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Israel Can't Sell Their Gas
By Micah Halpern

Thursday September 18, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Remember when Israel discovered a mammoth natural gas reserve off their coast in the Mediterranean Sea? It was nothing short of a miracle!

In 2018 when the natural gas field, Leviathan, opens for business it will turn Israel into a real player in the natural gas market.

The problem is that Israel is having problems securing contracts and clients to buy their natural gas. Turkey was their best potential client, but that outlet dried up because of this summer's conflict Operation Preventive Edge in Gaza.

Then Cyprus pulled out because of negotiation issues.

Austria fell apart because of an old and continuing conflict over taxes.

That leaves only the Palestinian Authority and Jordan as clients and the possibility of supplying the Egyptian side of British Gas and their liquefied natural gas facility in Egypt.

What this really means is that the gas will be way undersold and that Israel will only be a regional supplier and not an international supplier. That situation is potentially cataclysmic for Israel as it tries to break into the market.

Once Israel is relegated to being a regional force, it will be hard to become a world player.

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Turkey is Ticking off People
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 17, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Turkey is really beginning to tick people off. By people I mean world leaders and diplomats from both the West and from Arab countries.

Turkish leader Erdogan just visited Qatar. On the plane, on his way back home, he held a press conference and announced that all exiled Muslim Brotherhood leaders were welcome in Turkey.

A bit of background -- The Gulf states have been very frustrated with Qatar. Qatar has been supporting the Brotherhood and Hamas. So the Gulf states exerted extreme amounts of pressure on Qatar to stop.

Instead of stopping, Qatar decided to expel the leaders of the Brotherhood and Hamas who had created their international nerve center out of Doha. Qatar gave them two months to leave. All this happened last week.

Now Turkey is declaring itself the new center for this terror.

Turkey has a lot going on a lot of different fronts. They tacitly joined the coalition against ISIS and refuses to allow the coalition to fly over their airspace or use their runways. They are also creating a buffer zone in Syria and hemorrhaging youth who are rushing out of Turkey to join the ranks of ISIS.

Those are some of the reasons why Turkey is really upsetting people.

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Hezbollah Against ISIS
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday September 16, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hezbollah has made it very clear that they are fighting ISIS - and that Syria cannot lose the battle to ISIS.

The deputy head of the Hezbollah executive council, Sheik Nabil Qawouq, explained that Hezbollah will not leave Syria, they will remain in Syria to fight ISIS --- "this is a battlefield where we will defeat and crush them."

The point is that if Hezbollah is not there to battle ISIS, then the Islamic State will roll right over Syria and then into Lebanon.
ISIS has taken some serve blows in Syria. It looks like Assad/ Hezbollah and those fighting with them are slowly but surely securing more and more area.

There is little doubt that the powerful forces that are fighting on the ground checking ISIS in Syria are Hezbollah. But the irony of ironies is that Hezbollah is acting in their own self interest. And part of that self interest is also keeping the border with Israel safer.

A secure Israeli border is a stable reality that Hezbollah count on. Hezbollah must keep ISIS at bay for many reasons - and one of those reasons is to maintain stability on the Israeli border.

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N African Group Embraces ISIS
By Micah Halpern

Monday September 15, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday a major shift took place in the structure of power in the Middle East.

In Algeria the group called al Qaeda of North Africa, known as AQIM which is the acronym for Al Qaeda of Islamic Mahgreb, split away from al Qaeda and joined ISIS. They now call themselves The Caliphate Soldier of Algeria.

The group now professes allegiance to the ISIS declared Caliph Al Baghdadi.

This is another in a long line of examples demonstrating how popular ISIS is becoming and showing us that people and groups are bailing on al Qaeda. Clearly ISIS is very popular among the rebels.

This move highlights the success of ISIS. And it reminds us that al Qaeda on the ropes. More of these defections will come in the near future. ISIS is now the focal point of the West and hence a very attractive place to hang your hat in the extremist sector of the Middle East.

One incentive not to be overlooked is the reality that ISIS is paying their fighters very well and will continue to fill the coffers on a daily basis.

It is not only the West that is feeling the pressure of ISIS, al Qaeda is feeling that pressure, as well.

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PA Says ISIS Was Created Because of Israel
By Micah Halpern

Sunday September 14, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The entire Arab and Muslim world is trying to figure out how to engage ISIS, or Daesh, as it is called in Arabic. Some groups, like al Qaeda, are in competition with ISIS. Other groups are trying to confront ISIS. This was the case on Saturday when there was a huge protests against ISIS by Arabs in Israel.

But PA leadership seems upset that ISIS has caused the world media to shift attention away from the plight of the Palestinians. Several years ago the Palestinian leadership was also upset by the refocus on Syria. So now the PA leadership is trying to gain back that focus and even use ISIS as a tool to put the Palestinian cause front and center.

Saeb Erekat a senior Palestinian leader and chief peace negotiator said on Fatah TV that Israel and the settler are the reason for ISIS and Islamic extremism. He added, saying that the "terror acts" of Israel and the settlers empower and create groups like ISIS.

Erekat is creating a false narrative "solve the Palestinian problem and the ISIS problem will be solved." All of the problems confronted in the Middle East derive first and foremost from Israel oppressing the Palestinians.

This has always been the central talking point among leaders in the PA. But today it is a real shocker. There is no logic to it but their modus operandi is always to first blame Israel for everything.

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ISIS Gets Over $1Mill/day from Oil
By Micah Halpern

Saturday September 13, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

How is ISIS getting their money and paying for their ever increasing numbers of recruits and fighters. The CIA has now increased their assessment of ISIS as having as many as 31,500 fighters, up from 10,000 at the beginning of the summer.

So, how does ISIS get their money? Aside from stealing $1.2 billion from the banks when they entered Mousol, ISIS has other means of raising money.

ISIS taxes with a "zakat" which is, supposedly, alms for the poor - but in their case, the tax goes to salaries. Zakat is one of the pillars of Islam and is best translated as charity or, in Hebrew, tzedaka. ISIS goes to every store and demands the tax. They set up road blocks on the highways and call them toll stations. They demand the zakat at gunpoint.

ISIS also has oil. They have 4-5 oil fields in Iraq and Syria. Each field has 40-70 wells. The fields and wells are operated by locals who worked for the oil companies.

ISIS is pumping 25,000 barrels per day (bpd). They are selling locally. They are selling at severely below market value, at cut-rates that are 50%-75% below price - at $25-$60 a barrel. That brings in a staggering $625,000 to $1.5 million per day.

That is per day. This is one of the reasons ISIS is recruiting so successfully. They pay very well. And that is the magnet that draws recruits from all over the world.

There is no question that at this stage ISIS has much, much, more money and better funding than Al Qaeda.

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Ted Cruz Walks Off Stage After Defending Israel
By Micah Halpern

Friday September 12, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Senator Ted Cruz was booed off stage for supporting Israel. Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, was speaking at the inaugural event of a new organization called "In Defense of Christians."

Cruz, a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination, was addressing the group and explained that, in 1948, Jews from around the Arab world escaped persecution by escaping to Israel. He said that "Christians have no greater ally than Israel." The crowd started to heckle him by booing and shouting.

Cruz folded and put away his prepared speech.

And then he said: "I will say this: I'm saddened to see that some here, not everyone, are so consumed with hate." At that, the crowd got even more aggravated.

Cruz continued: "I will say this: If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Thank you and God bless you."

Watching the various videos of this event was very disturbing. The hecklers were clearly Arabs. The host asked for respect from the attendees in a clearly accented voice, he reminded the audience that "this is America."

How could the crowd publicly heckle and boo a sitting US senator who did nothing more than articulate his support for Israel and Jews. And this from an organization that was professes to fight religious persecution.

It is as if to say that Jews in the Middle East are not and were not oppressed - in Iraq, in Iran, in Syria, in Egypt, in Libya, in Morocco, in Algeria, in Ethiopia. The point Senator Cruz was making is that Jews sought and found refuge in Israel. That Israel understands religious persecution.

And all this took place in the US Capital, in Washington DC.

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9/11 13 Years Later
By Micah Halpern

Thursday September 11, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It is the 13th anniversary of 9 /11. I remember it as if it were yesterday.

More than memory, 9 / 11 transformed the United States. It was a watershed event. Seldom can we look at a single historical event and say this event changed us and changed the world.

The unreal became real. The United States became a target on its homeland. It was a harsh awakening, a difficult process of maturation. 9 /11 is when the United States lost its naivete.

The United States was a sleeping giant and the terror of 9 /11startled the sleeping giant awake.

The United States became not just a player in the game of world terror, it became a leader in the fight against terror. Until 9 /11 the United States knew that terror was awful, but assumed that it would never knock at their door, assumed that terror was a reality that "others had to deal with." It was a reality in Israel - not in the United States.

9 /11 taught the United States that America could be and was a target. Everything the United States stands for came under attack, everything - especially freedom, democracy and success.

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PA Admits Donors Afraid of Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 10, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The deputy prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammed Mustafa, explained that donor countries are reluctant to give aid to any government where Hamas is involved. Mustafa said that the countries see Hamas as destructive and that any rebuilding undertaken by Hamas would be done in order to launch another attack against Israel.

Mustafa explained that the donors want Abbas and his PA to take control of Gaza.

"Some donor countries are concerned because of the atmosphere on the ground ... because the reconstruction is not possible without enabling the (Palestinian) government to take the lead in all aspect of life in Gaza."

Donor nations do not want to be complicit in sponsoring another Hamas led conflict with Israel in Gaza.

And Egypt announced that they will host a donor conference on October 12 to help raise and allocate money to rehabilitated Gaza. And certainly, one of the chief questions under discussion at the conference will be who directs, supervises and monitors the money and the building that will be funneled into Gaza.

Egypt has a vested interest in knowing that the money does not go to building and repairing new tunnels. Tunnels from Gaza into Egypt have been responsible for hundreds of Egyptian deaths at the hands of Gaza terrorists. Egypt will make certain that the money and the work in Gaza will not be abused.

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CIA To Help Jordan Fight ISIS
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday September 9, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The United States is deeply concerned that Jordan is in the sights of ISIS. So the United States has charged a former CIA official with extensive links to Jordan to head up a special task force. The King of Saudi Arabia also announced that he predicts Jordan is next.

There is reason for worry. ISIS has made it clear that they are on the move. They have a vision and they are setting out to accomplish it.

The US wants to develop real responses to the potential ISIS threats against Jordan. They need to focus and to figure out what Jordan can do and what the United States must do.

Jordan cannot fall to ISIS - not simply because of Jordan's role and friendship with the US, but because Jordan borders Israel. If ISIS breaks into Jordan through the border with Iraq it will be a game changer. Israel will not tolerate ISIS that close.

If ISIS breaks into Jordan Israel will strike ISIS immediately. It is simply too dangerous for the very existence of Israel. Israel's border with Jordan is not like their border with Syria in the Golan Heights. In the Golan, Hezbollah is defending the region and will do everything to prevent ISIS from taking over.

Jordan does not have the same capabilities as Hezbollah. Yes, Jordan has a professional army and they have trained officers. But the Jordanians have no real experience and they are not prepared for a real battle against an enemy like ISIS.

Everyone is worried about Jordan. And the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan itself are responding to the threat. There is real reason for this worry.

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Hamas is Rebuilding Tunnels
By Micah Halpern

Monday September 8, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

In Israel yesterday the press reported that an intelligence source said that Hamas is rebuilding their tunnels.

That would make it less than two weeks after the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza went into effect. Later in the day a report was published quoting not a source but an actual Hamas leader saying that indeed Hamas has started rebuilding the tunnels.

He said that weapons and other important supplies, including building supplies, are being smuggled in.

We know that he is telling the truth, and there is no reason to doubt him, the supplies must be small because the tunnels they are using from Egypt are small.

When the Israeli press reports on Hamas, it can reasonable be called speculative. But when the Hamas official describes the actual tunnels and the materials that they are smuggling, that can be seen as confirmation.

There is no question that Hamas is rebuilding. And there is no doubt that they want to strike at Israel again and very soon. And the biggest no doubt is that Hamas understands that this will put into question both the international aid they have been receiving and have been promised and the unity government with Abbas and the PA.

Bottom line is that Hamas does not care. The Hamas objective is mono-dimensional. Hamas wants to destroy Israel. Period, end.

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ISIS Among Israeli Arabs
By Micah Halpern

Sunday September 7, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

ISIS has become a hot topic of debate, argument, discussion, in many places around the world. Even in Israel. ISIS has caused fissures even among the Arab citizens of Israel.

In their Shabbat (weekend) edition, YNET ran a piece in which several Israeli Arabs discussed ISIS. Some of them embrace ISIS, others reject them. Some like the direction ISIS has taken, others think they go too far. Some advocated for volunteering to fight alongside ISIS, others violently attacked preachers and imams who advocated ISIS.
The article has pictures and even video. Most of the material comes from facebook pages.

Here are some of the interchanges:

"ISIS is on the right path." said one imam as worshippers shouted at him: "You are defending a terror organization. We will not pray at the mosque as long as you hold such murderous thoughts of terror. You must realize that our religion does not teach us to murder people - Muslims, Christians, Jews, or Druze."

Another example turned physical after a member of a mosque declared: "the Islamic State is the only one that can establish an Islamic state, and it is good they are punishing people. I hope they make it to Israel." Responders said "You are terrorist scum, and you have nothing to say to us. Get out of here; we do not want to see your ilk."

It is one thing to have ISIS followers in Iraq or Syria. It is conceivable that there are disenfranchised youngsters from Europe eager to join ISIS - but from Israel, that is very scary.

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Is Israel Prepared for Hezbollah?
By Micah Halpern

September 6, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Some military experts are suggesting that Israel's next conflict will be with Hezbollah. I am not certain that I agree, but agree or disagree, I know that the real issue to consider is whether Israel is properly prepared for a next conflict.

Hezbollah is far better trained than Hamas and has much more experience and many more rockets and guided missiles than Hamas has.

Hezbollah, according to intel sources, has the ability to launch 1000 rockets per day into Israel. Some experts say that Hezbollah has accumulated 100,000 rockets of various styles and ranges.

Assuming that intel is correct, and I assume that it is, it will be extremely difficult for Israel to defend itself against Hezbollah. As of today Israel only has nine Iron Dome batteries. Considering that Israel began Operation Preventive Edge with only seven, nine is a 30% increase and vast improvement - but is it enough?.

In addition, Hezbollah has 5,000 commanders with hard earned operational experience fighting ISIS, al Qaeda and al Nusra in Syria. They fought in Syria as a real army, not as a ragtag group of terrorists or guerrillas.

One cannot discount the possibility that Syria will lend their fighters and weapons to Hezbollah in a conflict against Israel. Assad would simply be retuning the favor because Hezbollah was such a stalwart force fighting to keep him in place.

Again, I do not think that Hezbollah is running to confront Israel. Actually, right now their plate is pretty full with ISIS and with helping Assad. None the less, it is essential for Israel to be prepared the eventuality.

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Debating ISIS
By Micah Halpern

Friday September 5, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The tragic murder of Steven Joel Sotloff has given us greater insight into the world that ISIS inhabits.

Satloff's mother made an appeal to the head of ISIS after the brutal murder of James Foley. She appealed to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. In addressing the mastermind behind the beheading, Mrs. Sotloff used Muslim terms and emphasized Muslim values. She referred to Baghdadi in the most respectful of ways, even using his self appointed title -- Caliph.

At the time, I was struck by the nature of her plea and thought that whoever had advised her knew Arabic society and had determined that this was the only possible chance a mother had to save her son.

Now, in the aftermath of both horrific murders, we know that one of the family's spokespeople, Barak Barfi, actually challenged Baghdadi to a debate about Islam and Islamic ideals especially about mercy and peace.

Here is what Barfi laid out in his challenge:

"I have a message to Abu Bakr,"

"You said Ramadan is a month of mercy but where is your mercy? You speak of Islam and the Holy Koran but I know the Koranic verses."

"Abu Bakr, I am ready to debate you"

"I come in peace, I don't have a sword in my hand, I am ready for your answer."

Barfi understood that Baghdadi would not entertain his request for debate. Barfi is really speaking to the rest of the Arabic world, not to Baghdadi. He is saying these barbaric acts are hardly the acts of a true Muslim.

Barfi is calling Baghdadi a heretic, a man who takes parts of Islam and exploits it for his own purpose.


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Al Qaeda Attacks ISIS
By Micah Halpern

Thursday September 4, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Ayman Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda, released a 50 minute tape yesterday. The purpose of the tape was to announce that a new al Qaeda front is opening in the Indian subcontinent.

But the real reason for the tape was for Zawahiri to give a slap in the face to ISIS / ISIL / IS, the Islamic State for all the havoc it has caused and all the claims it has made.

Al Qaeda is taking issue with ISIS. The major point of contention is over the fact that that ISIS is creating discord in the name of Jihad. They are violating basic Islamic teachings in order to fight their battle. Zawahiri claims that ISIS does not care about other Muslims or their property or their money. And even more, Zawahiri says that the discord created by ISIS is in and of itself a violation of Islam.

He said: "If you said that you are doing jihad to defend the sanctities of the Muslims, then you must not transgress against them or their money or honor, and not even transgress your mujahedeen brothers by word and action."

Zawahiri continued: "Discord is a curse and torment, and disgrace for the believers and glory for the disbelievers," he said. "If you say that by your jihad you do not want but the pleasure of Allah, then you must not race for governance and leadership at the first opportunity."

ISIS leader Baghdadi is being called an opportunist and a fraud.
That is a very strong challenge to posit.

ISIS is becoming more popular than al Qaeda. We may witness some very ugly rhetoric fly back and forth and maybe even some real fighting - brutal conflict similar to what took place between al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria.

Be prepared.

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Hamas Oppressing PA
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 3, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A recent poll shows that Hamas has increased in popularity over the past few weeks. They are, at this moment, more popular than Abbas and the PA.

So PA representatives have begun unveiling horrific descriptions of brutal abuse at the hands of Hamas. Hamas has threatened and physically abused and even murdered PA people in Gaza

"Hamas acted in the same barbaric way in 2009 and 2012 without ever giving any reasons," one witness described the situation. "Nobody can forget the Fatah blood they spilled after their 2007 coup d'etat."

Others describe how Hamas humiliated and even publicly murdered PA employees over the past few weeks.

There are 100,000 PA employees in Gaza. They all continued to draw a salary during the conflict with Israel and that, too, was a huge cause of conflict between Hamas and the PA. Now they are being terrorized.

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Rouhani Tells Clerics Be Open To Modern World
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday September 2, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made an appeal to the leading clerics of Iran who had gathered together at a conference in Teheran.

The appeal was do not "close the gates to the world."

Rouhani was referring to internet and to the sciences.

Rouhani told the religious leaders that Iran needs to teach technology and science and that the youth of Iran need to engage with them.

Iranian clerics have been against the internet and against 3G connectivity and against 3G service out of the fear that the evil elements of the internet will have a horrific impact and negative influence on Iranian youth and on the future of Iran.

The religious leaders are concerned about the moral decay of a society that uses the internet. Rouhani urged them to be more open to new technology and new ideas. Without these new technologies Iran will not be able to compete or to defend itself.

Rouhani promised that he would liberalize many aspects of Iran including the internet. That is not as easy as he originally suggested it would be. Progress may just be on the Iranian horizon.

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16 Yr Old Girl Caught Going to Fight in Syria
By Micah Halpern

Monday September 1, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday the French Minister of the Interior announced the arrest of a 16 year old girl who was running away to fight in Syria.

The girl's parents had no idea, they were shocked. Her recruiter, a 20 year old man, was arrested with the 16 year old as they boarded a plane in Nice en route to Turkey on Saturday night.

Europe has been worried that significant numbers of their youth might join the ISIS or al Qaeda fighters in Syria and Iraq, worried that after being trained these fighters might return to fight from their native soil.

In this case we have a young girl who has been dubbed Jihad Jane.

The fact that she is a young girl is very disturbing. For those who have been following the ISIS butchering of the Kazidis, you know that about 600 girls were spared a brutal death - and were instead relocated and either given or sold for $1000 to become the slaves of ISIS fighters in Syria. If the girls convert to Islam, these young victims can potentially become wives of ISIS fighters.

ISIS is paying every fighter $400 a month. They then add another $100 per months for every child the soldier has.

ISIS is extremely sexist. I have difficulty understanding what a 16 year French girl would be doing in this conflict.

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The Abbas Dilemma
By Micah Halpern

Sunday August 31, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is facing a huge dilemma.

On the one hand, Abbas signed a unity agreement with Hamas. On the other hand, the agreement between the PA and Israel says that talks will resume within the next 30 days. And the problem is that Israel will not talk with Abbas as long as he is connected with Hamas.

Abbas has to choose between Hama and Israel. Now remember, Abbas really wants to destroy Hamas and the feeling is mutual - Hamas really wants to destroy Abbas and the PA.

All the funds for rebuilding Gaza are going through Abbas and his people. He will be building a real infrastructure in terms of actual buildings on the ground and the people who will be doing the work will be employed by the PA, not by Hamas. That will promote loyalty to Abbas and the PA on the streets of Gaza.

And now another problem arises. Abbas just promised to pay Hamas from his own coffers and transfer the money to Gaza banks. That means that he is now empowering Hamas.

Netanyahu said it on Saturday night. Abbas cannot have it both ways. Abbas must make a choice. Either Israel or Hamas. Not both.

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Head of Hamas Shouts V
By Micah Halpern

Saturday August 30, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas in Gaza, took a tour of certain parts of Gaza.

Haniyeh flashed the V sign everywhere he went.

From our Western POV it is hard to look at all the destruction in Gaza and interpret it as, in any manner whatsoever, success. And yet, Hamas does just that.

Hamas sees and evaluates success very differently than we in the West do. From Hamas' POV they emerged victorious because there are still Hamas leaders that were not assassinated and Hamas fighters that were not killed. Hamas sees a victory in the fact that they are still able to fire rockets into Israel.

Hamas sees a victory when there is still one man standing, still able to speak and shout and fight.

The West does not see loss and victory in total terms. The West assesses greater and lesser, better or worse. For the West, assessment is a series of evaluations in shades of gray.

For Hamas it is total, all or nothing, black and white. As long as
Hamas can still rebuild and continue to fight, they have emerged successful. And they are triumphant.

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Abbas Laces Into Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Friday August 29, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas laced into Hamas in a publicly broadcast interview.

Abbas said that the current ceasefire is identical to the very first ceasefire agreement proposed by Egypt - which Hamas refused to accept. He then suggested that all the civilian deaths that took place were as a result of that refusal. So Hamas is responsible for all those deaths.

Abbas further said that he was personally assured by the Khalad Mashal, the leader of Hamas, that Hamas had nothing to do with the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Frankel and Gilad Shaar. And then, just a few days later, another Hamas leader publicly claimed responsibility and involvement for the kidnappings and murders.

One of the points Abbas was making ws how important it is that the rebuilding of Gaza be done under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas. He, Mahmoud Abbas, will supervise the project.

Judging from his tone during the broadcast, it seems that what most irked Abbas is that Hamas stated that they can and will determine whether there is quiet with Israel or whether they will attack again and go to war.

Abbas said this is not the unity agreement that he signed with Hamas. The Palestinian president asserted that only the PA can make that declaration.

We have to watch this tension closely. It looks like Abbas is making a move. It looks like he is preparing to assert his influence and flex his power and maybe - maybe even take back Gaza from Hamas.

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Boycotting Israel Will Not Work
By Micah Halpern

Thursday August 28, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

There has been an uptick in anti-Israel sentiment in the Western world - in Europe and in the United States. The reality is that it is old fashioned anti-Semitism with a thin veneer, a coating, of anti-Israel rhetoric.

The most organized group promoting this ugliness is the BDS movement. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. They movement spouts lies and speaks half-truths and promotes the boycotting Israeli products. Their invective is filled with hate under the guise of promoting justice for Palestinians.

Regardless of what the BDS movement or any other movement has to say, boycotts have virtually no impact on Israel.

Here is why:

Israel's economy is insulated against these kinds of boycotts because of the nature of what Israel produces and what it exports. The only real exception is agricultural exports and they compose only 2% of total Israeli exports. And even that can be protected.

95% of Israel's exports are B2B, business to business, which means that they are not actually sold to consumers. Many of those businesses are subsidiaries of multinationals firms. They produce small components of larger pieces and the multi-national companies are only interested in the price of the product and no one knows what is inside those products. The same is true for the pharmaceutical industry. Some are products wholly developed and produced in Israel and some are products in which Israel contributes elements to the finished product.

And the companies that are doing business with Israel have felt no impact from the BDS movement at all.

It is industries in the West Bank, along with the agricultural sector, that have felt the pinch. But that is due to the EU boycott and their enforcement. But Israeli products, even from West Bank industries, are finding different markets willing and even excited about buying their products.

I know about the BDS movement in terms of the economic effect. The real impact though is on young people on campus - especially those students who may actually fall victim to the bile and ugly rhetoric.
That is where my worry lies.

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What Hamas Wants From Ceasefire
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 27, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A long term cease fire has been reached between Gaza and Israel.

The exact details have not been made public. But from leaks it seems that Rafa, the crossing between Gaza and Egypt, will be opened. And Israel will let humanitarian and reconstruction materials into Gaza. And finally, in 30 days, peace talks between Israel and the PA will resume.

There were huge celebrations in Gaza after the cease fire was announced. Gazans flashed the V sign as a symbol of victory.

I ask you - how could this be a victory for Hamas and Gaza? From what we know thus far from the agreement, Hamas achieved almost none of their demands.

The answer is that Hamas needed to show Gazans that there was a victory so they went out to set the example and led the celebrations - despite having won nothing.

And that leads to the next question. How long will the ceasefire last?

That depends on Hamas' perception. If Hamas still feels strong enough, they will break the ceasefire because they see that they have more to gain. However, if Hamas has been bruised and beaten and their weapons are depleted, if Hamas does not have anything left to fight with, then the ceasefire will hold - until they rebuild their caches and restock their arsenal.

It sounds complicated but it is not. Hamas cannot stop. Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction. The ceasefire is simply a time-out, a time to replenish and a time to reload.

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ISIS is in Gaza
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday August 26, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas has been insisting that there is no connection between ISIS and them. They say that there is no ISIS at all in Gaza.

Hamas is lying. It looks like there is a definite ISIS presence in Gaza.

I watched a video with ISIS members shooting rockets into Israel.

YNET reported that there has been a real uptick in internet activity from Gaza on websites that are ISIS affiliates.

Egypt, which has been sensitive to the growth of extremist Islamic groups, has asserted that ISIS has successfully recruited young men of Gaza to join their movement.

And there was an ISIS rally that took place in Gaza in June.

All this lead us to conclude that ISIS, the real thing, is getting off the ground in Gaza.

This is beyond dangerous.

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Hamas is Like ISIS
By Micah Halpern

Monday August 25, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Since the beginning of the current conflict between Hamas and Israel, Hamas has been extremely adroit at messaging.

The Hamas message has been on point at every juncture. Hamas has been successful at framing the discussion and deflecting almost all responsibility. Their message has been clear and simple: Israel is killing innocent civilians.

Try as they might to cast Hamas in the light of a terrorist group, Israel has not successfully redirected the coverage.

But recently, the office of the Israeli prime minister began drawing the parallel between ISIS and Hamas. After the execution of Jim Foley, they intensified the parallels.

Hamas took exception to the comparison.

And last week there was a major synapse.

Last week Hamas executed dozens of Gazans accused of collaborating with Israel. The still pictures were plastered all across the web and on the front pages of newspapers. The Hamas executioners were wearing black and their faces were covered with black hoods.

And the parallel stuck.

The prisoners had their hands tied behind their backs and they were kneeling. Everyone seeing the photos drew the ISIS/Hamas link.

Hamas claimed it was not so. They issued a new directive that all future executions not be done in public and not be photographed. But here is the problem. Like ISIS, Hamas wants people to see the executions because they want to sew the seeds of fear - in their own people. The more fear, the greater the power Hamas wields over the 1.8 million Gazans.

Hamas and ISIS are not identical. But they are very, very similar.

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Poll: Gazans Want Ceasefire -- But
By Micah Halpern

Sunday August 24, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

I am not surprised.

A new survey was released on Saturday by the Palestine Center for Public Opinion.

1000 people in Gaza participated in the door to door survey. The main questions they were asked were about a ceasefire with Israel.

The overwhelming majority of those polled agreed that they want a long term ceasefire with Israel. 87.6% responded positively to that question. At the same time, 93.2% said that they would not support a ceasefire that involved disarming.

The essential point here is clear.

The people of Gaza want quiet. And those same people also want the ability to transform the quiet and to strike Israel at will.

Analysts are saying that disarming is too great a price to pay for the Gazans. But the real issue here is the issue of power. If the people of Gaza have rockets, they still have power. If they give up their rockets, Gaza loses a tangible and visible sense of power.

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The Israel Response Variable
By Micah Halpern

Saturday August 23, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

There are several variables that will move Israel to more aggressive action against Hamas. Those variables result in actions that include ground strikes and more intensive air strikes.

For Israel, the most important variable is the death of children - like the killing of four year old Daniel Turgeman.

Another variable is a constant barrage of rockets.
And finally, the increased intensity of attacks upon Israel by Hamas, demonstrating no desire to a return to a status quo quiet.

It seems that this is the new status.

Up until now Israel has been extremely lucky and there have been very few civilian deaths from the Gaza rockets. The death of a child is a game changer.

Israel has already re-called 10,000 reservists. They are now considering a series of ground strikes utilizing their elite strike forces. These attacks will be dramatically different from the previous ground operation. They will use more air support and more precise targeting of people and places - relying heavily on new intel.

The attacks will hone in on Hamas and Islamic Jihad command and control centers.

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Israel Kills Hamas Leaders
By Micah Halpern

Friday August 22, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel has successfully targeted several Hamas leaders. Targeting is a euphemism for assassinate.

Two of the Hamas leaders were central field commanders, responsible for the operational planning and execution of Hamas' attacks against Israel. Their names are Raed al Attar and Mohammed Abu Shamala.
These men were not just responsible for the shooting of rockets from Gaza into Israel, they also coordinated, planned and trained hundreds of terror raids into Israel. Together they were responsible for hundreds of Israeli casualties.

A third person assassinated by Israel is Mohammed Barhoum. He was in charge of Hamas logistics. Over the past 10 years Barhoum's main role was facilitating and building the tunnels of Gaza.

Up until now Israel has been unable to locate and target Hamas military leaders. Something changed. My guess is that Israel was able to crack the Hamas communication network.

But does killing the leaders have an impact? Yes.

It send the rest of Hamas' followers into disarray. Cutting off the head of the beast means that it will take time for new leadership - with charisma, experience and the creativity to launch bold new operations, to emerge.

This is what the United States did with al Qaeda and the Taliban and what it should be doing with ISIS.

This successful strike by Israel may not totally destroy Hamas, but it will have a huge impact on the ability of Hamas to plan attacks against and to strike Israel.

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Hamas Shoots Record Number of Rockets
By Micah Halpern

Thursday August 21, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It is a new and very sad and dubious record.

Last night 168 rockets were launched from Gaza into target Israel. The previous record was 150. Hamas is making an important point. And Israel responded in kind.

Hamas' point is that Israel did not defeat them and they still have the capability to strike Israel. With no intel to validate the observation, it seems clear that Hamas still has plenty of firepower and plenty of underground silos to launch them from.

Hamas hosted a Rueters camera crew and still photographer earlier this week. The journalists were taken on a tour of a tunnel system. The purpose of that tour was identical to Hamas launching these rockets.

Hamas is declaring that Israel is lying. Hamas is proving that they can still strike at the heart of Israel.

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Status Quo Agreement w/ Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 20, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The ceasefire between Hamas in Gaza and Israel was broken. It was also timed out. No surprise.

Now, again, Hamas is launching rockets and Israel is countering with airstrikes. Israelis were told to stay in their bomb shelters.
Hamas is claiming that Israel dragged their feet in this stage of the negotiations. They were probably correct.

At this point there is no doubt that, from Israel's perspective, Israel would be giving way too many concessions to Hamas in a long term status accord. So it is in Israel's interests to just create a new status quo and live by it.

Hamas was not budging. Israel was giving in to more and more demands. At a certain point Israel simply said enough.

That is where the talks are now. In many ways this kind of status quo is better than an agreement that is neither applicable nor enforceable. In the new status quo Israel will have to use its own power of deterrence to make certain that Hamas does not step out of line.

At the beginning it will be very important that Israel clearly send that message and set down the cost of violating the status quo to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. If Israel does not respond quickly and strongly, Hamas will not understand the high price of firing at Israel and disturbing the peace and quiet of the Israeli citizens that live near Gaza and in all parts of Israel.

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Hamas Agents Plot to Overthrow Abbas
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday August 19, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israeli Intelligence, known as the Shin Bet, arrested 93 Hamas members in the West Bank. Israel also confiscated hundreds of thousands of dollars and numerous weapons and ammo.

The arrested are charged with plotting a third intifada. But the intifada was actually simply a terrorist's tool. The objective was to sow the seeds of great antagonism and cause huge resentment by way of an intifada that would cause Israel to clamp down on Palestinians living in the West Bank and force the Palestinian Authority to break down and, finally, implode.

Think of it as a game of dominos.

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority would either have to clamp down on the intifada - or let it happen. Either way, either decision that they made, the Palestinian Authority would come crumbling down and Hamas would take over.

Interestingly, Turkey was also included in this Hamas move. The Hamas organizer has been in Turkey and much of the money and many of the players came to the region via Turkey.

There's more. On Tuesday Abbas went to Qatar to meet with the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashal. Abbas went to meet Hamas knowing of this plan.

For months I have said that the objective of Hamas is to oust the PA and Abbas. That is why Israel so diligently kept Abbas in the loop.

The irony is that Israel Is actually protecting Abbas and the PA against Hamas. And PA security forces are helping Israel and briefing the Shin Bet.

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New Old Anti Semitism in Europe
By Micah Halpern

Monday August 18, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

People are blaming the rise of anti-Semitic violence in Europe on the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

They are wrong.

The idea that Israel's conflict with Hamas is connected to Europe is a disconnect with reality.

The hatred has been presented as anti Israel, but it is clear that the real tone of hatred in Europe is, in fact, anti-Semitic - not anti Israel. When we review the protests, the posters and the shouts and slogans we are reminded of Europe in the 1930's.

European protesters in 2014 are shouting "Gas the Jews" and "Hitler was right." Their placards read "Child Murderers." The protesters publicly declare that Israel is murdering Palestinian children as a policy.

This is a clear reenactment of the blood libel.

This is not about being anti Israel. There is no evidence for these canards. It is an exact replay of medieval Jew hatred. Only it's 2014.

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With Hamas - No Agreement Works
By Micah Halpern

Sunday August 17, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The good news and the productive tone that came out of the Cairo talks on Thursday and Friday has disappeared.

It looks like there is no way for any ceasefire to emerge. Hamas has totally rejected the Egyptian proposal.

The main reason for their rejection is that Hamas gained nothing from the Egyptian brokered deal. There is no real success that Hamas can point to as an accomplishment from the entire operation.

But this is not a sign of total despair. The probable outcome of the breakdown of the talks will be the creation of a status quo without an agreement.

In the absence of a signed agreement, Israel will need to monitor and make certain that quiet reigns in the south. That means that things return to what they were before operation Preventive Edge and if Hamas once again begins to launch rockets at Israel, Israel must immediately respond and re-institute a system of deterrence by quickly and forcefully retaliating.

The system of deterrence forcing Hamas not to attack Israel will be based on Hamas' fear of retaliation by Israel.

If that system is in place a de facto ceasefire will work - and quiet will be returned to the south of Israel, at least, for the short term.

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Hezbollah Lashes Out at ISIS
By Micah Halpern

Saturday August 16, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hassan Nasrallah is the head of Hezbollah.

Nasrallah lashed out at ISIS in part two of a rare six hour interview.

Nasrallah called ISIS an "uncontrollable monster conducting horrible massacres," and then he said "They have no reservations: Not ideological, not moral, not religious and not human."
Nasrallah said that ISIS is a "monster that has come to devour the region's people."

Hezbollah challenged ISIS in Syria. Had Hezbollah not stopped ISIS in Syria, ISIS would now be in Beirut.

Nasrallah asks:"If someone steps up to fight this monster ... should they be thanked or condemned?"

That was not the most biting of Nasrallah's critique. His most biting critique of ISIS came in the form of an explanation of their true character. "The danger in ISIS is that they don't differentiate between Shiite, Sunni, Christian, Druze, Yazid or Arab. The monster is growing and everyone should be concerned."

Nasrallah is saying that ISIS will gain access to places where one group claims that others are non-believers and heretics, what is known in Islam as "takfiri." He said "Wherever there is support of takfiri there is a basis (for support) for ISIS. This is in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Gulf states. Any country that thinks it can use this group for its advantage will find out it has no mercy when their turn comes."

And as you look at the map it looks clear that ISIS is on the way.

Never did I think that I would see eye-to-eye with Hassan Nasrallah on anything. On the subject of ISIS, I do.

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Tensions Btw Israel & US Climb
By Micah Halpern

Friday August 15, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

I have been writing and speaking about increased tensions between the United States and Israel for weeks now.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran a very important piece illustrating some of those tensions. They wrote that Israel tried to fast track the restocking of their arsenal by going through the Pentagon for Hell-Fire air-to-surface missiles and the White House shut them down.

