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Arab Leaders To Visit White House
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 25, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will visit the White House and meet, face-to-face, with US President Donald Trump in March and April.

There is no doubt about the agenda for these meetings. The White House wants to try to smooth over tensions between Sunni states and bring some calm back to the region. Qatar has been rocking the boat and aligning with Iran and that has caused a serious backlash in relations.

The White House also wants to enlist these leaders' assistance in hammering out a Middle East peace plan with the Palestinians. The strategy is part of a larger plan to widen the influence and the participation of nations involved in the peace effort and leverage pressure on Palestinian leadership to accept a deal.

More important than the leverage is the looping in of major Sunni states and their leaders. This will lend credibility to an agreement and obviate any direct responsibility for a peace plan, a significant factor hindering progress, that so frightens Palestinian leaders like Abbas.

If the White House can bring everyone together, an agreement can be cobbled out, supported and underwritten by the major Sunni states. Ideally, that plan will make a deal with Israel easier for the Palestinians to swallow - and ultimately sign.

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Abbas Hospitalized in Baltimore
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 23, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

On Tuesday and Wednesday websites were chattering away about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' health. Rumors spread about his weak heart. Some concluded that a health crisis was related to decades of heavy smoking.

The Palestinians were mum - but their president did not look good or sound healthy when he spoke at the United Nations.

The most convincing evidence that something was wrong with Abbas was that, since his presentation to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, there was no media coverage of him. After such an important event, Mahmoud Abbas fell off the radar.

Suddenly, he was spotted in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University Hospital -- but according to his travel schedule, Abbas was supposed to be in South America.

Official Abbas spokesmen said that the Palestinian president was in the hospital for routine checks.

Finally, Abbas spoke to Wafa, the official Palestinian media outlet, and said, "Our presence here was a suitable chance for us to make some medical checks." "We actually made those checks and we are out now and, thank God, all results are positive and are assuring. This is God's blessing on us."

Abbas is 82 years old. He has had cardiac catheterization to unblock clogged arteries. Abbas has a worrisome health history - and no one is speaking about succession. No one is discussing the democratic process of transition in Palestine.

This is a crisis waiting to happen.

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Iran in Syria to Attack Israel
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 22, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

The New York Times published a report which has been rewritten - with interesting additions, in the Israeli press.

The article in the NYT explained that Iran is not simply advising in Syria, but rather Iran is entrenched in permanent bases in Syria. One can count 28 fixed Iranian camps running north to South in Syria. There are also a handful of temporary Iranian bases that have been established.

These bases are proof of Iran's real agenda in Syria.

Iran is not in Syria as advisers for the short term to help fight ISIS and anti-Assad rebels.

Iran is getting into position to best strike Israel and to best help others strike Israel.


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Abbas is Too Weak
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 21, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday and called for an International Conference to solve the issue of Palestinian Statehood. Abbas wants to sideline the US and place power into the hands of more Palestinian friendly allies.

A conference is a good idea for the Palestinians.

Also on Tuesday, Heather Nauert, US State Department spokeswoman, gave a hint of what might be part of the US peace plan for the Palestinians. She said that other regional countries might be called upon to take a role in the peace process.

"If at some point we believe that other countries could be helpful to the peace process, we would certainly be willing to bring them in." ... "Is the time right for that right now? I'm not sure we've decided that, but that is certainly something that could happen in the future."

For a significant time smart analysts have said that one of the best ways to obviate Abbas' weak position would be to have regional countries support or accept the peace process so it does not appear as if Abbas is abandoning the cause by creating a deal with Israel.

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Israel Signs Deal to Sell Gas to Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 20, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Israeli energy company Delek, which is owned by Nobel Energy, signed a $15 billion deal with Egypt to provide the Egyptians with natural gas over the next 10 years.

This is the largest contract yet for the off shore, natural gas fields that the Israelis tapped and have been operating since 2016.

Jordan also has an agreement with Israel. Israel will deliver natural gas in exchange for $10 billion over a 15 year period.

Israel is becoming a regional provider of natural gas. Arab nations are signing up for their natural gas. It is another one of those counter intuitive situations. Israel is now supplying the Arab world with energy.

Arab countries are already importing Israeli energy - other countries and other products are sure to follow.

