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Hamas Will Not Lay Down Weapons
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday August 21, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

The ceasefire, the truce, between Hamas and Israel have serious implications. There is no question that part of the truce will require Hamas to disarm.

Hamas said that: "Our weapons will remain in our hands and there are no conditions regarding Hamas's right to [continue] the resistance. The truce does not require a political price [from Hamas] and it is not part of the deal of the century."

There is, without a doubt, a massive chasm between what Israel expects and what Hamas will do in the truce - but Israel cannot permit Hamas to continue to launch rockets and attacks.

So - Israel will probably look the other way at Hamas' continued weapon flaunting as long as things stay quiet and there are few to nil rockets and terror attacks aimed at them.

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Israeli Won't Compete on Yom Kippur
By Micah Halpern

Monday August 20, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Dan Kramer is the lead member of Israel's Equestrian Team. The team has a chance to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Japan. But to qualify, they need to score high ranks in certain international competitions.

The best of the competitions will take place in September in the United States. But there's a problem - the competition takes place on Yom Kippur. Dan Kramer was insistent that he, personally, would not compete on Yom Kippur. He said that, out of respect for Judaism and out of respect for the Israeli people, he would not compete.

Kramer has written an open letter that reads: "I decided not to join the other members of the Israeli national team and not to participate in the upcoming world championships in the United States, because the competition is taking place on Yom Kippur and I want to honor this day as well as the Israeli public and Jewish Diaspora."

"I think that it will be a serious mistake in judgment to compete on this holy day, despite the sporting implications of not participating in such a major and important competition that will hurt my international score and my, and my horse's, chances of reaching the Olympics. As far as I'm concerned, this is not a matter of personal choice. As a Jewish athlete and a proud Israeli, I do not intend to offend the sensitivities of the Israeli public and the Jewish world in general and compete on our holiest day."

"I do not intend to compete 'below the radar,' as has been hinted to me more than once in my conversations with key people in the federation, because I believe that every performance by an Israeli team should be a heart-warming affair that fills every Israeli and Jew with pride."

The rest of the team has decided to compete. They are, however, split in favor of and opposed to the decision of their team captain.

The truth is that without Kramer, Israel's Equestrian Team's chance of reaching the Olympics is greatly diminished.

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Hajj Begins
By Micah Halpern

Sunday August 19, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

According to many Islamic calendars, the Hajj began at first light this morning.

The Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and sometimes Medina. Every able-bodied Muslim male is commanded to make the Hajj once in his lifetime. Some Muslims do it annually. This year Saudi Arabia granted 1.7 million visas and they are expecting over 2 million pilgrims during the 5 day event.

The Arabic word "Hajj" derives from the same root as the Hebrew word "Chag". It means "holiday". The three letter root is H - G - G. In both Arabic and Hebrew, the soft "G" has the "J" sound. That is why I spell Hajj with two Js, not two Gs. And that is why in Hebrew the biblical character is called Hagar and in the Koran she is called Hajar.

The pilgrim enters Mecca and makes his way to the Great Mosque, the largest mosque in the world with the ability to accommodate 2 million pilgrims at one time.

The Great Mosque encompasses the Kabba, the square stone. And that is where the pilgrim performs the Tawaf - the ritual in which the Kabba is circled 7 times in a counterclockwise direction. Pilgrims then walk between the two hills that Hajar, the wife of Ibrahim (Abraham) walked. She walked between Safa and Marwa looking for water for her son Ishmael.

Circling seven times is a common tradition in Judaism, as well. Jews do it during the holidays of Sukkot, Hoshannah Rabbah and Simchat Torah and call it Hakafot. During Jewish wedding ceremonies, brides traditionally circle their grooms 7 times while standing under the chupah, the wedding canopy.

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Syrian 1st Lady Has Cancer
By Micah Halpern

Friday August 17, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Syrian First Lady Asma Assad has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is now undergoing treatment. The announcement came in a tweet from the office of her husband, the president.

The tweet was in Arabic, here is a translation: "With strength, trust and faith ... Mrs Asma al-Assad begins her preliminary treatment of a malignant breast tumor that was discovered early."

The tweet included a photo of the first lady, her arm attached to an IV drip, alongside her husband, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Asma Assad is 42 years old. She holds dual citizenship from both England, where she was born and schooled and from Syria. Her family is from the Syrian province of Homs.

The tweet continued: "From the heart, the presidency and the staff wish Mrs. Asma a speedy recovery."

We should all join in those wishes.

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Russia Stepping Up Role in Syria
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 15, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Russia is now stepping up their role in Syria.