Of course, the administration denies that anything has changed. But it has.

Just listen to how Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson at the State Department, dealt with the issue.

1st she said: "Let me make it very clear - there has been no change in policy. Period."
2nd she said: ... "no other country is as supportive"
3rd she said: ... "it is normal in crisis that each agency pay close attention"
4th she said: there has been "no broad change in our policy"
5th she said "We made it clear publicly that we thought Israel could do more to protect civilians."

It seems that there was a change, but not a broad change and there was a reason for it.

As she continued Harf intimated that Israel was able to strike and even hurt civilians because of US support and weapons and, she said, that was what the United States was concerned about. Her exact phraseology was: "a number of their capabilities because of our support" but nonetheless, the US "continued to provide offensive capabilities as well."

This entire exchange in the State Department briefing room confirms the WSJ report, not the administration's denial.

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Arabs Are Blaming Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Thursday August 14, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Palestinians have leaked the Egyptian brokered ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

The issues raised in the agreement seem to be reasonable and should satisfy the needs of all the involved parties - Israel, the Palestinian Authority/Hamas and Egypt.

From the leaked document It seems that one of the byproducts of the ceasefire will be the strengthening of Mahmoud Abbas and his PA. The strengthening of Abbas means the weakening of Hamas and that can only be good.

There is no doubt that weakening Hamas is an objective not only of Israel, but also of Egypt. It should not surprise you that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority want the same thing.
So, too, do many of the Palestinians living under Hamas in Gaza.

Many Gazans want Hamas held accountable for their deeds in the recent conflict with Israel. The Washington Post published a powerful story yesterday about Gazans who blame Hamas for their mess.

Hamas can claim victory, but not everyone has to believe them.


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Will Israel Empower Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 13, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Naftali Bennett is the leader of a party that is a partner in the Netanyahu coalition. Bennett has been very critical of the prime minister and the concessions Israel has made under the leadership of Netanyahu.

Most recently, Bennett was anguished over the terms Israel agreed to in order to continue a ceasefire with Hamas. As opposed to an even handed swap exchanging quiet for quiet, Israel i.e. Netanyahu, agreed to relax part of the blockade against Hamas in Gaza and to permit money to be transferred through a third party to pay Hamas salaries.

Bennett dubbed the decision "Diplomatic Protection" ... "Pay us now and we'll shoot you later. Don't pay us, we'll shoot you now."

"You can't fight Hamas with one hand, and fund it with the other. The claim the money won't go to terrorism when you give it to Hamas is false, to say the least, and this is exactly why Hamas is insisting on getting this funding."

Bennett is correct. But short of re-entering Gaza and destroying Hamas, what is the alternative.

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Does Hezbollah Have Tunnels Too
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday August 12, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Here's another big question: Has Hezbollah, operating along the northern border of Israel, dug the same types of smuggling tunnels under the Lebanese border into Israel that Hamas dug in Gaza, to the south of Israel.

In other words: Is Hezbollah using the same modus operandi as Hamas.

Yair Golan, the head of Israel's northern command, says the answer is "no". While speaking to Israel's leaders of the north, Golan asserted, with 100% conviction, that Israel has not suspected or discovered tunnels burrowed under the border with Lebanon that would be used to kidnap Israelis.

What Golan did not say is that, like Hamas, Hezbollah has built a gargantuan labyrinth of tunnels inside southern Lebanon. And like the tunnels built by Hamas, the Hezbollah tunnels were built with the assistance of Iranian engineers, are situated deep underground and are outfitted with all the essentials necessary to use them as command and control centers. They have beds, communication networks, editing bays, air conditions, electricity, food.

The Hezbollah tunnels are so deep underground that they cannot be penetrated or destroyed by Israeli air force aerial attacks. They can only be discovered and destroyed by forces on the ground going from place to place.

The Israeli army has been training to confront Hezbollah using the same tools they utilized fighting Hamas in Gaza.

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How Can You Compare
By Micah Halpern

Monday August 11,2014

I've Been Thinking:

Comparisons between Israel and Hamas are not just deeply disturbing, they are simply wrong. They need to be answered and corrected.

First, all rockets are not the same.

Hamas shoots rockets that do not fly straight. That is not a problem for Hamas because their objective is not to hit a specified target, their entire objective is to wreak havoc, cause panic and engage in acts of terror. Furthermore, Hamas removed the explosive heads on their long range rockets so that the rockets fly further. The further the rockets fly into Israel, the more the rockets terrorize Israelis. Hamas celebrates these rockets and the results.

Israel is using laser guided missiles and sometimes, even those rockets miss their targets. When they do miss, Israel expresses regret, Israel does not celebrate.

Second, Israel is a democratic state defending itself against Hamas which is a terrorist organization. The two can never be compared.

Third, a defensive operation - as waged by Israel, can never be confused with aggressive terrorist strikes - as perpetrated by Hamas.

Fourth, all victims are not the same.

In a case in which fighters hide among residents, the 4th Geneva Convention places responsibility and culpability on the hiding fighters. That is also the rule when fighters are not wearing uniforms and are instead wearing civilian clothing to best avoid identification and mingle among local residents.

Fifth, justification is not based on losses and innocent casualties. Because Israel has been lucky and because Israel has created an effective defense called Iron Dome and because Hamas and Islamic Jihad have an ineffective rocket strategy, Israel is not to be penalized for having low casualty numbers.

Low casualty numbers does not diminish the moral rightness of your defense. Israel would not be more in the right if more Israeli civilians were killed. And because Palestinians have had more civilian casualties than the Israelis, that does not make Hamas and Islamic Jihad more correct in their actions and tactics.

These are just a few necessary corrections. The list goes on.


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No Word for Ceasefire in Arabic
By Micah Halpern

Sunday August 10, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Americans often misunderstand politics and foreign affair only because we do not understand the language and culture of the people and places that we are engaging with.

The Gaza ceasefire is a perfect example of that.

In our culture, a ceasefire means a total stoppage of shooting. It means quiet. It means, as some have put it, that silence will be met with silence.

But in Arabic there are two words being used for ceasefire.

The first word being used is "hudna". Hudna is a long term quiet established because you can defeat your enemy. Hudna is a 10 year agreement that can be broken at any time. And a hudna is often renewed.

The second word being used is "tahadiyeh". A tahadiyeh is a lull.
A lull is akin to a cease fire - but not exactly a ceasefire as we know it. Tahadiyeh means less fire. Shooting less, yet still shooting, is a tahadiyeh.

While The United States and the West would consider it a violation of a ceasefire to keep shooting, a lull is something very different. And Hamas and Islamic Jihad can easily sign on to or agree to a lull and still shoot. (Although Islamic Jihad has said that Hamas does not speak for them, when it suits them, they work together.)

The United States is trying to carve out a hudna. That is totally unrealistic. Those involved in the region, studying the region, trying to advise the region, should know better.

Given the ideology behind Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a tahadiyeh is the best that should be hoped for.

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Political Landscape of Gaza
By Micah Halpern

Saturday August 9, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Unraveling the Gaza political landscape is difficult.

First, we speak only of Hamas and that is misleading. Hamas is certainly the dominant force in Gaza, but Hamas is by no means the only force and, for that matter, Hamas does not even have a monopoly on setting the tone in Gaza.

Islamic Jihad is the second largest group working out of Gaza and, in many ways, it is Islamic Jihad that sets the tone.

And of course, there can be no conversation about politics inside Gaza without mentioning Iran.

It is Iran that empowers Islamic Jihad. They provide money, weapons and support. Once upon a time Iran provided all those things to Hamas, but the Iranians withdrew their support for Hamas after Hamas threw their public support behind the rebels in Syria fighting Assad.

Iran demands a set of stipulations in exchange for their support. And this is where we see the enormous influence and power that Iran holds over Gaza.

Iran has said, demanded, that the Islamic Jihad not accept any ceasefire and demanded that they continue to strike at Israel regardless of the cost. That means that Iran and Islamic Jihad wantonly and regularly with deliberate forethought attack Israel knowing that Gazan residents will die.

Another demand put forth by Iran is that Shiite institutions be established in Gaza. Hamas and Islamic Jihad reject this outright. And in the past there have even been attempts to break into the Sunni world of Gaza.

Iran is trying to reclaim the history of Gaza and to establish some historical links to it. If they are successful and Gaza is turned into a holy place the situation in Gaza will turn into an even more religiously charged conflict. After all, Hisham, the great grandfather of Mohammed was from Gaza. But Hisham was a pagan.

Iranian religious leaders are now saying that Hisham was killed on his way back to Arabia - killed by Jews.

He is buried in Gaza.

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They Do Not Understand
By Micah Halpern

Friday August 8, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Two colossal whoppers have come out over the past few days, both by people who are supposed to know better, supposed to understand what is happening in the Middle East.

The first is courtesy of former President Jimmy Carter. Carter suggests recognizing Hamas. His view was expressed in an OPED on the prestigious website Foreign Policy.

Carter writes: "Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognizing its legitimacy as a political actor - one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people - can the West begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons."

The second is courtesy of US National Security Adviser Susan Rice. Rice is suggesting that the ceasefire in Gaza be the beginning of further peace deals.

According to Rice: "It is very important that both sides remain committed to it and use this opportunity to begin the negotiations that we had been working so energetically through US Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama to get off the ground so that the underlines causes of the conflict in Gaza can be addressed at the negotiation table."

Does Rice not realize that Hamas is not a part of the deal? That Gaza is not the West Bank? And that the discussions that US Secretary of State Kerry has been so involved in do not involve Hamas at all?

These two statements are, to say the very least, disturbing.

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Parallel w/ Pancho Villa
By Micah Halpern

I've Been Thinking:

Thursday August 7, 2014

I am reminded of an important historical parallel.

In 1916 Mexican rebels under the leadership of Pancho Villa terrorized the south western United States. They would cross over the border to murder and run back into Mexico for safety.

The purpose of these attacks was to capture weapons and equipment from the US to help in their fight. Some historians say that it was because Pancho Villa was insulted by President Woodrow Wilson who withdrew his support for Villa and chose instead to support Venustiano Carranzan.

Between March 9 and July 31 of1916 Pancho Villa and his rebels crossed the border into the US and murdered dozens of Americans. The entire city of Columbus, New Mexico was burnt to the ground and 18 Americans were murdered.

Similar events were perpetrated in Glenn Springs, Texas in Ygnacio, Texas and in Fort Hancock, Texas.

The marauding continued until President Wilson sent General John J. Pershing and 5000 US soldiers into Mexico to search for, chase down and attack Pancho Villa and his gang of rebels. In the end they did not capture Pancho Villa - but working together with Mexican authorities, the United States did the US succeed in capturing and executing some of Villa’s commanders.

The parallel, of course, is Hamas and Israel in 2014.


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Hamas Claims Victory
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 6, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas is claiming that they have emerged victorious from the conflict with Israel.

Hamas communications people are claiming that the result of the current conflict with Israel, all the destruction and all the damage to Gaza is actually a great victory. It shows that Hamas was not defeated but still stands and Israel has lost its advantage and its weapon of intimidation.

Hamas is saying that now it is clear that Hamas cannot be intimidated and or destroyed.

Hamas concludes that now they will rebuild Gaza with the help of those who understand.

Of course the line that Hamas is pitching has no bearing on reality.

Hamas is very close to dead. And it seems that most of the Arab world is not on their same path. Many of those close to Hamas - geographically or even physically as well as other Arabs living in Gaza have articulated their displeasure with Hamas.

The list is very long, it stretches from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. We are seeing television broadcasts throughout the Arab world questioning Hamas, wondering why it took so long to stop shooting and to accept a ceasefire. Arab leaders have said that all the lives that have been lost since Hamas rejected the ceasefire are on their heads.

That is powerful criticism.

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Lone Wolf and Hamas Terror
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday August 5, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It's time to talk about the lone wolf.

As a rule, lone wolves are not part of a group. They do not broadcast their intentions. No one knows their plan, no one except for the lone wolf terrorist.

Lone wolves are every bit as dangerous as members of terrorist organizations. They plan their attacks in their heads. They go over it hundreds of times until they perpetrate their attacks.

Leaders of terrorist movements have begun taking advantage of lone wolves, they are egging them on.

And that explains what happened in Jerusalem yesterday when a tractor driver at a construction site used his tractor to murder 29 year old Avrohom Wallis, a father of 6 children. The terrorist then turned his tractor on a bus, ramming it and ramming it until the bus was upended.

His motivation for the attack came just a few days earlier. Hamas Spokesman Fauzi Barhum demanded that Palestinians attack, attack, attack: He goaded them on with these words: "Do you not have cars, motorcycles, knives, clubs, diggers and trucks? If you do and do not hit Jews or settlers, and do not kill dozen of Zionists - then you are not Palestinian."

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Another Cease-Fire
By Micah Halpern

Monday August 4, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A humanitarian ceasefire has been has been announced between Israel and Hamas, again.

This ceasefire is scheduled to take place on Monday, starting at 10am and ending at 5pm.

It will not last more than a few hours. It cannot.

It is my understanding that Iran has given specific orders to Islamic Jihad not to abide by cease fires. And once Islamic Jihad breaks the cease fire, the rest of Hamas can certainly break it.

Israel has obviously responded that if Hamas breaks the ceasefire, they will respond.

There is a fundamental principle at play here.
A cease fire between Israel and Hamas is not a prelude to peace with the Palestinians. Hamas is dedicated to Israel's destruction.

A ceasefire is just a ceasefire, it puts a stop to the shooting, it is not a springboard into peace talks

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Israel Demands US Support
By Micah Halpern

Sunday August 3, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

On Friday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.

It was a tense conversation.

The bottom line is this: Netanyahu told to the United States not to second guess him when it comes to Hamas and he told the US administration that they should have trusted him all along when dealing with Hamas. Netanyahu said that he expects that the United States will fully support Israel in all future actions against Hamas.

The response by the United States is that they support Israel.

The problem is that the support always comes with caveats and suggestions. In one sentence the United States will say "We support Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks" or "No country would tolerate tunnels dug under their land that can be used to launch terror attacks." But then comes a "but." An often used example is "But we are concerned about civilian deaths."

Even the assertion that the tunnels "can be used" which is a direct quote from President Obama from Friday is a qualification. It is not that the tunnels "can be used," the tunnels ARE used - used to launch terror attacks against Israel. That is raison d'etre, it is their one and only purpose.

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Tensions Are High in Israel
By Micah Halpern

Saturday August 2, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Tensions are very high in Israel - tensions between Arabs and Jews.
There has been way more than usual spontaneous violence, rock throwing and indiscriminate beatings.

Nerves are very raw.

Last night, for example, as families across Israel were sitting down to eat the Sabbath evening meal, four cars with Israeli flags on them were torched in the upscale Jerusalem neighborhood called the German Colony.

The capture of IDF officer 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin put Israeli Jews on edge in a way reminiscent of the kidnappings of the three Israeli teenagers Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali. Only now there is the added tension of Operation Preventive Edge and the persistent presence of rockets raining down on Israel.

All this will pass and one day, things will again return to a sense of normal.

But until that normalcy arrives tensions will continue to mount and nerves will become even more frayed.

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Tunnel War
By Micah Halpern

I've Been Thinking:

Friday, August 1, 2014

It is worthwhile thinking about the history of tunnel warfare.

Until now there has never been a weapon able to combat or defeat tunnels when tunnels are used as an attack tool. Tunnels have the element of surprise. Tunnels are almost impossible to detect. Tunnels allow for regress and secret escape.

Israel is fighting to destroy tunnels that are designed as weapons. These are not wine cellars - they are military weapons.

The history of tunnels can be found as far back as the Bible. II Samuel 5:8 describes David as saying that those who succeed and defeat the Jebus, the original name of Jerusalem, will enter through the water tunnel. And so it happened.

The Romans could not defend against tunnels. So much so, that the Romans themselves built a labyrinth of aqua ducts under Rome to help themselves in their time of defense. During the Jewish revolt against Rome, Bar Kochba used tunnels. The Romans tried to smoke them out.

Tunnels were used by the North Vietnamese, the Koreans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Afghans. They were used by the Germans and the Russians. They were used in WWI and WWII. They were used in the ancient world and in the medieval word and they are used in the modern world.

Tunnels as a weapon of war have not changed much over time - they connect internal units and allow for escape to the outside.

The only way to combat tunnels is to destroy them. That is Israel's goal. And that is why Hamas has booby trapped their tunnels

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The World Doesn't Understand
By Micah Halpern

Thursday July 31, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It pains me to say this, but the world in general has little patience for Israel in their current battle with Hamas. The United Nations and even the United States just want it to stop. They say too many civilian are dying. They say too many UN targets are being hit.

The entire operation seems so lopsided to them. As the world sees it, Israel is so much more sophisticated than Hamas. And Israel has already destroyed so many tunnels. So it is time for Israel to stop and pullout.

What the world does not see, does not understand and does not care about is that the Israeli operation is justified. That Israel has the right to defend itself against the rockets if Hamas. What matters to the world is only that Israel stops.

But what is missing in the call to stop, whether it be echoed by the president of the United States, the secretary of state of the United States, the secretary general of the United Nations or a host of other world leaders is the understanding that stopping the operation before the tunnels are destroyed and while the Hamas military infrastructure is still intact will defeat the purpose of the operation.

Hamas had, at most, 10,000 - 20,000 trained fighters. Those numbers have been depleted, we do not know by how many. Hamas has hundreds and perhaps even thousands of tunnels in Gaza, especially when you count the many tunnels with multiple exits.

The tunnels of Gaza must be destroyed before Israel stops her operation or they will be used to attack Israel again the day after Israel stops. That is not a prediction. It is a fact.

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Report on Religious Oppresssion
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 30, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday the US State Department published its Report on International Religious Freedom. The gist will not surprise you, it is the details that are appalling.

Since 1998, when Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act, the State Department has been required by law to submit a report on the state of religious freedom in the world.

There is no question that in many parts of the world people are persecuted because of who they are. They are murdered because of the tribe they are in and the religious community they are members of.

I have written about the oppression of Christians in Egypt and the oppression of Shiites in Iraq. The report tells their story.

In the Syrian city of Homs there were 160,000 Christians just three years ago. Today there are fewer than 1,000. In Mosul a city taken over by ISIS, the second largest city in Iraq, there are now 20 Christian families. Three weeks ago there were 20,000 Christians. ISIS gave them an alternative - leave, convert or die.

This madness must be stopped.

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Israel Has Another Stage in Gaza
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 29, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

At a press conference yesterday Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon announced that there will be a tactical change in Israel's approach over the next few days.

He said:

"If the leaders of Hamas believe that they will be able to keep up a constant barrage of missiles, rockets and terrorist attacks - they are making a big mistake. If terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip think that they'll be able to break the State of Israel and our citizens - in the next few days they'll understand how wrong they are. They're firing at us and we will hit them hard."

The statement by Yaalon predicts that Israel will not merely continue to strike at Hamas as they have been doing, but that Israel is preparing to "hit them hard."

That means that, up until now, Israel has restrained itself. It means that in the final stages of Operation Preventive Edge Israel will go the distance to wipe out Hamas' infrastructure, including the tunnels, and to truly hurt Hamas.

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US - Israel Tensions Rise
By Micah Halpern

Monday July 28, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Tensions between the US and Israel are now becoming public.

Israelis feels that the United States is not dealing straight with them. Israel feels that the US was simply pressuring them, not Hamas, to accept the terms of the Kerry ceasefire. And Israel feels that the US was pushing Hamas' terms for the ceasefire.

Israel is so upset that they leaked the entire proposed deal to the Haaretz newspaper so that everyone can read the details and confirm for themselves that, indeed, the United States had practically abandoned Israel on this issue. Readers of the proposed document for a ceasefire are left asking what the United States was even thinking in putting those ideas on paper as an official proposal.

As you can imagine, the leaking of the document really ticked off the United States. The US responded by hemming and hawing and saying that the document was meant for comments - not as a final agreement.

The entire episode has shown that there is a real disconnect between the United States and Israel. And it underscores the fact that there is very little good faith between the two countries at this juncture.

Israel thinks that the United States is more interested in a ceasefire than in returning calm to the region. For the United States, getting everyone to stop shooting is a priority. The United States has misplaced priorities.

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Ugly Anti Semitism in Europe
By Micah Halpern

Sunday July 27, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

We have been witnessing a huge spike in anti-Semitism in Europe. Much has to do with Israeli Operation Preventive Edge. Preventive Edge is not the cause of the anti-Semitism, it is the release valve for the hatred. The hatred was been simmering, just under the surface, waiting to erupt.

According to reports in Belgium this week, some shops are not serving Jews. The most dramatic example is a cafe which posted two signs one in Turkish and one in French. The Jewish Forward reports the signs as saying "Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Jews are not under any circumstances." The French version of the sign replaced "Jews" with "Zionists."

In addition, outside that same cafe, two flags were hung. The Palestinian flag and the Israeli flag - with a huge red X through it and two kafiyahs, Palestinian scarves, hanging on it.

Sadly, when I wrote about this hatred last week, some people responded saying that those who were exhibiting this ugly hatred were not Europeans but Muslim immigrants --- well, to those people I say, that makes them Europeans.

It is the role of the host nation to educate their immigrants as to what is and what is not acceptable in their country.

I was glad to see the foreign ministers of several European nations stand up this week and, in unison, renounce the rise of anti-Semitism.

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Hamas Being Rcvd By Iran Hezbollah and Syria
By Micah Halpern

Saturday July 26, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

One of the very bad consequences of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, a consequence that no one else seems to be speaking about, is that this conflict may very well be uniting some very bad, even evil, forces in the Islamic world.

Syria had successfully drove Hamas away from Hezbollah and Iran and Syria. But over the past few days Hamas representatives have had conversations with Hezbollah and Iran. That is bad.

Until now, Hamas has been isolated. Not just politically isolated but also isolated in terms of resources, money and weapons. Only Qatar has been supporting Hamas.

That fissure was caused by Hamas siding with the Sunnis as they were trying to oust Assad in Syria. Iran and Hezbollah took exception to that decision and it was a very ugly divorce.

If there is a rapprochement now - political, economic, weaponry - it will open a whole font of support for Hamas at a time when they are reaching the very end of their stockpiles of weapons and other resources.

Unfortunately this is happening just as Israel is gearing up for a strike that should end Hamas' weapons cache and ability to strike at Israel. If Hamas rekindles their relationship with Iran, Hezbollah and Syria their weapon flow is very likely to be revived.

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Where's the Outrage?
By Micah Halpern

Friday July 25, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Where is the outrage?

That was the question a friend posed to me the other day. He was asking why civilized leaders of the world were silent when Hamas attacked and publicly declared that they were targeting civilian transportation and civilian aviation - attacking Israel's largest airport, Ben Gurion.

There has been no official comment by world leaders following the declaration by Hamas. It is as if it is OK for Hamas to target a civilian airport. It is as if the world expected Hamas to target civilian aviation.

But it is not OK. And it is not OK that Hamas has not even been chastised, let alone censured or condemned, for threatening to attack Ben Gurion Airport.

World leaders should be up in arms, they should demand that Hamas be isolated. Instead we have another, blatant, example of the double standard. Israel is condemned for hurting civilians after warning them. Hamas is permitted to attack an airport.

The world is afraid to condemn Hamas, afraid to condemn that which is wrong. Hamas is a terrorist organization - and the world is scared of terror, and that terror is paralyzing.

That scares me.

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Rioters Attack Israeli Soccer Team in Austria
By Micah Halpern

Thursday July 24, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Since the beginning of Operation Preventive Edge, there has been a dramatic increase in attacks against Jews around the world.

In France, two synagogues were fire bombed. People have been assaulted. Pro-Palestinian protests have turned into violent mobs of anti-Semitic riots.

In Austria yesterday a sporting event turned very ugly. Maccabi Haifa soccer team played an exhibition match against Lille from France in Austria. In the 84th minute a group of rioters rushed the field and started beating up the Israeli team which, in turn, started kicking and hitting back. Security was slow to respond and in the end calm was restored but the game was called.

Across Europe there has been an increase in violence and rhetoric against Jews and Israel.

The rhetoric is often couched as anti-Zionism and not anti-Semitism.
In reality, there is no difference between the two - anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Violent riots may start off using terms that are anti-Israel but soon the vitriol turns to hatred of the Jew.

The anti-Zionist cliche is simply a socially acceptable veneer for anti-Semitism.

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Laugh - UN Returns Rockets to Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 23, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Even painful and costly conflicts are not without humor. Sometimes, when we find the humor, it serves as both critique and catharsis.
Laughing helps.

Israel told the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza that Hamas was hiding rockets in their schools. This has happened several times.

The first time it happened the United Nations school run by UNRWA called up Hamas and asked them to come and please take the weapons out. Hamas did just that. The school was not targeted by Israel. But the rockets were taken to be used by Hamas.

Yesterday, the same thing happened again.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird was livid when he heard of these events. How can the UN give weapons to Hamas? Here is what Baird said:
"I was appalled to hear reports, one as recent as today, of stockpiles of rockets in a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza."

"Even more alarming were reports that in the first case, officials with the United Nations returned these weapons to Hamas, a listed terrorist organization, once Israeli officials discovered their location."

And in conclusion, Baird said, "Canada unequivocally calls on the United Nations to launch an immediate independent investigation to determine the facts surrounding these reports. Canada also calls on the United Nations to ensure that in the second case, no rockets are returned to Hamas. Anything less than an independent investigation would be absolutely unacceptable."

Laugh. It's our only response. Laugh.

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Israel is Not Using Disproportionate Force
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 22, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

There has been a lot of talk about Israel's "disproportionate" reaction to Hamas.

But proportionate and disproportionate force are not literary or mathematical terms. They are legal terms and mean something very different than what one might think.

The terms are found in the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 and mean "a defensive operation." In other words, it is by definition a category of self-defense.

The Geneva Convention lays out 3 basic requirements.
# 1: Use the amount of force necessary to remove the threat but not more than that.
# 2: Avoid civilian casualties as much as possible.
# 3: Use as much force as necessary to make certain that the threat does not return.

When these limits have been exceeded, you have perpetrated disproportionate force.

Add to that the Rome Statute which confirms that, under these conditions, in a defensive operation civilian casualties are regrettable but they are not a war crime.

It seems clear that Israel is fulfilling all the requirements of a defensive and proportionate response.

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Israel Respects Human Life
By Micah Halpern

Monday July 21, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel is a society that respects human life.

The value of human life is primary, it is second to none. And it is for that reason that Israel began the operation in Gaza - to protect the lives of Israeli citizens.

That's Israel. Hamas is different.

Hamas is using their citizens as human shields and it is for that reason that it is innocents who are being killed. Hamas does not care about the deaths of their people. If they did, they would not use human shields and they would certainly have accepted the ceasefires.

Israel has a very low threshold for the deaths of innocent civilians and even for the deaths of soldiers. Israelis have an even lower threshold for kidnapping.

Hamas operates differently.

In order of goal prioritization, Hamas wants to kidnap soldiers, kill as many civilians as possible and kill as many soldiers as possible.

Up until Sunday Israel was very successful at preventing Hamas from achieving any of their goals. But it was always clear that as soon as Israel initiated a ground operation in Gaza, the risks would increase dramatically.

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ISIS Take Over Oil in Syria
By Micah Halpern

Saturday July 19, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Over the past week our attention has shifted to Gaza and Israel. But there are still major issues that need to be monitored.
Syria had been relatively quiet.

ISIS, now IS, took its battle to Iraq and forces loyal to Assad are mopping up major swaths of regions that had been under the control of IS.

Then yesterday, from out of nowhere, IS attacked and captured a major oil field in Dir el Zour. It is the most significant oil production area in Syria and it fell to the Islamic State.

In the process over 100 of Assad's soldiers were killed and 200 taken captive. While at the same time only 20 IS fighters were killed.
This is a huge victory for IS, Baghdadi and his movement - not from the economic point of view but because of how the capturing those oil fields will stifle Assad's economy.

IS does not have the wherewithal to extract the oil and the markets and ability to sell the oil. But they prevented Assad from having it.

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Hamas Does Not Listen
By Micah Halpern

Friday July 18, 2914

I've Been Thinking:

It should be abundantly clear that Hamas does not listen to any outsiders. Not Egypt, not Turkey, not Qatar.

And it should be absolutely clear that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has absolutely no influence over Hamas either.

That was the case before the unity government and it is the case now with the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

It should all be crystal clear.

In many ways Abbas is happy that Hamas is being pounded by Israel. Destroying Hamas's leadership and organizational infrastructure allows Abbas to lead with fewer restrictions and hindrances in the West Bank.

There is a small chance that if Hamas is weakened a scenario will emerge in which Gaza will toe the line with Abbas and again join the PA. It is only a small chance and it is very unlikely, but it is possible. Should it happen, it would require enormous PA police resources in order to bring Gaza under its wing and to keep Hamas under control.

It would also mean dissolving the Hamas / Palestinian Authority unity government.

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Hamas Can't Have a Ceasefire Yet
By Micah Halpern

Thursday July 17, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

People are asking me to explain why does Hamas not want a ceasefire, not even for a few days.

The answer is simple.

Hamas does want a ceasefire, but Hamas cannot accept a cease fire.

One reason Hamas cannot accept a cease is because of Egypt - and spitting in the eye of the Egyptians is a very attractive byproduct of not accepting the Egyptian sponsored plea for the ceasefire.

Hamas wants Egypt to squirm. Hamas wants the Egyptians to open their borders and if they do, then Hamas will consider agreeing to a ceasefire.

But the main reason Hamas cannot participate in a ceasefire is that they have nothing to show for all the rockets they have launched into Israel. Hamas cannot point to a single success. And given the tremendous damage inflicted by Israel on Gaza, they need to show their people some symbols of victory.

In the eyes of Hamas victory means huge numbers of Israel casualties and gross amounts of damage.

That is what Hamas needs. And that is a Catch-22 Middle East style.

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US Allocates More for Iron Dome
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 16, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee just approved a spending bill that will allocate $621.6 million to Israel for missile defense.

Of that, $351 million is directly allocated to the Iron Dome.

In this time of military aid cutbacks and the reduction of defense budgets, this is a huge success. Dick Durban, the chair of the subcommittee, said "it works." He was referring to the Iron Dome. The Iron Dome saves lives.

The Iron Dome cost billions of dollars to develop but costs only $70 million to assemble. Each missile costs about $20,000 to $30,000.

Right now Israel has 8 Iron Dome batteries. There is no doubt that Israel needs more batteries because, just as the senator said, "it works."

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Hamas and their Drone
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 15, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Israel shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle called a UAV. Actually, UAV is the technical term, in simpler terms we would say that Israel shot down a Hamas drone.

The drone was shot down using US made Patriot anti-missile technology. Patriots, while once very popular, have not been used in Israel since 1990.

Hamas claims that they have several drones - some for reconnaissance, some to assist in real time attacks and some that can launch weapons.

To prove their point Hamas released three pictures taken by a drone. The problem with the pictures is that it is not clear if the photos were taken recently or even for that matter, if they were taken over Israel.

Hamas also claims that they possess Abibil 1 drones made in Iran and that their engineers have developed newer and better ones.

While Hamas does have some extremely modern and up-to-date weapons in their arsenal, in many ways they are not sophisticated in their attacks against Israel.

What the UAV drone does prove, however, is that they do have weapons, including some long range rockers, that were produced by Russia, Iran and China.

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Gaza Cuts Off its Own Electricty
By Micah Halpern

Monday July 14, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas has some long range rockets. They received these rockets from Iran and Syria. Some are Russian made, some Chinese made and some produced in Iran.

These rockets are extremely dangerous for Israel - they have a range that puts 80% of Israel in the target zone.

But Hamas has many more short range rockets than long range.

Yesterday, one of Hamas' short range rockets never made it out of Gaza, Instead, it landed on a major electric power line in Northern Gaza and cut off the power to 70,000 Gazans living in Khan Younis and Deri el Balah.

The electric line now needs to be fixed. But it is the Israelis who need to go in and fix it because Gaza gets its electricity from Israel. But it is very dangerous task to undertake right now.

Prime Minister Netanyahu told the electric company not to endanger the lives of their workers in order to fix the line. He said wait until the situation quiets down. In other words, why jeopardize the lives of Israeli electric workers to fix what Hamas broke.

Hamas destroyed their own electric line while attempting to murder and terrorize Israelis. That should not guarantee them a repair call.

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Hamas Cannot Shoot Straight
By Micah Halpern

Sunday July 13, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A rocket shot from Gaza landed in Hebron and destroyed a home. Two other rockets landed in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

Hebron is a city mostly controlled by Hamas. So yes, in their attempt to strike at Israel, Hamas is shooting rockets and hitting their own people.

Hamas responded by saying that they know the geography and they will not hit Arabs. They know the difference. The problem is that the weapons they are using do not know the difference and are not very sophisticated.

Hamas is using point and shoot weapons. They can only adjust the angle after seeing where their rocket lands. But Hamas does not have the ability to correct their shots and try again because the launchers need to be hidden immediately afterwards. And the rockets they are using are not uniformly filled with the same amount of fuel, so they travel different distances and speeds.

The hardest part for Hamas is hitting into the mountains. Gaza is located on the coastal plain and gauging where their rockets will land is almost impossible. They need to not only calculate distance, they need to consider elevation. That is why their rockets hit Hebron and Bethlehem.

It is obvious that Hamas cannot accurately shoot rockets, and it should be just as obvious that that is not their objective. The objective of Hamas is to disrupt the lives of Israelis and to cause as much fear as possible. If they were to hit a target it would be luck, not skill.

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The Differnce is In the Iron Dome
By Micah Halpern

Saturday July 12, 2014
I've Been Thinking:

The Iron Dome has become the hero of Israel, much like the Patriot was during the gulf war.

We must realize, however, that there are risks involved when relying on the Iron Dome so much.

The Iron Dome is, after all, simply a computer. And as we all know, computers crash and fail and don't always do what we want as fast as we want.

The Iron Dome is an extremely important part of Israel's homeland defense. But there are only 8 batteries. Until yesterday, there were only 7. That means that the defense system is over worked and that the teams manning them are extremely stressed.

Imagine the pressure that is put on the operating teams running these Iron Dome batteries. (And to help you understand, let me point out that most of the teams use port-a-johns that do not have running water or showers and their parents pitch in by bringing them quality food to eat.)

The essential point was made by Israeli PM Netanyahu at a press conference on Friday.

The prime minister said that the real difference between "us" and "them" is that over the past few years Israel has spent billions creating innovative defense weapons to defend civilians, while "they use civilians to defend their weapons."

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US Offer to Broker Ceasfire - Crazy
By Micah Halpern

Friday July 11, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Thursday.

Obama offered to broker or negotiate a cease fire between Israel and Hamas. Then, in the course of their conversation, they touched on other issues including the US teen who was beaten and arrested in Israel, as well as Iran.

If you are thinking how magnanimous, how gracious, how hopeful it is that the president of the United States is offering to broker a cease fire, let me stop you right there. It is time for a reality check.
The United States does not have relations with Hamas. And by stepping forward to broker a deal, Obama elevates Hamas to the level of the United States and of Israel.

If the US engages with Hamas even for this positive objective it is tantamount to inviting Hamas to join the table of world leaders.

The fact that the White House would even suggest assuming the role of negotiator between Israel and Hamas shows how little they understand both the conflict and the region.

It is the opposite of hopeful, it is devastating.

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Operation Preventive Edge Cost
By Micah Halpern

Thursday July 10, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Operation Preventive Edge, like all military operations, is costly.

The biggest cost is the human cost. The high risks inherent in military operations often lead to the deaths of soldiers and of civilians.

There is also the financial cost.

In 2012, Operation Pillar of Defense cost Israel NIS 2 billion. That amounts to about $585 million. It comes out to about NIS 25 million per day of the operation. Pillar of Defense lasted only 8 days and was far less costly than Operation Cast Lead which took place in 2008-2009.

Operation Preventive Edge is probably costing Israel about 40 million shekel, or 10 million dollars, a day. It is worth it.
Bringing quiet back to the area is worth the cost.

We need to remember, however, that undertaking a military operation of this scope and magnitude is what is referred to as a recurring cost. This operation is not a solution. Operation Cast Lead ended in 2009 and Operation Pillar of Defense took place in 2012.

Expect that Israel will enter into another military operation in 2 or 3 years. The next operation might very well be called Operation Back to Gaza.

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Hamas Has Outwitted the Iron Dome
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 9, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas has successfully outwitted Israel's Iron Dome by lowering its efficiency.

The Iron Dome is designed to intercept incoming low range rockets. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Resistance Committees have overloaded the Iron Dome - much like hackers will overload a web site.

The Iron Dome can track only one or two rockets at a time, so, by launching multiple rockets at the same target from nearly the same area, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have rendered it nearly unworkable. Hamas has successfully, simultaneously, launched ten rockets seriously limiting the response capability of the Iron Dome.

Hamas has also been launching long range rockets. In order to defend its targets within Israel the Iron Dome is now required to spread its batteries out over wider and wider areas. The more thinly spread the Iron Dome is, the less efficient it will be. The tactics now employed by Hamas make it nearly impossible for the Iron Dome to work as envisioned.

Hamas has pulled apart the Dome and overloaded it at the same time.