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Iran's FM Says Myth Of Israell Shattered
By Micah Halpern

Monday February 19, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that when Hezbollah downed an Israeli F-16, it shattered the myth of Israel's invincibility. He said that now when Israel attacks its Arab neighbors the neighbors can attack and defeat them.

"Israel uses aggression as a policy against its neighbors," Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Munich Security Conference. He also accused Israel of "mass reprisals against its neighbors and daily incursions into Syria, Lebanon."

According to Zarif, "Once the Syrians have the guts to down one of its planes it's as if a disaster has happened."

In response to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's remarks after the Feb. 10 downing of the Israeli F-16 jet, Zarif had this to say: "What has happened in the past several days is the so-called invincibility (of Israel) has crumbled."

Iran is stoking tensions with Israel in order to provoke responses in the Middle East. Israel needs to watch Iran very carefully.

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Bibi to Visit White House March 5
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 18, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

The White House announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the Oval Office on Monday March 5. Netanyahu will be in DC for the Annual AIPAC Policy Conference.

This will be their 5th meeting since President Trump took office and the third meeting held in the White House. Netanyahu was one of the first foreign leaders to visit newly-elected President Trump. Their first meeting was in February, the second in May.

There was speculation that the White House was creating distance with Netanyahu because of the corruption investigations against him being conducted in Israel. Clearly, the speculation is inaccurate.

The White House said the meeting has nothing to do with internal Israeli issues. The White House does not alter its plans for such things. According to a White House Statement, "no impact on the content or timing of our plan that is currently being drafted."

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Oman FM Visits Al-Aqsa
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 16, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

I read with fascination about Foreign Minister of Oman Yusuf Bin Alawi's rare visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque (also known as the Dome of the Rock) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The visit occurred while the Foreign Minister was visiting Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Abbas. Oman does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Both the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are within Israel.

Under normal circumstances this kind of trip would be coordinated through the Israeli Foreign Ministry. It was not the case with this visit.

Last week diplomats from Qatar and Kuwait visited the Mosque and last September a Qatari minister visited the mosque.

The head of the mosque, Omar al-Kiswani, told Reuters that the Omani's visit was "important, especially after Trump's decision, to support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and to prove to the world that Arabs and Muslims stand with the Palestinians in the face of this decision."

Visits to the Mosque by Arab and Muslim leaders will be worth monitoring.

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Rouhani to India
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 15, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Iran's President Rouhani has arrived in New Deli for a very unique diplomatic visit.

Iran wants India to invest in them - they are seeking billions of money from India.

Iranian Prime Minister Modi just returned from a trip to the Middle East and he did not visit Iran - instead Iran is visiting him.

The US is pushing hard to further isolate Iran and cut back on the now infamous nuke deal. They are lobbying India to back off any Iranian deal.

As soon as sanctions against Iran were lifted in 2015, India jumped in. They have invested over $20 billion in an Iranian sea port close to India. India has also invested in perto-industries and in infrastructure like trains and rails.

India is importing about $12 billion in oil from Iran and exporting only about $2 billion in goods to Iran.

India sees a real future with Iran - and they really need the oil.

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Tillerson in the MidEast
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 14, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in the Middle East. The conflict between Israel and Syria which involved Iran and Russia is not making his trip any easier.

Tillerson kicked off his trip in Egypt. He will also visit Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

The US has an uphill fight in the Middle East. The unusual dimension of this trip is that Tillerson will not visit Israel. He will be all around Israel, to the south and to the east. He will probably fly over Israel twice, but will not be stopping.

Bypassing Israel on this trip is probably in the best interest of the US diplomatic effort. But there is no way to uncouple Israel and the US, their friendship and links - especially after the announcement by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

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Syria. Iran, Russia Proud they Downed Israeli F-16
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 13, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Iran is planning to stay in Syria. They have been invigorated by the downing of an Israeli F-16.

Senior advisor to the Grand Ayatollah in Iran, Ali Akbar Velayati, said on Monday that the "Iranian presence in Syria will continue."

He continued: "The downing of the Israeli F-16 planes is an important milestone in the conflict with Israel," ... "Israel must know that every attack will get the same response, it is Syria's right. The axis of resistance will protect its sovereignty, and we will not remain silent to Israeli aggression."

