists to Morocco and Turkey where conviction is more certain.

Laws must be changed. The bar must be lowered. Prosecutors must be permitted to prove conspiracy. Our lives depend on it.

We need a RICCO-style act for terror.

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday March 2, 2005


It appears that serious steps are being taken towards liberalizing the Middle East. It appears that Egypt might be in the process of democratization. If that happens, it would even appear that another great dictatorship is about to fall.

But beware, appearances can be deceiving.
It's actions that count. And the United States has begun to take diplomatic action against Egypt.

President George W. Bush and his secretary of state, Condi Rice, have cranked up their pressure on Egypt. In response, Egypt has publicly agreed to amend its constitution and allow for possible opposition in upcoming elections.

The US administration has taken almost every opportunity to hit hard at "The Great Nation of Egypt". They have hammered away at Egypt's government and system of governance in almost every foreign policy speech, at home and abroad, even in the president's State of the Union Address. And then they ratcheted up the pressure.

In response to what the United States has determined to be democratic backsliding, citing the arrest in Egypt of a leader of the political opposition, the administration made public that the secretary of state has dropped Egypt from the itinerary of her next Mid East trip.
Exerting this type of pressure on Egypt was brilliant. It is masterful diplomacy.

Putting Egypt on the itinerary and then dropping her because of non-democratic activity sends out a solid message to the entire region.

Again, however, we must beware.

The United States does not hold a monopoly on brilliance in diplomatic maneuvering. Egypt, too, knows how to play the diplomatic game. A longtime student of Egypt calls the Egyptians brilliant in bowing to American pressure right now. By showing that indeed, they are interested in liberalization. They inherit even more US monetary aid, and by bowing to pressure now, they lessen the pressure on themselves in the future.

As long as there is movement toward change the US will feel as if actual change is happening. The United States will feel that they are making a difference, and the United States likes to feel that are making a difference.

And as long as the United States feels good, Egypt can continue to move along exactly as they always have. Egypt can begin to build a facade.

Egypt will put in place a series of referendums. In order to create the best democracy, they will need to study democracy. They will need to determine what the Egyptian people really need. They will need to determine what the Egyptian people really want. They will need to determine how to give the Egyptian people what they really need and what they really want. They will need to determine if it is really all in the best interests of the Egyptian people. And that takes time, a lot of time.

They will ask the people to voice their opinion on whether women should vote, on whether homosexuals should vote, on whether religious minorities should vote. And after each referendum more US aid will be on the way. More aid, the appearance of liberalization, but actually, little headway and no noticeable change.

Egypt currently receives 2 billion dollars a year in US aid. They are second only to Israel in the amount of money that they receive from the United States. All that aid is at risk if the US does not feel that Egypt is pulling her weight.

But the truth is that Egyptian leadership does not want to change, they do not want to liberalize.

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has ruled very comfortably in his position since 1981, for the last 24 years. Mubarak has been in absolute control. What occupies him now is the transition of power to his son, a project he has been devoting himself to for the last two years.

So, yes, embarrassing Egypt into announcing change was a brilliant move. Even more brilliant will be transforming that announcement into true action.

Bin Landin & Zarkawi
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 1, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Bin Laden and Zarkawi are in cahoots!
Of course they want to strike at the US.
That's reality.

Bin Laden and Zarkawi are in communication for several reasons.

#1: To show their followers around the world that they are still in charge, that the US cannot stop them.

#2: To begin to force the US and intelligence agencies around the world to question what they are doing, whether they can stop an attack or ever catch them.

#3: To send a message of fear to the citizens of the US. Americans are again asking whether and when they will be targets of al Qaeda.

These are all objectives of Osama and Zarkawi.
If they cannot attack us in reality, they will strike with ideas, rumors, fears.

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