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Israel Begins Operation in Gaza
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 8, 2014

I've Been Thinking:


The Israeli cabinet has agreed to respond to the increased rocket fire from Gaza. Yesterday over 80 rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel. 30 of those rockets were shot within a 30 minute period.

The cabinet agreed to steadily increase their engagement in Gaza until they achieve their goal.

The Israeli air force has begun to identify and attack targets. The main objective of this operation is to eliminate the leadership of Hamas.

The operation is called Tzok Eytan, in translation the operation is called "Preventive Edge." A "tzok" is a precipice and "eytan" means strong. It is a literary term which means having the strength not to go over the edge.

The operation's name says it all. The objective of the operation is to carry out a controlled mission - not to go impulsively or impetuously over the edge and into Gaza.

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Immeasurable Harm Done to Israel
By Micah Halpern

Monday July 7, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The brutal murder of a 16 year of Palestinian boy named Mohammed Abu Kheidr by six Jewish Israelis was beyond despicable.

The murder of this young boy has done immeasurable harm to Israel. In some ways, it has lowered Israel to the level of Hamas.

It is essential that Israeli and Jewish leaders around the world renounce the act as the horrific murder of an innocent child. All leaders - left and right - must make certain that their ideas are clearly stated and articulated and that they cannot be misinterpreted. They must make it clear - the murder of a child is wrong and can never be justified.

Each and every person who holds a position of authority in the Jewish and Israeli world must speak out. Educators, rabbis, politicians and parents must all clearly articulate where they stand on the murder of a child and stop those who would plot to murder innocent children.

Decrying this senseless, brutal act is what will separate Israeli and Jewish leadership and the Israeli and Jewish masses from Palestinians leadership and from Palestinian masses.

The Israeli and Jewish mass media condemned the murder as did the masses and the highest echelons of Israeli political leadership.
Israeli police solved the case in a matter of hours. The messages were uniform - they condemned the murder as senseless and wrong and evil.

The Palestinian leader condemned the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens, but the Palestinian mass media glorified the murder. The official media outlets made fun of the kidnapped teens and did not condemn it at all. Other than the president, no other Palestinian leader was quoted in their media condemning the kidnapping and murder of Israelis. On the contrary, we have numerous recordings of Palestinian leadership supporting kidnappings.

There are many differences between Israelis and Palestinians. These senseless murders, these acts of terror, serve to highlight some of the most glaring of those differences.

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When Will Israel Strike?
By Micah Halpern

Sunday July 6, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Gaza continues to launch rockets into Israel. It is a psychological weapon more than anything else.

Hamas and Hamas affiliates and friends in Gaza is being very methodical about the launches. It is in their best interests to make certain that Israel does not retaliate with a heavy hand - either by air strikes or a ground offensive. Thus far, Israel has only lightly responded to the rocket fire.

Gaza, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Resistance Committees are all responsible for the manufacturing, importing and shooting of these rockets into Israel.

They are trying to calculate how many they can shoot and still not draw Israel into a massive response. So far they have calculated correctly. Eight or nine rockets a day seems to come in under the threshold, fifteen maybe too many. But there is a cumulative effect. After a total of "X" rockets are launched int Israel, the Israelis will respond very seriously to the rocket fire.

At first, Israel will probably respond by air. If that is not effective they will launch a ground strike.

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Jews Smuggled Out of Syria
By Micah Halpern

Saturday July 5, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

This heartwarming story was recently cleared for publication.

A Syrian Jewish family of nine has been reunited with family in Israel. In the midst of an ugly war, Israel was able to rescue a family and bring them across the border to safety.

It happened in May and the mission was conducted in several stages, bringing out family members is small groups so as not to arouse suspicion and increase the chances of danger. Israelis and non-Israelis were involved in this underground railroad to freedom.

Once upon a time Syria had a rich and vibrant Jewish community complete with remarkable historical sites. Much of that changed with this terrible civil war that has enveloped the country. Until recently, the old synagogue in Damascus called Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue was intact. But a few months ago the battle between Assad's forces and the rebels destroyed the synagogue which was built on the spot where tradition holds that Elijah (Eliyahu Hanavi) and his fiery chariot ascended to heaven as Elisha watched.

The nine members of this Syrian Jewish family are now at home in Israel - reunited with family and old friends and making new friends gathered in Israel from all corners of the world.

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Murdering Children is Wrong
By Micah Halpern

Friday July 4, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Over the past 24 hours more than 50 rockets have been shot into Israel from Gaza. The Israeli response has been to target the rocket launching site.

The world needs to understand the Israeli response: Israel is responding directly to the launching of these rocket into Israel, this is not a response to the brutal murder of three Israeli children by Hamas.

Israel has not yet decided on a policy and a response to the kidnapping and the terrible murder of these three angelic characters.

Israel will not pursue vengeance. Israel will pursue the kidnappers and they will find them. But it will be out of a sense of justice and a sense of principle - not a quest for revenge.

When the uncle of Naftali Frenkel, one of the murdered boys, responded to the murder of a Palestinian teenager he said that he hopes that it was not revenge or nationalistic. He said that murdering a teenager is wrong, just wrong, whether they be Jewish or Arab. He said that all blood is equal, all the same.

Both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, are trying to play the victim. Victims are given a wide berth by the Western community and each side is vying for indulgence when they respond to the events of these past few weeks and days.

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Iran Has the Upper Hand
By Micah Halpern

Thursday July 3, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

As talks resume between Iran and the 5 +1 powers in Vienna, Iran has begun to strut.

All the parties understand that the July 20th deadline for the agreement is but a few days away. There is a possibility that an extension may be in order, but only if there is real progress and the chance that an extra week or two, or four, would result in a signed agreement.

Iran has the upper hand and the leverage. They see how the US really, really wants the agreement and they know full well that the threats and rhetoric emerging from the West are empty.

Here is how the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif put it at his press conference in Geneva:

"We have never bowed down to imposition and we will not accept it in this round of talks either."

Iran feels strong and they have a sense that the United States will capitulate. Given the facts on the ground, there is no reason for them to feel otherwise.

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Israelis in Shock
By Micah Halpern

Monday July 1, 2014

Column:

The kidnapping and brutal murder of three teenage boys in Israel by Hamas terrorists has been a devastating experience for Israel and for many Jews around the world. Talk of the boys, well wishes and prayers, worry and concern united all Israelis across the often divisive political, religious, economic and ideological spectrum that is Israel. The mothers of the boys became symbols of strength in the face of unspeakable adversity. Now that the mutilated bodies of three teenage boys have been found, a new chapter emerges.

As devastating as it was, however, the kidnapping has allowed Israel a great advantage in the battle with Hamas. Israel can now take actions, almost without limitations, against Hamas, the enemy that publicly and vociferously swears to destroy them - the people and the state. And Israel will try to destroy Hamas.

Kidnapping civilians, especially school children, is way beyond the pale. It is a violation that can be viewed in only one way -- it is an act of terror.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Western world did not question Israel's activities against Hamas in their crusade to find the boys. They understood that Israel was taking advantage of the situation and slowly rooting out the infrastructure of Hamas and they understood why.

Israel is not traditionally the recipient of world support for their activities and actions in the region in general and, more specifically, against the Palestinian Authority. And remember, only weeks before the kidnapping the PA and Hamas signed an agreement to form a unity government. So why were things different this time around?

Primarily, because kidnapping boys is taboo. Following that, because despite the veneer of harmony and unity, Hamas is still and always will be a radical Islamic group. Western leaders are seeing and feeling the encroaching dangers of radical Islam in more and more ways and they are powerless to confront it. They see it most strongly in al Qaeda, in Iraq and in Syria. And so far Israel, which bears the brunt of the danger, has exercised great restraint. Even now, in their concerted effort to hunt down and destroy Hamas, they have kept the violence down and even their arrests have been extremely specific and targeted.

It will take time, but everyone responsible for the murders will be found. The process must be slow in order to be methodical. It is an intelligence operation. Israel is getting at Hamas and its organizational structure not just in and around Hebron, where the bodies were found, but in Bethlehem and Ramallah, as well.

Israel has seized hundreds if not thousands of computers from Hamas.
And in those computers resides the infrastructure of the organization. The unity government brought Hamas out into the open in the West Bank. And that meant that they dropped their guard concerning the secrecy of their organization. It is all in their computers. And now those hard drives and contacts are being used to track down senior and less senior members of the terrorist organization. The web of groups is being dismantled. And with that will come the continued capture and arrest of Hamas members.

In response, Hamas has once again pledged 'to rain down hell on Israel,' according to their spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi. But the Israeli government is not the only government that Hamas wants to bring down and destroy.

Hamas has an objective. Hamas has already set its machinery in motion to topple its new unity partner, the PA, and conquer the hearts and minds of the youth of the West Bank. They want to take over the West Bank and oust the Palestinian Authority.

Israel is not destroying Hamas to support Abbas. Not at all ... although that is a byproduct of Israel's actions. They are striking down Hamas to better secure Israel. Abbas has known all along that Hamas was behind the kidnappings, but publicly, he was asking for proof. TV stations within the Palestinian Authority did not cover the news that the boys' were bodies were discovered. Palestinians watched that on Al Jazeera.

The vision Hamas has of one day usurping control of the West Bank from Fatah and the Palestinian Authority slips further and further away with every passing day as they continue to be squeezed by Israel.

Israel will stop only when their objective has been achieved.

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White House Blows It: Doesn't Say Murderers
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 1, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Decades from now people will remember where they were when they heard the news that the bodies of the three teenage Israeli boys who had been kidnapped by Hamas terrorists 18 days earlier where found - brutally murdered in the hills north of Hebron.

The callousness of the language used by the White House in offering official condolences shocked me. Put aside for a moment the fact that one of the boys, Naftali Frenkel, was a US citizen. This is how Josh Earnest, Chief White House Spokesman, spoke about the news in an official statement:

"We obviously condemn in the strongest possible terms violence that takes the lives of innocent civilians."

What a perversion!

The boys were brutally murdered by terrorists and the White House refers to it as violence. They were teenagers, innocent boys, and the White House calls them civilians.

And then the president and the state department continue by calling for all parties to show restraint.

The White House should issue an apology!

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Hamas Lashes Out at Abbas
By Micah Halpern

Monday June 30, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas has taken aim at PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Mousa Marzook, the deputy head of Hamas, posted a diatribe against Abbas on his Facebook page. The final words of the letter shout "you have abandoned the West Bank."

The reason for the letter is to tell the Palestinian people that, from Hamas' point of view, Abbas has totally given in to Israel. To tell them that there has been no substantive PA response to Israel. That as a leader Abbas is a weakling. And, most importantly, that Palestinians cannot expect anything more from Abbas.

Marzook wrote: "You gave respect to your enemy when three settlers were kidnapped. Haven't you noticed that more than 566 Palestinians have been taken from you and five have been killed since then? You've abandoned the West Bank."

According to Marzook, the obvious counter to Abbas' non-response, would be the response of Hamas which is to shoot rockets and deliver consistent blows to Israel. So while Israel attacks Palestinians in the West Bank and roots out the infrastructure of Hamas in the West Bank, Hamas from Gaza hammers away at Israel on a daily basis.

Marzook need not even ask the obvious question, the Palestinians know where he is taking this diatribe --- decide now, who is the better leader, which is the better party?

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Israel Pleads w US on Iran
By Micah Halpern

Sunday June 29, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Today a high level delegation of Israeli security, intelligence and nuclear experts arrived in DC for an emergency meeting that they themselves called. The group includes Israel's Intelligence Minister, Minister of Security Affairs, Director Strategic Affairs and Deputy Director of Strategic Affairs in the Foreign Ministry, a high ranking Mossad agent and a member of the military directorate.

They came to the United States to demand -- or rather, to plead, that the US and the West not capitulate to Iran. Israel is worried that the United States wants a deal so badly that they will give in on several essential issues.

One of the main issues on Israel's agenda is uranium enrichment. Israel wants to make certain that Iran cannot enrich their uranium and if they do, to keep it below 3.5%.

The other major issue is that the agreement itself should be centered on disarmament - not on observations and monitoring. The point Israel is making is that Iran has proven very effective at getting around the observers and monitoring.

It was a good sign that DC agreed to meet with the Israelis for this last minute meeting. The deadline for an agreement with Iran is July 20.

But it is unlikely that the United States will alter its POV. As Israel fears, the United States wants an agreement and they are willing to give in on and to give up on almost everything to accomplish that goal.

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Jews Thrown Out of Summit
By Micah Halpern

Saturday June 27, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Jewish delegation was thrown out of the 23rd African Union Summit taking place in Equatorial Guinea.

The Summit was supposed to open with a moment dedicated to the three teenaged Israeli boys kidnapped by Hamas. But that never happened.

As the Summit was supposed to kick off, the Arab League refused to enter the hall. The Jewish delegation was already seated. In the end, the Jewish delegation, referred to as the Israeli delegation by the Arab League, was ejected. Only then did the Arab League enter the hall.

The Jewish group was composed of 14 members of the President's Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations. It also included a sitting US congresswoman.

The Jewish group was invited to the African Union Summit by its host, the president of Equatorial Guinea, who was deeply offended by the Arab League snub of his guests. He called the group to apologize and to invite them to dinner but they had already departed the country.

And as this was all happening Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, was sitting in the hall. He did nothing to help or to stop the Jewish delegation from being evicted. He did not even intervene. Neither did the Prime Minister of Spain.

These powerful men could have, at the least, accompanied the Jewish delegation as they walked out of the Summit hall.

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FM Lieberman in Paris
By Micah Halpern

Friday June 27, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been in Paris.

In Paris Lieberman met with US Secretary of State John Kerry and with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Talks went well. But, and this is no secret, Lieberman has a reputation. He is very direct and not very diplomatic - especially when it comes to compromise and settlements. Considering that he is the chief diplomat of Israel, those are not traits one would ideally want to flaunt.

In his talks with Kerry, Lieberman said that there is no need for a Palestinian peace deal right now. A regional peace plan, he explained, would be much more effective.

In his talks with Fabius of France, Lieberman said that there is a warped and incorrect comparison floating around and it needs correcting. He said that one cannot compare the action of the kidnappers to the actions of the IDF.

Lieberman explained: There is no parallel and no commonalities upon which to compare.

The terrorists kidnapped children.

The IDF is trying to find them. One is accountable to a democratically elected state pursuing justice and peace and trying to defend a nation in a very ugly neighbor from armies and terrorists.

The other is a terrorist group that kills indiscriminately. Its objective is to target civilians and cause as much fear as possible.

The fact that the terrorists claim to be justified by righting an injustice does not make it any less terror. Terrorism is defined by the methods not the reasons and rationale.

Lieberman was on point. No gaffes. No inflammatory rhetoric. This time, he spoke plainly and clearly and made his points rather eloquently. Agree with him or not, he spoke like a true diplomat and statesman.

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Abbas:Incentivize Terror
By Micah Halpern

Thursday June 26, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

We have known about the practice for years, but we never knew the figures.

Everyone knew that the Palestinian Authority paid prisoners who were convicted and sitting in Israeli cells. But until the other day when
Naftali Bennett gave the figures, we never knew how much. They are mind boggling.

The PA spends NIS 44 million per month paying prisoners. The message that sends is deeply problematic -- and contrary to the public message Abbas is articulating.

Abbas condemns acts of terror but rewards the terrorists monetarily.

A prisoner convicted and sentenced to 0-10 years in an Israeli jail will receive NIS 4,000/ month. 10-15 years gets NIS 6,000/month. 25-30 years gets NIS 10,000/month and a prisoner sentenced to over 30 years gets NIS 12,000/ month. In addition, each prisoner receives NIS 400 twice a year for incidentals.

Compare that to the average Palestinian police salary of NIS 2,700/ month.

It seems clear that there is a monetary incentive for Palestinians to commit acts of terror - and the greater the terror the greater the reward.

The money paid to the terrorist comes from aid donated to the Palestinian Authority as does almost all the money in the PA budget. So, in the end, it is US money that is paying Palestinian terrorists.
Worse yet, US aid is stimulating terror.

That needs to change. Congress needs to be made aware of this. Naftali Bennett has the right idea.

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Search for Kidnapped Boys Ending 1st Stage
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday June 24, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

According to an Israeli army report, the IDF will "exhaust" its search for the three kidnapped teens in the Hebron area over the next few days.

That begs the essential question. What happens next?

The hope is that the boys will be found ... but what happens if they are still not found.

Several options emerge.

The first is to "expand in." Change the search parameters and intensify the search in certain specific areas within Hebron if you are certain that that is where they are being held.

The second is to "expand out." Focus on where else the kidnappers could be hiding their hostage. That means searching every Arab village to the north, south, east and west of Hebron. All of them.
And then expand the search toward Gaza.

"Exhaust"-ing the search does not mean that the search is concluded.
It means that the first stage of the search is concluded. The search will go on.

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Israel Hits Syria
By Micah Halpern

Monday June 23, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The rocket that was shot from Syria into Israel is a violation of the cease fire between the countries, and the death of a thirteen year old Israeli is tragic - but the incident must be viewed as an isolated event.

Never the less, Israel responded by launching nine sets of Spike ground to ground missiles into Syria. The Spike missiles are extremely accurate weapons and all the missiles hit their targets in the Syrian Golan. The targets were Syrian army positions, including the command post of the 90th Division headquartered in the Golan.
Israel needed to respond. Syria launched the rocket on purpose. It was not an errant missile gone astray from a battle with al Qaeda. And it killed a 13 year old boy. Israel decided that it was worth the risk of escalating tensions in an area that has been quiet and under control and shot back.

As always, Israel has to weigh response and retaliation against defense and deterrence. Overreacting might incite war. Inaction might stimulate more rockets and more bombs lobbing into Israel.

It is a gamble that Israel is willing to take. For Israel, every life is valuable and valued. And Israel has determined, militarily and politically, that a precision strike at the force which launched the rocket was the right decision.

We will soon know if their calculation was correct.

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World Cup - A Protest Against Iran
By Micah Halpern

Sunday June 22, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

World Cup fever is electrifying. All over the world fans are watching the games. National allegiances and national pride are always primary reasons to cheer for you team.

Yesterday Iran lost to Argentina 1-0 in the World Cup competition.

Before the match, outside the stadium, a group of people came to demonstrate, demanding that Iran be held accountable for the 1994 terrorist bombing in Buenos Aries at the AMIA Jewish Community Center, killing 85 people. It was the worst terror attack in the history of Argentina. The names of the victims were recited and there was a minute of silence.

An investigation concluded that Iran was responsible for the attack, but it went no further than that.

Interestingly, Israel's Channel 2 News interviewed several Iranians as they entered the stadium and they gave very positive responses to Israel and the news. One Iranian even said, "we love Israel." Another said, "Israel is good."

These Iranians might be arrested when they return home. Iran leadership does not take kindly to public disagreements, especially in the media. Remember the six Iranian dancers who were arrested for singing about happiness and posting it on Youtube? They have been released but they had to make a public apology.

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Saudi King Visits Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Saturday June 21, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The 89 year old King of Saudi Arabia flew to Cairo on Friday night to visit Egypt's new president.

While it is only a short, quick flight across the Red Sea given his advanced age, the Saudi head does not often fly. The trip is a show of support for al Sisi. And since the ousting of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood from leadership in July of last summer, the Saudis have been extremely supportive of al Sisi and the new Egypt.

The Saudis see the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to the entire region. The Brotherhood is a form of radical Islam. They are the progenitors of Hamas. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have experience with these groups and their understanding of Islam and they want to root out the threats they impose.

In addition, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are hoping to re-establish an Arabic leadership which will direct the Middle East that lures people away from Iran and the other influences that have filled the gap since the fall of Mubarak.

This is a very important trip.

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Hamas Says "Will Rain Hell on Israel"
By Micah Halpern

Friday June 20, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas has pledged "to rain down hell on Israel," according to their spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi.

Hamas is responding to Israel's response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers a week ago yesterday.

Now, seven days after the kidnapping, Israel is searching for the boys and they are using that search to destroy Hamas in the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority / Hamas unity government has been in place for only a few weeks and Hamas has already set its machinery in motion to topple the PA and conquer the hearts and minds of the youth of the West Bank.

But now Israel is getting at the organizational structure of Hamas - and not just in Hebron but in Bethlehem and Ramallah, as well.
Israel has seized hundreds of computers from Hamas. They are rooting out Hamas from all those areas.

For everyday that Hamas holds the boys, their own vision of one day usurping control of the West Bank from Fatah and the PA slips further and further away.

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Israel Clamps Down on Hamas Prisoners
By Micah Halpern

Thursday June 19, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel has decided to apply pressure on Hamas prisoners in Israeli prisons.

The Israeli Prison Authority has announced a policy that will curtail privileges for all Hamas prisoners who are security prisoners.
Security prisoners are those prisoners convicted of terror activities and they are held in separate sections of the prisons. Security prisoners do not interact with the rest of the prison population.

These Hamas prisoners will not be permitted visitors. They will lose their television privileges. They will not be permitted to purchase additional items from the prison cafeteria.

To those who believe that Israel cannot limit these privileges, that
Israel is not permitted to put a halt to the privileges Hamas prisoners receive - you are wrong. Watching television in prison is a privilege, not a right. And not to have the privilege of watching television during the World Cup is, for Hamas prisoners, a greater punishment than one can imagine.

Israel is squeezing Hamas from all angles by shutting down Hebron, isolating Hamas internationally, applying diplomatic pressure and curtailing activities for Hamas security prisoners.

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Israel is Now Attacking Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday June 18, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

As devastating as it is, the kidnapping of three Israeli teens has allowed Israel a great advantage in the battle with Hamas - Israel can now take actions, almost without limitations, against Hamas.

Kidnapping civilians is way beyond the pale. It is a violation that can be viewed only as an act of terror by the Western World. Europe and most Western counties in the United Nations do not question
Israel's activities against Hamas in their crusade to find the boys.
Israel is taking advantage of the situation and is slowly rooting out the infrastructure of Hamas.

It will take time to find the three kidnapped boys. Israel is working tirelessly to find the kidnappers and they will, eventually, find them. Hopefully, when Israel does find the terrorists they will be able to return three missing sons to their families.

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Iran is in Iraq Fighting Al Qaeda
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday June 17, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

At least 2000 elite Iranian soldiers, member of the al Quds Brigade, are fighting in Iraq. The soldiers are there along with their commanders and other senior advisers.

Interestingly, the al Quds Brigade arrived in Iraq on Thursday and the European press began their covering on Friday and Saturday. The Wall Street Journal reported the story today.

Now that the Iranians are inside Iraq, the United States is saying that there may be some potential synergy because them and the Iranians since they both want to oust the al Qaeda Islamic Army of Levant from Iraq.

So now, as the nuclear talks between the United States and Iran break down, the situation in Iraq might just be the bridge that connects the US and Iran and forges a cooperative effort.

But understand, this kind of cooperation is not without very big risks. Very big risks, indeed.

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Kidnapping is A Trauma Felt Around the World
By Micah Halpern

Monday June 16, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The kidnapping of three Israeli teenage students has resulted in traumatic and emotional pain. Trauma felt around the Jewish world.

The search for the boys has become the most essential national political issue in Israel. The cabinet, the parliament, the army, police, intelligence and diplomatic branches are all working, almost exclusively, on getting the boys back.

Those coordinating the search believe that the boys are still in the Hebron area. They are interrogating more and more people and gaining more and more information.

The fragments of the story of the abductions are slowly coming together. Soon the entire puzzle will be pieced together. It is clear that Hamas is responsible. Israel's prime minister said so.
The United States secretary of state said so.

When all the pieces are in place, a plan will be put into place. And questions will arise. Should Israel negotiate and trade for the boys or should they try to free them through military means. The risks are very costly in both circumstances. In one case it means releasing terrorists who might murder again and an incentive for more kidnappings. In the other case it means the possible sacrifice of soldiers and the kidnapped boys in a rescue attempt.

These are difficult questions. There are no simple answers. There are no easy answers.

Prayers can only help.

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3 Boys Kidnapped by Terrorists
By Micah Halpern

Sunday June 15, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Thursday night kidnapping by terrorists of three Israeli teenage boys has stunned Israel and Jews around the world.

Synagogues throughout the world recited prayers for the three boys, hoping that they are still alive and that they will be returned safely to their families.

There are only several possible scenarios. The worst is that they are already dead. The best scenario is that the terrorists are interested in exchanging the boys for prisoners in Israeli jails. Other scenarios are variations on these two.

Now the intelligence teams have to piece together the story. How it happened, the timeline and who did it. With this information will also come the motivation of the terrorists. After this information is pieced together it will be easier for Israel to determine what to do.

Right now Israel needs to focus on what happened. That is the best way to find the boys.

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Iraqi Rebels Behead
By Micah Halpern

Saturday June 14, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Things are getting even worse in Iraq.

To get some sense of how bad it is, look at these figures reported by The London Telegraph.

The Telegraph reported that 800 rebels from the Islamic Front of Iraq and Levant (or Syria, known by its initials ISIL or ISIS) chased out 25,000 police and 30,000 soldiers from Mosul in Northern Iraq. (I did not add an extra zero.)

That is remarkable. The rebels are al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq and Syria. They are even more brutal than you could imagine. They behead people regularly in public and institute Shariyah (Islamic) law. The fear of beheading was enough to make 55,000 people - trained soldiers and police, run away.

And when the Iraqi police and soldiers ran away, they left their (American made) tanks and weapons right where they were for the rebels to simply swoop up.

Talk about re-gifting!

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Oil Prices Go Up B/C of Conflict
By Micah Halpern

Friday June 13, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Oil is one of those commodities that fluctuates in price based on world events. Stability and security in the Middle East play a central role in the price of crude oil.

So when there is crisis and rampant conflict in areas close to major oil fields, the market responds. And that response is felt at gas pumps and in the wallets of people wherever they may live.

Iraq right now is a case in point.

Over the past few days the West has been taken by surprise as al Qaeda affiliated rebels have taken over cities in Iraq, some of them located in major oil region. Areas like Mosul and Kirkut have fallen to al Qaeda.

Capitalizing on the confusion of the moment, Kurds in Tikrit, Iraq have seized the opportunity to kidnap and grab Turks.

The only response available for the market is to increase the price of oil.

There is more to the story. If Western forces enter Iraq in an effort to bring stability or if Iraqi forces attempt to take back the cities - it will happen again. The price of oil and hence gasoline will increase again.

Either way, we the people lose. And just in time for summer vacations.

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Israel Retaliates in Gaza
By Micah Halpern

Thursday June 12, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel retaliated for rocket fire from Gaza by launching an air strike. The strike killed Mohamed Ahmed Alarur.

Alarur was the head of a network that launched rockets into Israel.
He was responsible for the attacks perpetrated on Passover night.
His objective was to terrorize Israelis as they all sat around the Passover seder table.

Since January, 140 rockets have been shot into Israel from Gaza. This week's renewal of rocket attacks forced Israel to act.

United States State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki responded to the situation by saying that "Abbas' ability to prevent attacks from the Gaza Strip is limited at this stage."

Abbas condemned the rocket attack into Israel and called on Hamas to respect the ceasefire. But the State Department spokesperson is correct - there is only so much Abbas can do.

That is why Israel launched their airstrike. Scrambling fighter jets to kill one person seems like overkill. Actually, that is the reason only one person died. Israel launched a surgical strike targeting a single person - the leader responsible for the rocket fire, namely, Mohamed Ahmed Alarur.

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Afghan Drugs Threaten Reconstruction
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday June 11, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Afghanistan increased its poppy, opium, heroin and morphine production this year. It is now a $3 billion industry that increased by a billion dollars since last year.

This illicit market is placing the entire reconstruction of Afghanistan in serious crisis.

The United States has given about $7 billion towards Afghani reconstruction. The money was given under the condition that the poppy trade would shut down.

John Sopko, the United States SpecialInspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, told a US House subcommittee that the drugs are helping the Taliban and creating corruption.

If drugs become their central export it will be clear that Afghanistan will move further down the road and become a narco state, a state that is funded through and revolves around drugs.

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Australia Changes View on Israel
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday June 10, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

In an extremely rare move, a move which can only be described as bold and trailblazing, Australia announced that it will no longer refer to annexed East Jerusalem as "occupied."

While this decision was hardly covered at all in the Western press, the Palestinian and Jordanian press focused on it heavily. The Palestinians called the Australian diplomatic representative and asked for an explanation. The Jordanians called the Australian embassy and "expressed their concern."

This decision was officially made by the attorney general of Australia who told the senate of the new terminology.

Australia took the Palestinians by surprise. But it was a bigger surprise than it should have been. The Australians have, of late, been more and more aware of the issues confronting Palestinians and Israelis and more understanding of Israeli claims.

And in January, when Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop visited Israel, she paid her respects at the grave of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. At the time Bishop made it clear that Australia no longer calls settlements illegal and they do not refer to the West Bank as occupied. All this is, by the way, in stark contrast to current United States policy.

The changes have come about as a result of the change of government in Australia - the ousting of the Labour party and the emergence of the Liberal National coalition.

Kudos to Australia, I hope they can take the heat.

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Sisi Says No To Islamists
By Micah Halpern

Monday June 9, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Abdel Fattah al Sisi was sworn in as the new president of Egypt yesterday. Al Sisi was elected in an election that was witnessed by international observers and he is Egypt's new democratic leader.

Soon after being sworn in the new president of Egypt made it very clear that there will be no reconciliation with Islamists. Al Sisi announced that anyone who adopted violence, anyone who committed crimes will be punished and that there is no place for that behavior in Egypt.

Al Sisi has a long road ahead. One of his important jobs is to reinstitute law and order. Egyptians need to feel safe and that safety will bring the return of tourists to their country.

On another front, al Sisi will work behind closed doors with Israel to help secure the region. This cannot be made too obvious, but part of al Sisi's plan for Egypt is to reestablish it as a leader and mediator among the Arab world. That cannot happen if the relationship between Egypt and Israel is too obvious.

There is a lot riding on al Sisi. But there is no doubt that given the current situation, he is the only chance Egypt has of reemerging as a productive entity in the region.

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Abbas Says No And the World Applauds
By Micah Halpern

Sunday June 8, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It is a clash of leadership and Abbas is winning. Actually, winning is an understatement. Abbas is trouncing Bibi Netanyahu and the State of Israel.

In analyzing the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, one might think that Abbas would never stand a chance against Israel's great communicator. And yet, over the past few years, Abbas has played the pr game so successfully that at almost every opportunity he has garnered resounding world support for the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas has accomplished his goal by saying "no". He said "no" to every single peace talk related issue - and Israel has said "yes" every time. And with all his "no"s, Israel has failed and Abbas has emerged victorious.

The unity government is the last - and best, example.

The entire Western world leadership warned Abbas not to go ahead and form a unity government with Hamas. Abbas defied the United States and the entire Western world. And what happened? Abbas and Hamas were embraced by US Secretary of State Kerry and the rest of the Western world. And now Israel is the only power adhering to the plan and maintaining that Hamas is a terror group.

What happened? How did this happen? Abbas not only has no charisma, he has no power to deliver. He is out of sync with the masses of Palestinians and yet he has managed to wrap Western world leadership around his little finger.

Abbas says "no" and the Western world applauds.

Political correctness has gone too far.

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Syrian Elections Cement Assad's Place
By Micah Halpern

Saturday June 7, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

This week there were presidential elections in Syria. The results are in.

Syrian Parliament Speaker Jihad Lahan announced the final results.
He along with the Supreme Constitutional Court of Syria said that the turnout was 73.42%. That was pretty good considering that there is a civil war waging in Syria and that many people were threatened and told to stay home and boycott the elections.

Assad received 88.7% of the vote. The other two candidates combined garnered 5.5% of the vote and the rest were disqualified ballots.

There are important issues that emerge from this vote. Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah put it best. He said that there is no doubt that Assad is the popular candidate by all standards and this election cements his position.

It is very hard to think otherwise with the kind of turnout and the kind of victory Assad received. There were only sporadic areas of the country where polls were closed down by the rebels. If you looked at international media coverage, however, you would have assumed that half the country could not or would not come out to vote.

Through this election Bashar Assad has fortified his position and made it undeniably clear to all that he is there to stay - at least for the near future.

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US Misled Israel About Unity Government
By Micah Halpern

Friday June 6, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel and the United States saw eye to eye on the question of Hamas involvement in a Palestinian unity government. There can be no doubt about that. And it was obvious that Israel would not respect or deal with a Palestinian government that included Hamas.

But while the United States agreed with Israel, that agreement is not an issue principle.

The decision by the United States to recognize a government in which Hamas plays an integral role is a major turnabout of US policy and it breaks a longstanding agreement between the US and Israel. The agreement was twofold. The US would not recognize the Hamas government and the US would not pressure Israel to, in any way, deal with the Hamas.

The United States and Israel even spoke about and confirmed for each other that the technocratic government was simply a ruse.

All that is now gone.

And the worst part is that the United States does not even realize that it did anything wrong or dangerous. The United States does not even realize that it has put in jeopardy an issue that is vital to its own security. And the United States does not realize that it is now perceived as not being there to protect Israel's security interests.

It is only a matter of time before other nations and communities take advantage of what is a very public and very large diplomatic and security gap between the United States and Israel.

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Muslims Burn Christian Shops in Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Thursday June 5, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Mobs burned Christian shops just outside of Luxor in Egypt the other day.

They threw gasoline on the shops and lit them aflame. It all happened just as a young Christian man, Kerolos Ghattas, was about to go on trial. Ghattas is charged with blaspheming Allah and Islam.

There are about 9 million Coptic Christians in Egypt, they make up about 10% of the population. They live in fear. Their institutions are being burnt and plundered.

Ghattas has a popular blog and he has said some very critical things about Islam.

Despite the new elections and al Sisi winning nearly 97% of the vote, very little will change vis a vis the Christians of Egypt. They will continue on as they have been, an unprotected minority in a very hostile environment.

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The Rolling Stones in Israel
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday June 4, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Rolling Stones arrived in Israel on Monday night and tonight, Wednesday night, they are performing in Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv.

This is a huge event for Israel. It is the first time the Stones have performed there.

The legendary group opened their tour in Oslo and from there went on to Lisbon, then Zurich and now Tel Aviv. It is all part of their On Fire 14 European tour. The Band arrived on their own Rolling Stones airplane adorned with a huge set of lips and a tongue that sticks out.

The event will start at 9:15pm even though it was scheduled for 8:45. This will give people time after the Holiday of Shavuot, Pentecost, to attend the once in a lifetime event.

The Rolling Stones concert will last for two hours. Under normal circumstances the park closes at 11pm, but for this extraordinary event, an exception will be made.

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DC Accepts Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday June 3, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The PA/Hamas unity government was sworn in yesterday. And almost immediately afterward, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki recognized the new government.

I am told that the Israeli cabinet and diplomats were caught off guard.

The United States might have rushed to embrace the new Palestinian government, but there will be serious blowback in DC - especially from powers on the hill.

Why was Israel surprised?

Months ago I predicted that if the agreement went through, the United States would accept it. And by Saturday it was clear that the new Palestinian prime minister was already officially invited to Washington to meet with Obama in the White House.

Israel has always had a misapprehension of the White House's desires and priorities. To think that the administration would not back a unity government was a big misjudgment. And to think that embracing a Palestinian unity government is an attack against Israel is even a bigger mistake.

The White House is wrong. It is illegal in the United States to recognize Hamas. But to think that they would not have done so was sheer folly.

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Elections In Syria
By Micah Halpern

Monday June 2, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It sounds outrageous, but on Tuesday Syria will go to the polls to elect a president. That's right - the Syrians have been embroiled in a civil war since March 2011 and now is the time they have chosen to vote for a president?

It is part of the deal that all sides, including the United States and other Western nations and the warring parties in Syria, agreed upon. They wanted the people to have a say, they wanted them to vote. Of course, at the time, the brilliant minds that compose the international community could never have foreseen that Assad would be a sure bet for a landslide victory.

When Syrians go to the polls there will be three candidates to choose from. When the process started, there were twenty-four viable candidates including two women and a Christian. Now Assad is the main candidate and the other two other names on the ballot, Hassan Abdullah al Nouri and Maher Abdul Hafiz Hajjar, are simply tokens or symbolic candidates.

This is the first time that a presidential election in Syria will not be simply a referendum. In the past there were no other options.
Then, in the early part of 2014, the Syrian parliament passed a law to create a real, multi-candidate election program. Even though all three names are on the ballot, there is little to no doubt about who the winner will be, despite the fact that the police and the army are prohibited from voting.

Western leaders thought this election would pressure Assad. In the end, it empowers Assad.

The entire idea of having elections to solve a problem in the Middle East in the middle of a civil war is irresponsible thinking on the part of those trying to build stability. Did they really hope to oust Assad? Really now, how could they even in their wildest, most hopeful, imagination expect that outcome?

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Abbas/Hamas Unity Causes Conflict W Israel
By Micah Halpern

Sunday June 1, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Abbas has announced that the PA will declare their unity with Hamas on Monday. In response, Israel has said that they will boycott the new government. The boycott will include withholding import taxes that Israel collects for the PA at Israeli ports.

The Palestinians are now threatening Israel. Look at Abbas comments from Sunday when he met with French pro-Palestinian leaders:

"The announcement of the government will be on Monday."

"The Israelis informed us today that they are going to boycott us immediately after we form the government."

"They are going to withhold our money."