Iran, Russia and especially Syria were shown that Israel is no longer untouchable. That will benefit all of them. The victory is mostly psychological.

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Poles Miscalculated
By Micah Halpern

Monday February 12, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

One of the results of the new Polish law restricting speech and prohibiting the use of the term "Polish Death Camp" is a backlash of anti-Semitism.

For example: A Polish radio journalist named Bogdan Zalewski posted on his facebook page: "Poles, we are at war! We are at war with the Jews! Not for the first time in our history." ... "We can find ourselves in a state of absolute isolation that completely exhausts us down to annihilation. In my opinion, it is necessary for Poles to be aware and to work on the development of the national spirit."

At war with the Jews!

Another TV host and guest called the Nazi camps Jewish Death Camps.

The anti-Semitism is becoming pervasive. Piotr Kadlick, a leader of the Jewish community, was quoted in JTA saying "In my worst nightmares I never expected to hear jokes about Auschwitz, Jews and gas chambers on state-owned television."

Much damage has been done as a result of this law. Poland did not anticipate the harsh worldwide response their law has received. Neither did they expect that Israel would have reacted so dramatically.

Poland miscalculated.

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Israel Iran in Conflict in Syria
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 12, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Israel was attacked - Israel struck back. That is the best way to begin to understand what happened on the morning of Saturday, February 10th. Two incidents occurred on that morning.

Here are details about those incidents.

Incident #1: In the early hours of the morning an Iranian drone (UAV) crossed into Israel and was shot down by an Israeli Apache helicopter.
Incident #2: The IDF dispatched four F-16s to strike the fourteen targets in Syria responsible for the launch.

Israel needed to thread the needle and make certain not to hit Russian forces headquartered in the same locations as the Syrians. After
accomplishing the mission the four F-16s returned to Israeli airspace.

Back over Israeli airspace and flying high in altitude in relaxed mode, one F-16 was hit by an S-5 missile. The S-5 was fired by a Syrian anti-air battery operating Russian equipment. The two Israelis in the F-16 ejected and landed in Israel. The plane crashed in the Western Galilee near Shfaram.

The plane would never have been hit had it been flying lower and at a greater speed.

The Iranian drone was a re-engineered version of the US drone that was hijacked in 2011 and brought to Iran. Iran renamed it the US RQ-170. It was intended to be Iran's secret weapon.

It is a stealth UAV that was supposed to be undetectable to defense systems - especially radar. But Israel immediately discovered the UAV. They traced it back to its source which was Camp T-4, an Iranian and Russian military base in Syria.

The US version of the drone was an RQ-170 Sentinel by Lockheed Martin. Its wingspan is 65 ft and it stands 6 feet high and is about 15 feet from front to back. To be operated, the drone requires three people from its base.

There has been extensive coverage of the F-16 crash, the collection of remaining plane parts and the status of the crew.

There has been no information on the drone.

The drone will be examined and the United States and Israel will share intel about the differences between the original RQ-170 Sentinel and the US RQ-170 Sentinel.

Putin and Netanyahu spoke immediately afterward the incidents. They seem to be on the same page.

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Russia Explains US Motives
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 9, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

The Russian defense ministry released a statement yesterday that gave insight into the way Russia views the US and their role in Syria. According to the statement Russia is convinced that the real goal of the United States is to gain economic assets in Syria.

These statements are being released as tensions in Syria rise. Airstrikes on both sides are escalating. Syrian forces are hitting US allies and US allies are hitting Assad allies affiliated with Russia.

The US attacked Assad strongholds yesterday. At the same time Russia hit ISIS and other rebels challenging Assad's control in Syria.

The situation in Syria is safer and more in control than they were before - there are bigger issues at stake. Russia and the US are vying for control.

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Iran Guards Divest From Oil Holdings
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 8, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Iran is demanding that all government agencies divest from all oil holdings. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are major shareholders in Iranian oil as are other Iranian groups.

"Not only the Social Security Organization but all government sectors, including banks, have to divest their business holdings, and this is the only way to rescue the country's economy," Rouhani said. "Government officials, non=government institutions and the armed forces and others -- everyone has to divest their commercial businesses."

