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Elections in Syria
By Micah Halpern

Sunday April 18, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

This year, Spring is the season of Middle East elections.
Syria has announced that on May 26th they will hold presidential elections.

Assad will win a third term as president. These are not true elections and his win is a certainty.

The Assad family belongs to a minority group in Syria. They are Alawites. And Syria’s Alawites control their brutal security forces. Opposition is not tolerated. A part of the Syrian election law is that a candidate must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years.

There is no opposition within Syria.

In 2011, protests in Syria began in the south of the country. The protestors were asking for election and political reform. The protests were crushed and so began a civil war that has, for the past ten years, devastated the country.

The only question about Syria’s upcoming election is whether Bashar Assad will win 85% or 95% or even 98% of the vote.

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US Displeased w Israeli Attacks
By Micah Halpern

Saturday April 17, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

The United States has made it known to Israel that they are displeased with the strikes on Iran.

The US is especially unhappy with Israel’s “boasting” about their success and claiming responsibility for the attacks - something that Israel has been loath to do in the past.

When there is an element of doubt it leaves the target, in this case Iran, questioning not just whether it was Israel but if the strike was a coordinated effort.
Was the United States involved? Was there intel from agencies from other countries? Were their neighboring countries involved?

The United States is concerned because Iran has announced that they are enriching uranium to 60%. That is 20 times the agreed upon enrichment level.

Because of strike on Natanz and the strikes on Iranian ships – all courtesy of Israel, the US is going to have a difficult time at the negotiation table in Vienna.

What we have here are two very arrogant nations. The United States is dictating to Israel. The US believes that they can tell the world what to do and what not to do. Israel, meanwhile, is telling the United States that they will do what is necessary in order to achieve safety for their citizens.

Neither country is about too change their point of view.

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PA Elections- Maybe?
By Micah Halpern

Friday April 16, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

Elections for the Palestinian legislature are scheduled to take place on Thursday, May 22nd.

Presidential elections are scheduled for July 31.

Polls are telling us that Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, is having a difficult time getting a majority or - even a plurality.
Because of these polls, I anticipate that the elections will be postponed or even cancelled.

The Palestinians will blame it on Israel. They will claim that because Israel is not permitting Palestinians residing in Jerusalem to vote, they cannot hold a true election.

That of course is simply a smoke screen. It is a contrived excuse to save Fatah, with Abbas at its head, the embarrassment of losing. It really is a big deal. Losing this election would not just be an embarrassment – losing would mean the end of the Palestinian Authority and the end of Fatah as we know it.

In the meantime there are several parties that are contenders in this election.
They include Fatah and Fatah breakoffs - but Hamas is a contender as well.

If the elections take place there will be serious changes within the PA, if not a total implosion. The situation could certainly devolve into armed battle between factions.

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Biden Sanctions Russia
By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 15, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

The Biden Administration has slapped Russia with a series of sanctions.

The announcement about these sanctions was unclear as to the timing. There was no date given for when these measures would take effect.

It did, however, explain that included in the sanctions will be a list of banned companies. Also included is the expulsion of diplomats. And finally, the sanctions will prevent US banks from buying any Russian bonds from Russia’s central bank, from their national wealth fund and from the Russian finance ministry.

This is a major step in the right direction. Russia has been a significant agitator in the US political arena and in US financial markets. When it comes to foreign affairs, the Russians tease and taunt the United States.

In response to the Biden announcement, Moscow said that they are considering a response which may also include counter sanctions against then United States. The Kremlin spokesperson explained that: "The principle of reciprocity for such matters has not been canceled, but everything will depend on the decisions made by the (Russian) head of state.”

Every decision in Russia, we all well know, is made by the head of state.

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Israel @73
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 14, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

Israel celebrated 73 year of independence.

This was no small feat. 73 years ago, most people doubted that Israel would survive a single year - no less 73.

This past year was tough for everyone world over. But Israel seems to have emerged out of the dark tunnel called COVID.

In honor of Independence Day, for the first time in thirteen months, the city of Tel Aviv held large outdoor concerts for children. There was a limit of 650 children per concert and all the children were given a free COVID rapid test within an hour of the concert. The test gave results in 15 minutes. The test was developed by an Israeli bio tech company and results came back in fifteen minutes.

As required for all large gatherings, even outdoor gatherings, masks were worn.

Life is not yet back to the normal we used to live, but in Tel Aviv as in all of Israel, a new normal is developing. And life goes on.

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Iran's Fiction
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday April 13, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

Iran is masterful at using their own media to develop a narrative.
And one of the literary devices they often use, is making things up.

The Iranians exaggerate. For example: They say that they have more weapons than they really have, or that they have new weapons. They say that they have attacked and hit targets which never happened and is all sheer fantasy. And they deny the damage or the extent of the damage to their infrastructure, military and population, all the time.