"This is our money, not aid from Israel, and we will not stay silent. They want to punish us because we have an agreement with Hamas, which is part of our people."

"We say (the government) is going to recognize Israel, denounce violence and recognize the international agreements."

"This is a technocrat government. It has nothing to do with Fatah, Hamas or any factions."

Abbas also said that "we are going to react to any Israeli action."

This scenario has been played out before. In the end, after a few weeks, Israel will free the Palestinians taxes and transfer the money just as they have always done. Israel is showing its displeasure and is using the withholding of taxes as a strangle move. It is a gesture of strength.

After their recent successes with the Pope and UN agencies, Abbas and Hamas feel emboldened enough to make their next move. Israel's move is only temporary. The Palestinian move will probably be more long term.

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White House Embraces Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Saturday May 31, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It looks like the United States, specifically the White House, has officially embraced the Hamas / Palestinian Authority Unity Government. This is a major turnaround. And it is a serious violation of US law.

The Israeli daily Maariv reported on and then quoted the high level Palestinian official and head of the Fatah reconciliation team, Azam Al Ahmad, saying that since the unity agreement the new Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has been invited to the White House for an official visit. "The visit will take place in June, during which Hamdallah will meet with the American president and visit the US Congress."

Azam Ahmad also said that "The US administration has renounced its previous disapproval of the national unity government and will now support the new government."

This is truly earth shattering. It will require some very fancy footwork on the part of Washington diplomats and whoever else wants to recognize the new Palestinian government.

According to US law, a law which was passed by Congress, Hamas may not receive support or US money. As a result of the unity government, any aid and/or any money that goes to the PA cannot be separated from Hamas - and so it is impossible to recognize the newly formed unity government.

Even the presidential waiver cannot apply here. It is a clear and absolute rule. Congress passed this law expecting this specific scenario.

There is no way around this law. The only answer would be to change the law.

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Iran Hacks the West
By Micah Halpern

Friday May 30, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A cyber intel firm from Dallas, Texas called iSIGHT Partners just dropped a huge bomb.

They have shown that, over the past few years, Iran has successfully hacked into leaders around the world - including a four-star United States general, leaders from Arab countries, from England and even from Israel.

The hack was slow and very methodical. They created fictitious Facebook, twitter, Linkedin and other accounts and they created imaginary people. They befriended friends and made their way slowly to their targets. They probably targeted 2,000 people in order to get to the several dozen people they really wanted to hack.

They created a media outlet called NewsOnAir.org. All the journalists posting on the site had false identities.

Once the hackers found their targets they planted spyware and other software. This would enable the hackers to follow and to get passwords and access to highly secure sites. They invested huge amounts of time to cultivate contacts and then to get introduced to their targets.

This hack was wildly successful.

There is no way of knowing how much material was compromised and who was compromised when. iSIGHT has said that the operation has been going on since 2011.

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Conflict Over Jerusalem
By Micah Halpern

Thursday May 29, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Jerusalem Day marks the liberation of Jerusalem, it marks the reunification of the city in the 1967, Six Day War.

It is a great day of celebration for Jews around the world - especially in Israel and even more so in Jerusalem. When Israeli
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to mark the day he repeated the often declared statement that Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided, capital of Israel.

That Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided, capital of Israel is a near absolute point of unity and agreement in Israel. And yet, the Palestinians responded to the Netanyahu speech by reminding him that East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.

This small exchange illustrates some of the enormous tension and explains in part the gargantuan rift that exists between both Palestinians and Israelis.

There are ways to bridge the gap regarding Jerusalem. The division is predominately an issue of rhetoric. But in order for there to be any change in the stagnant status quo there needs to be a real desire to find a solution - even about terms.

At this moment I am not very hopeful.

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Extra Day for Elections in Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday May 28, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Egypt's two day election was extended for a third day. The Presidential Election Commission announced that the ballots would remain open for a third day due to low turnout.

The low turnout should have been predicted.

The reasons are obvious:

# 1: The outcome is clear, so why should people come out to vote.

# 2: People are politically burned out. They have had enough of presidential politics. They want to move on.

# 3: The heat has been blistering.

# 4: There have been, not unexpectedly, boycotts by groups that do not recognize the elections.

In order to secure a better turnout on the third day, one member of the Commission considered applying an old law still on the books. If implemented, Egyptians that do not vote would be fined 50 Egyptian Pounds. That is about $79 US.

Democracy is new to Egypt. Most new democracies are excited about the voting process. Al Sisi and his advisers believe that when more people vote, he will be given a larger and clearer mandate to govern. He is wrong.

Unfortunately, as democracy matures fewer people vote. All that is required is that there be a legal, fair and honest election.

Egypt will soon learn an important lesson about democracy. Most people really do not care. Those who do care are those who come out to vote.

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Elections Shake Up EU
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday May 27, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The BBC called it an "earthquake that rocks EU elections." They were referring to the Euroskeptics who grabbed power by the handful in the elections that concluded over the weekend.

The Euoskeptics want to disband the EU and they are now a formidable contingent in the EU parliament.

Center parties lost serious ground to the rightists. The voting public is responding to the changes in European societies. They are hoping that the rightists will stem the influx of Muslims into Europe. They are xenophobic.

The right is also filled with anti-Semitism.

To get some sense of the numbers:
In France, the National Front garnered 25% of the votes. French President Hollande's Socialist Party came in third place with only 14% of the votes.

In Greece, the Golden Dawn which is similar to the National Front, received 10% of the ballots.

In England, the Euroskeptics won with 27% while the Conservatives only got 24% and the Labour Party received 25% of the vote.

The European Jewish community is deeply concerned about these changes in the EU Parliament.

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Iran Executes Billionaire
By Micah Halpern

Monday May 26, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Iran executed a billionaire for perpetrating a $2.6 billion fraud.
Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, also known as Amir Mansour Aria, was hung in prison in a secret execution. Even his lawyer was not informed that the execution was to take place.

Khosravi was involved in the biggest bank scam in the history of the Islamic Republic. Thirty nine people were convicted. Four were executed, two were given life sentences and the rest were given twenty-five years.

Considering how controlled the Iranian economy is, the case raises questions as to how it was possible to perpetrate such a huge fraud and over so long a period of time.

The fraud began in 2007 with forged documents that enabled bank loans. The loans were used to purchase thirty-five companies. The state owned steel company was bought. A mineral water company was bought. A soccer team and a meat importing company were bought. In such a highly controlled economy, it is highly likely that there were also government payoffs.

The banks played a huge role in the fraud and many of the players were former banks executives. Some of those involved were able to escape Iran. One character escaped to Canada. I expect that, over the next few weeks, he will spill the beans about the government involvement in this colossal fraud.

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Pope's Visits Middle East
By Micah Halpern

Sunday May 25, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Pope's trip to the Middle East is extremely important. Although it is a short visit and there were times when the trip itself was in doubt, the Pope's appearance in the region serves an important vehicle in helping to bridge differences.

The three day trip began on Saturday and ends on Monday.

Obviously, all sides will do their best to put their best foot forward when entertaining the Pope. By definition, that means explaining your case and explaining why the peace process is at a standstill.

The blame game will be played. The Palestinians and the Israelis will blame one another. What the sides do not understand is that Pope Francis is not about blame. This Pope is all about solutions to injustice.

The Pope will listen, but he will not judge. He wants the parties, Israelis and Palestinians, to sit together, begin to resolve their issues and stop all the injustice.

During the visit Pope Francis will visit most of the requisite places and offer the required masses and deliver the expected speeches and meet with the appropriate people. He is hoping that his very presence will help, that his dialogue and discussion with the parties will enable them to move closer to the table and an agreement.

Pope Francis is an optimist. I hope his optimism is infectious.

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Ukraine Election on Sunday
By Micah Halpern

Saturday May 24, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

This Sunday is Election Day in Ukraine. There are still tensions and even skirmishes in Eastern Ukraine.

On Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he will respect and recognize whoever is elected. And then he added that he hoped the new government would stop the military action against ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine.

21 candidates are running in this election. It is taking place throughout Ukraine, including eastern Ukraine. The voting is supposed to take place in areas that just had elections. All the areas that had elections voted to create independent regions from Ukraine - and yet, the central government in Kiev wants everyone to vote on Sunday.

The exception is Crimea. They will not participate in these elections. They were officially annexed by Russia.

Election rules in Ukraine require that the winner must gain over 50% of the vote. In the event that it does not happen, there will be a runoff of the top candidates.

Expect a run-off.

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Golan is in Flux
By Micah Halpern

Friday May 23, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Golan Heights have been hot these past weeks. It all relates back to Syria.

On the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, al Qaeda and al Qaeda affiliated groups have made progress in capturing important towns, crossroads and vantage points. They are now positioned just yards from the Israeli border.

I expect that Bashar Assad will make a major play to redeem the Golan from the rebels. The reason Assad needs to take back the Golan is clear. Damascus is just 40 miles away. If the rebels control this southern flank they have easy accesses to Assad's center of power.
At the other end of the country, in the north, the battles are far away from Assad as he sits in Damascus.

Saudi Arabia had been supporting the rebels, but they have now stopped supporting those rebel forces connected to al Qaeda out of fear that the extremist Islamic approach will not work. So now the Saudis are supporting only sub groups of rebels who are, or will eventually, fight al Qaeda.

On the Israeli side Druze residents of the Golan Heights have made an appeal to the UN to permit them to vote in the June 2nd election in Syria. Almost every single Druze person I have heard says they will vote for Assad. They want to cross over and vote or get the ballots brought across the border and into Israel by the United Nations.

Druze families straddle the border. Some are in Syria and some in Israel. Some Israeli Druze even attend university in Syria. For decades people have crossed back and forth over the border under the supervision of the UN. In the fall Israeli Druze farmers bring their entire apple crop over the border into Syria for sale in Damascus.

Since this eruption in the Golan Heights, courtesy of al Qaeda, Israel has closed the UN border crossing into Syria.

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Racism in Europe
By Micah Halpern

Thursday May 22, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Outlawing racism is difficult to do. It requires crossing over into the sacred realm of free speech.

Switzerland, like most western European countries, has laws against racism and against Nazism. Now the Swiss Federal Tribunal, the highest court in the land, has issued a ruling on the question of racism. It is the Swiss attempt at severing the Gordian Knot.

The title of the decision is "The Hitler Salute in Public is Not Always Punishable." The court wrote that using the salute depends on the intention and so it is not blankly forbidden. It all has to do with the intent of the person performing the salute.

According to the ruling, it is forbidden only if the intention was to spread racism. It is permitted if the salute was simply conveying the personal ideas of the person saluting.

This creates a very difficult standard to prove.

Once this new legal standard is firmly in place it will be almost impossible to prosecute anyone ever again on the charge of racism in Switzerland.

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Al Sisi Speaks About Israel
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday May 21, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

An extensive taped interview with al Sisi, the shoe-in for president of Egypt in the election scheduled for May 26 &27, was broadcast on three Egyptian satellite stations the other day.

Al Sisi explained his point of view on the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel. He went into detail about the role of Egyptian forces in the Sinai. According to the Camp David Peace Accords, Egypt may not have a military presence in the Sinai Desert. But because of widespread terror networks now operating in the Sinai, Israel and Egypt have agreed that the Egyptian military should operate there.

Al Sisi explained that the informal change to the Accords is in everyone's best interest. It is clearly in the best interests of both Egypt and Israel to stem the terror there. Al Sisi then went on the say that if they need to implement an official change to the treaty that is what they will do.

Actually, there is no need to officially amend the treaty. Both sides agree and both sides are communicating well and sharing information.

Al Sisi is correct. It is in their mutual self interest to cooperate and fight terror in the Sinai.

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Every Must Know Abu Khattala
By Micah Halpern

Monday May 19, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Everyone in the Western world should know the name Ahmed Abu Khattala. It is a name that should be as well known as that of Osama bin Laden or of his successor Ayman Zawahiri.

Abu Khattala was the leader of the attack in Benghazi that murdered four US State Department employees including the Ambassador.

The White House has applied a full court press to find Abu Khattala.
He has so far successfully eluded them. He very recently, literally, slipped through the fingers of the United States and foiled a plan to assassinate him. Abu Khattala was tipped off in advance of the plan.
Quite obviously, capturing this terrorist is an important goal of the White House. The killing of Abu Khattala would be a very significant feather in the cap of President Obama. It is also an extremely important US policy objective.

The United States and the West should not be targeting terrorists for revenge --- but for justice. They must pursue terrorists to show that the US can and will eventually find and punish the people responsible for these heinous acts. The reason it is even more important that Abu Khattala be caught - and caught quickly, is because he is still actively plotting attacks against the United States.

It is not just about the past, it is also about preventing future terror attacks.

Remember the name Ahmed Abu Khattala. Remember what he did.

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Syrians Fight to Take Back Golan from Al Qaeda
By Micah Halpern

Sunday May 18, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Syrian army has launched an offensive to retake the Syrian Golan Heights.

Last week al Qaeda affiliates successfully moved into the major villages on the Syrian Golan. This was a redo of exactly the events of last June. The Golan has critical importance and is essential in terms of keeping the border with Israel and Jordan secure.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Abdel Rahman described the Syrian assault:

"The army's counter-offensive, against rebels and the (jihadist) Al-Nusra Front, has been extremely fierce. On Friday the army fired 100 rockets and carried out 15 air strikes. On Saturday, the air raids and shelling have been continuous, and the army also fired a surface-to-surface missile against Sahem village."

There is no doubt that many more Syrian foot soldiers will be brought to the region to mop up the operation.

Last year, Syria used Hezbollah as the fighting force to oust al Qaeda.

Keeping the Golan quiet is critical so as to make certain that the Syrian conflict does not cross over into Israel or drag Israel into retaliation strikes.

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Pope's Trip to The Middle East
By Micah Halpern

Saturday May 17, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Pope's trip to the Middle East will take place in just a few days, from May 24 through May 26. This trip will be both fast paced and full of political turf issues.

Accompanying the Pope will be two of his colleagues from Argentina. A Muslim leader, Omar Aboud, head of the Institute for Religious
Dialogue will join the Pope's entourage as will Rabbi Abraham Skorka, chief rabbi of Argentina and a co-author with the Pope. The two are officially part of the delegation from Rome. Rabbi Skorka will join the trip on the second day because of the Jewish Sabbath, Omar Aboud will be there the entire trip.

The trip begins with a half day in Jordan where the major focus will be a visit to the Jordan River and the traditional site of the baptism. The delegation then helicopters to Bethlehem to visit the traditional birth site of Jesus. Also on the Bethlehem itinerary is a visit to Dheisheh, a UN refugee camp established after Israel was created in 1949 for 3400 Palestinians.

Here's where a logistical complications set in. Bethlehem is only a one minute drive to Jerusalem city limits and about ten minutes from there to the Prime Minister's residence, the Knesset and Yad Veshem.
And yet, official protocol requires heads of state to land at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport be taken directly to the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.

So the Pope must get back into his helicopter and fly to Tel Aviv just in order to come back to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem he will ascend the Temple Mount, or Haram al Sharif, where he will meet the Grand Mufti. At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher Pope Francis will meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the world's Orthodox Christians. The site is the traditional site of Jesus' burial.

Along the route representatives of many other churches will also be presenting the Pope with gifts, including the leader of Lebanon's Maronite Catholic Church, which is Lebanon's largest Christian community.

Although tensions are very high the Pope has refused his bullet proof vehicles. He will travel in a simple Ford. Pope Francis wants to remain as close to his flock as possible.

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US Buying Kurdish Oil
By Micah Halpern

Friday May 16, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel and the United States are importing crude oil from Iraqi Kurdistan. This might just turn into a huge diplomatic time bomb.

According to Iraqi law, all oil must be sold through Bagdad. But more and more clients are going to the Kurds and getting oil from them. The oil is piped across the border to the Turkish port of Dortyol and uploaded onto tankers that then make their way to their destinations.

According to ship tracking companies who track the whereabouts of tankers, the first ship left for the United States two weeks ago.
Since January four ships filled with Kurdish oil have gone from Turkey to Israel. Add on another two ships that arrived in Israel
last summer.

The Iraqis are livid and are threatening all kinds of reprisal, including law suits.

But the United States has, finally, figured out that those in control of oil in Iraq are not their friends. The Russians and the Iraqis are ultimately in control of the oil production.

And it became clear to the US, like it became clear to Israel and several other countries, that good prices and reliable timetables for delivery were something they could count on from the Independent Kurdish Region in Iraq.

When it comes to energy, reliability trumps everything but price.

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Clinton - No Deal Better than Bad Deal w Iran
By Micah Halpern

Thursday May 15, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday Hillary Clinton addressed a policy conference of the AJC (American Jewish Committee) in Washington, DC. It is clear from her presentation that Mrs. Clinton is setting her sights on the White House.

On the subject of the Iranian discussions and the issue of their becoming a nuclear power Clinton echoed an important point made by many world leaders. Her comment may not have been original, but it was certainly presidential.

"No deal is better than a bad deal" she said. Even Israeli Prime
Minister Netanyahu has used exactly those same words.

The basic premise is that Iran will certainly take advantage of the deal. And that means that the parties have to be "tough" and "clear eyed" regarding Iran and the deal. It is not simply good enough to assume that when a document is signed within the assigned deadline that everything will be fine.

Actually, quite the opposite!

The agreement must allow for protections and policing and solutions to the inevitable violations. It must work for both sides. And it must put at ease the skeptics who think that Iran is simply playing the West and specifically the country many are claiming Mrs. Clinton hopes to govern.

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Israelis To Nigeria to Help Find Girls
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday May 14, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel is sending a team of experts to Nigeria to help search for the kidnapped schoolgirls. The Israeli team will be composed of intelligence people, hostage negotiators and tactical experts.

The role the Israeli team plays in Nigeria will be to help piece together information as it comes in order to figure out where the girls are being held and how to free them. It is an area in which Israel has vast experience.

Israel has, unfortunately, been confronted with similar hostage situations many times before. Most often, they have handled the situations without fanfare or any public knowledge. Last year, for example, Israel advised Kenya after hostages were taken by terrorists in a mall. It is said that in Columbia it was the Israelis who helped find and free Ingrid Betancourt, a presidential candidate who had been kidnapped and held prisoner for six years by FARC.

The Israelis will probably use drones and satellite images in addition to human intel in order to start piecing together a set of possible hiding places. They will comb through numerous telephone and other communications that have been accumulated for them.

Then they can create a plan.
We wish them all much success.

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Al Qaeda Battling in Syrian Golan
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday May 13, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Al Qaeda is once again making a play to capture the Syrian Golan Heights.

Over the past few days al Qaeda has successfully kicked Syrian forces out of the strategically located towns of Quneiytra and Qunaytira.
They have captured the hill of Tel al Ahmar which controls the road in that area and connects these significant towns.

Most importantly, al Qaeda has captured towns that sit right on the border with Israel.

As I watched the fighting I saw how al Qaeda rebels literally took up position at the Israeli border fence. But they were not shooting into Israel. They were shooting at Syrian forces on their side of the border parallel to the fence.

For obvious reasons Israel is on high alert at that border right now. The UN crossing between Syria and Israel at Quneiytra has been closed for fear that al Qaeda will take advantage of the passageway.

I watched the battle on a video posted by the al Qaeda affiliate called Jumat Beit Al Maqdas al Islami which, in translation, means the Organization for the Islamic Temple. They say that they were assisted in the battle by Araya al-Jihad, the Jihad Squad, and by Harchat Mujahedeen a-Shaham Syrian, the Jihad Worriers Movement.

Many of the rebel fighters wore black al Qaeda flags when fighting.

All of the rebel soldiers shouted Allah is Great before they rushed forward and started shooting at the Syrians.

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Kevin Spacey For Pres in Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Monday May 12, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

House of Cards, the original series from Netflix that stars Kevin Spacey is very popular in the Arabic world, especially in Egypt.

Because of the upcoming presidential election in Egypt, scheduled to take place on May 26 & 27, Egyptian social media is ablaze with messages and puns about the show and the election. The show, for those who do not watch, is about a congressman who is campaigning for president.

Social media in Egypt playing aword play and having fun. Al Sisi who is considered to be a shoe-in for the post. Al Sisi is responsible for the ouster of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and has been the leader and defense minister since the ousting. And his name Al Sisi sounds like Spacey.

The postings show a campaign picture of the Spacey character with arms crossed and the words "al Spacey for President" and "Long live Egypt." One of the most popular Egyptian twitter #hashtags is "Al-Spacey instead of Al-Sisi."

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Shot Jewish Ukrainian Mayor Gives Interview
By Micah Halpern

Sunday May 11, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Two weeks after being shot, he Jewish mayor of Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, gave an interview from his hospital bed in Haifa where he was brought for treatment and recuperation.

Gennady Kernes was shot in the back while on his daily early morning run. After the unsuccessful assassination attempt, Kernes was rushed into surgery. Following the surgery he was taken to the airport and flown to Israel where he was brought to a private hospital in Haifa.

Kernes is recovering well and is able to sit up in bed and is even beginning to eat on his own.

He has no idea of who tried to murder him.

Kernes was a supporter of the pro-Russia regime of Viktor Yanukovych, the previous President who fled to Russia. But he said "I'm in favor of Kharkiv remaining part of Ukraine and therefore in favor of seeing her flourish."

He expects to return to his country and to resume his position soon.

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Rice Comes to Israel
By Micah Halpern

Saturday May 10, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice is visiting Israel. Rice and her team are meeting with the highest level of Israeli leaders.
Washington today is like a revolving door. Out goes Kerry and in comes Rice.

The White House issued a statement about the meetings saying: "The delegations held thorough consultations on all aspects of the challenge posed by Iran, and pledged to continue the unprecedented coordination between the United States and Israel."

National security adviser is one, of if not the, most influential adviser to the US president.

The talks with Rice focused on Iran. Bu the quote did not do service to the security adviser's real agenda. The purpose of this trip is to try rein in Israel on the Iranian issue. The objective was to put the brakes on any potential Israeli strike on Iran.

The results are not quite clear.

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New Israeli Super Radar
By Micah Halpern

Friday May 9, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

For those who do not know, today, most of our defense is in the hands of techno geeks. There are more and more techo soldiers and fewer and fewer hard core fighters.

And the technology is more and more impressive every day.

Israel just announced that a new radar system called MF-STAR will be operational in the next few days. This radar, which will be outfitted on Israeli naval ships, is exponentially better than any other radar anywhere in the world.

MF-STAR can monitor multiple targets and it be able to determine threats from friends even when ships are travelling together in a bunch. It has a range of thousands of miles and can lock onto missiles at any altitude at sea, on land and in the air.

Up until now one of the biggest threats facing Israel has been a very low flying missile called the Yakont (which is actually the Russian made S-800 missile) that has already, successfully, hit Israeli targets by slipping under their defense shield. Amongst its other, many, attributes MF-STAR will prevent this from happening again.

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Saudi Court Convict Blogger-1000 Lashes & 10 years
By Micah Halpern

Thursday May 8, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A Saudi appeals court sentenced a blogger named Raif Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes and ordered him to pay 1 million Saudi riyads. (about $80,000).

The appeals court overruled a lower court that had sentence the blogger to 3 years and 600 lashes.

The blogger was the founder and manager of a web chat room that discussed Islam. He was found guilty of cyber crimes and defaming the Prophet. One Muslim leader said "These are red lines that nobody should cross."

1000 lashes is a near death sentence.

But considering the maximum penalty, there is at least a small chance that Badawi will survive. The maximum and usual penalty for such crimes is death. Considering the crimes, the response of many people in the Middle East was surprise over such a light sentence.

Given the bizarre nature of this situation, I suppose one has to find something to be happy about.

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Hamas will Destroy the PA & Abbas
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday May 7, 2014

I'm Predicting:

The unity agreement between Hamas and the PA is beginning to take shape.

Six Fatah security officers who had been taken prisoner in Gaza were released. There are dozens more still in prison and there is no word on their status.

As I observe both organizations and analyze their current situation it seems clear that the more powerful party is indeed Hamas and Hamas will cause the downfall of Abbas and Fatah. If there is an election, and if Hamas assumes any role, they will use it to destroy the PA.

As soon as Hamas is permitted in the West Bank as part of the PA, they will cannibalize the Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.

Until now Hamas operations in Abbas territory on the West Bank have been severely curtailed and are even illegal. But now, under cover of a unity agreement, these activities will be totally permitted. West Bank youth are flocking to Hamas.

Israel has until now been involved in helping protect Abbas, his government and his power base. Post unity agreement, Israel is pulling back.

One of the objectives of Hamas will be to topple Abbas. I predict it will take two months form the time Hamas and Fatah begin governing jointly for Abbas to fall.

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Happy Birthday Israel
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday May 6, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Happy Birthday Israel!!!

It is nothing short of a miracle. 66 years ago my parents and grandparents could never have imagined that Israel would today be the great state that it is.

Today the number of Israeli citizens totals 8.18 million citizens. The number of Jewish citizens living in Israel today is 6.13 million.

In 1948 there were 800,000 inhabitants of which 600,000 were Jews.
The increase has been 10 fold. Today Israel has the largest Jewish community in the world.

The State of Israel was born into war and came out of the ashes. Today Israel is a leader among nations.

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Iran & China Boost Friendship
By Micah Halpern

Monday May 5, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Iran and China are creating better and better relations, especially in terms of defense.

The Iranian defense minister is visiting Beijing and has met with his Chinese counterpart. During their joint press conference it was announced that they will continue to further their bilateral relations. The Chinese defense minister said the relationship "remained positive and steady, featuring frequent high-level exchanges and deepened political mutual trust."

And according to the Chinese news agency Xinhau, the Chinese minister also said that China is "confident that the friendly relations between the two countries as well as the armed forces will be reinforced" due to "increased mutual visits and personnel training cooperation between the armed forces."

In addition, Iran has announced that they will be tripling their trade diplomats in Europe increasing their number from 11 to 30.
They will send trade envoys to Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Serbia.

This points to a huge desire by Iran to boost their trade with Europe and to expand their business investments.

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Iran Bans WhatsApp
By Micah Halpern

Sunday May 4, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Iranian President Rouhani just banned WhatsApp. He announced the ban on Saturday. Just as a reminder, Rouhani is the liberal more open leader of Iran.

The reason Rouhani gave for banning WhatsApp is because it was bought for $19 billion "by the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is an American Zionist."

I know that it sounds crazy. Iranians are very active on social media. The government is trying very hard to control the activity and make certain that they can monitor it. On the one hand applications like WhatsApp and Facebook and twitter are very problematic for them. On the other hand, Iranian leadership uses these systems to try to influence the outside world.

It has been an ongoing battle. Iranian leadership has blocked Google. But most young Iranians know how to get around the block. So then the government blocks that hole and young people device a new way.

Youth uses their computer as a way of communicating. Of course they also use computer websites to plot revolutions and to learn and teach about freedom and democracy. That is what Iranian leadership fears most.

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Rebels Cut Route of Chem Weapons in Syria
By Micah Halpern

Saturday May 3, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Anti-Assad Syrian rebels have cut the road and are preventing the evacuation of chemical weapons in Damascus.

The conflict is preventing the international community from loading and moving the last set of the 13000 tons of weapons. Rebels are trying to attack the eastern area of Damascus. That is where Domair Airbase is located. When you follow the road going east for another 25 miles you hit Sayqal Airbase which is where the last vestige of chemical weapons was stored.

The final deadline for the removal of this last batch of chemical weapons was not met. The deadline was April 27. Assad and his forces cannot be blamed. It is now clear why the deadline was missed. Once the weapons are put on trucks and moved, they can easily be hijacked.

The rebels want those weapons and they are advancing in their efforts to grab them. If the rebels do get them, no one knows what they will do with them.

Some say that the rebels do not have the capabilities needed to weaponize the ingredients. If that is true the rebel pirates would then move the weapons on - giving or selling them to another source. Others have asserted that these rebels do indeed have the knowhow and that they have even already used chemical weapons.

It is not exactly clear what the specific motivation of the rebel forces is beyond trying to free the eastern side of Damascus from the grasp of Assad.

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Military Parades in the MidEast
By Micah Halpern

Friday May 2, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

I watch military parades in the Middle East very carefully.
Countries are always displaying their weapons. I want to see those weapons and figure out if anything is new and what they might be used for.

Of course, sometimes a country tries to fake their weaponry asserting that they have one type when in actuality what they really have is a similar but downgraded weapon. But that is part of the game.

Saudi Arabia recently displayed a slew of Dongfeng 3 missiles. They already have a few of the newer and more sophisticated Dongfeng 21.
Dongfeng, by the way, means east wind. The Dongfeng 3 has a range of 3,000 miles and can carry a nuclear warhead. That makes them older but very potent and worth watching.

Israel is only partially concerned about the acquisition of these new old missiles from China. Israel knows that they share an enemy with the Saudis and, in all likelihood, these missile were purchased with Iran in mind as a target.

So Israel sleeps a little more easily knowing that these newly acquired Dongfeng missiles will be aimed in the right direction - at a common foe.

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E Ukraine to Vote May 11
By Micah Halpern

Thursday May 1, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A referendum in the Oblast (region) of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine has been scheduled for May 11th.

The wording of the referendum is somewhat ambiguous. There is no mention of either Ukraine or Russia. There is only one question. It is a yes or a no vote.

Here is the question:
"Do you support the creation of the Donetsk People's Republic?"

Donetsk is the third most populated city in Ukraine. It is filled with factories and is the most industrial region in the entire country.

But according to the law of the Donetsk region, a referendum requires that all the citizens be officially invited to vote 1 week before. That means that by Monday all invitations must be issued.

That might prove problematic. Today is May Day. It is a national holiday and the entire region will celebrate with a long weekend before the Monday deadline. It is doubtful the invites will get out in time.

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What Hamas Says About Abbas
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 30, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas leader Mohammed Al Zahar told Reuters that Abbas is not telling the truth about Hamas and their recognition of Israel. Al Zahar said it is simply not true.

In an extensive interview with the news service the Hamas leader was very forthright and very clearly explained Abbas' motives.

Al Zahar said that Abbas is "very weak" and that "he is seeking a guarantee that US financial support will continue."

He continued by saying that the idea that the government would be composed of academics and technocrats was also a big Abbas lie cultivated in order to assure Western powers of something that will not happen.

"Abbas is not telling them the truth. He says 'this is my government'. But it is not his government. It is a government of national unity. He is marketing it in this way to minimize the pressure."

It seems that Hamas understands the ways the motives and the manipulations of Abbas. It also seems that the United States and the West do not understand either Abbas or his tactics.

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China Cancels Big Bang Theory
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday April 29, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

We have known for a long time that China wants to control the internet within their borders.

The reasoning goes like this: If you can control the flow of information you can control the truth and limit access to resources and alternative views. You can prevent real communication and organization. And you can control the culture that people are exposed to.

The internet represents freedom. And China is flexing its muscles.

Chinese youth watch TV through the internet and the most popular shows on Chinese television are US shows. The shows are viewed on sites like Shohu TV, Youku and iQiyi. Yesterday China yanked several US shows off the internet. The government forced them to pull, The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice.

One can probably find an ideological reason for pulling the shows - except for The Big Bang Theory. It is a harmless comedy about socially awkward academics guys who share an apartment. Why yank
The Big Bang Theory?

My only answer is the great success and popularity of the show. So far the series has been viewed 1.3 billion times in China. Do the calculation - almost one view for every person in China. And that means the people are not watching the tepid boring communist shows.

The Big Bang was cut because too many people were watching it. And now Chinese viewers are up in arms and have taken to the internet to plead their case.

We shall see what happens.

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Presidential Election in Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Monday April 28 , 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A presidential election in Egypt is scheduled for May 26 & 27. The most serious candidate running for office is al Sisi, the force behind the ousting of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood last July.

Since the ousting Egypt, has been run by an interim government and has been setting the stage for new elections ten months later.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called on their supporters to boycott the elections. We are told that from his prison cell, ousted president Morsi is saying that the elections are illegal and that people must boycott them.

On Sunday al Sisi explained to the country how important these elections are and he called on all Egyptians to unite and come out and vote in "unprecedented numbers for the sake of Egypt."

There is no doubt that al Sisi will win the May election. The question is whether he can unite Egypt and guide his country back into a position of power and productivity.

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The Real Situation
By Micah Halpern

Sunday April 27, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The response to the breakdown of peace talks between the PA and the Israelis has been telling. But when it comes to the Middle East, you do not take anything at face value.

The sanctions that Israel has imposed will soon be lifted.
Palestinian tax money that has been collected at Israeli ports and withheld by Israel will soon make its way to Palestinian national accounts. And the goods that normally cross into the PA and Gaza will continue again as they did. It may take a week or a few days longer, but it will happen.

The international community will insist on it and Israel knows that they must deliver it. It was a gesture. And Israel will not withhold electricity or power even if they do not receive payment because of a Palestinian cash shortage.

The Palestinian Authority has run headlong into the embrace of Hamas and in so doing they have insulted Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and almost every other Arab country except Qatar. All these countries have isolated Hamas because of links to the Muslim Brotherhood. The
Brotherhood has sworn to overthrow each of them and Hamas represents the Brotherhood.

The PA cannot live in that situation. They gain almost nothing from association with Hamas. Besides, they will agree on almost nothing. They will never be able to share power and authority.

Hamas thinks that this agreement will enable them access to PA money. But money from abroad will not flow (except from Qatar and the taxes that Israel will soon return) as long as there is a union between them.

All around, this is a very bad decision and it will be self-corrected very shortly. Then the real problem re-emerges.
The stalemate between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is malignant and it will remain the status quo.

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Obama Lemonade
By Micah Halpern

Saturday April 26, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

As the folksy expression goes, when you have lemons make lemonade. And President Barack Obama has just made himself a big tall glass.

The Israelis and the Palestinians are frustrated. A huge chasm divides them. Peace talks have broken down. And US President Obama is quoted as saying that "there may come a point at which there just needs to be a pause and both sides need to look at the alternatives."

Duh!

In other words, the Israelis and the Palestinians need time away from one another in order to see how good the peace deal really is. And that separation is actually a good thing and a part of the plan.

Hearing his speak, one would think that the United States actually thought it was a good idea for the talks to break down so that when they get back together, the parties will see how valuable and important the resolution is to them and to each other.

Despite the cool and refreshing illusion that lemonade conjures, the reality is that the drink itself is extremely tart, acidic and difficult to swallow.

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Anti-Semitism: Russia vs Ukraine
By Micah Halpern

Friday April 25, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

I cannot determine with 100% certainty those responsible for the new wave of anti-Semitism spreading through Ukraine and Crimea. But my sense is that both Russians and Ukrainians are responsible, each in the own way, for variant forms of the despicable racism.

The first major act of anti-Semitism took place in Donetsk, a province in Ukraine, on the eve of Passover when leaflets were passed out asking Jews over 16 years of age to register at their local offices and to register their property and cars, as well. The fee for this mandatory registration was $50.

The following Friday night, in the southern Ukrainian city of Nikolayev, two fire bombs were thrown at the main synagogue. The firebombing took place on the Sabbath eve of Passover.

This past Tuesday, in Crimea, in the city of Sevastopol, the Holocaust memorial was vandalized with a huge red sickle. The memorial is relatively new, having been erected in 2003.

In Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine's 4th largest city with a population of over one million, the grave site of Dov Ber Schneerson, the brother of Menachem, the previous Grand Rabbi of Lubavitch, Chabad was covered with graffiti swastikas.

And this past winter two synagogues were fire bombed and a Jewish person was stabbed in Kiev.

Anti-Semitic violence will only increase in both Ukraine and Crimea as long as stability and order elude those countries.

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Hamas- PA Deal
By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 24, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement yesterday.
The overall winner is Hamas. They get almost everything. Abbas and the PA get to rub the faces of the United States and Israel in the mud.

The reality is that all the conditions as agreed upon in this current agreement were already signed onto in two previous agreements - one in Doha and the other in Cairo. The only difference is the timetable.

There are very few details about any sharing of power in any of the three agreements.

So why did Hamas once again agree to this? The real problem for Hamas is that Gaza needs money. They have been bled dry. There is an almost total barricade of funds entering Gaza. Most Arab countries, with only one exception, have long ago withdrawn their support of Hamas. Even Iran, the lone holdout, no longer supports Hamas in Gaza because they are on opposite sides in Syria.

It is the hope of monetary aid that helps drive Hamas' acceptance of the deal.

As for the PA, they have now entered into an agreement and joined forces with a registered and universally accepted terror organization.

United States law, as well as almost all of European law, prohibits supporting a terror organization. That means that the monetary aid, the raison d'etre of Hamas for joining with the PA, will stop.
There is no way the White House can justify sending funds to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

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Europe Sees The Jihad Threat
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 23, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Both the French and Dutch governments issued reports today that hundreds of their citizens have been involved in jihadist activists. Many of them have been trained, fought and died in Syria.

In the case of Amsterdam, one Dutch citizen was even a suicide bomber.

The reports underscore the urgent need for Europe to respond to the changing and wide spread landscape of terror. These governments, as well as the rest of Europe, are trying to create responses which will protect their homes and home turf from the extremism that these jihadists will bring back with them from Syria.

The jihadists return home with battle and weapons experience and training. They are battle hardened and they are even more dedicated to the jihadist cause than they were before joining the fight in Syria.

France says that 700 of their citizens were involved in jihadist activities in 2013. The actual number is probably three times that.

