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IN IRAN, THEY MEAN WHAT THEY SAY
By Micah Halpern

Monday October 31, 2005

Column:

Why is the Secretary General of the United Nations making an official visit to Iran this week?

Why is Kofi Annan, rather than sanctioning Iran, offering Iran sanction for behavior that is beneath contempt and beyond the pale?

How dare he?!

It is easy to laugh off the comments made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is easy to call his comments ridiculous. But when Ahmadinejad advocated annihilating Israel by wiping it "off the map" he spoke from the heart. Kofi Annan knows that. To minimize the importance of those words and the sentiment from which they spring is wrong and it is dangerous. It is antithetical to the foundations upon which the United Nations was built and which Annan, as Secretary General, committed to uphold.

Official spokespeople at the United Nations have answers. They know how to explain away the visit of the Secretary General. Officially, the UN says that the trip to Iran has been planned for a long time and that there are important issues that Annan wants to raise with Iran's leadership.

Sometimes, especially in the world of international relations and world diplomacy, current events take precedence. This should be one of those times. It would not be the first time that this Secretary General or his predecessors reshuffled their schedule or outright cancelled their plans– either to make a point or in response to a point or situation made by another party.

I am certain that those important issues the UN Secretary General and the Iranian president will speak about concern nuclear development and international isolation. I am also certain that Annan will not even raise the subject of Ahmadinejad's call for Israel's destruction and demise, I don't need to be a fly on the wall, I am a student of human behavior.

And that is exactly why Annan should cancel the meeting. The here and now of the call for the destruction of Israel should be key on any agenda with the Iranian leader. It should be the reason for calling for immediate meetings within the framework of the United Nations. Kofi Annan is visiting Iran not as a private person but as the public representative of the United Nations.

Punish Iran. Isolate them. Try to influence them. Do not placate them. And certainly do not ignore Iran. Do not ignore Iran in order to attempt to achieve another end, especially a secret agreement.

By visiting Iran, the Secretary General is playing right into the hands of the Iranians.

By virtue of his going to Teheran, Iran will have learned the wrong lesson from UN Secretary General Annan. Iran will learn that they are indeed without peer, that no world leader, no nation or body of nations will dare interfere with them - they will interpret the lack of action or reprimand as fear, not comic disbelief. Even if I am wrong and Annan does bring up the statement in a non-public meeting, there will be no value to it. In Iran, only public announcements and demonstrations are part of the public record.

Annan should cancel his meeting in Teheran. He should instead invite Iranian leadership to his offices in Brussels.

In Brussels, Annan should read the Iranians the complete riot act. He should explain that the only body in the world that will defend Iran or that can protect them from invasion by the United States is the United Nations. He should advise the Iranian government to begin thinking about their place within the world community or the United nations will be forced to withdraw support. Use UN membership as leverage against Iran. The United Nations is the only international body that means anything to Iran, it gives them great cover and much needed aid.

Annan can do it, if only he wants to. The Secretary General can forcibly invite Iran to Brussels and expect them to come. They will not and cannot come to UN Headquarters in New York because that requires a United States visa and the US will not give Ahmadinejad another waiver allowing him to enter on such short notice despite the situation. Ahmadinejad is officially barred from the United States.

The Secretary General take this matter seriously. It is essential to the future balance of power and weapons. He cannot fear Iran, he cannot treat Iran with kid gloves.

Iran does not use rhetoric the way we, in the West, use rhetoric. In Iran, they say what the mean and mean what they say. They believe what they say. The Iranian leader was not merely spewing hatred he was setting forth a goal. And this is the goal.

Iran truly wants to destroy the Israel and the West. Kofi Annan should try to prevent that from happening. To do anything less is to be an accomplice.



Will Gaza Border Be Safe?
By Micah Halpern

Saturday October 29, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Ultimately, the Israeli pull out from Gaza will result in improved security for all of Israel, with the most noticeable improvement in Southern Israel.

How will that come about?
Behavior Modification
Deterrence
Incentives

Palestinians need to be re-taught how to behave with Israelis and when their behavior improves, i.e. when terror attacks are vastly diminished, they need to be rewarded. Conversely, if attacks pick up, they need to be harshly reprimanded.

The comparison can be made with Israel's neighbors to the north, Lebanon and Syria. Today, those borders are relatively quiet, but only after terrorist attacks were hit back hard, over and over until, eventually, they stopped.
Lebanon is still full of weapons and Southern Lebanon is still controlled by Hibuzllah, and yet the border with Israel is relatively quiet.

It won't happen right away, but that is the situation that hard work, perseverance and persistence will create for Israel's Southern border with the Palestinians.



Mubarak- Assad Meeting
By Micah Halpern

Saturday October 29, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

On Friday, Hosni Mubarak, the President of Egypt, made a surprise and quick trip to Damascus to meet with Assad of Syria.
In the Arab world Egypt is one of the diplomatic big boys.
Egypt handles damage control for the rest of the Arab world.