There has been popular blowback against Iranian leadership. The major complaint is that the economy has not improved over the past 5 years, ever since the more liberal Rhouhani has been in power. Frustration has grown even more intense since the famous Nuke Deal was signed in March of 2016.

After the deal, sanctions were lifted on Iranian oil exports - but the Iranian economy was unaffected because the money was kept internally.

This policy should open the Iranian oil market to outside investment. And that may just dramatically improve the economy.
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Abbas Says Only We can Sign a Treaty
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 7, 2017

I've Been Thinking:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is continuing his opposition to US policy. Abbas continues to attack the United States by saying that the US cannot force them into an agreement and that the US is not to be trusted as an honest mediator.

While delivering a speech Abbas said that the US cannot force the Palestinians to sign a peace deal. That they cannot impose a peace treaty.

Abbas held up his pen as a prop and said "this is our pen and we are the only ones who can sign."

It was an effective metaphor and strong symbolic gesture.

Abbas continued on saying that the Palestinians will only sign a deal if it includes a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and with East Jerusalem as the capital. It should include all the areas within in the pre-'67 borders.

Abbas is also facing charges that he wire tapped his opponents and allies in order to keep tabs on them. The surveillance was done by the CIA and the intelligence was handed over to Abbas.

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ISIS Attacking Iran
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 6, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

ISIS is on the run - but they are still extremely lethal.

ISIS has moved out of Syria and Iraq and now has a stronghold in the mountain area along the Iranian-Iraq border. This is Kurdish area.

The area is very difficult to access. It is extremely secure because of numerous caves. Locals have actually renamed the area Tora Bora after Osama Bin Laden's hideout in Afghanistan.

From this secure location ISIS has been regularly striking against Iranian forces using raids and suicide bombers.

Lethal, extremely lethal.

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Abbas Will Ask UN for Recognition
By Micah Halpern

Monday February 5, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Word is that Palestinian President Abbas is going to ask the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly to recognize the State of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital.

This is another Palestinian mistake. There is no possible way this will pass in the Security Council.

The General Assembly, however, is another game entirely.

The General Assembly will almost certainly support the Palestinian proposal. Even so, that decision will have no legal status. It will be a public relations victory for the Palestinians, nothing more.

Abbas' request will isolate other critical parties when it comes to other resolutions. Israel, the United States and every country that believes that a resolution between Palestinians and Israelis requires negotiation - not a proclamation, will be enraged by this move within the UN.

Consider this to be another in a series of Palestinian diplomatic errors.

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Hamas Smuggles Explosive into Gaza
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 4, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Kerem Shalom is the commercial border crossing between Israel and Gaza.
Kerem Shalom is the path through which thousands of trucks travel from Israel into Gaza delivering essential goods - including medicine clothes and food.

And it is through that crossing that Hamas continually attempts to smuggle in contraband. All kinds of contraband - including building materials that can be used to make tunnels and even explosive materials - as they attempted to do this morning.

Early Sunday, at the Kerem Shalom border, Israel discovered explosive supplies hidden in a medical supplies shipment.
Unfortunately this is typical.

Using supplies whose purpose is to heal civilians as cover for material that will murder innocents is a tactic often utilized by Hamas.

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Iran Expanding Influence
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 2, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Iranian leadership has made it clear that they are regional leaders and they do not plan on backing down because of international pressure.

The advisor to the Grand Ayatollah Khamenai, Ali Akbar Velayati was quoted in the official news agency Fars saying: "Iran's influence in the region is inevitable and to remain a key player in the region, this influence will continue ..."

He continued: "Iran has no intention to abandon the oppressed nations in the region ... Our presence in Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon is in coordination with the governments of these countries."

Iran is bringing it's A game to the region. They are expanding their influence.

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Jewish 8 yr Old Attacked in France
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 1, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

An eight year old Jewish boy in France was beaten up and kicked by a gang. He was wearing a kippah. It was a hate crime.

The French president, Emanuel Marcon, tweeted: "Each time a citizen is attacked because of his age, appearance or religion, it is the whole nation that is attacked."

There has been a worrisome rash of anti-Semitism in Europe. Combine that with threats of terror in France and attacks against the Jewish community and individual Jews and the situation is extremely dangerous.

French political leadership always says the right things. The police are starting to take all that is happening more seriously. There is a real risk that this targeting of Jews is on the upswing.

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