So, when Iran threatens revenge against Israel on the same day that they claim to have discovered, conquered and destroyed a Mossad house in Iraq – fake news antennae must go up.

Fact is, there are no such Mossad houses in Iraq to discover. The entire episode looks great on Iranian media and it makes Iranian leadership look strong for having avenged the Natanz strike, which Israel purportedly perpetrated, but it is a total fiction.

But fiction and fantasy never stops Iran.

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Israel Changes Tune in Involvement
By Micah Halpern

Monday April 12, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

Ephraim Halevy is the former head of Israel’s Mossad.

Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility was struck with a cyber-attack. The attack turned out the lights in the facility. It literally turned off the electricity in the Iranian nuclear enrichment center.

Around the world fingers pointed at Israel. Leadership in Israel did not deny responsibility – nor did they claim responsibility. They did, however, publicly comment that Iran was due for a lesson.

Halevy had something to say about the entire situation. He said: "Apparently, those in Israel in the political leadership want [the attack] to be attributed to Israel. Therefore, it must be assumed that the attack was indeed carried out by those who are now suspected [of perpetrating it]"
He continued:

"We will make a big mistake if [we will think of Iran] as an opponent who has two left hands, that is not true."

When Ephraim speaks, we should all pay attention.

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Saudis Against Iran Talks
By Micah Halpern

Sunday April 11, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

The talks in Vienna between Iran and the P-5+1 to kickstart the Iranian nuke deal are not pleasing everyone.

We know that Israel, for example, is very skeptical of the outcome of these talks.
So is Saudi Arabia.

Tariq al Humaid, a very popular Saudi columnist, wrote in the international paper of Saudi Arabia, Asharq al Awsat, that many people do not trust Iran. He wrote: “There is Gulf apprehension regarding the Vienna talks.” His comment should not come as a surprise. Iran and Saudi Arabia are arch enemies.

The 6 world leaders pushing the nuke deal will not pay much attention to Saudi Arabia’s analysis, just like they are not paying attention to Israel. But Iran is paying attention. And Iran is pleased that the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia are being ignored. It ups the Iranian advantage.

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Pfizer Not Good Against S-African Variant
By Micah Halpern

Saturday April 10, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

According to a study done in Israel, the South African COVID variant can “breakthrough” the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

That is not good news. Actually, it is very bad news.

The study was composed of 400 unvaccinated people and 400 double vaccinated people. The result of the study is that people who were not vaccinated were 8 times safer against the South African variant than those who had been vaccinated.

The good news is that there is very little incidence of South African COVID in Israel.

In South Africa however, the variant is predominant.

This study has not yet been peer reviewed. But, the essential lesson to be learned is: do not use the Pfizer vaccine in South Africa.

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PM of Norway Fined For COVID
By Micah Halpern

Friday April 9, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

The police and the justice department in Norway fined their prime minister for violating COVID restrictions after Prime Minister Erna Solberg held a party to celebrate her 60th birthday. Thirteen members of her family were in attendance.
Solberg was fined 20,000 Norwegian Crowns which comes to about $2,500.

The prime minister had apologized - but Norwegian leadership and the justice department knew that her apology was not enough. They knew that the country cannot have a situation where the there are two sets of rules.

That’s why they chose to fine Prime Minister Solberg and to make her punishment public. So they needed to fine her and make it public. Gatherings are limited to 10 people and they would tolerate no exceptions.

The irony of this situation is that Prime Minister has been on the front line insisting that people act responsibly during COVID.

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Iran in Lock-down
By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 8, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

Iran announced a 10-day lockdown. The announcement was made after a fourth wave of COVID hit the country hard, very hard. This information was made public by state media.

Using state media in this way is not at all typical of Iranian leadership. Under normal circumstances, Iran would not want outsiders to know the extent of their damage and the enormity of the threat. But COVID is not normal and they needed to inform the public of the shutdown so they bit the bullet and used the media for all to see.

The decision was made to shutter 23 of Iran’s 31 provinces for 10 days. Shuttering means no schools, no theater, no sports and the closing of all public gatherings.

Ramadan begins in the midst of the closure. This year, that means that there will be no families gathering together to break their fasts as is the custom.

The psychological pain of this closure will surely have a harsh impact on the people of Iran.

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US Give $235 Mil to Palestinians
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 7, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

In 2018 then-President Trump stopped all aid to the Palestininas.

Now things are about to change.

The Biden administration has announced that they have a plan to give $235 million to the Palestinians. This is the second time in one week that the Biden administration announced the granting of money to the Palestinians.

First, they promised $15 million. Their new plan calls for $150 million through the United Nations relief agency UNWRA, $75 million in U.S. economic support and $10 million in development funding. These figures came to light in a notice emailed by the administration to congressional offices.