The trip comes one week after the release of the United Nations report that places responsibility for the assassination of Rafik Hariri squarely at the feet of senior Syrian leaders.
Egypt came to explain to Syria that the findings of this report are serious and that the world is taking the investigation very seriously.
Egypt is saying: Do something to accept responsibility. Find a sacrificial lamb, preferably a Lebanese sacrificial lamb. Lay low and keep a low profile.

Odds are that Syria will not be swayed by Mubarak's assessment.
Assad is neither a diplomat nor a commanding leader.
His only real objective is survival.
Syria's actions following the UN report will put Assad's survival instincts to the test.



Hit Gaza Hard
By Micah Halpern

Friday October 28, 2005

I Am Predicting:

Israel will continue to hit Gaza very hard after terrorist attacks - even when the attacks against Israel are not directly fired out of Gaza.

Why?
Because it is clear to Israel that Gaza is the headquarters, central command, for so much terrorist activity, even activity launched from the West Bank.

Because the terrorist attack in Hadera has been clearly tied to Islamic Jihad and the command centers of Islamic Jihad are located in Gaza and in Damascus.

Because now that Israelis are no longer in Gaza, Israel has no fear of reprisals against her own citizens and so will continue to bomb from the air in order to try and teach Islamic Jihad a lesson.

As a result of Israel's persistent response to terrorist activity, pressure will mount urging Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas to act against terror.
Prime Minister Sharon is saying no talks until Abbas cracks down on terror, Secretary of State Rice is saying the same thing in a different tone, calling for Abbas to reign in terror.
As long as Abbas procrastinates, Israel will retaliate - in Gaza.



Hamas Is Not Islamic Jihad
By Micah Halpern

Thursday October 27, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The White House needs to get its facts straight.

Speaking in the aftermath of yesterday's terror attack in Israel, an attack that left five people dead and dozens wounded, White House Spokesperson Scott McClellan condemned Hamas.
But before McClellan issued his statement, Islamic Jihad called a press conference and they claimed responsibility.
That claim was confirmed by Israeli security.

McClellan explained that a group that practices terror, Hamas, cannot participate in the political process.
Excuse me, sir, while there is little doubt that Hamas would laud the murderous attack Hamas IS NOT Islamic Jihad.
How could the White House have made such a mistake?
Do they not understand the difference?
Do they think all Muslim terror groups are one and the same?
Was there no policy or background person present at the preparation of McClellan's remarks?

This is the United States. This is elementary.
The United States is supposed to know and understand these things.
The United States is supposed to be working towards a resolution.

For those of us trying to make a difference this was a serious disappointment, more than a faux pas, it is a major blight on the credibility of the United States.



Abbas Briefing
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday October 26, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

As soon as Muhamad Abbas returned to Gaza from his trip to Washington, he left again. This time he went to Cairo and then to Amman. The Palestinian leader felt it imperative to report to Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah on his meeting.

Why? Why the rush? Why the debriefing?

There are several important reasons why.

Egypt and Jordan have established normalized relations with Israel.
Egypt and Jordan both border Israel.
Egypt and Jordan have very good relations with the United States.
Egypt and Jordan are the leaders of the more liberal Arab flank.
Egypt and Jordan wield tremendous influence inside the Palestinian population.

Mubarak and Abdullah are the best advisers Abbas has on issues concerning terror control and contacts with the United States.

It was important enough for Abbas to personally visit, not call, not send an emissary. After nearly a week away from home in Washington, Abbas took two more days to be with colleagues and mentors.

The visits point out clearly the inner workings in this part of the Arab Middle East.



Symbols are Important
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday October 25, 2005

I'e Been Thinking:

Some societies are just not ready for change.

The Palestinian people may have publicly voted in a democratic election, they may be mouthing conciliatory phrases in Washington, but when nobody is watching, their actions belie their words.

Last week the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the PFLP, dedicated a monument in tribute to four cold blooded terrorist murderers.

At a site in the Beit Hanoun area of Gaza tribute was paid to the men who assassinated Rehavam Zeevi, affectionately known as Ghandi. The minister of tourism was gunned down at the Jerusalem Hyatt Hotel in October 2002.

Where are the four honorees now? They are being feted in a Palestinian prison in Jericho. They have their own cell phones and order take out food. They even entertain. In fact, included on their guest list are Saeb Erekat and Prime Minister Ahmed Qaeira.

How can any society allow such a monument?
When does freedom of speech exceed its boundaries?
Murder must be renounced, not lauded.
Leaders must educate and lead by example.
How dare the Palestinian leadership remain silent in the face of such rabid hatred.



BASHIR ASSAD: WILL HE OR WON'T HE?
By Micah Halpern

Monday October 24, 2005

Column:

It took months for the United Nations to release their findings on the assassination of Lebanon's, Rafik Hariri. It took only minutes for the Syrian rumor mill to release their findings.