Until now the only tools governments had been using involved intelligence collection. Now the French Ministry of the Interior has announced that they are working on a plan to stem this movement. And Amsterdam has announced that they are cooperating with other governments to try to create a response.

The best response to hate is education. But that is a long term solution.

In the short term Europe needs to breakup jihadist groups, arrest members of jihadists groups and clamp down on individual jihadists.

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Next Iran Talks to Be in NYC
By Micah Halpern

Monday April 21, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The official Iranian student news service reported on Sunday that the next set of nuclear talks will take place in New York City.

The news agency, called ISNA, quoted a senior negotiator saying that in May the Iranians will continue their discussions with Western powers on the sidelines of the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty talks.

This is the first time since the talks began that negotiations will take place in New York City. It is a significant signal.
It means that all the parties to the negotiations have enough of a comfort level to agree to have the United States both host and to be a part of the talks.

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Al Qaeda & the PA
By Micah Halpern

Sunday April 20, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Ayman Zawahiri, head of al Qaeda, posted a general update of al Qaeda on Saturday. Part of the update dealt with the Abbas and the Palestinians.

Zawahiri refers to Palestinian leadership as traitors and cowards.
He says that they have given up on the land and on their people and want only to conform to US and Zionist demands.

The PA responded by posting a statement on their website asking since when has al Qaeda even cared about the Palestinians.

Ahmad Assaf, the Fatah spokesmen, took the PA response several steps further saying: "confirm the level of his and his organization's involvement in the Zionist project. Since when has this hypocrite and his gang been interested in the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian people? They see the whole world an open arena for their activities, but we didn't see even one activity against the Israeli occupation."

Did you catch the last line?

The Fatah spokesman is asking why there has been not even a single terror al Qaeda attack against Israel. He is saying, in essence, if you cared about the Palestinians then you would be attacking Israel and killing Israelis.

This is one of the most honest statements by Palestinian leadership that I have heard in a very long time. Palestinian leadership traditionally attempts to create the illusion of a desire for coexistence and a condemnation of terror. Here we see the opposite. The spokesman is saying --- If you really loved us, you would be killing Israelis.

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Al Qaeda vs Al Qaeda
By Micah Halpern

Saturday April 19, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It is clear that Bashar Assad is there to stay, at least for the short term. It is also clear that the real battle now being waged in Syria is between al Qaeda and al Qaeda breakaway groups.

The most recent spat is being waged on the audio waves of the internet. Abu Mohammed al Adnani, spokesperson for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the largest breakaway from al Qaeda posted a very angry and antagonistic internet audio message attacking the current leader of al Qaeda, Ayman Zawahiri.

Al Adnani let loose an ad hominem rant about how Zawahiri is betraying the cause of Islam and jihad and how he has deviated from the proper path.

In November of 2013, Zawahiri was so frustrated with this group that he officially disbanded them. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant responded by breaking away from al Qaeda claiming that they were the true jihadist group and declaring war on all others groups - especially al Nusra, now the official al Qaeda representative in Syria.

The battle about how best to conduct jihad continues. And the killing goes on.

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Turkey to Ask Russia for a Favor
By Micah Halpern

Friday April 18, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

In foreign affairs and diplomacy nothing happens in isolation. A country's foreign affairs are, in many ways, akin to the game Settlers of Catan.

So as the situation begins to unravel with Russia, many other countries are stepping up, taking sides and taking advantage.

Imagine how interested I was to see that the deputy of the Russian natural gas company Gazprom was schedule to visit Turkey. And during the visit, Turkey intends on asking the Russians for a price reduction.

Russia/Gazprom is the major provider of natural gas for Turkey - and Turkey is dependent on imports for almost all of their energy.
Given today's political climate, Russia might be willing to reduce the price of gas in exchange for support in the international arena. If not support, at least silence.

For Turkey, it would seem to be a very small price to pay for cheaper natural gas.

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Horrific - Jews Must Register in Russian Ukraine!
By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 17, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Horrific!! Just Horrific!!

The Jews living in a province located in a section of Ukraine that is being contested by the Russians have been asked to register at the regional citizenship office. If they do not follow directions their citizenship will be revoked, they will be forced to leave Ukraine and all their property will be confiscated. They must also pay a $50 registration fee.

The province, or, Obalst in Ukranian, is called Donetsk. It is home to the largest industrial area in Ukraine and lies in the eastern part of the country, close to Russia. Donetsk has a population of 4.3 million which is about 10% of the total population of Ukraine.
Many ethnic Russians live in the province. And there are 17,000 Jews living in Donetsk.

On Passover armed masked men delivered leaflets demanding that the Jews register.

The leaflet read:

"Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality,
Due to the fact that the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine, because you supported Bendery Junta, and oppose the pro-Slavic People's Republic of Donetsk, (An historical allusion to WWII) has decided that all citizens of Jewish descent, over 16 years of age and residing within the republic's territory are required to report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and register.

ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles.

Evasion of registration will result in citizenship revoke and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property."

Who would have imagined that this would happen in the year 2014.

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Secret Talks
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 16, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Those in the know knew, but they were quiet about it for these past two years. And those who did not know were no less wise without the knowledge.

I am referring to secret talks between Israel and her Arab neighbors. The talks have focused on how the region can confront Iran and save the Middle East from falling into crisis.

And then, on Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman gave an interview during which he outlined the pros and cons of the talks and explained why Arab countries are engaged in these unofficial dialogues with Israel.

Liberman said: "For the first time there is an understanding there that the real threat is not Israel, the Jews or Zionism. It is Iran, global jihad, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda."

He continued: "There are contacts, there are talks, but we are very close to the stage in which within a year or 18 months it will no longer be secret, it will be conducted openly."

"I have spent more than a few years of meetings and talks with them. As far as they are concerned, there is only one red rag and that is Iran," he said.

"You have to understand that if in Bahrain outlaws Hamas or Hezbollah, it's not because of Israel. When the presidential candidate in Egypt, General al-Sisi, outlaws the Muslim Brotherhood, it's not because of Zionism. They understand that we are on the same side of the divide."

"I think that they too are stewing in their own juice and reaching an awareness that there will be no choice but to move from the secret stage of the dialogue between us to the open stage of the talks."

The winds of the Middle East might be changing.


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Elections in Egypt May 26-27
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday April 15, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

On May 26th and 27th Egypt is scheduled to have democratic elections.

Last July Egypt ousted their democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood party. Since then an interim government has been in place. That temporary government was supported by the military. And it was the military, together with public outrage at the Muslim Brotherhood, which ousted Morsi.

Now the former leader of that military, Abdel-Fatteh al-Sissi, has collected the 25,000 signatures necessary to run for president in the May elections.

We have always assumed that al-Sissi will run and that he would be a shoe in. But nothing is certain until it happens - and in the Middle East nothing is certain until the dust settles which can take a good few weeks.

Elections in Egypt are five weeks away and campaigning has yet to really begin.

We hope for a fair election and that whoever the winner is will propel Egypt towards a future that is more stable and free.

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Iran Drills on Iraqi Border
By Micah Halpern

Monday April 14, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Iranian media has been reporting on two very interesting pieces of information.

The first is that Iran has called off the move to position part of their naval fleet in the Atlantic. The decision was made because, at this point, they need to keep their ships closer to home.

The second is that the Iranian border patrol has embarked on a four day exercise involving drones, balloons, armored vehicles and 4,000 border guards. The drill will take place along the Iraqi border, covering five Iranian provinces.

Aside from the obvious need for preparedness, this drill is sending a direct message to Iraqi militia groups and smugglers warning them not to cross into Iran.

Iran is warning Iraqi leadership to make certain that their side of the border is secure. Or else!

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Al Qaeda Threatens Entire Middle East
By Micah Halpern

Sunday April 13, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

I was pleased to see that Egypt arrested Wael Ahmed Abdel Fattah on terror charges and charges of being affiliated with a terror organization.

Abdel Fattah, who worked for an oil company, went to Syria and fought alongside the al Qaeda affiliated group al Nusra in their battle to oust Syrian President Assad. Al Nusra is also locked in a bitter struggle against other rebel groups in Syria.

The natural outgrowth of an al Qaeda fighting force in Syria is to pop up, to sprout, to infiltrate surrounding countries. And now these al Qaeda groups have new, well trained fighters with battle experience.

Another outgrowth of al Qaeda groups fighting in Syria is the realization that even those leaders who supported ousting Assad - like the Egyptians, have now been turned into the targets of the rebels groups they were supporting in Syria.

The complexity and multi-layered underpinnings of the war in Syria are only now beginning to be understood by the world. The repercussions will be felt for a long time.

The Middle East is an extremely complicated region. And yet, for decades, world leaders chose to describe it in the most simple of terms. Now they must face the truth - the Middle East no longer fits the simple narrative they imposed upon it.

Al Qaeda is setting their sights on every single country in the Middle East. And after that, they intend to conquer the West.

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Syrian Update
By Micah Halpern

Saturday April 12, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Syria has been on the back burner for most media outlets these past few weeks. Yet, there are still important developments that warrant our attention.

The process of the disposal of non-conventional weapons by Syria had come to a halt, but is now back on track.

And Assad has continued to solidify control over more and more of Syria.

Most importantly, rebel forces continue to fight one another more than they are fighting Assad. Over the past 36 hours 68 rebels have been killed by other rebels. The fighting is taking place in the area around Bukamal which is situated in Eastern Syria, near to the border with Iraq. Bukamal just happens to be the site of Syria's rich oil reserves.

The conflicts are between an al Qaeda breakaway called the Islamic State of Iraq and between the Levant and an al Qaeda affiliate called Al Nusra. There were times when the forces worked together, but for the past 18 months they have been viscously battling each of over.

They are battling over the question of who has the greater faith.

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If Deal Goes Thru Bibi Might Fall
By Micah Halpern

Friday April 11, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Rumors abound about a deal that will put the Israeli /Palestinian peace talks back on track. But not all concerned parties are in favor.

The deal, according to Al Arabiya, a usually reliable media source, goes like this: Israel agrees to free more prisoners and temporarily freeze construction; Palestinians extend the April 29th talk deadline and stop all UN advances for membership; the United States frees Jonathan Pollard.

All is fine - except. Except that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition might just fall apart.

Coalition member Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi (The Jewish Home Party) said in response to the deal: "If any proposal freeing Israeli murderers is put before the government, the Bayit Yehudi will object, and if it will pass - the Bayit Yehudi will leave the government which frees murderers with Israeli citizenship. Enough is enough."

Bennett continued: "I hope to see Pollard freed from prison soon, but not through immoral deals like the one currently being proposed."

Bennett has 12 of the 68 seats in the Netanyahu coalition. A coalition requires 60 seats out of 120 members of Knesset. If Bennett and his party pull out, the government falls. When the government fails, Bibi Netanyahu is out.

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Israel Launches Satellite
By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 10, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday, Israel launched another advanced satellite into space.
This Israeli satellite is named OFEK 10.

The new satellite joins OFEK 9, which is already in orbit.

Each OFEK satellite takes 90 minutes to circle the globe. The satellites are evenly spaced and now, every 45 minutes, Israel has real time pictures of what is happening.

This addition to Israel's satellite system brings with it significant improvement to Israel's security. Now Israel can better monitor what is happening in places of concern. They can, for example, watch and see in real time if Iran is moving missiles and if so, where.

Israel was the seventh country in the world to launch satellites.
Today that club is still very small. Only twelve countries possess the satellite technology. They are: United States, Russia, China, France, Italy, Britain, India, South Korea, Japan, Ukraine, and Iran and Israel.

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Peres Visits China
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 9, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israeli President Shimon Peres is on an official three day offical visit to China. Peres is the first Israeli Presidential visit to China in ten years.

Yesterday Peres met with Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday. Their meeting lasted two hours.

There is no doubt that the two presidents spoke about Iran's nuclear technology and the threat it poses to Israel, the region and the world. They also spoke about Palestinian / Israeli negotiation and probably about Syria.

It appears that Peres was moderately successful in convincing his Chinese counterpart of the dangers Iran poses. But never the less, Xi Jinping stressed that China is in favor of talks and negotiations with Iran.

With that, Peres tried to make sure that China will help make certain that, in the course of negotiations, Iran does not quietly slip into a position in which they actually do have nuclear weapons.

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PA Will Turn to Russia
By Micah Halpern

Monday April 7, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The US and Israel still feel the after effects of the trouncing they took at the hands of the Palestinians last week.

And now, as I have been predicting for the past two years, the Palestinians have another card up their sleeve - a card that neither the US nor Israel ever took seriously.
Russia.

After the events involving Ukraine and Crimea, after the role Russia played in Syria, the Palestinians have the perfect entree to go and request that Russia be their mediator in talks with Israel.

There have been game changing events in the Middle East over the past few years and Russia has been vying for more influence in the region. Now they have the perfect opportunity. And the best part of it all is that the Russians can, once again, show the world not only how the United States has failed but also how they can be counted on for the win.

Of course it will happen just as the Palestinians want. Israel will be forced into a discussion with the Palestinians and the third party will be Putin. In the best of all worlds the United States will remain a part of the discussion - even if only as a fourth wheel.

If I were advising Abbas and the Palestinians that is exactly what I would suggest. Invite the Russians to join the table. And watch out for sharp knives.

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Iran & Pakistan Navies Engage in War Games
By Micah Halpern

Sunday April 6, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Non-Western news agencies are filled with the story of Iran and Pakistan and their naval maneuvers in the Straits of Hormuz.

The Chinese press is all over the story.

In the West few people will know what story I am talking about - but they should. So here it is:

On Saturday a flotilla of Pakistani naval ships docked in Bandar Abbas in advance of a four-day joint exercise with Iran. According to the Tehran Times the ships included a missile launching warship, a supply ship and an advanced submarine.

The obvious reason for the drills is to advance military cooperation between the two countries. There will also be meetings between the leaders of both navies.

The untold agenda is far more significant.

Iran and Pakistan are proclaiming to the West that they are hardly pariahs. They are saying that there are real and substantial relationships between them and that they will stand by one another in the case of political or military attack. They are making the point that the "international isolation" of Iran is not working.

They are reprimanding the West. Iran and Pakistan are saying that a byproduct of the serious talks between Iran and the West concerning
Iran's nuclear technology is to make "international inclusion" the more operative status.

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Potential Blow Back on the Palestinians
By Micah Halpern

Saturday April 5, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel and the United States are evaluating responses to the recent and very bold initiative taken by the Palestinians to join the United Nations via its agencies and treaties.

The obvious counter response by the United States is to withhold nearly $1 billion in funding.

Israel has many more options. They can decide not to hand over import taxes collected at Israeli ports for Palestinian products.
They can make traveling from area to area on the West Bank very difficult. Or they can grind the current political model to the ground.

Most importantly, Israel had the ability to withdraw its protection of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Israel has made a concerted effort to squelch Hamas and other anti-PA activity in the West bank as a way of currying favor with Abbas, their peace partner and with his Palestinian Authority.

Israel can, easily and indirectly, cause the ousting of Abbas and his entire regime. It is a response that is being considered over all other responses right now.

The down side of implementing that plan is best articulated by the famous quote from Machiavelli: "the enemy you know is better than the enemy that you don't."

In this case, Israel knows both Hamas and Abbas and it is not going to be an easy decision.

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Israel Warns of Hack Attack
By Micah Halpern

Friday April 4, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel has announced a cyber alert for all government and national websites.

The alert is in effect from Friday through Monday. There will be only limited international access. Upgrades and maintenance are postponed. Almost all government financial transactions with outside vendors will be pushed off until after Monday.

Israel has received intelligence that over the next few days there will be a cyber attack against their computer systems. The attack will emanate from pro-Palestinian hackers around the world.

The hackers hope to ride the wave of the huge diplomatic success Palestinians have had over the past week. The Palestinians have left both the Israelis and the United States flat footed as they push hard to expand their independence - not just their statehood.

Palestinian supporters are urging Palestinian leadership to step out with swag and style. They are saying you took charge of the negotiations and put your diplomatic foot down.

In truth, Palestinian leadership is acting to meet short term interests and rubbing the noses of the US and Israel in their new found power and prowess. Their people and their supporters, who assumed that the leadership did not have the gonads for any of this, are elated.

This new support has propelled the popularity of PA leadership over that of Hamas leadership. They should enjoy the revelry and euphoria now. It will soon come to an end. Long term interests trump short term victories.

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DC Upset by the Palestinians
By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 3, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The White House is livid, Congress even more so. They are furious with the Palestinians.

It is not like Washington to be unified in their frustrations with the Palestinians. As a whole, the Palestinians usually get the benefit of the doubt and are seldom called to task for their mistakes or deliberate jabs against the United States.

This time is different.

Calling off talks with Israel and starting a full-court press for UN recognition through the 60 or so treaties and UN-affiliated organizations is a violation of the very deal the United States has been working so hard to achieve. The worst part of it all is that the Palestinians are proceeding a month before the deadline.
Congress is investigating ways to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority. The White House has not yet figured out how to respond.

The Palestinians response is that they were given no choice, that they had to act, that this was their only move.

In politics, there is seldom simply one move. And unilateral moves always result in strong responses. Now we watch and see how the United States responds.

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Fast Changes in Mid East
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 2, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Changes are emerging so quickly, it is hard to keep it all straight.

Israeli / Palestinian / US interaction was stalled. In order to jumpstart a discussion so many different proposals have been put forth that it is impossible to figure out which are realistic and what may actually take hold.

There is no way of knowing what is actually being suggested, but leaks and travel schedules can be extremely telling. For instance, when the US secretary of state makes an unscheduled trip to region, then promises to return the next day, then cancels that trip, something is happening.

When the president of the Palestinian Authority promises to not go to the United Nation and ask for full membership in its committees and then he begins the process of filling out the paperwork, something is happening. We know something is happening even when the US secretary of state says it is not so.

When each side has completely different talking points about the status of almost every item they are supposed to be negotiating about, we know there is a problem.

This is a sign of the futility of the venture - at least for the moment.

April 29th is the actual deadline for the negotiations. From the behaviors of the parties, one would think that the deadline was March 29th.

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Pollard Is US Ace in the Hole
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday April 1, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A few weeks ago I wrote about murmurings emanating from the White House suggesting that freedom for Jonathan Pollard would be dangled in front of the Israelis as a means of luring them into making difficult concessions to the Palestinians.

Now clearly articulated voices are even tossing around dates for his release. I have heard that if it happens, it will happen before Passover which takes place in two weeks - on April 14.

Spokespeople in the State Department and the White House have no comment on whether this is a real or fantasy proposal.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians have threatened to launch full scale bid for recognition in all UN agencies if Israel does not release the third and final set of prisoners originally scheduled to be released this past Sunday. When US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unscheduled trip to the region yesterday he was slapped with this Palestinian ultimatum.

So in order to mollify the Israelis, the Obama administration might play the Pollard card. No US presidential administration has come this close to freeing Pollard who was arrested on November 21, 1985 and convicted in 1987.

The problem is that the United States holds very few cards - and even fewer aces, when it comes to enticing Israel. The one ace is Jonathan Pollard. As it now stands, it is not even clear that the Palestinians are ready for a peace deal. And if that is the case, it would be a waste for the United States to play their ace right now.

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Palestinians & 3rd Intifada
By Micah Halpern

Monday March 31, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Palestinians are threatening a 3rd Intifada. An intifada is a huge spontaneous uprising against the Israelis.

They threaten violence if Israel does come through on the promised to release the 4th group of Palestinian prisoners. The prisoners were scheduled to be released on Sunday. By Friday it was clear the prisoners would not go free.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said that they would go free only after the Palestinians come back to the negotiating table and there is some real progress.

The hook that lured the Palestinians to the table for the last round of talks was the promise to release prisoners. But now, after three sets of prisoners have already been released, the Palestinians are not so eager to return to the table.

Israel says come to the table and you will get the prisoners.
Once again, Israel and the Palestinians are at a stalemate.

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Egypt Opens Border w Gaza
By Micah Halpern

Sunday March 30, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

On Saturday, Egypt opened their border with Gaza at Rafah and permitted 6000 Gazans to enter.

Since July when Sisi overthrew Morsi assuming the presidency of
Egypt the border has been closed and only opened sporadically.
Gazans claim that the thousands of people waiting to re-enter Egypt are students waiting to return to classes and the sick, waiting entry to hospitals for treatment.

The Egyptians say that Gaza is exporting extremism and that using tunnels and border crossings terrorists are entering Egypt and embarking on attacks that result in destabilization and murder.

Egypt has said that since July they have destroyed over 1000 tunnels that smuggles people and goods. They say that now all the tunnels have been destroyed.

But Hamas and other groups claim that there are many more tunnels that have not been destroyed and that they will continue to shuttle people and weapons and food and supplies in and out of Gaza.

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More Violence in Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Saturday March 29, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Three people died in protests in Cairo yesterday.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been protesting the mass conviction, sentencing and execution of hundreds of members. They have taken to the streets.

As is to be expected, Egyptian authorities have clamped down on the unrest and the streets have turned violent. According to some reports, one of the victims of the violence was a female journalist - but I have not been able to confirm the identities of any of the victims.

Egyptian leadership has determined that the Muslim Brotherhood is a real threat to their democracy and to their very culture as a state. They have finally concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood should be made illegal. The process of closing them down will be fraught with continued conflict and more violence.

To put it in perspective, the Muslim Brotherhood has been a legal organization for just under three years. Since its founding in 1928 until the revolution in 2011 that ousted Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was illegal.

In Egypt, this situation is not so unusual at all.

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Turkey to Block Youtube
By Micah Halpern

Friday March 28, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday Turkey began blocking another social media site. Now the Turkish government is shutting down YouTube. Last week Turkish President Erdogan shut down twitter.

Despite the outpouring of international and Western criticism, the site remains shuttered. I am being told that, this time, people are finding ways around the twitter shut down.

YouTube is closed after a damning and embarrassing tape of an important meeting was posted. It was a meeting between the Turkish foreign minister, the head of Turkish intelligence, the deputy head of the Army and other important diplomats and leaders. The government officials were plotting an invasion into Syria.

A leak of this sort was a clear violation of Turkish law. The tape contained plans to intervene in Syria. YouTube is a platform, it is a vehicle. Content is not evaluated, it is a place where people post.

The government of Turkey should find the person who posted the video and punish that person. YouTube as a social media platform is a great tool and it should not be closed.

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Syria Launches New Airline
By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 27, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Kinda is the name of a new Syrian international airline. The airline will begin operations within the next few weeks.

The most telling part of this new venture is that after three years of civil war Syrian leadership believes that they can invest in the business of moving people - locals, business people and tourists - in and out of two major airports, one in Damascus and the other in Latakia.

Kinda anticipates that within a few months they will be servicing 10 destinations including Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.

The entire coastal region of Syria is under the total control of Bashar Assad and in his eyes and in the eyes of people on the ground, the situation is fast approaching normalcy.

Syrian leadership hopes that this new government-sponsored airline will help invigorate travel and attract people to visit and invest in Syria as it rebuilds. The creation and launch of Kinda is intended to symbolize the transition from war to rebuilding.

This does not mean that all is quiet, it does mean that the conflict is winding down.

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Iran Out-Smarts West in Hormuz
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday March 26, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Iran always thinks strategically. And the move they just made is brilliant.

According to ISNA, the official government Iranian Student News Agency, Iran is planning to open an oil shipping terminal outside the straits of Hormuz, in Bandar Jask on the Gulf of Oman.

It will be the second oil terminal Iran has opened outside of
Hormuz. The first is on the island of Khark.

Why is this move so brilliant? Because it protects Iranian national interests.

Somewhere between 20% and 25% of the daily supply of oil for the entire world goes through the Straits of Hormuz. And Iran is in control of the Straits.

But Iran has threatened to shut down the Straits. If they did indeed shut them down, it would impact their own oil exports. But if Iran had its own outlet for oil, an outlet that avoided the Straits, they would be free to close the Straits of Hormuz at any time without any real economic risk.

The price of crude oil would skyrocket and Iran could continue to supply the market. A win win for Iran.

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Arab League Summit - Conflict
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 25, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The 25th Arab League Summit is now taking place. The summit is fraught with tension.

So far, participants have agreed that the 26th summit will be held next year in Cairo.

But seriously now, Qatar is causing a stir. Qatar is sponsoring the Muslim Brotherhood - and Saudi Arabia and Egypt are trying to pressure Qatar to withdraw that support.

There is real talk about creating an Arab League resolution that would condemn terror and isolate the Muslim Brotherhood. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are in agreement that the Muslim Brotherhood is a major cause of internal strike within the Arab world in general, and especially in their respective countries.

Other points of contention during this summit are the Arab spring and events in Syria.

Interestingly, last year during the summit Syrian opposition sat in the Syrian chair - this year the chair is empty. The Arab League is not convinced that Syrian opposition, because of who they are and what they represent, deserve a seat at the table.

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Hamas Sends Text Messages to Israel
By Micah Halpern

Monday March 24, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas, or some other terror group from Gaza, has just sent out a mass series of text messages. The messages threaten Israel and promise revenge for the death of Sheik Ahmed Yassin who was killed in a surgical missile strike by Israel in Gaza 10 years ago.

The texts, written in Hebrew, read:

"If Gaza will be attacked the life of the Zionists will be hell"

"In the next war all the Land of Palestine will return"

"Al Qassam has chosen you to be the next Shalit"

"We don't forget the blood of our sheik. We swear again to take revenge, and this time by taking off the head of your leaders"

"Zionist killed our sheik by missile and now our missile can hit every corner of Zionist state"

And they are signed: "Sheikh Yassin's Followers"

The purpose of these messages is to frighten average Israelis who picked up their phones and were invaded with the text messages.

Israel's phone systems were hacked. In 2009 Hamas also succeeded in sending text messages, but the Hebrew was very poor and they were not taken seriously. These are different. This time Israelis who read the texts feel as if their privacy has been invaded. It is as if the terrorists threatened them personally.

The phone companies are trying to make certain that this does not happen again.

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Pollard May Be An Incentive
By Micah Halpern

Sunday March 23, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The US Israel relationship is very sturdy. It is also very complicated.

Yes, the United States is upset because Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has spoken out of turn. And there will be a price to pay. Exactly how much and when is still to be decided.

But now the US is also very worried, this time about the breakdown of Israeli Palestinian talks. The deadline is just a few weeks away. And the US needs to incentivize the talks.

Israel is the party that will need to capitulate, accommodate and compromise. That is the nature of the beast. Israel is the powerful party and in the eyes of the United States it is Israel, not the Palestinians, who must give in.

Given the impasse, the question of the day is what will help Israel along the path to compromise? There are not many things that can be used as incentives for Israel.

And so, for the first time in decades, I am hearing whispers about the United States raising the Jonathan Pollard case and using it as a fulcrum to help Israel come around to thinking about the negotiations through the perspective of the United States.

In the end, the United States may very well sweeten the deal by promising to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. That would be a new, and long sought, development.

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Israel's Def Min Insults the US -- Again
By Micah Halpern

Saturday March 22, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel's Defense Minister has once again insulted the United States. Defense Minister Ya'alon, voicing his own point of view, said that the image that US President Obama and the United States present to the world is best described as "feebleness."

In the past Ya'alon has said that Kerry "should just get his Noble Peace Prize and leave us alone."

And indeed, in the past Ya'alon has apologized. This time he offered a clarification to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. But neither the White House nor the State Department are satisfied with the "clarification."

The question begs asking: why does the White House care at all about the rants of Israel's Defense Minister. Sure, his comments were insulting but they were for internal consumption not for international broadcasting.

And internally, the Israeli understood. They took the comments for what they were - an attack on their own prime minister.

Now Ya'alon is persona non grata in the halls of power. I doubt that this time not even an apology will get him out of the DC dog house. And I fear that this situation might impact on Ya'alon's ability to do his job.

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Turkey Wants to Close Twitter
By Micah Halpern

Friday March 21, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Turkey is on the eve of national municipal elections scheduled for March 30.

Pressure is mounting. These municipal elections are a referendum on Erdogan and his leadership. While he is not running personally in this election, everyone in the country is either voting for or against him by proxy.

Yesterday at an election rally Erdogan threatened to shut down twitter and other social media. The social media chatter has become an effective tool of the opposition especially the youth.

Erdogan said that he will shut them down and he does not care about world condemnation. Of course, Erdogan's statements are electioneering. He is trying to turn his people against the West and Western technology.

No one can predict what will happen. Erdogan can fail or he can succeed. Only time will tell.

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PA to Drill For Oil
By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 20, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Every once in a while you hear or read about crazy idea.

Like this: EU representative and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair together with US Secretary of State John Kerry are suggesting that the Palestinians drill for oil. The two leaders drew up the initiative and now, together with the Palestinian Authority, they are seeking proposals for oil exploration.

What were they thinking? The area that the Palestinian Authority plans to explore covers 155 square miles - and most of it is in Israeli controlled land. According to all previous agreements as well as the location for the exploration, the process would require Israel's agreement.

Why are Blair and Kerry involved? What company would dump money into this exploration? Has no one asked for the research?

There have already been a large number of exploration surveys and viability studies. And all the research has determined that there is no energy profit to be made in the West Bank and that part of Israel.

Crazy and dangerous. Blair and Kerry have just created and opened up another Pandora's Box of strife and controversy between the PA and Israel.

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Egypt & Ethiopia in Conflict over Nile
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday March 19, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Egypt and Ethiopia have been locked in conflict for a year.

Ethiopia is diverting part of the Blue Nile River in order to create a huge hydro electric dam called the Great Renaissance Dam. Work on the $4.7 billion project began last year and should be completed in three more years.

The Blue Nile begins in Ethiopia and flows into Sudan where it merges with the White Nile and forms the famous Nile River.

Diverting the Nile for any purpose is an explosive act because it could cause a death blow to any of the ten Nile Basin desert countries that are dependent on its fresh water.

In 1929 Egypt and Ethiopia signed a treaty promising not to alter the Nile without mutual approval. Then, in 1970, when Ethiopia attempted to build 26 dams Egypt rejected the plan. And in 1993 the two countries again signed a deal stipulating that neither would do anything to the Nile that would harm the other's interests.

Now we arrive at the present day conflict.

Both parties are talking but there is no agreement. Egypt is not happy with the current project and tensions are rising.

In that part of the world fresh water is far more valuable than oil.

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Jerusalem the Gold - A Model For Muslims
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 18, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

An Islamic conference is taking place in Teheran, Iran right now. Of course, one of the major themes of the conference focuses on the evils of Israel or, as they call it, the Zionist entity.

Ramadan Salah, the leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, spoke in a way that was truly surprising. Salah explained the significance of
Naomi Shemer's legendary song "Jerusalem the Gold" saying that the Zionists have taught their children the importance of Jerusalem and this famous song symbolizes that message.

Salah said: "There is a song the Zionist army sang when it conquered the Al-Aqsa mosque. It is called Jerusalem of Gold."

"Every child in the Zionist entity and every soldier in that cursed entity memorizes the lyrics to this song."

Then he added: "many well-known Western artists have sung it in English."

By way of critique and comparison Salah asked the crowd: "What is the significance of Jerusalem in our culture?" "What is its significance in our religion?"

The leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza was telling the Muslim participants at this conference that Jews around the world connect to Jerusalem as do so many other people around the world - while Muslims do not.

His plea to Muslim leaders was to go home and change their message.

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Israel Imrpoves Security Due to Malaysia Flight
By Micah Halpern

Monday March 17, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel is responding to the disappearance of Malaysia flight # 370.

The Israelis have instituted a series of new security steps to prevent commercial aircraft from becoming weapons.

Israel has extended the required range for airlines to announce that they will be entering Israeli airspace. The buffer was already a significant distance and security secret. Now it is even larger and gives radar and air force teams that much more time to make certain that a passenger airplane is indeed what it says it is.

Over the past year there have been numerous passenger planes that have not followed Israel's procedures in air. They entered Israeli airspace and were met with F-16 fighter jets and escorts until they properly identified themselves using the required codes.

Israel believes that pilot suicide and plane hijackings are very real risks to their security, so they are constantly and diligently improving their security measures.

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Russian War Games in The Med
By Micah Halpern

Saturday March 15, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

We have not paid much attention to the Russian navy now stationed in the Mediterranean.

The Russians have a very formidable force in the Middle East. Most significantly their only aircraft carrier, named Admiral Kunetzov, is stationed in the region.

And it should come as no surprise that the Russians are presently engaged in war games and exercises in the Mediterranean. That means that tens of fighter jets and helicopters are practicing and drilling their evacuation and medical teams.

But the real purpose of this public display is to let everyone know that Russia has a real force in the region.

Russia is also making a clear point: As things get more difficult for Russia in the Ukraine, things will get more difficult for the West in Syria and in the Middle East.

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US Changes POV on "Jewish State"
By Micah Halpern

Friday March 14, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Imagine my surprise when I read this official comment by Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department.

Psaki said that --- "If you look at the issue of a Jewish state and whether Israel will be called a Jewish state, that's been our position, as you know, for a long time, but that doesn't reflect what the parties will agree to ... and of course there are many issues like that that are being discussed as part of the framework."

This comment means that the US is not committed to the Israel's demand that the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish State.

This statement assumes that the Jewish State issue is still up for discussion. That means that US Secretary of State Kerry realizes that Palestinian President Abbas will not budge on this issue.

And that in turn means that Israel must be forced to compromise.

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Iran's Rouhani Visits Oman
By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 13, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran made his first visit to an Arab country since assuming office. Yesterday, Rouhani visited Oman.

This short two day trip is much more important than it appears.

Rouhani flew into Muscat accompanied by a very significant Iranian economic delegation. Ostensibly, the purpose of the trip is to build better relations between the countries and to bolster trade and, quite frankly, all other interactions.

But the real purpose of this trip is to explore mutual interests.

Iran and Oman are separated by only one tiny strait. They share the most important straits in the world - the Straits of Hormuz. On one side is Iran and on the other is Oman. And every single day between 20% and 25% of the world's oil passes through those straits.

Iran and Oman need to be on decent terms in order to effectively achieve their own and their shared aims. They both know that there is much that divides them. Rouhani is hoping to find those things that unite them and to make Oman happy enough to permit Iran to use
Hormuz in order to achieve its objectives.

We can only guess at what those objectives are.

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Turkey is Erupting Again
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday March 12, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Protests plague Turkey once again.

This time around the protests have erupted for several reasons.
Most important is that a 15 year old boy died from the wounds he suffered during an anti-government protest in June last summer. The boy was hit with a tear gas canister and lapsed into a coma. Upon his death, huge rallies were organized.

Although people are, quite rightfully, upset by the death of this young man his death is really a tool with which to draw Turks to the protests.

The real reason for the huge anti-government protests taking place now is that in less than three weeks the nation goes to the polls. And although the elections will only be for municipal and regional posts, the entire country will be voting.

The election is seen as a referendum for or against President Erdogan.

For the first time since he was elected to power nine years ago in 2003, Erdogan is worried.

In December major players associated with Erdogan were arrested and investigated on corruption charges. He has since begun a significant - but unsuccessful - campaign to prop himself up and deflecting the bad PR.

Turkey has been out of the limelight for some time. Expect it to return to center stage in the next month.

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Gas -- The Ukraine and Russia
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 11, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The UN Security Council met again yesterday - and Russia was feeling the isolation. Everyone, even China, spoke against the Russian land grab in Crimea and the future referendum scheduled for May 16.

The EU is going to meet next week, on March 17, and they will be talking about increasing their pressure on Russia to pull out.

But Russia still has a few cards still to play.

Gazprom, the Russian gas company, supplies the Ukraine with natural gas. They are demanding payment for February which comes to $1.3 billion. Gazprom is the largest natural gas extractor and supplier in the world. Russia says that if they do not get paid they will not deliver gas in March.

There's more. Six EU countries receive 100% of their natural gas from Russia. 75% of Russia's natural gas export goes to the EU. That means that Russia exerts tremendous influence on EU decisions.

The EU and the West can try to flex their muscles but it should be clear who holds the better cards in this game.

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Libya on Verge of Civil War
By Micah Halpern

Monday March 10, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Conflict is about to get ugly in Libya. It is a country on the verge of a civil war.

Rebels, who are demanding more liberal changes, have taken over three major ports since the summer. Now a North Korean oil tanker is sitting in the port of Sadr. The rebels want to fill the tanker and send it on its way.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan went on national TV and warned everyone, including the crew of the ship, saying: "The tanker will be bombed if it doesn't follow orders when leaving (the port). This will be an environmental disaster."

Zeidan was not issuing an idle threat. In January the Libyans used their navy to block rebel ports and prevent tankers from entering and picking up oil.

On Saturday the rebels sacrificed a camel in Sadr and the footage shows the North Korean tanker in the background. The rebels were celebrating their first filling of the tanker filling and wishing it well.

It looks like a Libyan standoff. Expect fireworks - literally.

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Hamas Beats Up on Fatah in Gaza
By Micah Halpern

Sunday March 9, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Hamas police brutally beat up on and then broke up a rally of Fatah supporters in Khan Yunis today. People were injured and people were arrested. They twenty people who were arrested were released only after signing a document saying that they would never again participate in illegal gatherings.

The rally was a memorial and show of support for those who died fighting (against Israel).

The rally did not have a permit - and that was the reason given for breaking it up.