Russia is patrolling the zone between Syria and Israel and report to have 1,000 sappers probing for and deactivating mines in the area.

Russia has promised Israel that they will keep Iran 50 miles from their border.

The role of the Russians will be to make certain that Iran, as well as Hezbollah, stay far away from the Israeli border.

Russia also wants to reinstitute the UN patrols in the area between Israel and Syria.

We often hear about the Russian air force, about their fighter planes and bombers. We don't hear about their army. But it should be obvious that there is much more of a Russian presence than anyone expected or speaks about.

1,000 sappers plus enough army to patrol the buffer zone between Israel and Syria is massive.

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Iranian Leader Says No War w US
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday August 14, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Iran's Supreme Leader the Ayatollah Khamenei said that there is no chance for war between the US and Iran. He also said there is also no chance for talks.

The Iranian leader was responding to Washington rhetoric that has been floating both of these ideas - both that the situation is close to war and also that President Trump has floated a trial balloon to have face-to-face meetings with Iran.

The Iranian leader put the ideas to bed.

In his televised speech the Supreme Leader said that: "along with sanctions, Americans have recently raised two more options, war and talks... War will not happen and we will not enter talks."

He continued on saying that Iran has not attacked anyone and to do so would not be in line with their history. They have not and will not initiate a first strike against the United States - so there is no chance of war. And they have no interest in talking to the United States.

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China Increases Influence in MidEast
By Micah Halpern

Monday August 13, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

China has a plan to become more and more active and involved in the Middle East. The plan is in the works and China has already become a major player in the region.

The Chinese plan is based on the old "silk road market". Today's version is called the Belt and Road Initiative.

To that end the Chinese hosted 28 Arab and Muslim foreign ministers. These countries are starting to work in sync to help supply China with her needs - especially her energy needs. In return China will supply these countries with important goods.

The route is not just over land, it is also over sea.

The more China is involved in trade the more it will be involved in policy and diplomacy. That is their ulterior motive.

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Bibi Said We'll Have New Elections
By Micah Halpern

Sunday August 12, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has threatened early elections if there is no resolution on the Conscription Bill.

The Conscription Bill is a compromise that balances the requirements of the democracy that require citizens to do national service and the ultra religious community that asserts learning Torah is a form of national service.

The bone of contention with this bill is that the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the law as it stands needs to be changed - it is unfair and unclear. Revisions have already been made to the bill. The number of draftees has changed significantly from the original version.
The age of the draftees has been changed. The compromises were made to ensure that Hareidi men will join the army, albeit in small numbers.

Even these changes have not satisfied the Hareidi community. Israel's ultra religious parties want the draft of yeshiva students nixed totally. The Supreme Court on the other hand asserts there must be some parity in national service.

Rabbi Litzman, the deputy health minister and the representative of the Hareidi Achdut HaTorah coalition said: "The approval of an amended draft law is one of the central things that served as a base to the current coalition and government. We have no interest in elections, but we will not be able to compromise on the fundamental and essential thing of safeguarding the status of yeshiva students whose Torah is their work."

Litzman continued. "The different proposals will be brought for discussion to the Council of Torah Sages, which will decide on the matter. We will do as they instruct us."

The Israeli Supreme Court is extending the deadline before the bill is voted on in the hope of achieving some sort of resolution that is satisfactory for all the parties. The original deadline was the first week in September, it has now been moved to December 2nd.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is well aware that, if elections were to take place as early as February, he would be the solid winner. All other parties - with the possible exception of two right wing and one center left party would lose seats.

Netanyahu is not sweating over this bill.

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Saudia Fake Oil Output
By Micah Halpern

Friday August 10, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Wall Street Journal Market Watch published a report that Saudi Arabia is faking their output numbers.

The reason the Saudis would fake their figures is to report to OPEC that they are controlling more of the market than they actually are. They would want to do that because the US has increased its output tremendously over the last year.

This fake is a classic example of how perception is more important than reality.

The reality is that the Saudis need to make themselves look bigger than they are.

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Iran Worried About China
By Micah Halpern

Thursday August 9, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Iran is worried that China is a moving away from support of their country.

China is investing $3 billion in Bangladesh - especially in infrastructure.

The Chinese have plenty of money to invest and they are already heavily invested in Asia. But Iran is worried that this specific investment may be a sign that, because of the new US sanctions on Iran, China is pulling away.

The essential point is that China is a huge economy and exports everywhere - especially to the United States. Truth is, the US cannot function without Chinese products. But China is also a great client of Iran - especially for oil and other energy resources.

China has said that they will not adhere to the US sanctions against Iran - but you never know. So Iran is watching the Bangladesh investment very carefully.