On Saturday, al Seyassah, a paper published in Kuwait, reported that prior to the release of the report Syrian president Bashir Assad called several Arab leaders and asked their advise. The newspaper reported that Assad told them that if they could arrange for a report that in no way mentioned or implicated his regime - he would leave quietly and live out the rest of his years in London.

Each leader told Assad that it was not in their power to grant his wish, that this was an issue beyond even their control. Bashir Assad's fears were realized.

If this interesting tidbit is indeed true, it is a telling insight into the tortured and tormented life of Syria's ruler. This exchange, more than others, illustrates how ill suited this British trained eye doctor is for the role that family and circumstance thrust upon him. This man, Bashir Assad, does not want to rule Syrian and should not be ruling Syria. If the glory and the power do not tantalize him, if all he yearns for is a quiet life in London listening to music and surfing the internet then that is what he should be doing. Reluctant rulers, especially reluctant despotic rulers, are dangerous.

If this tidbit is true, it confirms for us all that real power in Syria does not rest with the junior Assad, as it did under his father, but with his generals and with his family. It also shows how little Bashir understands the United Nations and the international community.

Another rumor reported in the same article in al Seyassah gives further evidence of the role The Family plays in the life and reign of Bashir Assad. According to the Kuwaiti paper in a meeting to discuss the UN report his mother Anisa was the prominent voice. The mother's advice to her son was to resign and to hand the throne over to Asef Shawkat, his brother-in-law.

You might not be familiar with the name Asef Shawkat. That's because he did have the influence and the power and the connections to keep his own name out of the United Nations report on Hariri's assassination. The name Asef Shawkat should have been in the blank white space that described the person responsible for the assassination, the person in whose office the entire plan was hatched, in the office responsible for security.

Anisa and other people of influence in Syria view Shawkat as a stronger leader and more formidable figure than Bashir Assad. They believe that Shawkat will more easily withstand Western pressure than the present leader.

Apparently, Shawkat was fully aware of the fact that his name was to be put forth as the next and righteous leader of the Syrian people. He was certainly fully aware of the role he played in the assassination. He was not aware of the reaction these pronouncements would have on the present leader. And so, in anticipation of a palace coup, Shawkat alerted his security in the intelligence and military wings to be on alert in the event that Assad and his presidential force chose to offer him up as a peace offering, as appeasement, to the West. Shawkat was afraid of Assad's reaction because of an interview Bashir Assad gave to CNN during which he promised to arrest and hand over any Syrian proven to be connected to the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

Interestingly, Bashir Assad and Asef Shawkat are not only brothers-in-law. Shawkat is one of Assad's most trusted advisors. But all is not peaceful in the Assad family, there are many and deep tensions. Several years ago Assad's younger brother, Mahar, whose name was also excised from the final United Nations report and Shawkat had a tussle that ended with one of them being shot in the stomach.

Yes, there are rumors galore. And in every rumor there is at least a bit of truth. And, yes, there are serious weaknesses in the ruling regime in Syria. But should Bashir Assad actually retire to London, do not expect a more benevolent ruler cum dictator. On the contrary, those waiting in the wings, Shawkat among them, show signs of being even more ruthless, cunning and despotic.

Whoever rules, ultimately it makes no difference, there will continue to be a united front in Syria. United against America. United against Israel. United against the West.



Secret Negotiations With the PA
By Micah Halpern

Sunday October 23, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

A telling tidbit from the Bush/Abbas meeting:
The Palestinian leader suggested that secret backdoor negotiations be arranged between Palestinians and Israelis.
Abbas thinks that with back door negotiations in place "we can reach a state within years, or even a single year."

Abbas has not yet learned to think like the leader of a democratic country.
This is a serious problem.
Secret negotiation channels are the antithesis of democracy.
Democracies are countries that embrace public transparency and public debate, open discussion and open negotiations.
Democratic leaders must educate their society to the values of democracy.

Abbas cannot and should not hide behind closed doors. He must throw open the doors of debate and persuasively, not secretly, point his people towards a better future. That is just what Sharon did regarding the Gaza pullout.

If Abbas wants a democratic state he must negotiate in democratic style.



Hamas & Abbas Were Winners
By Micah Halpern

Saturday October 22, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Right now, for reasons that I will never fathom, Hamas is very unhappy.

How? Why? They just got it all.

PA leader Abbas came out of his meeting in Washington unscathed. So did Hamas. No proverbial slap on the wrist. No arm twisting. No condemnation. And yet, Hamas is condemning the Abbas-Bush meeting. Hamas is accusing President Bush of trying to drive a wedge between Palestinians.

Hamas should be elated. They have carte blanche to run for Parliament.

George Bush has taken Abbas off the hook. Now, all Abbas has to do is "pretend" to control Hamas, wink, wink. It is no secret that Hamas can do whatever they want. This Palestinian leader is not about to enter into a prolonged, extended campaign to eliminate terror.

Who were the winners in DC this week? Abbas and Hamas.

Abbas thought he was a goner, pressured into bringing about a civil war and rooting out Hamas. Instead his ineffective policy received a big OK.

Who were the losers? Israel and the United States.