The US State Department has said that the monies are legal and in line with US policy toward the Palestinians.

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Iran Meets w US about Nukes
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday April 6, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

The P 5+1 met with Iran in Vienna. They met to take a look at the Nuke Deal.

The talks were successful and they decided to meet again in a few days. The P 5+1 are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

Iran and these major powers will continue to discuss ways to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.

Following the meeting, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told Iran state television: "The talks in Vienna were constructive... our next meeting will be on Friday.”

He added that Tehran would not suspend its enrichment of uranium to 20% fissile purity in return for the release of $1 billion of its funds blocked in other countries because of U.S. sanctions reimposed on Iran since 2018.

Interesting. Iran is running this how and they are holding strong.

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Problems in Jordan
By Micah Halpern

Monday April 5, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

Jordan’s crown prince, the King’s half-brother Hamsa bin Hussein, was put under house arrest. An investigation against him was opened.

The visit by the head of the army to the home of the crown prince was made public for the entire country to witness. Everyone needed to see that King Abdullah does not tolerate any challenge to his leadership.

The crime Crown Prince Hamsa bin Hussein committed was posting an on-line serious critique of Jordanian leadership claiming that it was corrupt.

The back story is that, not too long ago, Prince Hamsa was removed from the line of succession after attempting to position himself for the kingship and maybe even ousting his half-brother King Abdullah.

When King Abdullah discovered Hamsa’s newest challenge to his leadership, the King’s hand was forced and he had to act to make an example.

The story is still developing. There are rumors being spread that the situation between these brothers is on the mend. Hamsa publicly signed a letter pledging support to the King.

There is little tolerance in Jordan for those who challenge the king. House arrest is getting off easy.

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Putin Signs Law He Can Run Until 2036
By Micah Halpern

Sunday April 4, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

Vladimir Putin signed a law that now allows him to run for president for two more terms.

His current term ends in 2024, so the new law would keep him in power until 2036.

If there was any doubt in anyone’s mind about the “democratic” (and I put democratic in quotes for a reason) nature of Putin and the country he leads, this is another cogent and essential example of his style and objectives.

Of course, he still needs to run for reelection and to win … but why would Putin change the constitution if he was not assured of a successful re-election bid.

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Sudan Repeals Israel Boycott
By Micah Halpern

Saturday April 3, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

Sudan repealed a law prohibiting any interaction with Israel. The boycott law, which was originally enacted in 1985, had prevented any trade with companies or citizens of Israel.

On October 23, 2020 Sudan and Israel normalized relations.

It is still unclear, however, what that entails. Sudan’s local press quoted ranking leaders as saying that they will not recognize Israel and send an ambassador. But that was probably just bluster.

It clearly looks like normalization means trade. It also probably means tech and military advice. And it certainly means agricultural and medical technology assistance.

Baby steps are still steps. Slowly, slowly, one at a time.

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Investment in Israel is Way Up
By Micah Halpern

Friday April 2, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

Here is some very good news about investments in Israel.

Israeli cyber companies broke an all-time record and concluded the first quarter of 2021 having raised $1.5 billion in 17 different transactions.

Israel is in second place worldwide in the volume of investments made in cyber companies in the distribution of investments. First place goes to the United States.

Israel’s performance is a continuation of a 2020 trend, when investments in Israeli companies reached $2.9 billion and accounted for 31% of all cyber investments in the world.

These investments could help Israel return to normal after the devastating damage of the COVID pandemic.

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US Human Rights Report & Israel, PA
By Micah Halpern

Thursday April1, 2021
I've Been Thinking:

The United States issues a Human Rights Report every year. The report is an update on the ongoing status of human rights across the world. This document is essential in understanding the status of worldwide human rights – and human rights violations, and in pinpointing those areas that the United States deems to be in need of more work, more money and more influence in order to bring about improved human rights.

Israel and the Palestinians are always mentioned in the Human Rights Report.
Under the Trump administration the chapter title dealing with their area was changed from “Israel and the Occupied Territories” to “Israel the West Bank and Gaza”.

The big question this year was: Would the Biden administration revert back to the Obama language in the Israel and the Palestinians chapter, or were they continuing with the Trump perspective on those areas?

The State Department clarified the issue: in some places in the body of the report it refers to the areas as “occupied”.

Ned Price, the US State Department Spokesperson said that the report: “does use the term ‘occupation’ in the context of the current status of the West Bank.”

Lisa Peterson is the highest level State Department official currently in the human rights bureau, she is the deputy secretary. Peterson explained the new / old terminology saying that the report generally uses geographical names and that “Israel, West Bank and Gaza” was easier and clearer for readers.”

So indeed there is a small and important change happening. Progress is progress.

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