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Iran Sanctions -- Taking Sides
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 8, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Now that US sanctions have been snapped back on Iran different countries are lining up in two columns - for and against.

The EU has said that they will not support the US sanctions and will even help companies that may be punished by the United States.

China has said that they will not accept US sanctions.

Iraq, a neighbor and sworn enemy of Iran, said that they disagree with sanctions however they will abide by the US requests.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said:

"As a matter of principle we are against sanctions in the region. Blockade and sanctions destroy societies and do not weaken regimes."

"We consider them (sanctions on Iran) a strategic mistake and incorrect but we will abide by them to protect the interests of our people. We will not interact with them or support them but we will abide by them."

Surprising, not really. Some countries still recognize the power that the United States wields.

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Iran Says US Lies
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday August 7, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

President Trump snapped sanctions back on Iran yesterday. As a lead up to this day, President Trump announced that he is inviting Iran to dialogue - and with no preconditions.

In response, however, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that he has no interest in any dialogue with the United States. Rouhani asserted that the US is simply not trustworthy. He said the US would first need to prove their honesty and that would nearly be impossible. He said that the United States pulled out of a deal and that proves that they do not keep their word.

"We are always in favor of diplomacy and talks ... But talks needs honesty ... The US re-imposes sanctions on Iran and pulls out of the nuclear deal, and then wants to hold talks with us." That's what Rouhani said on state television.

And then he added:"Trump's call for direct talks is only for domestic consumption in America ... and to create chaos in Iran."

Iran is suing the United States in the World Court for damages done since the 19553 coup that was sponsored and coordinated by the CIA. That was the coup that ousted Iran's democratically elected president and replaced him with the Shah.

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Syrian Scientist Get Blown Up
By Micah Halpern

Monday August 7, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Syrian scientist Dr Azizi Asber was blown up in his car, together with his driver, on Saturday night. Dr Asber was in charge of Department 4, the department responsible for two very important pro-Syria projects.

Dr. Azizi Asber was developing new chemical and biological weapons and their delivery systems. He also worked very closely with Iran's rocket scientists and was helping to develop Iranian weapons.

Anti-Assad forces have claimed responsibility.

A group called Tahrir al Sham sent out a message taking credit for perpetrating the attack. You may already be familiar with the group - they used to be called al Nusra Front and they served as the representatives of al Qaeda in Syria.

An important subgroup of Tahrir al Sham, called Abu Amara Brigades, posted the message on their online Telegram channel saying that they "planted explosives" that assassinated the scientists.

The Assad regime has not yet commented on the successful assassination
of one of their most senior scientists.

This was a huge success for groups that we haven't heard from in a while, groups that we were led to believe no longer exist.

Well, these groups have returned, quite literally, with a bang.

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Israel Blocks Ship
By Micah Halpern

Friday August 3, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

The captain of a Norwegian ship that attempted to break Israel's blockade of Gaza criticized Israel for stopping his ship which was carrying humanitarian supplies.

After the captain, Herman Reksten, returned to Norway he lashed out at Israel saying that his ship was in international waters and closer to Egypt than to Israel.

He said: "We were arrested in international waters and we were closer to Egypt than Israel."

Let me clarify. International waters are clearly measured and laid down in international law -- 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi) from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state.

So yes, sometimes, one country's territorial water overlaps with its neighbors.

Israel boarded and towed the Norwegian ship into Israel and interrogated everyone on board.

The ship was breaking a legal port closure. The captain knew that. None the less, he proceeded with his journey.

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Iran's Military Drills
By Micah Halpern

Thursday August 2, 2018

I've Been Thinking:

Iran is planning to conduct military drills in the Straits of Hormuz. The United States military is aware of the plan and they will be watching the Iranian drills very intently.

That suits Iran just fine - they want to US to pay attention.

Iran is making a clear statement by way of their Revolutionary Guard and the 100 boats and thousands of troops taking part in the drills in the Straits of Hormuz. They are in charge.

One of the most effective weapons the Iranian Revolutionary Guards employs is their swift rubber boats. The boats are very small, very fast and extremely maneuverable. They are so low to the water that the boats are difficult to detect on radar.

No surprise, the Iranians are very effective at attacking large ships.

The Straits of Hormuz is a waterway through which 20% of the world's oil travels every single day. Iran knows that if they sink as few as two tankers they will successfully stall the delivery of oil and cripple worldwide oil distribution.

The Iranians also know that they can, and have in the past, attacked US ships in the Straits of Hormuz. Iran knows that they have an advantage - and that advantage includes mini submarines made specifically to hit and run in the Straits of Hormuz.

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