Israel hoped that the US would follow through with a policy to root out terror.

The United States blew a big opportunity. They came out in support of a regime that will not confront terror creating a de facto dramatic turnabout in US policy.

This is more than a shame. This is a sham.



US OK'S Hamas - Blunder
By Micah Halpern

Friday October 21, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The long anticipated meeting is over. The tension is over.
Palestinians are breathing easier.
Why?

Because Muhamad Abbas walked out of the meeting with George Bush smiling.
Because the Palestinians came way with the distinct impression that the United States will not insist that Hamas be denied participation in the upcoming Palestinian elections.

Have George Bush and his foreign policy team lost their vision?
Not only is this a complete turnabout, it is a rejection of US policy concerning terrorists and terrorism. What happened to "just say NO to terrorists"?

I'll tell you what happened. The United States believes that the anti-Hamas stance is Israel's platform. The US believes that it must show flexibility and not be seen as rubberstamping Israel's perspective on Hamas and on internal Palestinian politics. Better to sell out than to rubberstamp.

The United States is wrong.
Keeping Hamas out of politics is authentic US policy.
Altering the US tone on Hamas is scary, it is a very dangerous and inconsistent message to send to the Palestinians.
Mark my words.



PA - US- ISRAEL: GOOD COP/BAD COP
By Micah Halpern

Thursday October 20, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Every game has rules.
Only spoiled children change the rules of the game in the middle of play.
Spoiled children and players at United States foreign policy.

United States Middle East policy is often a game of Good Cop/Bad Cop.
With the Palestinians, Condi Rice is the good cop.
With the Israelis, Condi is the bad cop.
Confusing, but hey, that's the game of foreign MidEast policy.

That's why the US secretary of state chastises Israel for "settlement building" in the community of Maaleh Adumim, outside of Jerusalem. Then the US president comes in and demands that PA President Abbas crack down on terror and forbid Hamas from running in the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 25.

The hardest part of this game is figuring out who is who, what is what and if who or what are serious or if it all just a game ploy.

Does the Bush Administration really believe that the building in Maaleh Adumim is a problem? Not as much as they would have the Palestinians believe.
Do they actually think that terror groups must be dismantled? Yes!!!
Do they believe that Hamas should not be allowed to run for elections? Yes!!!!

Where does that leave us?
Waiting to see if anyone - Palestinian, Israeli or US understands rules of the game.



Watch Israel & the Bird Flu
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday October 19, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Kudos to Israel.

Israel is being proactive in their fight - not against terror this time, but against the virulent Avian Flu.

Israel has just purchased 8 million Avian Flu vaccines.

The Avian Flu has already made its way to Turkey and Israel is concerned about the risk of a pan epidemic caused by birds.

A pan epidemic is far more dangerous than terror.

Billions are being spent on security, but not at the cost of public health.

Israel is acting responsibly, trying to protect Israelis on all fronts.

In addition to the H-5 and H-7 Avian Vaccine, Israel is stocked with the general flu shot and the Health Ministry has recommended that everyone get their flu shots in order to lessen the risk of the Avian Flu if it does reach Israel.

Meanwhile, in the United States health authorities are stymied by the threat of Avian Flu.

Whatever they do, it will be too late.

The US should take their lead from Israel - prepare for the worst.



Powerless PA
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday October 18, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The violence in Gaza is just getting worse and worse.

The Palestinian Authority is powerless, completely unable to control the situation.

The resemblance between Gaza and Iraq strengthens with each passing day.

There have been shootings and kidnappings. Westerners, journalists, academics - they are all at risk.

What is very disturbing is that the majority of the violence is NOT coming from Hamas. According to a report by the Palestinian Authority itself, most Gaza violence is perpetrated by the al Aksa Brigades. The study reports that in August, 20 incidents were perpetrated by the al Aksa Brigades, 18 by Hamas.

Here's the hard to believe part: the demands put forth by the al Aksa Brigades are most often for jobs in the PA security forces or for promotions. How silly. The Brigades are part of Fatah and Fatah is the ruling party in the PA.

How could anyone think that the people who resort to violence in order to get their way could then be trusted to keep the peace?

Kidnapping a Western journalist and beating up a university president are not good job recommendations.



IF SYRIA HAD A WISH LIST
By Micah Halpern

Monday October 17, 2005

Column:

If Syria had a wish list, what would top the list?

If you ask the United States, the response would be that Syria wants the United States to lift their economic sanctions so that Syria could have increased wealth. And with that bonanza in mind the United States has begun pressuring, diplomatically strong arming, Syria to change their ways.

Believe me, lifted sanctions and increased wealth are not top of the list from Syria's point of view. Syria could care less about sanctions and Bashar Assad is quite wealthy already, thank you. Syria cares about power, not possessions.