The entire episode shows the important distinctions and tensions that exist between Hamas and Fatah, the two largest Palestinian groups. Ever since the parliamentary election of 2006, when Hamas won the plurality but Abbas and the PA never permitted them to assume their elected, role there have been violent tensions between the groups. That includes the 2007 brutal and murderous coup that ousted the PA from Gaza.

There have been attempts at reconciliation. And agreements have been signed. The latest agreement was signed in 2012, but never implemented. There is terrible hatred and terrible distrust between Hamas and Fatah.

Now Hamas is feeling the strangle hold of Egypt which closed their border with Gaza and has made Hamas illegal in Egypt. Add to that the loss of Hezbollah and Iranian support and you understand how Hamas has been marginalized, weakened and starved.

Hamas will continue to lash out at Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. That is all that is left for them to do.

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US - Israel Special Realtionship
By Micah Halpern

Friday March 7, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday, Congress passed a bill that transforms the relationship between the United States and Israel.

The bill classifies Israel as a "strategic partner." That classification comes with great benefits. Under the bill Israel will receive tremendous security benefits as well as priority on weapons surpluses.

The bill is now off to the Senate where it is expected to pass overwhelmingly and then to the president who is expected to sign it.

The original draft of the legislation had an additional benefit that Israeli citizens were very much hoping to achieve. But in the final version, it was removed.

The clause would have permitted Israelis automatic tourist visas. Israeli citizens would get visas upon arrival in the United States the same way US citizens get them when they enter Israel. It would have streamlined Israelis access to the US, a process that often requires long months of waiting and even denial.

That privileged status may still come - but at a later date and by way of another bill.

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Agreements to Protect -- Don't Protect
By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 6, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Have any of you heard of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances? Here's a hint. It was signed in Budapest, in 1994.
My guess is, probably not.

The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances was an agreement wherein the Ukraine agreed to dismantle all nuclear weapons in exchange for security and safety. It was signed in Budapest on December of 1994 and the signees were US President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Here is the official summary: Russia, the UK and the USA undertake to respect Ukraine's borders in accordance with the principles of the 1975 CSCE Final Act, to abstain from the use or threat of force against Ukraine, to support Ukraine where an attempt is made to place pressure on it by economic coercion, and to bring any incident of aggression by a nuclear power before the UN Security Council.

In other words: the United States and Great Britain (forget about Russia) and the world promise to protect the Ukraine.

This agreement and others like it, really do not help much. This one is certainly not protecting the Ukraine.

Now imagine what Israel is thinking and what lessons Israelis are learning from this. How can Israel possibly assume that the United States will, should the time come, come to its defense?

Israel has learned that the best they can expect is an appeal to the UN Security Council. Not much consolation there.

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Quenelle Salute - Player Gets Punished
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday March 5, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The UEFA suspended Omar Rahou for repeatedly using the quenelle, the inverted Nazi salute. The Union of European Football (soccer) Associations has zero tolerance for any hint of racism and has punished Rahou a Belgium player for 10 games.

Omar Rahou joins Nicolas Anelka as players who used the saluted and suffered the punishment suspension.

The quenelle has become a rallying point for anti-Semites throughout Europe as they follow in the footsteps of the French comedian, Dieudonne, who invented the gesture.

The shame of it all is that the quenelle continues to gain popularity. On the positive side, decent people and organizations like the UEFA understand the danger of this kind of racism and are clamping down and doing their best to stymie the momentum.

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Why We Should Care About Urkraine
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 4, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Over the past week or so one of the most common questions asked of me on air and during lectures has been about the Ukraine and the role of Russia vis a vis the Ukraine.

More specifically, people are asking why we should care about what happens in the Ukraine. And they are asking if Russia is pulling a land grab.

My response is brief and to the point: Think energy natural gas and oil.

Since the crisis with Russia and the Ukraine, oil and natural gas prices have skyrocketed. The principle reason for the increase is that Russia is a major producer and refiner of oil and a producer of natural gas. And the Ukraine's largest export is oil.

Now that there is a threat of war between Russia and the Ukraine the market is talking. And the market is saying that any actions that put at risk the flow of oil and natural gas will drive up prices.

Because Russia is poised for war and has taken over Crimea, the price of energy has increased.

If that isn't enough of a reason for the West to care about what is happening with the Ukraine and Russia, I don't know what is.

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Bibi Obama Meeting Today
By Micah Halpern

Monday March 3, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

In the Oval Office today President Barack Obama will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Both leaders have made opening moves before the meeting. On Thursday Obama sat down for an interview with Jeffery Goldberg that was posted on Sunday, on Bloomberg. Before boarding his plane to the US, Netanyahu issued a statement from his office.

There was a clear objective in both messages - announcing the direction they each wanted the meeting to take. As is often the case, there was nothing new or surprising in either message, nothing the other leader is not already aware of.

In essence, both Israel and the United States are on the same side conceptually, it is the practical side, the nuts and bolts, that puts them at odds with each other. Actually, it is all about time and timing.

Obama believes that there is no real time left for continued discussion of the Palestinian issue. He believes that if a resolution is not arrived at now, the United States will not be able to successfully support Israel in the international arena. And on the Iranian issue, on the other hand, Obama thinks there is plenty of time left to let Iran come around.

Netanyahu thinks exactly the opposite. He believes that there is plenty of time on the Palestinian issue but on the Iranian issue, there is no time left at all.

It is past the point where Obama and Netanyahu can agree to disagree. Sparks will be flying out of the Oval Office.

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Difference Btw Ukraine & Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Sunday March 2, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

What makes the ousting of the Ukrainian President Victor Yukashenko different from the ousting of the democratically elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi?

The difference is that Egypt's ousting of Morsi was accomplished by a coup and Ukraine's ousting of Yukashenko was a legal transition of power.

Both leaders were elected to serve their country. During the resulting unrest, there was violence and people were killed in both countries. Both had huge rallies in support of and opposition to their leadership and there were massive protests in both main city squares. In both cases the protestors leaned towards Western influences while the presidents leaned toward traditional, older school influences. In the case of Egypt, Morsi affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and in the Ukraine Yukashenko leaned toward Russia.

The significant difference is that in the Ukraine, Yukashenko fled. He fled the capital and tried to escape the country. Eventually, he succeeded and landed in Moscow. Yukashenko ran for his life for fear of being killed or arrested. He abdicated his office.

Once he left his office, he was no longer in charge and the process of transition applied. The Ukrainian parliament put a temporary government in place and stability was restored.

In Egypt, Morsi refused to leave. He had to be forced out of his post, then he was arrested and then he was replaced.

In the end it may sound the same but in reality it is the difference between a coup d'etat and a democratic ousting of an elected president.

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WMD Convoy Attacked in Syira
By Micah Halpern

Saturday March 1, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

No details were given but it was a very disturbing report.

According to a report given to the UN Security Council, two convoys carrying chemical weapons were attacked while transferring their materials in Syria. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told the UN Security Council that on Thursday January 27, 2014 while transporting Syrian weapons of mass destruction for their ultimate removal and destruction the convoys were attacked.

Unfortunately, we do not know who attacked the convoys nor do we know the nature of the attack or the extent of the damage.

We can assume, however, that the weapons were not compromised. We can assume that they did not become volatile and/or dangerous. We can also assume that the weapons did not fall into the wrong hands.

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300 Anne Frank Diaries Vandalized in Japan
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 28, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Anti-Semitism can be found anyplace ... even places without Jews and without a history of Jews or Jew hatred ... even in Japan.
308 copies of Anne Frank's diary were vandalized and destroyed in Japan. The vandals also destroyed entries on Anne Frank in reference books. The damage was so pervasive, it was found in 11 of the 13 public libraries in the capital city Tokyo.

Israel has just donated 300 new copies of Anne's book "Diary of a Young Girl". It is without a doubt the most famous book on the Holocaust ever published. It chronicles the life of a young girl in hiding with her family in a tiny secret room in Amsterdam.

The journal was never completed - neighbors informed the Nazis about the family and they were taken away to the notorious concentration camp Bergen Belsen where Anne died.

Anne Frank's thought and insights belie her young age and pre-War insulated upbringing. She asks and ponders the role of good and evil. She contemplates love and the importance of family. More than anything, Anne yearns for freedom.

An investigation is going on in Japan. It is very clear from the number of books destroyed that this was a carefully planned calculated attempt to rid Japan's public libraries and information centers of one of the most important first hand testimonies of the Holocaust.

That is deeply disturbing.

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Iran is Exporting More Oil
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 27, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Iran has increased its oil export for the fourth month in a row.
According to sources monitoring the oil tankers, it is clear that
Iran has continued to increase its oil production and its exports. And increased exports are a tremendous injection of cash into the Iranian economy.

According to the sources, Iran will have exported 1.30 million barrels per day in the month of February. That is an increase of 100,000 barrels per day.

The main destination for these oil tankers appears to be Syria and South Korea. And it seems that sometimes the tankers unload at sea. They transfer their cargo ship to ship so no one really knows where the oil is from and where it is going. That happened twice this February in Indonesian waters.

It should be clear that Iran is taking full advantage of the situation presented it by the new international "let's trust Iran to do the right thing" attitude the world has adopted. That attitude has provided Iran with an entry visa back into the world oil market - even with the serious sanctions that are still out there.

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German Gov Ministers In Israel
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 26, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Over the past few days German government ministers - including the prime minister, the foreign minister and the education minister, were on a group visit to Israel.

It was a very important bonding experience for Israel.

Germany made the gesture to assure Israel that they are a true supporter and not merely a fair weather friend. As is the case with friends, several significant disagreements between Germany and Israel came to light during the visit.

The main difference of opinion is over the handling of Iran. Israel thinks that the only effective way to stop Iran's nuclear program is to insist on the dismantling of technology. Germany, an integral member of the P5+1, agrees with the rest of that group that it is possible and even preferable to negotiate with Iran and create a plan for slowing down and monitoring Iran's enrichment and nuclear development program.

Israel believes that the point of view of the six nations negotiating with Iran is nothing short of naive and that there is no real way to monitor and/or guarantee that Iran will keep up their end of the deal.

The friends agreed to disagree - but the debate is far from over.

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Follow the Money
By Micah Halpern

Blog
Tuesday February 25, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

We have all heard the expression "follow the money."

I do it all the time. It is a tool I use to understand and predict who the influencers are and what their involvement is, in the Middle East. We need to follow where the money is being spent - who is supplying weapons and who is buying them and from whom.

It was always obvious from the money trail that Iran supported Hezbollah. But not now. Now Iran has stopped supporting Hamas.

We also know that Iran and Russia are pumping money into Assad's regime in Syria. They want to influence the outcome.

And then yesterday it became public that a Russian delegation of flagstaff air-force officers arrived in Egypt. They came as the result of a $2 billion arms deal in which Egypt is buying air-force materials from Russia. The money trail led us right there.

Money in the Middle East is the key to influence and favoritism.
Even small money which led us to the discovery this week that Iran has signed an arms deal with Iraq to the tune of $165 million. The deal is small - but it is significant.

Follow the money and find out who is pulling whose strings.

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The Prob w Spain's Invite to the Jews
By Micah Halpern

Monday February 24, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Spain and Portugal are offering citizenship to the descendents of the families that they expelled in 1492 and 1493.

At first glance, you would assume this to be a magnanimous gesture. Think again.

The expulsion from Spain forced hundreds of thousands of Jews to run to Portugal. Eight months later when Portugal expelled them, they escaped to North Africa. Those who stayed were forced to convert to Christianity. The Inquisition was established to investigate those who converted and make certain that they were truly practicing Christianity, not secretly remaining Jewish. Those caught as still practicing Jews were torture and even burned at the stake.

There are three interesting elements missing from this citizenship invitation.
There was and still is no apology.
There was and still is no attempt to pay compensation

The deal is not being offered to the Muslims who were expelled in 1609.

Neither Spain nor Portugal has yet to see the wrong that was done and the horrors that were perpetrated in the name of keeping their countries Christian.

Today, with their warped and biased perceptions of Jews, they are trying to entice Jews to come to Spain and Portugal to help energize their terrible fledgling economies.

There is no attempt at contrition. There is no attempt at justice. And there is no desire to allow Muslims into their countries.
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Israel - Now A Gas Exporter
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 23, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel is now an energy exporter. Israel is now exporting natural gas and will soon become one of the largest natural gas suppliers in the world.

Last week Israel signed a deal with Jordan to provide them with $500 million worth of natural gas over the next 15 years.

Jordan is in great need of gas. They were hit terribly by the breakdown of the pipeline from Egypt after it was repeatedly sabotaged by rebels. Now the Jordanians will have a dependable source of natural gas.

This gas comes from Tamar, a gas field deep below the Mediterranean Sea. It is the smaller of two gas discoveries that have been tapped recently. The larger is called Leviathan. Interestingly, Israel signed a gas deal with the Palestinian Authority to provide them natural gas from Leviathan.

It seems that Israel is a more reasonable and more dependable gas resource than neighboring Arab suppliers.

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Iran Executing Even More People This Year
By Micah Halpern

Saturday February 22, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The West is full of preconceived ideas about the Middle East. Many people who were upset with Iran's human rights record under Ahmadinejad were relieved when Rouhani came into office. They saw real hope and were intoxicated by his use of language.

It was a farce. And the United Nations has seen a part of the duplicity.

The hope was that few people would be executed and that Iran would scale down - especially because under Rouhani, as a public gesture, some prisoners have been released. Then exactly the opposite happened. In the first seven weeks of 2014 as many as 95 people have been executed.

UN Human Rights Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdassani said in a press conference yesterday that: "There were some encouraging signs last year where the political prisoners were released… But it appears at least in the past seven weeks that in fact executions have been scaled up."

What astounds me is that people we are supposed to trust for their analytical skills were duped by the Iranians in the first place. How could the human rights people all over the United Nations not have expected this?

I saw it coming! Why didn't they?

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Iran Opens Embassy in London
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 21, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Iranian flag was raised over the newly reopened Iranian embassy in London yesterday.

The embassy was closed two years ago after tensions between the United Kingdom and the Islamic Republic of Iran came to a head.

This past December England sent a charge d'affairs to Teheran and now Iran is ready and willing to re-open their embassy in London.
As of now the embassy is being staffed by locals and Iran does not yet have a diplomatic presence in England. However, Iran can and will begin to engage in bureaucratic activities.

It will not be long before a series of high level Iranian diplomats are dispatched to London.

As I first wrote several months ago when England sent their diplomat to Iran, the walls of Iranian isolation are tumbling down. It does not matter what emerges out of the dialogue with Iran, the very fact that there is a dialogue has greased the diplomatic wheels.

The winner in this entire game is definitely - Iran.

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Iran Has Become a Cyber Hacker
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 20, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Two years ago the world cyber powers were but three. The United States, Israel and China. They were the only real cyber players.
Today there is a fourth. Iran. Iran is now a serious cyber contender in terms of hacking, attacks and defense.

As recently as early in 2012 Iran was barely involved in cyber warfare. And then, in March of 2012, the Grand Ayatollah created a national council for cyberspace. Like wildfire Iran dedicated monies, hired recruiters and groomed their best and brightest for the cyber war.

Now Iran is both perpetrating attacks on others and protecting itself from attack by others. The Iranians are probably responsible for attacking the Saudi oil company named Saudi Aramco - the energy company that supplies about 10% of the world's oil. The attack erased data from 30,000 computers.

The Grand Ayatollah recently called on students to be their country's "cyber agents." He told them that they should get ready for a war. And Iranian Chief of Staff General Hassan Firousabadi told students that a "decisive battle" was on the horizon. "If any war is launched against Iran, we won't give any ground to the enemy and they themselves know this very well."

The general was speaking of cyber war. Iran is more prepared now than they have ever been. In less than two years, from March of 2012 until today, Iran has become a real player on the world's cyber warfare stage.

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Iran Told the Truth
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 19, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 resumed yesterday.

They began with the Iranian representative firmly proclaiming that Iran has no intention of shutting down a single nuclear facility.

This was a surprise to many observers - but not to me.

Since November the West has been maintaining that Iran will close certain facilities. The United States even took it upon itself to promise Israel that certain nuclear centers would be shut down.

But when you listened to the Iranians who were party to the agreement they repeatedly said that closing sites was nowhere in the agreement.

Of course, the West believed the West.

I realized that Iran would not have been so insistent if they did not have a real leg to stand on. And so it goes. Diplomats and Western leaders lied. Iran was speaking the truth. Iran does not and will not shut down their nuclear facilities.

Where does that leave us? In deep trouble.

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Kerry To Meet w Abbas
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 18, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

From all sources I have culled it appears clear that US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week. I just do not know where the meeting will take place.

According to AFP a member of the Palestinian leader's inner circle said the meeting will take place in Paris. But a Chinese release has said that the meeting will take place in Amman, Jordan.

It really does not matter where the meeting takes place. What matters is that there will there be a meeting of the minds. Not necessary like-thinking minds, but certainly serious minds. My inclination is that there will be some agreement and much disagreement. At the conclusion of the meeting they will both tout the agreements.

Given the 6 demands that the Palestinians have already laid out, Kerry has his work cut out for him. The US secretary of state will be pushing hard for Abbas to accept Israel as a Jewish State. His argument is procedural.

Once that happens, Israel will almost immediately deliver on all other demands.

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Hamas Will Not Honor Any Agreement
By Micah Halpern

Monday February 17, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

In a speech at a rally in Gaza City on Saturday, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made it very clear: If a deal is signed between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, it is not binding on Hamas.

Just in case we were unaware or unsure of how Hamas felt, now we know for sure.

He said: "The so-called American framework is not binding for us."
He explained that an agreement between Israel and the PA: "is unfair and imposes the Zionist violation of the Palestinian land."

There is no relationship between Gaza and the West Bank. The West Bank is controlled by the PA which is run by Mahmoud Abbas. Gaza is run by Hamas and led by Ismail Haniyeh.

There was a terrible rift between the two groups and they have separated. They have signed reconciliation agreements not once but twice, and neither agreement has been put in place.

As recently as this past week when a delegation from the PA went to Gaza they did not discuss reconciliation - they spoke primarily about border security.

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Egypt Clamps Down - Shuts Gaza
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 16, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Egypt has begun to clamp down hard on Gaza. Some analysts are anticipating a mini invasion into Gaza by Egypt to wipe up Muslim Brotherhood groups operating from and headquartered in the area.

Over the weekend Egypt destroyed 10 smuggling tunnels and blew up the houses that hid the tunnels. They are clearing out all the homes and all the sites that could be used as starting and ending points for the tunnels. In addition, Egypt created a 600 yard buffer zone from their border into Gaza. In unpopulated areas the buffer zone is 350 yards.

According to Egyptian sources, Egypt has destroyed 800 tunnels from January through October 2013. That is an impressive number.
Egypt is expending all this energy in an effort to keep extremists out of Egypt and, ultimately, to starve the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian army is actively pursuing all terror cells - but mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood. They are destroying the infrastructure of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Sinai and trying to strangle any access the Brotherhood might have to outside support, especially from Hamas in Gaza.

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SodaStream - Bubbles or Blood?
By Micah Halpern

Saturday February 15, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The recent controversy about SodaStream, the one that centered on the Super Bowl ad with Scarlett Johansson, has led to some very interesting debates.

SodaStream is manufactured outside Jerusalem over the now famous pre 1967 border known as the Green Line. The factory employs hundreds of people including many Palestinians who live over the Green Line. These Palestinians earn more than the Israeli minimum wage - which is more than three times the minimum wage in the Palestinian Authority.

The great selling point for SodaStream is not sexy Scarlett Johansson. The selling point is that when you use SodaStream you save plastic. SodaStream is "green" and great from the environment.

Detractors, however, claim that SodaStream is not about green issues or about the eco system and making less waste. They say "it is not about bubbles it is about blood." They argue that it is about Israelis spilling the blood of Palestinians in the form of their occupation.

This is a very emotional issue. It is charged with accusations and counter accusations. I do not foresee a simple resolution to this issue and I do not see any resolution in the near future.

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Palestinian Demands
By Micah Halpern

Friday February 14, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Palestinian demands before there can be peace with Israel have now been made public. There are more demands and more problematic demands than I had originally expected.

The demands became public in the form of an interview given by one of Abbas' aides to Al Ayyam, a Palestinian paper published in Ramallah.

The Six Palestinian demands are:
# 1: End of the conflict based on the Arab peace plan and relevant UN resolutions
# 2: Borders based on 1967
# 3: Israel must gradually withdraw from all Palestinian areas within 3 to 4 years
# 4: East Jerusalem is the Palestinian capital
# 5: Resolve the Palestinian refugee issue with Arab peace plan international legitimacy and UN Resolution 194
# 6: All Palestinian prisoners must be freed with the total withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian land

These are very problematic demands.

Let's just focus on #5 and UN Resolution 194. The resolution was passed on December 11, 1948. At the time there were 58 members of the United Nations. Six of them were Arab countries and every single one voted against it. The vote was 35 - 15 and 8 abstentions.

There are 15 clauses in the resolution and some are totally irrelevant. The first 6 clauses deal with recognizing Count Bernadotte and a reconciliation committee.

It is the 11th clause that most interests the Palestinians - it is the clause that deals with the refugee issue. It is a small paragraph of about 120 words and included in those words amorphous and vague terms like "should be permitted," "earliest practical date" and "wishing to live at peace with their neighbors." Also included are the words "compensation should be paid" for damages and property.

This will not be an easy issue to resolve. Palestinians and their supporters read this resolution very differently than the way Israel reads it.

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Bibi To White House in March 3
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 13, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The White House issued a statement confirming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit and meet with US President Barack Obama on March 3rd.

"The president looks forward to discussing with the prime minister progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, developments in Iran, and other regional priorities."

"Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit is a demonstration of the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel, and our close consultations on a range of security issues."

Three essential topics will be discussed:
Iran and the nuclear issue
Israeli Palestinian peace talks
Regional stability in light of events in Syria and Egypt and the influx of al Qaeda

There is a strong possibility of tension between the two leaders on the first two topics. While Israel and the United States share a conceptual agreement on Iran and the peace process, they disagree on the details.

As they say, "the devil is in the details."

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Apollo Found in Gaza
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 12, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

They live in Gaza and they went out fishing. For the fishermen of Gaza it has been a very slow season. That is, for fish.

Youdat Ghrab claims to have hooked an 1100 pound bronze statue of Apollo - in perfect condition. Ghrab says that he and his relatives spent 4 hours reeling in the find. Then they put it in a wagon and brought it home. It is a very special find.

Most statues are made of stone, finer statues are carved out of marble. Finding a complete life size sculpture in bronze is very rare. The pictures that have been released of the statue show the Greek god lying on a sheet - with Smurf designs all over it.

The statue was placed on ebay for a short time and then taken down. The asking price was $500,000. Hamas police came and took the statue. No one knows where it is now.

And the statue is no longer intact. Ghrab cut off a finger and brought it to a jeweler to test to see if it was gold. His brother did the same and the jeweler melted the finger.

Jean-Michel de Tarragon, a historian with the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, has made it very clear that the sculpture was discovered on land and not in the Mediterranean Sea just north of Egypt as is being claimed. Tarragon said that the true location of where it was found went unmentioned to avoid arguments over ownership.

Ynet quoted Tarragon saying "This wasn't found on the seashore or in the sea ... it is very clean. No, it was (found) inland and dry." He added that there were no tell-tale signs of metal disfigurement and no barnacles that one would normally sees on items plucked from water.

The sculpture is at least 2000 years old and something like it would never stand alone. It was in a temple or a palace. That is why the true location is so critical.

The truth will emerge. There were too many people involved in this escapade and at least one of them will be unable to keep the secret.

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Terrorists Blow Themselves Up
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 11, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It happens much more often than one would expect. Terrorists blow themselves and their colleague up while assembling and learning about bombs.

When you actually think about it, it makes sense.

Terrorists begin their careers as inexperienced ideologues playing with highly combustible material. Many of the explosive components they use are unstable - which means that just about anything can ignite them. Some components that are stable become dangerously unstable when mixed.

Yesterday, outside Baghdad, a bomb instructor teaching terrorists how to make a car bomb accidentally blew himself up and killed twenty-one other terrorist wannabes. The explosion alerted authorities to the terrorist training camp. The army came and arrested 24 mostly wounded terrorists.

Sometimes, this is the best way. Terrorists kill themselves in a work accident, far away from innocent people.

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Iran Airs Simulation Striking Israel
By Micah Halpern

Monday February 10, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Over the weekend Iranian TV ran a documentary entitled "The Night of the Vultures." The film was a created by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and was a simulation of an Iranian counter attack against Israel and against the US fleet in the region.

The computer graphics were very realistic showing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's) known as drones, flying over Israel and shooting missiles at strategic targets. The graphics showed the drones hitting huge business centers in Tel Aviv and Haifa, hitting military targets and hitting the Israeli nuclear facility located in Dimona.

The Iranian message is clear. Iran wants everyone to know that they will respond to an Israeli strike and they will strike at the very heart of Israel as well as at United States ships stationed nearby.

This is not the first time such a movie has been aired. A similar documentary was broadcast in September.

Moviemaking, even documentary moviemaking, is not the same as real life. But there have been Iranian drones that successfully infiltrated Israeli airspace. The most worrisome element of this documentary is in the details and in the images of Israeli targets.

That is what Iran really wants Israel to understand.

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Israel's Man on Man Against Hamas
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 9, 2014

I've Been thinking:

The Israeli Air Force stuck and hit Abdullah Harti this morning in Gaza.

Harti was riding a motorcycle and the missile that hit him was probably shot from an unmanned drone.

According to IDF and Shin Bet sources, Harti was a major leader in Global Jihad and is the person responsible for the increased rocket fire from Gaza into Israel these past few weeks.

Sources also say that Harti was instrumental in the deadly August 18, 2011 terror attack near Eilat. The attack killed six people and injured another twenty five. It was perpetrated by twelve terrorists who divided into four groups. The terrorists came from Egypt and then returned there.

Until his death this morning, Abdullah Harti was still a major force sending weapons and terrorists into the Sinai desert.

This type of targeted strike by Israel is a move towards man-on-man defense. As opposed to targeting weapons launchers, weapons labs and weapons depots the Israelis are focused on targeting the leaders responsible for the weapons, attacks and acts of terror.

Israel employed this style of targeting several years ago and it proved to be a very effective defensive tool.

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Iranian Ships On Way to US Atlantic Coast
By Micah Halpern

Saturday February 8, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Iran has sent several naval war ships in the direction of the United States. The Iranians intend on patrolling the Atlantic. They are sending a message to the United States just like the message the United States sends to Iran by having US fleets patrolling near Iran.

Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad, commander of Iran's Northern fleet, said in the official IRNA news agency report that the Iranian ships are on their way to the Atlantic Ocean via waters near South Africa.
"The Iranian Army's naval fleets have already started their voyage towards the Atlantic Ocean via the waters near South Africa," Haddad announced on Saturday.

In Fars, another official Iranian media outlet, the admiral said that "Iran's military fleet is approaching the United States' maritime borders, and this move has a message."

Ynet, an Israeli internet news site, reported that: "The fleet, consisting of a destroyer and a helicopter-carrying supply ship, began its voyage last month from the southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. The ships, carrying some 30 navy academy cadets for training along with their regular crews, are on a three-month mission."

I have been writing about this for some time. It is just a matter of time before the Iranians break through this glass ceiling.

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Turkey Squashes Free the Web
By Micah Halpern

Friday January 7, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

I have been watching Turkey very carefully over the past 36 months.
And I have been following more than one frightening move on the part of the Turkish government vis a vis civil rights and individual rights.

In short, over the past year and a half in Turkey, there have been major challenges to democratic values and individual rights.

Yesterday another such incident occurred, only this time, it was bigger and more egregious than almost every other violation.

The Turkish Parliament approved a law that permits the Communications Authority to block websites for whatever reason they deem necessary. In addition, it requires the web and service providers to track and record data about online users.

The kicker is that the information must be turned over to the government upon request. This is a major step back in terms of media and freedom of information.

Now I will watch and see if anyone gets upset about this huge and unprecedented violation of privacy.

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NYT Finally Sees True Syria
By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 6, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Finally, The New York Times has printed clear coverage of events in Syria.

Granted, a few months ago the paper covered the fact that the rebels were not all nice and that they too, like Assad, were perpetrating horrific atrocities. And they did run stories about how many of the rebels were al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates.

But by and large the coverage of Syria in The New York Times has shown the evils of Assad and the merits of ousting him in favor of the rebels.

And then yesterday, at long last, the NYT ran an entire page covering the story in more depth and with greater understanding than they have since the civil war began nearly three years ago.

They ran a story explaining that the US now sees that Assad is getting stronger. They also ran a story reporting that the UN says that both sides in Syria have been brutal and have perpetrated, awful, brutal acts that are in violation of the international rules of war.

The NYT had fallen victim to an unfortunate US bias. The inclination of the United States is to oust evil dictators. They hope that their wishes will come true - the reality is that they usually do not.

Media outlets, like The New York Times, proclaim their objectives and wish the results into reality. In this case they did not get their wish.

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French Comic Banned in UK
By Micah Halpern

Blog
Wednesday February 5, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

England has banned the French comedian Dieudonne from entering the country. The reason given for preventing entry of the entertainer into England is public safety.

Dieudonne has been convicted, on multiple occasions, of hate speech and anti-Semitism. He is the mastermind behind and the creator of the quenelle - the reverse Nazi salute. He was coming to England to perform a show and to show support for his friend Anelka, a former Frenchman professional soccer player who performed the quenelle after scoring a goal in December. Anelka was disciplined for the act.

An official government spokesperson said, "The home secretary (Theresa May) will seek to exclude an individual from the UK if she considers that there are public policy or public security reasons to do so."

Dieudonne was performing in Switzerland when he received the news. His response was to shout the Queen's name and give her the quenelle.

The obvious issues of free speech arise. And yet, both France and England are satisfied that there is a greater risk to public safety- than freedom of speech.

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Iran is Launching More Satellites
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 4, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Iran is prepping to launch another handful of satellites into space. The satellites are all domestically produced.

IRNA, an official Iranian news agency, reported that Iran will launch the satellites into space before the end of the Persian year which ends on March 21st.

The head of the Iranian space agency, Hamid Faveli, was the main source cited in the article. Faveli explained that one on the satellites will be a communication satellite which will improve secure wireless connections throughout the country and the region.
Another satellite will be a photographic satellite that can take pictures with 100 meter resolution.

In December Iran claimed to have successfully launched a monkey into space and that the monkey returned to earth healthy. This was their second attempt - the first attempt, a year earlier, resulted in the death of the space monkey.

There are numerous reasons for these announcements.

Most importantly is to show that Iran is racing ahead in high technology. And, make no mistake about it, that technology includes weapons.

The second is to show that just like we spy on Iran, Iran can spy on us. They are using similar, yet independently developed, technology.

Iran is not some backward state. Iran is a highly sophisticated, cultured and educated society. It would behoove us to understand that.

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US & Iran Meet Face to Face
By Micah Halpern

Monday February 3, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

US Secretary of State John Kerry met face to face with Iranian Foreign Minister Javed Zarif in Munich on Sunday. It was a very rare moment.

Both men were in Zurich for a security conference and took time out to speak about the future of the nuclear talks with Iran.

Up until now there has been a major bone of contention about what is expected from Iran. The supposed 30 page agreement has been kept secret, so we do not know who is telling the truth.

Talks are scheduled to resume in Vienna on February 18.

As of now Iran is very hopeful. Iranians are saying that they do not need to break down any nuclear technology, just limit their enrichment. The United States is saying that Iran must reduce their nuclear infrastructure.

What I would have given to be a fly on the wall and listen to that conversation.

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Israel's Emergency Gas
By Micah Halpern

Sunday February 2, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel is always in a state of emergency. That is a reality. Most of the time, we think Israel's emergencies concern safety and security. Truth is, the state of Israel's energy is another, large, all consuming concern.

Does Israel have enough electricity?

Israel's electricity is generated by natural gas. The gas powers the turbines that generate the electricity that lights up the country and keeps it functioning.

In order to avoid crisis, Israel has positioned a permanent liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker off the coast. When the need arises, it dumps the liquid into an underwater pipeline that feeds directly into the country's electric resources.

The tanker holds 138,000 cubic meters of LNG. After it is converted to gas and sent to the turbines, the tanker can produce 3000 megawatt hours of electricity --- which is enough to power 20% of Israel's total energy needs for one week.

The tanker and the buoy it is connected to when it delivers the gas is a way of keeping Israel safe. The tanker is always there and it is always filled. During the recent snowstorm that crippled the country the tanker deposited its gas and Israelis did not even feel that they were in a state of energy crisis.

The tanker costs $100 million and each load costs about $50 million. It is a small price to pay considering what would happen if the country went without electricity for even a fraction of an hour.

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Terrorists Returning from Syria
By Micah Halpern

Friday January 31, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Washington Post just ran a story about an issue that has been troubling many of us for the past three years. What will happen in Europe after the foreign fighters in Syria return home?

A growing number of rebel fighters in Syria, men fighting against Bashar Assad, are from Europe. They are members of al Qaeda. Not only are these fighter receiving important operational fighting experience, they are also becoming more and more virulent in their ideology.

Many fighters have been killed in the Syrian civil war and many more will die. France estimates that 700 Frenchmen are currently fighting for al Qaeda against Assad in Syria. Many of them will come home.

Great Britain arrested 14 Brits entering England last month upon their return from Syria. They estimate that there are 50 former rebel al Qaeda fighters already back home in England.

Country by country the list goes, all of them trained terrorists.
All of them deeply committed to their extremist cause. And all with easy access to roam free in their homelands. They know the language and its nuances, it is their language. They know the community - they are from the community.

They are a ticking bomb. It is just a matter of time before they unleash their extremist, ideological, acts of violence and terror against their hosts, their homes, their country.

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Threats to Israel
By Micah Halpern

Thursday January 30, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The head of Military Intelligence for Israel, General Aviv Kochavi, addressed a security conference recently. Whenever that happens we sit up and pay very close attention.

Kochavi explained that because of the Syrian civil war, al Qaeda is now spread all over the region. And that, he said, has a very negative impact on security.

He also said that while the number of rockets pointed at Israel has reduced in number, their quality and accuracy has improved.

"Some 170,000 rockets and missiles are threatening the State of Israel from all regions. Up until recently, the number was much greater and it has decreased, but it will go up again."

"They are much more precise and a lot more lethal. The most significant thing we would like to point out is the fact that the enemy has the capability to land mass amounts of arms on Israeli cities."

"There are also many terror groups, including semi-military terror groups. We can't keep referring to Hezbollah as a terror group in the simple sense of the term - an organization that possesses more than a 100,000 rockets, including hundreds of different kinds of advanced antitank missiles, advanced mortar shells can no longer be a referred to as a terror group in the simple sense of the term. And the same goes for Hamas ."

General Kochavi was typically realistic when speaking about cyber warfare. He said Israelis are constantly being attacked: "Fortunately, most attacks were foiled, but the ability to carry out such attacks is almost unlimited."

The state of Israel's security is very good - but it is clear that the country faces significant, constant, unending threats.

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In Paris 17000 Shout "Jews Get Out"
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 29, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

On Sunday 17,000 anti-Semites marched through the streets of Paris.
And they shouted: "Jews Get Out," and "Jews Go Home" and "Auschwitz and the Gas Chambers Never Existed" and "France is Not For You - Jews" and "France is Not Your Country."

The marchers also used the "quenelle", the now infamous reverse Nazi salute created by French political comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, which has become more and more popular among the new breed of anti-Semites in Europe and even, in America.

Did you read about it? Did you hear about it? Why did this hateful march receive almost no coverage in the United States? I want to know why.

France was one of the most Western and most liberal societies in the world. France is where the modern free state was created and where Jews and everyone else were first emancipated and given complete rights as citizens with total freedom.

Why was this massive act of racism barely mentioned in the US media? It took days for it to even appear on relevant websites.

I refuse to believe that people just do not care. There must be other reasons.

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Syrian Conference - No Progress
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 28, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

They called it, appropriately, the Dialogue of the Deaf.

That is the name given to the discussion about Syrian in Geneva.
The entire event broke up yesterday after an hour of hot and heavy shouting.

Of course it did!!!

There was total disagreement about the future of Syria. There was disagreement over whether Bashar Assad should stay in power or graciously leave his position as president. The rebels wanted him to leave and establish an interim government before the elections. Assad's representatives said absolutely not - no way, no how.

They could not even agree to disagree.

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Israel Defense Hacked
By Micah Halpern

Monday January 27, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

According to a report by the private security firm Seculert, 15 Israeli defense computers were hacked and taken over by a aggressor for several days.

The Israeli establishment has made no comment.

The report says that 15 civil service computers were hacked. The computers were part of the agency in charge of Palestinian movements into and out of Israel, they are the division that issues passes for Palestinians to enter Israel.

The malware was XtremeRat. This is the second time in two years that this particular malware has gotten a foothold into Israeli defense computers. It was probably accomplishes by the same hacker on both occasions.

XtremeRat got into the system masquerading as a Shin Bet email about the death of Ariel Sharon. The email was sent on January 15. It fooled many of the security systems, anti virus and spyware allowing the hacker to inject new Trojans, inject new commands, steal info and infect other computers.

Seculert 15 created a sink hole and the XtremeRat was tricked into entering the sinkhole where it roamed around in a controlled and protected space.

This is just the beginning. The server that hosted the original message was from the United States. But the coding was very similar to that used for a cyber attack on Israel from Gaza in October of 2012.