So what does the United States really want from Syria? Why the pressure? It's not a short list and it contains nothing the Syrians want for themselves. The United States wants Syria to:
Identify and hand over the culprits responsible for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri
Stop all interference in Lebanon
Stop murdering critics of Syria
Stop supporting Hezbollah
Stop supporting Hamas
Stop sponsoring the terrorists that cross into Iraq
And after Syria does all that, the United States will establish relations and open free trade with Syria including help in providing international aid.

What's in this for Syria? Not much at all. But George Bush seems to think otherwise, he thinks that he has devised a workable framework. He's spoken about the pressure and openly and publicly laid out his plan.
"I think it is very important for Syria to understand that the free world respects Lebanese democracy and expects Syria to honor that democracy ..."
"We expect Syria to do everything in its power to shut down the transshipment of suiciders and killers into Iraq ..."
"We expect Syria not to agitate killers in the Palestinian territory."

President Bush can say whatever he wants but his words prove that rather than understanding the pressures under which Syria responds, he is imposing Western thinking and Western pressure on a country that is as anti-West as they come. At best, Bush is creating a situation that will stalemate, at worst a situation that will menacingly backfire.

In essence, the United States is asking Syria to turn over Syrians and to turn their backs on the very terror groups that they themselves have helped strengthen over the years.

Syria is too proud to take on such a bold step. They would never succumb to such extreme demands. One of the most essential components of any agreement with an Arab country is a provision for them to save face. Give and take is the unwritten bylaw of negotiations with Arab nations. And in this proposal, give and take is sorely, glaringly, missing.

If the United States had read the Handbook on Negotiating with Arabs they would have begun the process by asking the Syrians what they want, what they really want. But the United States did not do that. And now, it's too late.

In an effort to soften the pressure, President Bush is likening his Syrian campaign to his dealings with Libya's Muammar Khadaffi. The United States is asking Syria to adopt the "Khadaffi Model," while in fact, there is no common ground between the expectations the United States had for Libya and the expectations they have for Syria.

Khadaffi was asked to give up his unconventional weapons. He complied. At least we think he fully complied. It was a no brainer. No one was involved but Khadaffi. He showed the United States where his weapons of mass destruction were stored and the United States dismantled and transported them. There was no embarrassment, there was no loss of honor. On the contrary, it showed that Khadaffi was a player and he knew how to play with the big leagues. They were happy, he was happy.

Where's the comparison?

Now get this: In addition to pressuring Syria, the United States has asked Israel to let them handle things, to stop worrying and most importantly, to stop Israeli pressure on Syria.

Now hear this: Israel is involved whether or not the United States wants them involved.

Syria is an existential threat to Israel. Israel must monitor everything that happens in Syria. At times Israel must send messages to Syria making it clear that certain actions and behaviors will not be tolerated.

If Syria had a wish list what would top the list? Stability and continuity. High praise from other Arab and Muslim leaders. Pride. Power. Honor and face. The rest, be damned.



A Strong Abbas?
By Micah Halpern

Sunday October 16, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The United States has determined that the only hope of any future deal for and with the Palestinians hinges on the stability of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

So, over the past few weeks, the United States has been sending messages to Israel stressing the importance of strengthening Abbas -in the eyes of his people and in world perception.

Israel has been getting the messages.
Israel has also been getting another message.
The Palestinians are telling Israel, plainly and bluntly, to Butt Out. The Palestinians maintain that Israel's interventions only strengthen Hamas. The Palestinians maintain that by attacking Hamas, Israel is turning Hamas into a stronger force.

Here is the dilemma: Abbas has neither taken nor assumed any position of strength. Abbas waits things out, he is a fence sitter, he is not fast acting and daring. It makes no difference what the United States wants, Abbas will only become strong if he acts. And Israel wants Abbas to act against Hamas.

It is true that Israel can weaken Abbas.
But the only person who can strengthen Abbas, is Abbas.



Vote in Iraq
By Micah Halpern

Saturday October 15, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The vote on the referendum for the Iraqi Constitution is important, very important.
Unfortunately, something else very important often gets lost in the excitement and terror surrounding the vote.
Perspective.
We should never lose perspective.

Democracy is less about voting, it is much more about responsibility.
It is about accountability.
It is about security.
It is about stability.
It is about safety.
It is about equal protection.
It is about equal opportunity.
It is about justice.

Democracy is about leaders conforming to the will of the majority or educating the masses as to the proper path.

Voting is an important aspect of democracy but just one of many.
We should never lose sight of what is really important.



Does The US Trust Israel?
By Micah Halpern

Friday October 14, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

The United States and Israel have resumed strategic military cooperation.

The US suspended the relationship three years ago when Israel finalized arms deals with China, one of America's and the West's archenemies.

But all is not as it once was.

Israel is being penalized for what the United States considers an indiscretion. Israel has been locked out of the planning and development stages off the F-35. The F-35 will replace the F-16, Israel's most important attack plane.

Britain, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, Holland, Italy, Australia and Singapore are all involved with the F-35. Unlike Israel, these countries can bid on and develop various components of the plane. Singapore is part of the group not by merit but through a military aid package.

Tensions, even among friends, can be dramatic and can cause irreparable rifts.

The United States no longer trusts Israel with their top secret plans.

The United States will always have the fear that Israel will sell them to the highest bidders.



Pakistan & Israel
By Micah Halpern

Thursday October 13, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Pakistan has agreed to accept aid from Israel and from American Jewish groups. The aid will assist victims of the horrific earthquake that struck and ravaged the people of Pakistan.

This is an enormous step forward.

Pakistan is the second most populated Muslim country in the world.

We are witnessing the second public gesture between Israel and Pakistan.

The first was at a United Nations General Assembly event when President Musharaf, took the step of introducing his wife to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon.

The significance is clear.

Diplomatic relationships evolve as a result of mutual need and interests.

Israel has much to offer Pakistan, not just in the aftermath of the quake, but more importantly, in the realm of high tech and telecommunications.

I see a bright future here.



Bahrain Buckles and Boycotts Israel Again
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday October 12, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Bahrain has capitulated to pressure.

Last month Bahrain rescinded their boycott against Israel. The office dedicated to making certain that no Israeli "contraband" entered Bahrain was closed down. Who closed it? The foreign minister of Bahrain.
Then yesterday the Bahraini Parliament passed a new law and the office was reopened.
But in order to get the office working again the new law must be approved by the Upper House of Parliament and signed by the King.

What's going on? Here is the real scoop. The reason the office was closed was because Bahrain wants a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States. There is no way the US will accept an FTA with a country that boycotts Israel.

Parliament was fuming, but that's irrelevant because Bahrain is a true monarchy.
The vote in Parliament is also irrelevant in determining policy.
Only the King determines policy.
Right now in order to have an FTA and to trade with the US, boycotts have to go.



PA Will Pospone Elections Again
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday October 11, 2005

I'm Predicting:

Palestinian Authority Parliament elections scheduled for January will probably be postponed - again.
They were originally scheduled to happen in July.
The last PA Parliament elections were 10 years ago.

Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas were supposed to meet today. They did not. No Surprise there.
Jordan's King Abdullah leaked that they would meet and actually called Sharon and told him the meeting was set up.
The United States wants them to meet.
Egypt wants them to meet.
Sweden wants them to meet.
Iceland probably wants them to meet, too.
Abbas never wanted them to meet. Sharon could care less.

Abbas cannot meet. He has nothing to offer, he only has demands. If Abbas leaves the meeting with nothing he is a failure. Sharon is not going to give much more until there is Palestinian quiet and that requires time and energy and organized attacks against Hamas. Not likely.

Abbas cannot bring himself to crack down other than some token gestures. He hopes that the momentum will naturally shift in his direction. Palestinian police are out but not in force and even incapable of protecting themselves.
Sharon would like to let things fester.



CONGRATULATIONS, WITH RESERVATIONS
By Micah Halpern

Monday October 10, 2005

Column:

Congratulations to Mohamed El Baradei and to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

I have never been a big El Baradei fan, but recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the greatest honors bestowed worldwide today, are to be congratulated and applauded. I say that today just as I said it in 1994, when Yasser Arafat became one of three recipients lauded.

Congratulations on your award, I said of Yasser Arafat, not on your behavior. Congratulation on your award, Mohamed El Baradei, but personally, I still fundamentally disagree with your thinking.

It is no secret that the IAEA and El Baradei have been at odds with United States foreign policy, especially in matters concerning Iran and the delicate balance required in order to level criticism at this potentially, extremely, dangerous and explosive country in a way that does not push this stalwart of anti-Western thinking into overt hostility with the West.

And yet, El Baradei and the IAEA have served an important role in challenging Iran and in trying to keep them from further developing their nuclear program. According to some intelligence agencies the Iranians were as close as two to three years away from being completely "on line" with their nuclear program. Principally, it was the pressure exerted by the Nobel recipients that slowed the process and set Iran's nuclear program back at least one additional year. For that alone the Peace Prize was well awarded.

Now that El Baradei and the IAEA have been internationally recognized and thanked for their work it is possible that pressure on Iran will increase, forcing a further slow down of their nuclear program.

Mohamed El Baradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency have also been vocally and particularly critical of Israel and Israeli nuclear policy. Rather than standing strong and neutral, they have capitulated to an accepted attitude within the Arab and Muslim world that Israel's nuclear resources are a serious threat to the region and even to the entire world. That stance is blatantly wrong.

Hyping the dangers of Israel's nuclear capability has added to a total misunderstanding of Israel's nuclear status.

It has further demonized Israel in the region. It has created a situation whereby Israel becomes a larger than life enemy. Worse still, hype of this type is totally self-defeating. It allows for Arab and Muslims countries to argue that if Israel has nuclear potential then they, the Arab and Muslim nations, require nuclear parity. Even more, if Israel has nuclear capability they - collectively and individually - need nuclear arms for sheer self-defense. Iran is the first Muslim nation to have come out with the claim, citing Israel as the reason to get their program up and running. It is a catalyst for catastrophe. It furthers the "big lie" within the Arab and Muslim world that the chief aggressor in the region is Israel. Nothing could be farther from a true assessment of the situation. El Baradei and the IAEA should know that.