More attacks are on the way.

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New Election Timetable in Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Sunday January 26, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

This morning in Egypt Adly Mansour, the interim president of Egypt, announced that presidential elections will precede the parliamentary elections.

This fact that this announcement comes the week of the referendum on the new charter that was overwhelmingly supported by those who voted, is significant.

The most important issue here is that according to the earlier transition schedule, known as the transition timetable, parliamentary elections were supposed to come before the presidential elections.

In Egypt, these last few days have been very violent and very bloody.

The Muslim Brotherhood is attempting to galvanize the people and move them into the street to try to prevent the interim government from proceeding with their stated goal.

Al Sisi has stepped down as Army chief of staff. Now he is preparing to run for president. It is not clear how free these elections will be. It is widely assumed in Egypt - by just about everyone, that Sisi will be the next president.

I can tell you with almost complete certainty that, this time, the Muslim Brotherhood will not be permitted to stand a candidate for election.

Egypt has learned its lesson. The hard way.

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Some Details of the Peace Deal
By Micah Halpern

Saturday January 25, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Details on the Israeli Palestinian discussions have been under wraps.

We do know that the Israelis were unhappy with some of the suggestions proposed by US Secretary of State John Kerry. It has also been made very clear that the Palestinians are frustrated and feel as if the United States was adopting the Israeli position in the negotiations.

But recently the Palestinian magazine Tariq ran an in depth and extremely candid interview with Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo during which he delineates much of the US proposal.

According to Abed Rabbo, the US plan calls for a staged process of Israeli security withdrawal linked to increased effectiveness in Palestinian security. Israel would be the evaluator determining if Palestinian security is effective.

Additionally, Israel would maintain mountain top and aerial monitoring over the Palestinian areas and have the ability to follow - in hot pursuit, inside Palestinian territory.

About Jerusalem, either the Arab neighborhood of Abu Dis or the neighborhood of Kfar Aqab would be called the Palestinian capital.
Palestinians had hoped for much more.

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PA -Russia $Billion Deal
By Micah Halpern

Friday January 24, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Palestinians and the Russians have signed a deal.

Russia will give $1 billion to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for PA help in exploring for natural gas off the coast of Gaza.

Russia would then get dibs on part of the gas if any is discovered.

Aside from the obvious and much needed injection of money into the PA, there are several huge benefits to this deal.

By partnering with Russia the Palestinians have lessened their dependence on US aid. That means they are less beholding to and consequently, not required to, toe the US line.

This new agreement will enable the Palestinians - it will boost the psyche of every individual Palestinian and it will move the Palestinians closer towards independence.

It is not good news for the United States and it is not good news for Secretary of State John Kerry who has begun to apply pressure on the Palestinians to move towards peace with Israel on US terms.

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The Great Fire Wall Of China
By Micah Halpern

Thursday January 23, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

10's of millions ... maybe even 100's of millions ...it is just a guess ... that's how many Chinese lost access to the Internet on Tuesday.

Whenever you talk about numbers and the Internet in China it is all just a guess. But assume that it was a gargantuan, even a Malthusian number of people who were redirected from their intended sites to other sites.

The Chinese restrict freedom of the Internet. Their web is so censured that we jokingly refer to their system of web control as "The Great Fire-Wall of China."

Tuesday's debacle was probably orchestrated by hackers who hate the Chinese wall. The result was that users were sent to an illegal and highly censured site owned by a US company.

The US company DIT confirmed that they own the site but said that they did not hack China. Instead they offered a plausible explanation. DIT said that it was probably due to an accidental mis-configuration of the Chinese fire wall.

The firewall normally redirects requests to sites that are Chinese friendly. This time all the unfriendly sites were now the destination. Now the forbidden sites were now open to all.

Not surprisingly, this happens pretty often when you try to control information to 1 billion 500 million people. There are 2 million cyber police in China today dedicated to hacking Western sites and keeping that firewall up.

Some days the system works better than others.


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Conference on Syria Will Fail
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 22, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

The Geneva Conference dedicated to creating a resolution in Syria has begun.

The conference has all the necessary components - for dismal failure. Actually, this conference has more of a chance of failure than the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

How can the conference even hope to succeed when there is not even an agreement on the direction of a resolution? Until now, even agreed upon cease fires have failed to last more than 20 hours.

How are the parties going to adhere to a peace accord or to devising a path that leads to the resolution of a three year old bloodbath?
Ceasefires are child's play relative to the solutions needed here.
Ceasefires were based on religious and calendar dates that were easy to quantify and understand. They ceasefires were seen as goals that all sides could relate to.

A general resolution to the conflict? No way.

Assad is feeling more and more powerful. He is gaining strength and amassing more areas under his control with every passing day. The rebels are on the run - and the rebels are fighting one another.

Believe me, this conference will not yield the end that either the United States or the United Nations hope for.

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Hamas is Trying To Stop Rockets
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 21, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A few days ago Hamas enacted a policy to try to prevent rocket fire into Israel.

Over the past week several dozen rockets launched from Gaza and landed in Israel. Israel is retaliating. Now Hamas is afraid that Israel will increase that response. And Israel will definitely increase their response if rockets continue to land.

In order to prevent the escalation Hamas has set up roadblocks on all roads that lead to borders with Israel. They are checking the cars for rockets.

Hamas cannot simply make an announcement - they do not have that kind of control in Gaza. The rockets are being launched by a number of groups and sub groups - and these groups do not profess allegiance to Hamas.

So in order to prevent unnecessary and costly damage, Hamas is trying to be preemptive. Only time will tell if Hamas succeeded in stopping the rockets and preventing the retaliation.

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Israel Returns More Terrorists Bodies
By Micah Halpern

Monday January 20, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel is returning another 36 dead terrorists to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

One was returned last night, the others will be transferred over the next two weeks. It brings the number of dead terrorists returned to the Palestinians over this past year to 91. So far, nine bodies were returned to Gaza, the rest were transferred to the PA in the West Bank.

In Israel, the families of the victims murdered by these terrorists are livid. There has been very little publicity and very little press coverage about the transfer and none about the outrage - not even after the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the families of the victims to cancel the transfer.

Among those bodies now being returned are the bodies of the terrorists who bombed cafe Hillel in 1993 and those who took over the Savoy Hotel in 1975. It also includes the bodies of the terrorists responsible for the bus bombing that killed 16 in March of 2003.

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Israel Strikes Back
By Micah Halpern

Sunday January 19, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israel has responded to the increased rockets that have been showering them from Gaza.

Over the past week there has been a huge increase in the rocket fire and today the Israelis struck back. With surgical precision Israel launched a missile that critically wounded Ahmed Saad, the 22 year old responsible for launching this last batch of rockets into Israel, as he was riding his motorcycle.

The bike was damaged but not destroyed. The Israelis used just enough explosive in the missile to strike at the motorbike. A 12 year old boy was also moderately wounded in the attack.

Because of the increase of rockets lobbed at them, Israel has also decided to use its new anti-rocket devise, named the "Iron Beam."
The new system is a laser beam that locks on to rockets and destroys them before they land.

The difference between the Iron Beam and the Iron Dome is that the Iron Beam is designed to intercept low flying rockets that do not hit the height trajectory required before the Iron Dome can effectively intercept them.

The low flying rocket has been the Achilles heel of anti-missile batteries. The Iron Beam should be a defensive game changer.

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Bibi Meets Abdullah in Amman
By Micah Halpern

Friday January 17, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu flew to Amman, Jordan yesterday to have a sit down with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

Last week Abdullah hosted Palestinian President Abbas.
We are told that the talks were candid.

According to an official Jordanian report King Abdullah urged Netanyahu to make use of "and build on the opportunity made available by the consolidated efforts of the U.S. secretary of state to achieve tangible progress in the peace negotiations."

The official report continued, stating that the objective is to create an "independent and viable Palestinian state" with East Jerusalem as its capital. The report also revealed that an Israeli Palestinian agreement is in "higher Jordanian interests."

In discussing the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel the king told the Israeli prime minister: "They are a top priority for us."

The overriding issue is whether the agreement will be practical. I am certain that was the focus of Netanyahu's presentation to Abdullah.

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Egypt & Their Charter
By Micah Halpern

Thursday January 16, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

There is no real word in Arabic for "constitution".

That is why the word being used to describe the Egyptian Constitution is the Arabic word for "charter". For these purposes, constitution is synonymous with charter. The word "charter" comes from the Latin word "carta" which means map and as we all know, the founding document of England is the Magna Carta.

160,000 soldiers and 200,000 police officers were deployed to preserve the peace during the two day election period for the new Egyptian Constitution that ended in Egypt yesterday. On the first day of voting, 9 people died in election violence. On the second day at least 79 pro-Morsi protesters were arrested.

Commenting on the election, the head of public relations for the interior ministry, Major General Abdel Fattah Othman, said that the "turnout so far may exceed 55% and the approval of the constitution is perhaps more than 95%." His interview was broadcast on private satellite channel Al-Hayat.

Duh! People who came out to vote came to vote in favor of the Charter. There was no alternative. The joke was that either you went and voted for the charter, or you went to jail.

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Poles Do Not See Anti-Semitism
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 15, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It is a basic rule of civilized society. When thugs and football hooligans shout anti-Semitic epithets it is our duty to condemn the slurs as base and unacceptable.

In any sport, even in soccer matches, racism is totally unacceptable.

Poland is no exception. In fact, Poland has a set of laws prohibiting racism. Those laws include a prohibition against the dissemination of racial slurs. So why then have Poland and Polish official prosecutors decided to justify the racism in their midst?

When the home team in Poznan, Poland, started shouting: "Go Jews, Get out, Go to Auschwitz" the local prosecutor determined that those shouts, that sentiment, was not an anti-Semitic slur.

Even when the slogans continued with the added verse: "send you to the gas chamber," the prosecutor did not think that it was racist.
His rationale was baffling. The prosecutor reasoned that the shouts were levied against the other team Widzew, Lodz and that there were no Jews on the other teams or, for that matter, anywhere in the Stadium.

This incident would not be so noteworthy if were an isolated occurrence. It is not.

In the city of Lublin, the home of Tomasz Pietrasiewicz was recently vandalized. Bricks with swastikas were thrown threw his windows.
He is not Jewish but he is deeply involved with Jews and publicly advocates for and teaches about the rich Jewish history of Lublin.

Here, too, the local prosecutor chose not to file racist charges against the hoodlums because Pietrasiewicz is not a Jew.

And in Bialystok people spreading leaflets with swastikas were not prosecuted. To add insult to injury, the prosecutor added that the swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol - not just the sign of the Nazis.

If this were not so sad, it would be funny. Do intelligent people actually believe that anti-Semitism exists only in the presence of Jews? Do they really believe that in the world today anybody sees any other realistic symbolism for the swastika other than Nazism? The Nazis themselves were unaware of the Hindu derivation.

Football hooligans must be held accountable. The clubs know that and they banish teams that violate the rules. If the prosecution does not get it then the home team should take a stand.

Anti-Semitism cannot be ignored. No form of racism should go unpunished.

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US - Iran - Russia Conflict
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 14, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

There are some rather out of the ordinary interactions happening of late between Iran, the United States and Russia.

The United States is deeply concerned about an oil for goods barter involving Iran and Russia. The deal would allow for a $1.5 billion monthly swap.

According to the White House, US Secretary of State John Kerry shared the US concern directly with his colleague, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on Monday when the two were in Paris working out the details of a conference on Syria which is scheduled to take place on January 22.

The biggest worry is that this barter could be considered a violation of the P5+1 agreement with Iran. If it is, it could trigger new US sanctions against Iran, sanctions that Congress has already prepared - just in case of a scenario like this.
If this barter deal goes through, everything everybody has been working so hard for could just fall apart. But Kerry is hopeful.

Kerry is also generous. He gave Lavrov a special present in a modest size box yesterday. It was a box of 2 Idaho potatoes. While speaking during the break Lavrov mentioned his love of the Idaho potatoes, so Kerry gave him a few.

We are told that there is no symbolism there. No symbolism at all. I do not care if this is or there isn't, but if there is - I don't see it.

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Assad Visits Mosque
By Micah Halpern

Monday January 13, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Over the past 3 years, since the fighting in Syria began, President Bashar Assad has ventured out in public only a handful of times.

There was always an important reason for the public appearances.
Often, they included a trip to a mosque. But the real purpose of appearing in public is to say that I am still in Damascus and I am the man in charge. Assad needs everyone, allies and enemies alike, to know that the conflict did not shake him.

So yesterday, on Sunday, Assad went to prayers at the al Hamad Mosque in northwest Damascus. The trip was broadcast across the Arab world, most especially on Syrian state-sponsored TV.

To all appearances Assad went to the al Hamad Mosque to celebrate the traditional birthday of Mohammed. In reality Assad was saying that the end is in sight, that the rebels have crumbled and that the country is getting quieter.

Assad was saying that although there are still areas withering away by virtue of violence, the conflict will soon be over. He was saying that the rebels are fighting amongst themselves and his supporters and troops will soon secure the entire country. And even though a few pockets of rebels may continue to exist in Syria, the country is his to once again preside over. Totally and completely.

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Egypt Votes This Week
By Micah Halpern

Sunday January 12, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

I'll bet almost nobody knows that last Thursday, Egyptian expats living all over the world were able to vote on the new proposed Egyptian constitution.

And on January 14 and 15 the entire country of Egypt will vote on the constitution as a referendum.

While it is undeniable that there have been violent clashes recently in Egypt and it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed in Egypt, strange as it may seem, all of it has been done in the name of democracy. Democracy must prevent non-democratic forces from taking over which is exactly what happened when Morsi was elected - and Egyptian leaders today are determined to see democracy thrive in their country.

The proposed constitution is called a draft charter. It uses moderate Islam as a foundation for legislation.

Interim President Adly Mansour has been on national Egyptian radio and television urging people to come out and vote for the referendum and to "lead the ship of the nation to the shores of safety."

An Arab country like Egypt needs to have a constitution and that constitution needs to be loosely based on Islamic tradition. Egypt cannot be a secular society, it must try to marry the valued and essential traditions of Islam with modern democratic rights.

Sounds easy ... but turning theory into a reality will be very difficult, especially as Islamic tradition confronts modern human rights.

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Ariel Sharon is Dead
By Micah Halpern

Saturday January 11, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Ariel Sharon is dead.

Since his stroke in 2006 the former prime minister of Israel has been nonresponsive. Even though he has been gone for nearly eight years, now is the time when Israel and the world must say their final goodbyes.

Everyone had an opinion about Ariel Sharon. No one was indifferent about him. You either liked him or hated him - nationally and internationally. To Sharon it made no difference, his actions and decisions were based on his own convictions, not a desire to either please or to enrage others.

Ariel Sharon was a great warrior and he was a great politician.
Seldom are politicians so simple and so direct, Sharon was different because Sharon approached politics like he approached war.

Sharon was very easy to understand. His priorities were simple and clear on every level. He never minced words. He was a pragmatist.
He achieved his goals by placing them in priority order and then attacking them one by one.

Most of all, Ariel Sharon was a master tactician - in that arena, he was truly unparalleled.

The overarching goal of Ariel Sharon at every level - prime minister, defense minister, member of Knesset, author, private citizen, land owner and farmer - was the protection of Israel.

The word of Sharon was his promise, and yet, he was a man of action, not words. Part of his appeal for the Israeli public was that people believed that Ariel Sharon would deliver on his word. And he did.

Surely there was much controversy in his life and surrounding his career and I do not know how history will treat Ariel Sharon. But I do know that the world, not just Israel, not just the Middle East, the world has lost a great man, a true hero. May his memory be blessed.

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Iranians in The IDF
By Micah Halpern

Friday January 10, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

It is not rocket science but it is very important - and Israel is trying its best to take advantage and make the most of it.

What am I talking about? Here it is: BaMachaneh, the IDF magazine, printed a story that is not only very interesting, but also very unusual for them. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) never releases figures, but here they did.

According to the magazine each year fifty Iranian-born Israeli boys enter the army. The army is trying to move these soldiers into intelligence units and keep them "in" as long as possible. The article also reports that 23% of Iranian-Israeli girls join the army and within that group, 33% of the girls join intelligence units. That is an astounding number and it is even higher than the statistic for the males which is about 20%.

Every year about 100 Iranians arrive in Israel. They all arrive via a third country.

The upside is that these young people have language and familiarity with Iran which is unequaled. The downside is that they are young and have never been trained in how to really see and analyze raw data. For that, they need to be trained from scratch.

This Iranian intelligence force in Israel is a very powerful weapon. There is almost no chance that any of these young men and women are double agents. The Iranian Jewish community is too small and there is no amount of money that would tempt an Iranian Jew to betray his Jewish family.

Israeli intelligence is ions above other countries because of this very valuable human asset.

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Arabs Do Not Want to Join the PA
By Micah Halpern

Thursday January 9, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

They used to be called Israeli Arabs. Then they became Palestinians living in Israel and sometimes they were called Palestinians with privileges. Now they are just called Palestinians.

All these names refer to Palestinians who are also Israeli citizens.

The topic has emerged again as peace discussions dealing with land swaps come up for negotiation. The idea is that certain places on the Israeli side of the '67 border will be swapped for certain places of on the Palestinian side of the border.

Recently Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested that the Wadi Ara area which is the area of Um al Fahm also known as the triangle would be the perfect place to swap.

The entire area is Arab and it abuts the West Bank. The area gained notoriety as a major center of Naqba protests against Israel. Naqba means the tragedy corresponding to Israel's Independence in May of 1948.

And yet, all those residents of Wadi Ara who have been interviewed absolutely reject any idea of living under the Palestinian Authority.

They do not want to exchange freedom for corruption.

They do not want to give up their Israeli privileges - especially health care, education and accountability, law and safety.

They do not want to give up all that is taken as a given in Israel and will most certainly be lost in the Palestinian Authority. They want to continue living in Israel and reside under Israeli law.

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UN Doesn't Count Victims in Syria
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 8, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

There are signs of change that we look at to determine if solutions are on the horizon.

The Geneva Conference about Syria is one of those signs, it is a good sign. The disagreement between the United States and Iran as to how involved Iran should be in any resolution undertaken at that conference is another good sign. And the fact that Iran and the US both recognize that they are confronting similar Sunni radical movements is a third good sign.

A bad sign, in fact a very bad sign, is that the United Nations Commission for Human Rights has officially announced that they are no longer keeping track of the victims of the Syrian crisis. They stopped totaling the figures in July, when the number of victims hit the 100,000 mark.

Rupert Colville, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, explained that they just cannot verify the sources and so, they cannot even speculate on the numbers. Until they stopped tallying, the Commission based their estimation on six different sources and reports that were made available to them.

But all of the sources were biased - it was always a guessing game.

The problem with not even trying to determine the number of victims in the Syrian crisis is the message that is being sent out. The message is that the numbers do not count and once the numbers do not count the lives do not count. And for a crisis like the conflict overtaking Syria --- that is the wrong message.

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Egypt Shuts Tunnels
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 7, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday Egypt destroyed eight tunnels running between Gaza and Egypt in the area of Rafah. The tunnels are used for smuggling everything from weapons to construction materials.

The Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported that the Egyptians also arrested 24 people who worked in the tunnels and in a warehouse which housed explosives and other weapons. The warehouse was in the Northern Sinai, abutting the Gaza Strip.

Egypt has increased their vigilance in trying to shut down the tunnels and the movement of weapons and explosives in and out of Gaza. Those weapons and people often take up arms with the Muslim Brotherhood and attack Egyptian targets.

There has been a huge recent increase of attacks in Sinai and the Egyptians have received special permission to abrogate their peace treaty with Israel and bring their own military into the Sinai. The Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel very clearly specify that Egypt may not militarize the Sinai, but in this case the Egyptians need to bring in the army to prevent a terrorist takeover. Israel understands and agrees.

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Golan On Alert
By Micah Halpern

Monday January 6, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

There was a recent report of footprints crossing the border in the Golan Heights.

The entire area went into alert to find potential terrorist infiltrators.

In the 1970's and 80's this used to happen more often, it was a common occurrence. Sometimes the tracks were cows in search of pasture. Sometimes a terrorist sat on top of the cattle. Sometimes the footsteps belonged to drug suppliers coming from Syria and Lebanon into Israel.

This was a real set of tracks crossing from Syria into Israel. And with increased al Qaeda involvement in Syria, Israel takes these tracks very seriously.

There is no doubt that the conflict in Syria has destabilized the region. There has been spill over into Lebanon, into Iraq, into Jordan and into Turkey. It will spill over into Israel - it is just a matter of time.

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Watch How Arabs Treat Arabs
By Micah Halpern

Saturday January 4, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Paying attention to how Arabs relate to other Arabs can be instructive.

Tunisia is sponsoring an Anti-Zionism Conference. Not unusual.
Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad were prevented from entering. Unusual.

Al Mayadeen, a Hezbollah TV network in Lebanon, reported today that the Hezbollah delegation was not permitted to enter the hall where the Anti-Zionism conference was taking place.

And the Islamic Jihad group was prevented from landing in Tunis.
The story was picked up by several other media outlets.

Why were Hezbollah and barred? The answer is simple.

Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad of Lebanon have sided with Assad and with Iran. And that makes them pariahs in the Arab world - even when it comes to the hatred of Zionism.

Now that is interesting.

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Yr of Jewish Strength Says Egypt Astrologist
By Micah Halpern

Friday January 3, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

Astrology is the craze in many parts of the world - like in Egypt, where people believe that the future can be seen in the alignment of the stars and constellations.

Sayyed al Shimi, one of Egypt's most popular astrologers, appeared on Egyptian national television as part of a year-end round-up for 2013 and to offer predictions for 2014.

During his prediction segment al Shimi warned that in 2014 the Jews will "grow stronger." He explained that it is a historical reality that in the past, when the stars have been in just such an alignment, the Jews have been greatly successful.

"We discovered that Saturn entered the fire sign of Sagittarius when the first World Zionist Congress convened. The Balfour Declaration was released when Saturn was in the fire sign of Leo. The Haganah Brigades [the pre-1948 Jewish defense force] began organizing and helping the English in 1928, when Saturn was in the fire sign of Sagittarius. The 1948 war took place when Saturn was in the fire sign of Leo. The 1956 war took place when Saturn was in the fire sign of Sagittarius. The 1967 War took place when Saturn was in the fire sign of Aries."

"Between 1963 and1967 my late father warned in his annual reports:
'Beware, Saturn will enter the sign of Aries in 1967 and this means that the Jews will grow stronger, just like in 1956 and in 1948.'
'Beware,' he said, 'something is about to happen.' But they refused to believe him."

Personally, I would never argue with the stars. And I am glad that even the Egyptians see that Israel and the Jews are powerful and will be even more powerful. Let them continue to believe that 2014 will be a year of Jewish great strength.

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New Poll on 2 State Solution
By Micah Halpern

Thursday January 2, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

A new study about a Two State Solution was just released. The results of the study should surprise all those who think that the two-state-solution is dead in the water.

The study certainly surprised me. For two years now I have been saying that there is no will on either the Israeli or the Palestinians side for a two-state-solution, that each side is content to live with the current status quo.

Then comes this study which says that 63% of Israelis and 53% of Palestinians answered favorably to questions supporting a two-state-solution. The numbers dropped by 10% in both communities after details were added to the questions, especially details about settlements.

Each community was polled by pollsters from their own community.
Israelis were polled by the Hebrew University who asked 601 people and had a 4.5% degree of error. Palestinians were polled by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research who asked 1270 people and their margin of error was 3.0%

Granted, this is not a ringing endorsement for the two-state-solution, but neither is it a total rejection of the proposal.

Several significant sectors within the Israeli government are on record rejecting the two-state-solution. In addition, it is pretty clear that Palestinian leaders have never embraced the idea. And for the past two years we have been under the assumption that the masses on both sides had no faith in having a two-state-solution.

This study shows us that even now, or perhaps, especially now there is a critical mass of over 50% of Israelis and of Palestinians that can be used to sway the process if a good deal emerges from the Kerry talks.

That's leverage.

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Kerry Back To Push Both Sides
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 1, 2014

I've Been Thinking:

US Secretary of State John Kerry will be returning to the Middle East on Thursday. He will meet with both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas revealed his strategy for the Kerry meeting when he welcomed back the Palestinian prisoners recently released from Israeli prison. Abbas made the point that his main objective is to secure the release of all prisoners.

Abbas said "this won't be the last time that prisoners are freed," and "there won't be a final agreement with Israel until all the prisoners are released."

The Palestinian leader was also very clear about his take on the Jordan River Valley. Abbas said "this is our land, and it will remain that way. This a red line on our part."

Abbas will secure his legacy in Palestinian history by forcing Israel to release prisoners. The Jordan Valley is actually less about the land than it is about the border. For Abbas and the Palestinians it is a practical issue, they are concerned about securing a border with Jordan.

Kerry will have his work cut out for him.

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Lebanese TV Lampoons Nasrallah
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 31, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

As I think back over the past 12 months I find that one of the funniest and at the same time one of the boldest moves in the Middle East was made by LBC, the Lebanese Broadcasting Company, a private network that broadcasts from Beirut.

Every Friday night LBC airs a regular comedy show that pokes fun at the situation in Lebanon and the whole Middle East. Most of their comedy is simple imitation and role playing. The name of the Friday night show is in itself a play on words. It is called Bas Mat Watan which means the Homeland's Laughter, but it sounds very similar to Bas Met Watan which means the homeland is dying.

One particular episode in November depicted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. It was a hilarious lampoon of the Shiites radical cleric. Nothing of this kind had performed on air since 2006 and undertaking this parody took a great deal of courage - even in free thinking Lebanon. People have been assassinated for much less.

The show caused riots and a huge tidal wave of activity on twitter.
Some said that it was inappropriate to mock a cleric. Supporters of the show said that Nasrallah was fair game because he was a political figure and was no different from any other politician they lampoon. Besides, supporters said, this program impersonates religious leaders all the time.

Until November LBC was too afraid of the repercussions to touch Nasrallah. The reason they felt enabled to rake him over the proverbial coals of television comedy is that as the conflict spilled over into Lebanon and more Lebanese lives were lost, they finally felt comfortable challenging Hezbollah's involvement in Syria and its impact on Lebanon.

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Iran Passed a Pro Nuke Bill
By Micah Halpern

Monday December 30, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The Iranian parliament just passed a bill for which over two-thirds of the members voted in favor of catapulting their nuclear development if the US Congress passes any new boycott legislation.

The Iranian press is filled with coverage of the dramatic change of heart in Iran. Since the last time they were asked, there has been a 100% shift in the Iranian parliament.

This Iranian bill will permit uranium enrichment to 60% and even 90%, whereas the agreement caps it at 20%. In addition, the bill allows for the heavy water nuclear plant at Arak to continue to be built.

The legislation the Iranians are concerned about is referred to as "Standby Sanctions" in the corridors of power in Washington DC. Congress wants the sanctions bills in place to allow them the ability to act quickly if the six month interim deal with Iran falls through.

Iran is setting up a counter move. They are saying if you pass a bill we will pass a bill that trumps your bill.

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Saudis Give Lebanon 3 Billion
By Micah Halpern

Sunday December 29, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Saudi Arabia just gave Lebanon a $3 billion grant to bolster their army.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman announced the aid on Sunday TV. "The king of the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is offering this generous and appreciated aid of $3 billion to the Lebanese army to strengthen its capabilities."

The obvious purpose of the money is to counter the enormous support that Iran gives to Hezbollah in Lebanon. That support has a huge impact on everything that happens in Syria.

If the Saudis successfully strengthen the Lebanese army it can influence the facts on the ground in Lebanon, in Syria and even - by extension, Israel. A stronger army in Lebanon will also, hopefully, prevent the violence overtaking Syria from spilling over into Lebanon.

The biggest however, is that giving money and buying better and bigger weapons does not necessarily make for a better army.

Hezbollah is disciplined and well trained. They are also well armed. Unless the Lebanese army is better trained and better motivated than Hezbollah, there is a strong possibility that
Hezbollah will capture many of the new weapons that Saudi Arabia will be giving to Lebanon.

If that happens the $3 billion gift will turn into one explosive backfire.

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Iran is a Compilcated Game
By Micah Halpern

Saturday December 28, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Just look at how complicated the Iranian issue is.

On Monday talks will resume between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva.

The talks were put on hold for Christmas. People are hopeful.

Yesterday Iran called for direct talks between the United States and Iran to try and start a new era, a new relationship.

But --- also yesterday ---

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that Iran is producing a new generation of centrifuges "and another round of tests will be made before proceeding to mass production."

Salehi said that Iran now has 19,000 centrifuges and is "able to produce its own nuclear fuel."

Spokesman for the agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said that these new centrifuges and new developments will improve Iranian production and enrichment capacity.

This, he added, is not a violation of the deal which forbids further production for 6 months - not improvement.

And the games continue.

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New Nazi Salute is a Rage
By Micah Halpern

Friday December 27, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

I have not been this disturbed by a news item or event in a very long time.

Yesterday I spent several hours researching and investigating a new symbol of blatant and despicable Anti-Semitism. It is called QUENELLE. A quenelle is a French pastry. But this is neither sweet nor tasteful. This quenelle is a reverse Nazi salute.

The rise of the quenelle has been seen primarily in France, its place of origin. So far it has been perpetrated almost exclusively by the French - even when they leave France. It is all over the internet and Facebook. People take pictures of themselves doing the quenelle in popular and very inappropriate locales - individually and en masse.

It is illegal in France to use Nazi symbols or to inspire anti-Semitism. Changing the Nazi salute and inverting it by placing one hand downward while the other arm crosses the body is a way around the law.

I have added 2 hyper links to a 3 minute Youtube video and a YNET article showing pictures of neo Nazis doing the quenelle salute in front of synagogues, at Holocaust memorials and outside the notorious massive death camp Auschwitz/Birkenau. They are even seen at the Western Wall and posing with smiling Israeli soldiers oblivious to what is really being perpetrated.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxlQK0g2kSk

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4464336,00.html

Once you understand what is happening, you will find this fast growing trend as frightening as I do.

The French are taking this seriously. French leadership is talking about ways to control the quenelle movement. In the meantime, the movement grows and spreads its Anti-Semitic message.

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Pollard Has A Small Chance
By Micah Halpern

Thursday December 26, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

There is a better chance now than there has been in a very long time that Jonathan Pollard may be freed.

Now that Prism, the NSA program made public by Edward Snowden, outted the United Sttaes for spying on Israel at the highest level, Israel is hoping to use the information as leverage with which to free Pollard.

Israel is attaching Pollard to the Palestinian peace process. They hope to link concessions that they make to the Palestinians - concessions that will appease the United States - with progress on the Pollard front.

Israel will push the US about the double standard. You can spy on us and we can't spy on you? We were caught years ago, you were caught now. We will drop the issue if you let our spy go.

Another important factor in this equation is President Obama who, until now, has not weighed in on Pollard. Fundamentally, Obama is motivated by fairness. He is all about being fair and being equal.
The publicity about the US spying on Israel may provide the impetus he needed to help Pollard.

The stumbling block is the defense establishment. The defense establishment is dead set against it.

The Constitution, however, provides for situations such as the one Pollard is embroiled in and the Constitution put the decision making power totally in the office of the president.

It is written in Article II, Section 2, Clause 1:
"and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment."

Since 1900, 20,000 presidential pardons have been issued. A pardon is not the only option. Vacating the verdict, clemency or commuting the sentence all fall under the right of the US President.

Now that Israel has assumed responsibility for Pollard (which for years they denied) swaps can occur. Recently, a US citizen was returned from Russia in exchange for several Russians and other things that Russia wanted. If Israel successfully applies the necessary pressure and the United States wants to play along Pollard can be freed through any number of scenarios.

In the end Israel is fighting for Pollard because of an essential Jewish principle: one does not leave captives. Jonathan Pollard has done his time. And I can honestly say that at this historical juncture, Israel is willing to pay dearly for his release.

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A New Intifada?
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday December 25, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

There has been a serious rise in violence in the West Bank over the past few weeks. The IDF, the police and intelligence service have begun to call it a mini intifada or uprising

Actually, no one wants to even use the word because of its historical resonance, but, given the events, it seems both appropriate and accurate. In fact, several factors are emerging signaling that a full blown intifada might be on the way.

Over the past few months there have been several hundred small acts of violence in the West Bank. This past week the incidents escalated in seriousness. There were three large incidents including the Palestinian sniper who, yesterday, killed an Israeli defense contractor.

Abbas has given a green light to attacks against symbols of the occupation and the situation is getting out of hand. The Palestinian leader hopes to add pressure on Israel to force negotiations - but once out of the bottle, violence will not be easily stemmed or directed.

Frustration on the part of youthful Palestinians, couples with a rejection of the establishment and current PA leadership has resulted in the rise of popularity of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups in the West Bank.

These groups are independent of the PA. They are not controlled by Abbas but have received his nod and do not fear PA security forces.
They are beginning to strike Israel on their own.

All this means that at any moment the West Bank could explode. And that does not even take into account the potential of a retaliatory Israeli strike that could easily trigger this new intifada.

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Jesus Was Not A Palestinian
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 24, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Enough already.

Arafat used to do it all the time. Present day Palestinian leadership is carrying on the tradition. The Palestinians call Jesus a Palestinian.

In an email he just sent around the world PA President Mahmoud Abbas called Jesus a Palestinian. He wrote Jesus was a "Palestinian messenger who would become a guiding light for millions."

That's like calling Jesus an Israeli. And Jesus was not an Israeli.

Jesus was a Jew - he was not an Israeli and he was not a Palestinian.

Obviously, Islamic leadership cannot call Jesus the "Savior." Interestingly, the Muslim world has great difficulty even calling him "prophet."

In his email, Abbas called Jesus a "messenger" so as not to upset or, even better, to insult Muslim leadership around the world.

Jesus has his place in history. The fact that he does not play a role in Muslim history should not pose a problem. The Palestinians must stop abusing history.

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Iran is A Regional Power
By Micah Halpern

Monday December 23, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday I read that Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino visited Iran and held a press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

The main point of the coverage was to say that any country trying to push Iran out of a position of power in the region, will fail.
Zarif made the following concerning efforts to exclude his country from the Syrian peace talks:

"We believe that the view which prevents Iran from playing a positive role on Syria issue is not realistic."

"We have announced readiness to find a political solution to Syria crisis and to have a constructive and effective presence in Geneva II."

"We hope the efforts (to solve Syria issue) will be based on realities"

Zarif reiterated that if Iran is invited to the talks, it will also take part in the forthcoming conference on Syria.

For her part, the Italian foreign minister responded well. She emphasized Iran's constructive role in the region.

She said: "We want positive presence of Iran in the international conference of Geneva II on Syria crisis."

"Geneva II Conference is the will of the United Nations to solve Syria crisis."

"... all the countries which have influence to stop tragedy in Syria should attend Geneva II Conference."

The only problem with this entire story line is that Iran has a proverbial horse in the race. The Iranians are major players in Syria. Iran has deployed special units of their Revolutionary Guard in Syria. Iran stationed training forces in Syria and the Iranians are sponsors of Hezbollah and of Bashar Assad himself.

Iran controls what happens in Syria. And Iran wants a resolution that meets their own specific goals and vision.

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Friends Spy on Friends
By Micah Halpern

Sunday December 22, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The sensational headlines should not have come as a surprise to anyone who dabbles even a little in intelligence.

Prism, the NSA program, tapped the phones and computers of Israel's prime minister and senior leadership during meetings. They tapped emails and telephone calls.

The operating assumption is always that your phone and computer are being tapped. No one in a position of power should ever say anything secure on the phone or write anything secure in an email.

All secure messages are delivered face to face and then only in very secure places. Places where lips cannot be read. Even the president of the United States sets up a tent in his hotel room and all documents and important conversations take place inside that tent and away from probing telephoto lenses and prying visual and audio optics.

Computers, cell phones, land lines are all child’s play to intelligence services.

Most memos and conversations do not have to be secret and sometimes information is leaked deliberately in order to create a designed response or to set a plan in motion.

It is not about insult or trust - it is all about knowledge. And knowledge is power.

Sometimes, knowing too much tips your hand. Sometimes, the other side slips and says something that they could only have received from information gleaned from a tap.

That's where the game gets interesting.

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US Senate Condemns Iran
By Micah Halpern

Saturday December 21, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

On Friday the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning Iran. The resolution called on Iran to free seven Bahai leaders who have been imprisoned as well as numerous other Bahai leaders who have been illegally held and never even charged.

The resolution reads: The Senate "condemns the government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of its Bahai minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights."

The White House has said that these resolutions are "not helpful." They added that this is not the time for resolutions of this nature.

Clearly, even the democrats on Capitol Hill disagree with the president.

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Irony - Israel & the Palestinians
By Micah Halpern

Friday December 20, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Irony makes me smile.

Israel is trying to create a full court press on Iran. Each time an Israeli leader has the opportunity, he or she manages to inject comments about keeping the pressure on Iran into their conversation. President Peres does it, Prime Minister Netanyahu does it. Every leader, no matter the party or position, is pounding the pavement to try to convince the world to keep up the pressure on Iran.