El Baradei and the IAEA should know better. All countries are not equal.

One cannot compare a democratic country, a country that runs on checks and balances and accountability with countries ruled by totalitarian regimes. With the sole exception of Turkey, the Arab and Moslem countries of the Middle East are dictatorships. They are monarchies. They are secular Arab dictatorships. They have no accountability. Their one and only raison d'etre is self-perpetuation.

"At a time when the threat of nuclear arms is again increasing, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to underline that this threat must be met through the broadest possible international cooperation..."

Those are the words the Nobel Committee chose to use in announcing this year's recipients.

International. Co-operation. I hope they are not just buzz words.



Absurd Terror Plan in NYC
By Micah Halpern

Sunday October 9, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

Thankfully, there has been no subway terror attack in New York City. Even though the threat put everyone on edge, most New Yorkers continued with their routine. Subways were full.

Hitting the subways seems so easy and baby carriages and backpack bombs seem so obvious. Here's the thing: The warning was "on or around October 9." October 9 is a Sunday. Sunday, the City is virtually empty. What kind of terrorist would target NYC on a Sunday in October?

The chances of getting caught are much higher.
There's rarely a crowd so blending in is difficult.
The chances of having a massive attack are minimal.

The NYC Subway Terror plan was stupidly planned. It was absurd. It no longer surprises me.



PA Will Crack Down
By Micah Halpern

Saturday October 8, 2005

I'm Predicting:

The Palestinian Authority is about to crack down on Hamas. A little.
Just a little.

Why? And why just a little?
It's a strategic move, a ploy, play acting.
It's because Palestinian President Abbas is on his way to Washington.

Abbas has learned well from Arafat his predecessor. He knows that the best way to advance his standing in Washington and to relieve diplomatic pressure while there is to offer the US a token action. This superficial attempt to crack down on Hamas is just what the United States and Israel have been begging him to do. He'll arrive in Washington with what looks like a plan, he'll be lauded and applauded and patted on the back. Then he'll return home and everything will go back to normal.

The plan worked for Arafat, time and time again.
Abbas has learned his lessons from Arafat, I hope the United States has learned, too. I hope that the United States sees that this is a ploy, not a change in policy.

In order to truly advance the diplomatic process Palestinians must disarm Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Not a little. A lot.



Terror Alert in NYC
By Micah Halpern

October 7, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

New York City has been on Code Orange, high alert, since 9-11 - not just since yesterday when the mayor released information about a threat to the subway system.
There are always threats in New York, this threat was determined to be both credible and specific, actually, the most specific threat to NYC since 9-11.

Other agencies, the FBI, the Dept. of Homeland Security in DC, do not agree.
Right now, that doesn't matter.

Increasing security and stepping-up checks are wise moves. They are deterrents.
There are many reasons to go on high profile alert:
To try to catch the terrorists
To show the terrorists that you know something
To bluff the terrorists
To turn up the pressure so that the components of the attack, like pieces of a puzzle, do not come together
To make the public feel safer

Holiday time is a particularly good time for terrorist strikes. The Jewish High Holidays, especially in a city like NY, are no exception.
May the year be happy and healthy, secure and safe, for us all.



Bush On Terror: The Time Issue
By Micah Halpern

October 6. 2005

I've been thinking:

Washington closed down for business this morning.

Everyone who is anyone came to hear the president deliver his latest speech against terror. As soon as I heard George Bush read off the roster of administration officials I knew this was to be an "important" speech.

And it was - in one very particular way.
The president explained the time frame for fighting terror.

In a thorough explication of terror Bush laid out his objective to fight terror and to spread democracy. Most Americans are familiar with all that. It was a review.

Clearly and precisely Bush underscored the issues and the seriousness of the threat. Most Americans understand the impact it has on our lives. It was reinforcement.

The essential element of the speech is the time frame.
This war will take a very long time. Do not waiver. Not now. Not in the future. The only way to defeat terror is to be proactive and to advance democracy.
That's a hard lesson for Americans, especially in this age of immediacy.

"Never back down. Never give in. Never accept anything less than complete victory over terror," said the president. I add: Never rush.



Terror Warnings For Jewish Holidays
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday October 5

I've Been Thinking:

Israel has issued severe warnings against travel to Sinai during the Holidays.
There is very specific and very clear intelligence that Israelis in Sinai will be targeted during this period.

Behavior during the Jewish Holiday period is predictable - thousands of Israelis swarming to the inexpensive vacation resorts of the Red Sea - and that is exactly what makes it the perfect time to strike out at Israelis. Terrorists can plan for months in anticipation of a sure thing, waiting targets, an easy hit.

It is precisely because this time of year is such easy prey for terrorists that, in addition to issuing travel warnings, Israel also closes the borders with the West Bank and Gaza.

The bad news: 2,500 tourists are now in Sinai and several thousand more will probably venture over.
The good news: last year on the eve of Rosh Hashanah there were 30,000 Israelis in Sinai.



Shootout in the PA Corral
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday October 4, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

I call it Shootouts at the OK Corral, Palestinian style.
Palestinian Authority and Hamas forces have been going at it as the PA tries, rather unsuccessfully, to enforce their new Weapons Law.
Real enforcement of the law will require even more confrontations, but this is certainly a shot in the right direction.

The shootouts are a result of Hamas refusal to discontinue their habit of parading through the streets with weapons drawn, shooting in the air. The new Weapons Law also declares it illegal for anyone but Palestinian Authority police to carry weapons. Hamas agreed to this condition, and now boldly flaunts the law.

These public parades have resulted in several tragic mishaps and many deaths. In the shootout resulting from one recent Hamas parade two police were killed, ten police were wounded and twenty Hamas members were wounded.

The only way for the Palestinian Authority to stabilize the situation is to stop each parade and prevent every march, to head the situation off at the pass.
It will be a hard task, but it is the only way.



AN OVERLOOKED STORY, AN IMPORTANT VISIT
By Micah Halpern

Monday October 3, 2005

Column:

There I was, nonchalantly scanning the Khaleej Times when a story I had read nothing about in the Western press caught my eye.

The Khaleej Times, a newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates, reported that Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, speaker of the Iranian parliament, had just concluded a trip to Lebanon and Syria, a friendship mission.

Big deal, you say. Well, it is a big deal, a very big deal. I'll tell you why this trip is important, why it is important for the Arab world and important for us in the Western world.
-It is important because Iran and Syria are the two biggest supporters of terror in the world today.
-It is important because Iran sponsors terror in Lebanon and Syria perpetrates terror in Lebanon and the UN is still stymied in its investigation into the execution of Lebanese president Rafik Hariri.
-It is important because both Iran and Syria are ultimately responsible for much of the terror that takes place in Iraq today.
-It is important because Iran and Syria are the two most unpredictable and dangerous and volatile countries in the Middle East.
-It is important because both Iran and Syria have hopes and plans and probably secret plants to go nuclear.
-It is important because both Iran and Syria will probably not hesitate to use their nukes against the West and against Israel.
-It is important because unlike terror, this nuclear weapons race is a real existential threat.

In Lebanon Haddad Adel met with several Hezbullah leaders including Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the top Hezbullah leader. He also met with his counterpart, the speaker of the Lebanese parliament Nabih Berri, and with the president and with the prime minister of Lebanon. In Syria Haddad Adel met with top leaders and officials including Bashar Assad, the president of Syria and he even held a press conference while there.

Local Arab media paid a lot of attention to this visit. According to the joint Iranian/Syrian statement that was released the ultimate objective of this diplomatic mission was to find "ways of confronting pressure against Iran and Syria... against the ambitions of America and Israel." The pressure spoken of is the sanctions put on both Iran and Syria by the United States. The joint message made clear that "the two countries relations would remain strong" and that "the relations of friendship and cooperation between the two countries" would continue.

President Assad was quoted by a source as saying that the United States is "creating fear and permanent concern among those two countries."

In response to questions about Israel initiating a pre-emptive strike against Syria that were asked of Haddad Adel while he was still in Syria, the speaker said: "We'll teach Israel a lesson it will not forget if it attacks."

Nothing but differences and distinctions exist between Iran and Syria. Iran is a theological dictatorship. Syria is a secular Bathist dictatorship. Iran is Shiite and Syria is Sunni. They do not even share a language. And yet, on this visit there was a shared language. There was camaraderie. The parties were open, blunt and to the point in a region that regularly thrives on innuendo, that is guarded, veiled and secretive.

What drove these countries, Iran and Syria, to show a united front? Hatred. Hatred of the West, a mutual desire to destroy Israel, shared sponsorship of terror.

This liaison, this visit, was very important. I would go so far as to call it historic. It scares me.



Will Israel Bomb Iran?
By Micah Halpern

Sunday October 2, 2005

I've Been Thinking:

A Saudi newspaper is spreading some serious rumors - and I believe them.
The rumors are based on too many plausible, accurate and unpublished, details to be discounted.
Sunday October 2, 2005

The story goes that Ariel Sharon handed George Bush aerial photos when they last met. They showed how Iran's nuclear development program is progressing.

Evidently, Bush referred Sharon to Condi Rice.
Rice told Sharon that at this time the United States and Europe are opting to go the diplomatic route. That means quiet pressure.
Israel said they will respect the decision, but they will not wait forever.

No doubt Iranian nukes threaten the entire region, but Israel is most threatened. No doubt Israel has a plan to strike at Iran's nukes.
It would be unwise for Israel to attack without United States cover. Best scenario would be a coordinated US led attack without any Israel involvement.

Diplomatic pressure of the past few weeks has delayed the inevitable reality.
But no doubt about it, Iran will finalize their nuclear program in only a few years.





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