Not only are they talking the talk, they Israelis are walking the walk. Israel is using every opportunity to apply pressure. And the most important place for applying pressure is in Washington, DC, both on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

Well guess what. The Palestinians are doing the same thing. Only the Palestinians are applying pressure on the White House in order to pressure --- Israel. And it is not just the Palestinians, it is anyone who sides with the Palestinians. Americans, Europeans, Asians and Arabs alike.

All irony aside, the pressure is growing. There is probably more pressure being brought on the United States to try to resolve the Israeli / Palestinian issue than to keep up the sanctions on Iran.

The Palestinians are doing a better job than the Israelis in their PR campaign. They usually do.

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Palestinian Israeli Peace?
By Micah Halpern

Thursday December 19, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said yesterday that talks with Israel may extend beyond the nine month April deadline if real progress and a "detailed skeleton" of all the elements in question is in place.

Erekat wants the skeleton to include frameworks for borders, land swaps, security coordination and refugees.

This comment indicates that there may be more room for optimism than the impression given by initial assessments. Thomas Friedman, in a recent OPED in The New York Times, seems to sense the optimism.

Friedman raked the Palestinians over the coals saying they cannot have it all and that they must be more realistic about their desires for statehood. He made a very cogent argument for compromise.

Friedman criticized Israel for wanting too much and said that Israel must give up one of their three essential loves - democracy, the Jewishness of the state, the totality of the land of Israel. He suggests the third option, giving up settlements in the West Bank.

There is still very little chance of success. That having been said, low expectations are a great tool through which to achieve change.

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Iran's New Super - Radar
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday December 18, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

With full fanfare, Iran has announced a new radar system.

The announcement was made in all the papers, TV and radio stations, each announcement contained almost identical information. Iran now has a new, extra long range system radar that uses UHF, VHF, HF frequencies.

The system is called Arash, named after the Persian mythical figure and archer. According to tradition the Archer resolved a conflict about the boundaries of Persia by shooting an arrow off in a direction and all the land within the bowshot would become Persia. Arash used a magical bow and hence, he shot the arrow a super natural distance.

According to the reports this radar has a range of 200 kilometers or about 120 miles. It is able to track as many as 100 different incoming projectiles at the one time.

We do not know if this is actually for real - but the reports say that the radar system has been unveiled and successfully tested.

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Snow in Jerusalem
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 17, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

It snowed in Jerusalem.

The international press has romanticized the rare, beautiful white blanket that now covers parts of the Middle East.

Both The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal printed unique, even entertaining pictures of the snow in Jerusalem - on their front pages and above the fold. The Times showed a lone figure swimming in a pool surrounded by snow and images of the city. The Journal showed a snow boarder high in the air, his tsitsit (ritual fringed garment) flying in the wind.

The images shown in those papers are beautiful, but they do not depict the whole picture. The reality is grim. There is a very real and very ugly underbelly to this storm. Over 100 people have been treated in hospitals after slipping on ice. Tens of thousands of people were left without heat and electricity many are still living in the dark and cold. There are people trapped, waiting in their homes for emergency evacuations to hospitals after giving birth or having suffered various medical crises.

Some say that Israeli leadership failed miserably and that basic services have not functioned well in this crisis. Others are enjoying what may be a once in a lifetime experience.

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Romanian TV Carol - Kill the Jews
By Micah Halpern

Monday December 16, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Dumbstruck. Flummoxed. I cannot believe my eyes.

I have just read the lyrics of the Romania Christmas Carol sung by a folk ensemble named Dor Transilvan on Romania public television.

In the song the carolers proclaim that Jews killed Jesus. They sing that the only good Jews is a dead Jew. And then they add the words, only in the chimney. In other words, do as the Nazis did - mass murder Jews and then cremate them.

The Romanian television network was fined the equivalent of about $15,000 for engaging in a major violation of the law by airing a terribly Anti-semitic program.

Here are some of the lyrics:

"A beautiful child was born/
His name was Jesus Christ/
All the world worships him /
But the kikes / Damn kikes /
Holy God would not leave the kike alive /
Either in the sky or on the earth /
Only in the chimney as smoke / This is what the kike is good for /
To make kike smoke through the chimney on the street"

After these words were sung, the host of the program actually said thank you the choral group.

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Iran Becoming Obese
By Micah Halpern

Sunday December 15, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Iran is positioning the entire scenario - the whole thing, the talks, the agreement, the other meetings, everything - as a conflict with the West, especially a conflict with the United States.

Iran may be correct. And they just may win the war of diplomatic public relations.

But on one battlefield, the Iranians are losing and they will continue to lose. That battlefield is the field of modern culture.

Here is the most recent - and a very scary - example: Fully 33% of Iranians are obese. The state is embarking on massive educational campaigns to combat the epidemic. Private groups are initiating campaigns to combat obesity. But none of their efforts are likely to succeed.

The main culprit is fast food. Pizza, hamburgers and french fries are being gobbled up by Iranian youth much faster than are yogurt and fruit. The Iranians are opening their own rip-offs of Western chains. The rip-offs come complete with all the poor nutrients and all the fats of the originals.

Iran realizes there is almost no way to confront this phenomenon.
But they should get points for trying. For example, for several days during the week the city of Isfahan has closed city streets to cars in order in stimulate walking.

It just won't work. The youth of Iran are doomed. And we all know what happens next - acne.

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Iran Leaves Talks
By Micah Halpern

Saturday December 14, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

On Friday Iran walked out of the five day long set of meetings they had been holding in Vienna. The meetings were the follow up to the accord they had signed with the P5+ 1 in the end of November with Iran.

The Iranian delegation walked out because the United States publicly listed 12 companies and individuals who have been violating sanctions. The reason the US made the announcement was to quell a resolution in congress to add new sanctions.

The accord specifically says that any new sanctions will nullify the agreement. The US was trying to thread the needle. They will say that they were just policing the current sanctions. They will say that this is nothing new. But Iran will say that it is new enforcement against them.

Officially, the Iranians said that they were returning to Tehran for consultations.

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Talks w Iran Not Progressing
By Micah Halpern

Friday December 13, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

For several days now, ever since Monday, representatives from the P5+1 have been meeting with Iran in Vienna.

There have been conflicting reports as to the progress of those meetings. But four days of talks is a positive sign and we know that, at least, they are still talking.

At first, public statements articulating positive progress on both sides were released. But yesterday it became clear that there are still real difficult issues to be hammered out. Principally, the difficulties surround what should happen and when.

Both sides are proving problematic. Both sides are insisting that the other make concessions. Iran wants a lessening of sanctions and the United States and the West want to limit the development of nuclear technology.

The biggest issue is a chicken and egg discussion. Which should come first? P5+1 says first open up for unfettered inspections and stop nuclear development. Iran says first relax the sanctions and then we will accommodate you.

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Congress May Derail Iran Accord
By Micah Halpern

Thursday December 13 ,2013

I've Been Thinking.

Congress has been threatening to derail the agreement that was signed between the West, as represented by the P5+1, and Iran in Geneva.

The House will probably pass a non-binding resolution before Congress goes to recess next Friday. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is circulating a draft resolution.

On the Senate side, they seem more trusting. The Senate listened to the president and has heeded the White House calls for patience.

The agreement signed between the parties clearly says that no new sanctions may be imposed on Iran. If new sanctions are imposed, the agreement is totally nullified.

In reality, the House is sending a message to the White House and to Teheran. The message goes like this: We do not trust either of you.

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Assassination in Beirut
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday December 11, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Last week Hassan al Lakkis was assassinated in his car in Beirut, Lebanon. He had just pulled up to his house and was still in the car when the assassin jumped out and shot him 5 times.

Lakkis was the Hezbollah tech guru. He masterminded the Hezbollah hi-tech drone system and many of their gadgets and gimmicks. Some friends and colleagues teased him and called him "Q" after the techie in the Bond movies.

It is also a commonly held belief that Lakkis has been the mastermind behind the smuggling of weapons from Lebanon into Gaza and into Egypt. He was very close with the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah.

So who assassinated Hassan al Lakkis? Nasrallah and Hezbollah immediately blamed Israel.

But in an unprecedented response, Israel denied responsibility. The Israelis do not normally respond in these situations, they prefer to leave everyone guessing. Two groups, however, have claimed responsibility. The Free Sunni Brigades of Baalabek and the Soldiers of Damascus have both claimed that they killed Lakkis.

The style of the assassination and the response of Israel leads one to believe that responsibility really does lie with a local group.
There is no shortage of Hezbollah enemies in Beirut. Most importantly, the assassination was loud and public and very untidy.

The assassins did not have a very sophisticated exit strategy. They simply shot Lakkis many times and then sped off in a car.

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Embattled PA Leadership
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 10, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The biggest problem with the US push for a resolution between Israel and the Palestinians is a practical one. Unfortunately, the United States does not see the problem that will emerge because of their misdirected actions and advice.

The PA is an embattled and nearly totally defunct entity. Hamas is gaining popularity in the West Bank. Al Qaeda is growing in number in the West Bank. Most importantly, the Salafi movement is not only growing, it is growing quickly.

These groups view the Palestinian Authority as collaborators with Israel and the United States. They are fighting for the hearts and souls of young Palestinian men and boys and these groups are promising them the moon.

The PA is seen not as the leader of the future but as a throwback to the past. The masses of PA youth are not interested in Abbas - in fact, when they look at him all they see is corruption and nepotism.

The suggestions being made by the United States about security and the PA and Israel are non-attainable because, simply put, they are just not practical. The Palestinians seem to want new, young extremists more than they want the old guard.

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Israelis & Saudis Meet About Iran
By Micah Halpern

Monday December 9, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Follow this carefully.

Iran reported yesterday that Saudi Prince Bandar, who is also the head of the Saudi Intelligence Service, recently met several times with Israel intelligence officials in Geneva.

Under normal circumstances neither the source nor the report would be credible. But this particular report seems to be substantiated and logic dictates that meeting of this sort would be more than probable.

There have been multiple rumors and even public statements about regional cooperation with Israel. In other words, Saudi Arabia and Israel met to discuss ways to try to contain or even counter Iran and deal with the newly minted relationship Iran now has with the West, especially the United States.

The priorities for Israel and Saudi Arabia include trying to sideline all of Iran's proxies and trying to talk directly with the US to convince them of the mistake they are making with Iran and show them how Iran's interests are to destabilize - not to stabilize - the region and even the world.

Saudi Arabia is not shy about voicing dissatisfaction over Iran and Israel has been very vocal in their skepticism over Iran's intentions. The Saudis and Israelis are also sharing intelligence about the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt.

These were high level meetings. I am certain that other lower level and operational meetings are happening as you read this.

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Israel's New Assessment of Syria
By Micah Halpern

Sunday December 8, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Over the past few weeks it seems clear that Israel has changed their assessment of Syria.

Until now Israel has always claimed that President Bashar Assad of Syria was on his way out and that his days were numbered. It was not a question of if but when he would be ousted, killed, toppled or exiled.

Now the Israelis have confirmed that Bashar Assad is there to stay for the foreseeable future. Assad has secured his position and his primary mission is to rid his country of Islamic al Qaeda influences that have crossed into Syria to try to topple him.

The change in Israel's assessment is based on Assad's recent military successes and the change in momentum within Syria that has continued to flow in his favor over the past ten months. In addition there is the international credibility that Assad has gained by cooperating and helping to identify and destroy chemical and biological weapons facilities within Syria.

Now Israel is now drawing up new and future scenarios for Syria. Primary on their list are the 5,000 to 10,000 foreign al Qaeda fighters only a stone’s throw away from Israel.

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What If The US Withdraws
By Micah Halpern

Saturday December 7, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

There are numerous discussions in international arenas about the United States stepping down from its long held role as international policeman.

It seems clear that under the stewardship of President Barack Obama the US is redefining its role internationally. Part of that redefinition means pulling out of places where the mere presence of the United States insured stability and free flow of economic and commercial traffic.

One of the regions now in question is the Persian Gulf. Until now the US has played an essential role in making certain that oil flowed freely through the region. There is serious speculation and worry in the corridors of oil consuming nations that, given the current US condition and policy making decisions, they may diminish their policing role in the Gulf.

If that should happen who, if anyone, will step in to fill the void? So far, it looks as if the void will remain. Following is a significant example of that new reality:

Salman Khashid is India's minister of external affairs. India is the 2nd largest consumer of oil in the world. When the question was posed to Salman Khurshid's by Reuters, this is what he said: "We have never played the classical role of intervening with military assistance in the same way that the US has been doing."

That is troubling. Troubling for the region and troubling for the world.

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Hamas To Hang Those Who Aid Israel
By Micah Halpern

Friday December 6, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday a Hamas court convicted and sentenced A.K. to death by hanging.

A.K. is the only name he is known by. His crime was helping the Israelis. Officially, in Hamas terms, the crime was collaborating with the Zionist occupation. It is a crime that is punishable by death.

Thus far, in 2013, Hamas has convicted and sentenced 12 people to death for helping Israel. Three have been executed. Since 2007, the year that Hamas took over Gaza, 17 people have been executed for collaboration with Israel.

Only two other crimes carry the death penalty according to Palestinian law - murder and drug trafficking.

Under Palestinian law the execution must be sanctioned by the President. In Gaza, Hamas does not recognize the authority of the president of the Palestinian Authority. They have not accepted Abbas since they took over Gaza.

Given that the punishment for helping Israel is death, it is very unlikely that any real peace can or will emerge between Israel and the Palestinians.

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Kerry is No Miracle Worker
By Micah Halpern

Thursday December 5, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

US Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Israel last night.

Many people are hoping that he will succeed. They are counting on him to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Palestinian leadership has announced that Kerry must come in a save the day. New York Times columnist Thomas Freidman says that Kerry needs to push the parties and that will force a deal.

But Kerry is not a miracle worker.

It is not certain that the parties, Israel and the Palestinians, really want a solution. The Israelis talk about peace but have not really made the right moves. The Palestinians have never really made the right gestures or moves.

Realistically speaking, there is little chance of any solution during this Kerry Middle East trip.

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Iran to Move in on OPEC
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday December 4, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Today OPEC is meeting and Iran is hoping to take charge.

The Iranians are attempting to change the daily output of OPEC and, once again, turn themselves into one of the most powerful forces in the world of oil export.

Of course, Saudi Arabia - the major OPEC member, will see this as a frontal assault. Saudi Arabia is currently the most powerful force around the OPEC table. Iran has been powerless since the Western sanctions were instituted. Now that the sanctions are being lifted, Iran wants to move into the position of power.

In addition to everything else they want, the Iranians are also proposing to place one of their people as the new chairman and head of OPEC. Exactly how the other OPEC members are going to receive the newly awakened arrogance of Iran is yet to be seen.

One thing is for sure, Saudi Arabia is not going to take this lightly. Expect real clash and a full blown battle.

We will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds.

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UK Resumes Diplomatic Ties w Iran
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 3, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

London has announced that their new charge d'affairs will visit Iran today.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that Ajay Sharma will make his first trip to Iran with the intention of setting up new relations between the two countries.

Ajay Sharma tweeted that relations between the United Kingdom and Iran will improve one step at a time.

This is a huge step for any Western country. It is a real diplomatic normalization of ties. I am curious to see what the UK gains from this unprecedented change in diplomatic status.

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Al Qaeda in The West Bank
By Micah Halpern

Monday December 2, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The Israeli army recently shot and killed three terrorists in the West Bank. The incident was unusual.

The first reason is that the West Bank had been pretty quiet, so a shoot out involving three terrorists was an out of the ordinary event. The second is that the group claiming that the three terrorists were their group members is a branch of al Qaeda.

The Palestinian Authority has maintained that there is no al Qaeda presence in the West Bank despite some serious signs showing evidence of the opposite. These three terrorists are the most recent and the most significant proof.

Al Qaeda influences come from the outside the West Bank by way of affiliated organizations trying to motivate locals to join their al Qaeda ranks.

There are two methods of recruitment. One is when organizers infiltrate into the West Bank. Another is by way of the internet. Online sermons and chat rooms and websites serve as gathering places from which the organizers garner support for their local objectives and global goals.

The PA responded to the shooting saying that these three terrorists were not al Qaeda members. They need to deny the affiliation because if they were, it would prove that another force is emerging which is outside the influence of the official PA.

The Palestinian Authority can deny as much as they want, but at this point it is pretty obvious to whom these three terrorists pledged their allegiance.

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What Iran Really Thinks
By Micah Halpern

Sunday December 1, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

We often evaluate situations from our point of view, it's only natural. But in the case of the Iranian deal with the P5+1 power nations, it might be worthwhile to try to see things through the perspective of Iran.

Abbas Araqchi is the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister. On Sunday he was all over the Iranian press - on TV and in FARS, the official Iranian news agency. Araqchi provided a timetable. He said that this week he expects to hear from Helga Schmid, a senior EU diplomat, and that the group will probably convene again the following week in Geneva or Vienna.

Many questions arise, especially when, or even if, the agreement is in play. There is no mechanism at all for the agreement. There is no way for this agreement to be implemented. The Iranians know that, they probably maneuvered in such a way to make that happen.

And now the Iranians are expecting the West to violate the terms of the agreement which will, in turn, free them from the agreement.
Even if I am wrong and that was not the Iranian master plan, Iran does not feel that the agreement released last Saturday night is binding.

Here is what Araqchi said. Determine for yourself what it means:
"The moment we feel that the opposite side is not meeting its obligations or its actions fall short, we will revert to our previous position and cease the process."

"We are in no way optimistic about the other side - we are pessimistic - and we have told them that we cannot trust you."

No need to read between the lines.

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There Must Be A 2nd Agreement w Iran
By Micah Halpern

Saturday November 30, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

"One hundred percent no."

That was the answer Iran's President Hassan Rouhani gave the Financial Times when asked if Iran was going to dismantle any nuclear technology.

This exclamatory statement is another in a long series of proofs that confirm for me that the agreement that the P5+1 signed with Iran came out in two very different versions.

Sitting on my desk is the copy of the agreement sent out by the White House. I re-read it several times a day when I write about or comment on the agreement.

But then I see, hear and read what Rouhani and others say and do and I have to ask what it going on here. Their words and actions are completely counter to what is written in and permitted by the agreement sitting in front of me.

At first I thought Iran was pushing the limits. But there are too many examples to cast aside. India says that they are now going to resume oil importing from Iran and that their insurance carriers will now cover them. Russia, too, says that they are now preparing to import Iranian oil.

The only way that this is possible is if there is another version of the agreement. Petrol chemicals are permitted in the pact according to my copy, oil is not.

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US-Iran Open Chamber of Commerce
By Micah Halpern

Friday November 29, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Hear ye, hear ye, read all about it. Two news items you could not have expected:

# 1: An Iran / US Chamber of Commerce has been created and will officially begin functioning with the next few weeks.

# 2: Direct flights between the United States and Iran will be instituted in the near future. The flights will arrive and depart only on the Island of Kish. Kish is an international tax free trading zone. As such, US citizens will not need Iranian visas.

This news was presented, in Iran, by Abdolfazl Hejazi of the Iran / US Chamber of Comerce. The announcements were made public in a press conference and publicized to the English language press yesterday in Iran.

The announcement went like this: "Iran / US Chamber of Commerce will be launched in less than one month," Abolfazl Hejazi, a member of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, told the English-language Iran Daily.

This process of normalization between the United States and Iran is moving ahead very quickly. While there are no official relations yet, at this rate I do not imagine that it will be too long before official diplomatic relations are established and there is an exchange of ambassadors.

Let us, however, not forget what happened in 1979. That is the year Iran took 52 US diplomats hostage - and kept them for 444 days.

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2 News Items
By Micah Halpern

Thursday November 28, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Of the many news reports that crossed my screen yesterday, two items caught my attention more than the others.

One item was a report on how the United States formerly and publically defended Iran’s right to continue construction of their plutonium enrichment factory at Arak. That's right - the United States defended Iran's right.

The United States said that as long as the Iranians are not working on heavy water or plutonium itself, the plant can continue construction.

What the United States refuses to acknowledge is that once completed, the Arak plant will be in the perfect position to process plutonium for a bomb.

The other item was a report that the United States announced that they would be destroying Syrian weapons in the sea on a ship called the MV Cape Ray. The ship is a huge, 700 feet long. No country wanted to host the destruction so the United States will have to destroy these Syrian non-conventional weapons on its own.

These two items teach us a lot about what is happening in our world today. Item number one highlights that fact that the deal with Iran is really, honest and truly only good for Iran.

And item number two underscores the fact that no one other country cares about or is willing to help another no matter that it is for the greater good. When it's not about Iran, everyone is too busy to lend a hand.

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Rouhani Loves The Deal
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 27, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran is very happy about the deal he signed with the West. And why wouldn't he be.

Yesterday he explained why this deal so excites him. This deal, he said, has made Iran stronger and severely weakened Israel.
Here is his quote: "Everyone is happy about this deal."

Rouhani said that the only people who were not happy or satisfied were "warmongers and that regime, which is an illegitimate one that occupies."

The words "that regime" is a Rouhani euphemism for Israel. The new president, just like the entire elite leadership of Iran, never mentions Israel by name.

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India to Import Iran Oil
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday November 26, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd has announced that they will once again be importing oil from Iran.

HPCL is the largest oil refinery in India. They only stopped importing Iranian oil in April when it became impossible to insure ships transporting oil from Iran to India.

India is the second largest importer of oil in the world. They are also the second largest consumer of oil. They import crude and refine it.

Soon, they will probably outstrip China for the title of the World's Largest Importer and Worlds Largest Oil Consumer.

HPCL is convinced that the new agreement signed by the P5 +1 will allow them the ability to freely, safely and legally get oil from Iran.

If they are correct - and there is no reason that HPCL would jeopardize their ships and their product - it was not included in the agreement that was made public.

It makes one wonder ...

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Winners & Losers of the Iran Deal
By Micah Halpern

Monday November 25, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The pact between Iran and the West has resulted in some very big winners and some very big losers.

The biggest winner by far is Iran. The Iranians got just what they wanted. They can continue to enrich their uranium, albeit a minimum amount or uranium and, more importantly, they saved face. These were their red lines.

Barack Obama is the next big winner. The president of the United States embraced talks, he wanted an agreement and he got an agreement.

The big losers are Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The Palestinians have weighed in on the agreement and they endorsed it. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Issued a statement saying that the agreement "sent an important lesson to Israel of which it needs to learn that peace is the only solution for the Middle East, and the world powers have to be wound up in order to advance a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

Even this agreement, which has nothing to do with the Palestinians, has become their issue. Abbas can't resist. He insists on laying blame for the failing peace negotiations at the he feet of Israel for not engaging in peace and for the West for not forcing a settlement.

As far as the Palestinians are concerned, even though they are neither winners nor losers in this deal, it's all about them.

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They Signed & It's a Travesty
By Micah Halpern

Sunday November 24, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The agreement signed between Iran and the 5+1is a travesty. It is what I would call a "temporary freeze agreement" - and a poor agreement at that.

The agreement is based on the hope that Iran will freeze their activity for 6 months and in return for allowing the nations of the world to hope, Iran will receive some relief from the sanctions placed against them.

The most glaring drawback in this document is that the Iranian plutonium reactor in Arak just stands still.

To be precise, it stands still in terms of its plutonium enrichment - but Iran can still continue to build and expand upon its technology. Unlike uranium, there is only one purpose for a plutonium reactor. The purpose is for weapons.

As for the other, the many, the small labs that Iran has been opening and developing technology and materials in - they are not even part of the package.

The Iranians are counting on is this interim agreement becoming permanent. That would be a huge victory for them. They would get relief from sanctions and the core of their nuclear program will not even have been touched.

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Rouhani Tweets About Israel
By Micah Halpern

Saturday November 23, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani posted a tweet yesterday.

He told the 6 powers that are involved in negotiating with Iran in Geneva to make a decision. To make a decision independent of Israel and Israel's stance.

Tweeting this message is an essential tool of Iranian rhetoric. The Iranians are suggesting that Israel has manipulated the most powerful nations in order to accommodate their needs.

Rouhani is saying that Israel's needs are not necessarily the needs of other countries. And that is what is holding up the agreement.

The problem is that all 6 countries in the negotiations understand the risks that Israel will confront as a result of a treaty - especially if that treaty is abrogated. So, indeed, it may appear as if the 6 countries present are arguing for Israel.

Unfortunately, in this case the litmus test for a good deal is whether or not Israel is threatened. They are.

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Americans Favor Iran Treaty
By Micah Halpern

Friday November 22, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

A recent CNN poll shows that 56% of Americans are in favor of signing a treaty with Iran in exchange for the stopping of uranium enrichment and the lifting of certain sanctions.

56% is a very telling number. It means that 56% of Americans are hopeful.

But it does not explain why they think this way. That, I can explain.

Americans are trusting and optimistic ... actually to a fault. It is that trusting attitude which allows Americans to believe that a deal with the Iranians will benefit everyone.

It is very hard for the American spirit to see a down side. I will tell them what that down side is. Iran is not trustworthy. And that I can say 100%.

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On Iran
By Micah Halpern

Thursday November 21, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The meetings between Iran and the 5+1 began yesterday in Geneva. It was a very short meeting, only 5 or 10 minutes. The meeting was an introduction of sorts, now small groups are going into bilateral meetings.

Yesterday, while addressing commanders of the Basij, a paramilitary force that patrols the cities in Iran, the Grand Ayatollah said that: "The (Israeli) Zionist regime is a regime whose pillars are extremely shaky and is doomed to collapse."

The French government spokesman came out with a statement that comments of this sort are not productive, and are "problematic."

As Iran and the 5+1 were meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hopped on a plane to Moscow for a last minute meeting with Russian President Putin. Netanyahu wants to convince Putin to help France in demanding more substance in the agreement with Iran.

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Conflict Over Iran Deal
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 20, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The disagreement between the White House and Israel over a potential agreement with Iran has been blown way out of proportion.

Yes, there is disagreement - but it is a mistake to think that it is simply between Israel and the White House.

Congress has been very vocal about their disagreement with the White House, so dissatisfied that and have scheduled a vote to intensify sanctions against Iran even in the middle of talks with Iran.

So what does President Obama do? The president uses his most powerful tool of persuasion to convince the members of Congress to postpone the vote - he invites them to the White House.

First the Senate Committee on Banking pushed off their decision on sanctions. And then yesterday the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations decided to delay their vote on sanctions until after Thanksgiving and revisit the issue in December.

It is important to realize that there is an internal US conflict - not merely a Democrat /Republican split. There are honest disagreements about whether to trust Iran.

Israeli leadership is on the side of not trusting Iran, as are a significant number of leaders on Capitol Hill.

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PA Footbal Head Calls Israel Nazis
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday November 19, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Shock is the best response to the comments of Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian Football Association.

Rajoub laced into Israel and declared that Israel is a fascist and Nazi country. He called for a total boycott of sports interaction between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Rajoub is claiming that the Israelis, specifically Prime Minister Netanyahu, are "taking advantage of the negotiations in order to play for time and create facts on the ground, which proves that this is an occupation in the form of fascism and Nazism."

Rajoub called for an immediate "escalation in the popular activity against the occupation." The term "popular activity" is an essential code which means violence and attacks against Israeli.

In response, the Israel Football Association released the following statement:

"We are disgusted by these wretched statements and reject them. It's unfortunate that Rajoub is using sports for political purposes and is failing to contribute to the creation of a better reality."

"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Association Chairman Avi Luzon and the heads of the IDF are trying constantly to help the Palestinian Authority maintain a life of sports as long as it does not put the security of the State of Israel and its citizens in danger."

"Accusing Israel of fascism and Nazism and calling for an armed uprising by Rajoub can be seen as incitement, and it's hard to see how this can help improve the situation."

A conflict of this sort is extremely dangerous. It sets an awful tone and frames the issues of this conflict in terms that are wildly out of proportion to the real issues and the true conflict.

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Nasrallah's New Secret Weapon
By Micah Halpern

Monday November 18, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Media in both Lebanon and Israel have been actively asking a serious question about Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.


Nasrallah almost never comes out in public. He prefers the safety of underground bunkers. From the safety of those bunkers he broadcasts his messages and speeches.

To celebrate the recent Shiite holiday Nasrallah made not one but two public appearances. As usual when he is in public, Nasrallah was surrounded by his team of heavily armed body guards. But this time, something was different. One of the body guards, the one standing right next to Nasrallah, was not carrying a submachine gun. He was carrying a briefcase.

The media wants to know: What is with the briefcase?

Experts say that the case is actually a bullet proof blanket that pops up and shields the person. It can stand like a portable movie screen. It is supposed to protect against fire bullets of all kinds up to 7.62 mm and it is supposed to protect against explosions especially Molotov Cocktails. Several companies manufacture this product, the most popular company is Protech.

If that is in fact the case that Nasrallah is using, he is not the first to seek its protective powers. It is also used by the British.

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Israel & France Agree
By Micah Halpern

Sunday November 17, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

French President Francois Hollande is visiting Israel. Israel and France both consider this a critical visit.

France is the reason that the lightening paced move to sign a deal with Iran was slowed down. The French want to add more specifics and independent evaluations into the pact. It was France that put the brakes on and stopped the signing last week.

Israel is very happy about that.

France was also the first and most powerful voice calling for a strike against Syria after the August 21 gassing. French fighters were in their jets ready to strike when Hollande got a call from the White House demanding that they stand down.

But Israel is realistic.

France has always pursued its own direction in the Middle East - and it was often at odds with and very different from the perspectives of Israel and the United States.

Israel realizes that Hollande has his hands full domestically - that his most important goal is to stabilize his own erratic economy which tanked post election.

So although Israel is elated by this trip and knows that it will be a huge success, they are also cognizant of the limitations of that success and very aware of how French foreign policy is prepared and played out. And right now, standing up against Iran and challenging the United States is a good move in Paris.

Make no mistake, that is why Hollande is behaving the way he is. Israel understands that. And right now, that is also a good move in Jerusalem.

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India v China: Battle of Aircarft Carriers
By Micah Halpern

Saturday November 16, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

India just received its third aircraft carrier. The ship is a formerly decommissioned and revamped Soviet Russia carrier. It was totally overhauled by the Russians and sold to India for about $2.3 Billion.

The importance of this is huge.

China and India have a long history of coexistence. But over the past few years there has been increased tensions ... mostly caused by China and their movements in the South China Sea. More than that, there was also a three week land standoff on a mutual border between China and India.

The Chinese have orchestrated a series of tense moments between their country and India over the past year. Not the least of it is the fact that China has been chumming up to Pakistan - and we all know what India thinks about that.

The Chinese also have a former Soviet aircraft carrier that they put in the water in 2011.

China and India each see the other with great suspicion, yet trade between the two countries continues to grow.

These two nations are the most populous countries in the world and if they work together the relationship will be mutually beneficial.
If there are tensions it will be destructive.

One cannot avoid the reality that Russia is the provider of these and billions of dollars worth of other weapons. The Russians are in the middle of things - which is right where they want to be.

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Beheaded the Wrong Guy
By Micah Halpern

Friday November 15, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Oops!

Some mistakes you just cannot take back and correct.

Al Qaeda of Iraq and Syria beheaded someone whom they believed to be the leader of President Assad's forces.

They cut off his head and held it up in the town square. The entire event was filmed and posted on line.

After it was posted viewers responded on line explaining that the bearded head was not a Shiite leader at all - it was the head of a member of a Sunni rebel group, a member of a group that was fighting Assad. The beheaded and the beheaders were supposedly fighting on the same side.

This gruesome, senseless, brutal episode underscores just how disconnected the situation is right now in Syria.

Al Qaeda has asked for "understanding and forgiveness." Understanding, I doubt it, Forgiveness, I am certain they will not receive.

Expect a huge rift between the groups in the not too distant future.

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US Will Be Largest Oil Producer
By Micah Halpern

Thursday November 14, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The International Energy Agency just released a report that says that the US will become the world's largest producer of oil by 2015.

That is good news and bad. Using new technology, especially hydraulic fracking, the United States is able to utilize shale and the natural gas and oil that are contained within.

The bad news is that the United States will not stay on top for very long. Shale reserves will be depleted by 2030.

The IEA also reported also that, over the next few years, 75% of all energy consumed in the world will be in Asia and that India is quickly outpacing China in energy consumption. By 2020 India will be consuming more energy than China.

Within the world of oil and energy both production and consumption are taking shape. It looks like things are changing - but are they really? If alternatives are not found, in 15 years we will be right where we started and Saudi Arabia will once again be the world's largest producer and largest exporter of oil.

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Lebanese Stop Hamas Arms Shipment
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 13, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The new Middle East is full of surprises.

In the Middle East, just like Machiavelli said, people act in their own best interests. No country acts altruistically. No leader acts on behalf of global issues or, even, out of pan-Arab concern.

In the Middle East leaders act to better secure their own leadership
positions.

So when the Arab magazine Al-Watan Al-Arabi reported that "Hamas men have been detained in recent months by state security forces while trying to enter the Beirut airport with fake documents" no one who understands the Middle East should have been surprised.

The magazine reported that: "The suspects tried to transfer a large sum of money from the Beirut Hamas headquarters to an unidentified source. Recently, it was claimed, Hamas managed to recruit a Lebanese weapons dealer in order to transfer advanced weapons to the Gaza Strip."

The Lebanese are clamping down on Hamas. They are doing this for the sake of better trade, especially with Egypt. But Lebanon is also worried. They do not want to call attention to themselves from Russia, the US or the Iranians.

Russia, the United States and Iran would all be very interested if arms were to be transferred out of Lebanon en route to Gaza. Rather than try to keep the operation hush hush, their next best option was to simply shut down the arms transfer.

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Pope Condemns Anti Semitism
By Micah Halpern

Tuesday November 12, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

In St. Peter's Square, on Sunday, Pope Francis spoke about Kristalnacht. The Pope commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Night of Broken Glass.

He said: "We renew our closeness and solidarity to the Jewish people, our big brothers, and pray to God that the memory of the past and of the sins of the past helps us to be always vigilant against every form of hate and intolerance."

When Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires he co-authored a book on inter-religious dialogue with Rabbi Abraham Skora.

Pope Francis both understands and is sensitive to the issues that are central to the Jewish community.

Pope Francis fully recognizes and condemns all forms of hatred, especially anti-Semitism.

Pope Francis realizes that Nazism used anti-Semitism as fuel for hatred and as an excuse for murdering the Jews of Europe.

Pope Francis sees the dangers in not adequately confronting and learning the lessons of the Holocaust.

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US Gung Ho To Sign W Iran
By Micah Halpern

Monday November 11, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

The Office of the Prime Minister of Israel has concluded that the reason the United States is so gung ho to sign a "bad deal" with the Iranians is because the United States thinks it is the only way to stop an Israeli strike against Iran.

Israel is not alone in concluding that the deal is bad. Many countries, including Arab countries, are in agreement with Israel.
The French are especially upset at the potential deal and they are aggressively working to stop the signing.

The Israelis are convinced that the United States sincerely believes that the only alternative to signing a deal with Iran is attacking Iran. And so, it goes to reason, that the US will do anything and everything even signing a bad deal with Iran.

If Israel is correct, a terrible deal is just around the corner.

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Israeli Can Strike Iran
By Micah Halpern

Sunday November 10, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

One of the classic responses to the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran has been to say that Israel does not have the capability to do a proper job of wiping out Iranian nuclear systems and other weapons systems.

American leaders consistently put down the idea that Israel will strike Iran because the attack would not achieve the desired objective. But Israel's ability to effectively strike Iran has been updated.

Whereas it was always assumed that an Israeli strike would only delay the Iranian nuclear program by two to three years, today it is believed that Israel can set Iran back ten years. Even a partly effective attack by Israel would set Iran back seven or eight years.

The change in calculus is due to a better understanding of Israeli weapons and of better intel. This update in Israeli military might has been spreading through military and intelligence circles around the world. The axiom that was in play several months ago is no longer axiomatic.

Where once the United States said that Israel will need her assistance and will not act alone, today it seems that Israeli dissatisfaction over US negotiations with Iran carries with it a significant potential wallop.

Israel is now prepping a series of real strike scenarios. Some of those scenarios are to be carried out without US support.

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Israel Prepping on the Golan
By Micah Halpern

Friday November 8, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Next week Israel will embark on a massive exercise in the north. The exercise will take place throughout the Israeli Golan heights

The Israeli army (IDF), along with communities in the Golan Heights, will work to improve preparedness for terror strikes that will be coming their way from Syria.

Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has alluded to the dangers of these attacks several times. Now the chief of staff has determined that it is time to prepare for them.

There are about 6000 al Qaeda fighters and affiliates in Syria. Some estimate that the number will double by April. That means that regardless of what happens to Assad, Israel will become their target.

Israel must create proper defenses against the al Qaeda threat. The drills that will be undertaken next week are designed to point out weak spots that need to be strengthened in order to create a better and more secure border.

For the past several decades the border between Israel and Syria has been tense, but relatively quiet. There is no doubt that the quiet will soon be shattered. The only question mark is when.

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Syrians in Israeli Hospitals
By Micah Halpern

Thursday November 7, 2013

I've Been Thinking:

Yesterday fourteen Syrians were brought to two different Israeli hospitals for treatment due to serious injuries.

Two of the injured were women and they were brought to Ziv Hospital in Safed. The others were brought to Nehariya, one was a child and another, an infant.

Over the weekend an injured Syrian women recuperating in an Israeli hospital gave birth to a baby.

I have lost track of how many Syrians have crossed the border and received serious medical treatment and life saving care in Israel.

I do know that the numbers are now in th