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Iran Nuke Deal

By Micah Halpern

Friday September 5, 2015

Column

The Iran deal was in the bag from the start. Anyone who surveyed the landscape of Washington, DC knew that.

But even though we knew it, whichever side of the debate you are on, some things are worth fighting for. And they are worth fighting for not only when you know you will win, but even, and even more so, when you know you are going to lose.

Everyone involved in the debate over the Iran Nuke Deal knew that the chances of getting 67 senators to override the president’s commitment to the deal was nearly impossible. Barbara Mikulski, the democratic senator from Maryland, was simply the last senator to confirm what we already knew. For some, Mikulski’s vote was the cherry on top of the sundae, for others it was the last nail in the coffin.

So why the rage? The storm? The fundraising? The speakers? The ads? What was all the hullabaloo surrounding the vote about? And was it worth it all?

The answer is twofold.

Most importantly, President Obama needs to understand that this deal with Iran is a bi-partisan issue – even though he won. The president needed to hear, to feel in his kishkes, that critique of the deal was not meant only as a way of telling him to goose step around Israel’s prime minister and supporters of Israel but to let him know that Americans across a broad spectrum of the country were also wary of the deal.

The president needed to – and still needs to understand, that people who support him are very uncomfortable with this deal.

Senator Chuck Schumer did not commit political suicide by standing up to Obama. On the contrary.

The democratic senator from NY, the man who would be the next senate minority leader, made a cold calculation. And he almost certainly cleared it with the White House before going public. Schumer said the deal is a done deal, but — let me appease my constituency and let me help the Democratic Party down the road so that this does not become a republican democrat split. And that’s why Chuck Schumer chose to oppose the deal.

Schumer’s decision was at the same time a gift to his constituents and a gift to his party.

The other reason it was important to debate the deal was to enable Israel to fight to get the best “swag bag” of treats they could as a result of the implementation of the Iran Nuke Deal.

There is definitely a list, a Chanukah list of goodies — if you will — that Israel wants and expects to receive once the deal that so definitely endangers their country is implemented.

The list has been in formation for months. The longer the time frame between the signing of the deal in July and the 100% certainty of the deal going through, the more Israel can add on. U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury Adam Zsubin was just in Israel and it is this list that took him there. He spent four days on this very issue.

The deal was always done. Now Americans across the divide – those cheering and those weeping – must accept that the time to debate is over and done with. And now the real work begins.

Keeping Iran’s feet to the fire and making certain that the United States has the wherewithal to enforce the agreement will be another struggle.

In this case, there are no foregone conclusions. Iran is notorious for not living up to their nuclear commitments and the United States is famous for looking forward to future goals, making peace and infamous for not focusing and nit picking and policing agreements.

Good luck to us all.

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Hackers & Iran Nukes

By Micah Halpern

Sunday June 14, 2015

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a computer virus infected three hotels in Lausanne, Switzerland. Lausanne is where the nuclear talks with Iran have been taking place and where they will continue to take place. The report has set off a maelstrom – throughout Europe, the Middle East and here at home.

The source for this information is Kaspersky, one of the world’s biggest antivirus companies. Kaspersky found out about the virus because they themselves were infected.

This virus is called Duqu 2.0. It does no damage. It is an advanced version of the Duqu virus of 2011which attacked Iran and it is very similar to the Stuxent virus of 2009-2010. The original Stuxnet successfully destroyed thousands of Iranian nuclear centrifuges.
Wired Magazine and The New York Times have asserted that Stuxent was a joint creation of Israel and the United States. From the point of view of resources, that makes sense.

On home and work computers, malware and worms slow down our systems.
We know that they are there. Not so with this kind of spyware.
Stuxnet, for example, was housed in the BIOS. No one ever even looks in the BIOS. Most of us don’t even know what it is let alone where to look.

Duqu and Stuxnet are not the only worm warriors in today’s ongoing cyber war. Only the two most glaring and talked about. There are at least two other very similar and extremely powerful worms that have been launched. There has been no press coverage of those worms.

They are Viper which came out in 2012 and Flame in 2013.

Kaspersky has said that computer spyware programs as sophisticated and stealth as these can only be the product of a country dedicated to cyber warfare. The company asserts that at least 5,000 programmers were at work designing these cyber weapons. Interestingly, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have also been hit. Kaspersky says that they have found the spyware Flame inserted into both Israeli and PA computer systems.

This brings the number of Stuxnet-type viruses to at least five.

The newly discovered Duqu 2.0 virus uses the computer as a relay. It can watch and hear everything going on in the room and everything that is on the computer can be seen and sent to its own home base. The computer’s activation light for the microphone and for the camera are disabled by Duqu. The virus takes over the entire computer.

There are only a few companies and governments that have the tools to even detect this virus. If the code is written well, no one can ever even know that the spyware was there. It even eliminates its point of entry making it impossible to find computer patient #ZERO — the very first computer that was infected.

Both the Wall Street Journal and Kaspersky imply that Israel is
behind the spying in Lausanne.
The WSJ put it this way: Duqu 2.0 was “a virus widely believed to be used by Israeli spies.”

And in their report, Kaspersky referred to Duqu 2.0 as Duqu Bet. “Bet” is the second letter of the Hebrew language. All letters in the Hebrew alphabet are assigned numerical value and the numerical value of “bet” is “two”. They are clearly hinting that Israel is behind the hack. But there is no tangible evidence.

Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, the person who is now effectively the foreign minister, addressed the innuendo during an interview on Israeli Army Radio. She said: “The international reports of Israeli involvement in the matter are baseless.” She said that this is a waste of time and the main issue is to prevent a bad deal from being signed between Iran and the P5+1.

The Duqu 2.0 was also found on the computers of representatives attending the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Why there? Why those computers? Because in attendance at that event were dozens of heads of state, foreign ministers, diplomats and power brokers and advisers. Several of the people involved in negotiations with Iran were there. It was the perfect place to infect the phones and computers of those one (anyone!) would want to spy on.

The Swiss are investigating. The Austrians are investigating because some of the talks took place in Vienna. The United States has said that they are aware of the threat and that they are always careful and, more than that, they will not comment.

One thing is for certain, this is not the work of a lone hacker or talented high school kid. This attack bears all the markings of a highly complex worm that cannot be found. This kind of computer spyware is created by countries – they are called APTs or Advanced Persistent Threats. They are the most sophisticated and complicated and stealth of all the computer threats out there.

By the time they are discovered, APTs have already done their harm. And most of the time, most of them go undetected. They do their job and then they go dormant. Kaput. All done. Good bye. Until next time.

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The Ayatollah Speaks

By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 25, 2013

Column:

Iran’s Grand Leader The Ayatollah Khamenei has condemned the Boston terror attack. The Ayatollah Khamenei emphasized that Islam rejects the murder of innocent people. And then he condemned what he referred to as the hypocrisy of America.

The head of Iran saw an opportunity and seized it as the Iranians so often do and do so well. The Boston attack was the perfect opportunity for Iran to explain to the non-Western world the unfair practices of the United States and the West. Khamenei wove together a perfect argument decrying of the hypocrisy of the most powerful Western country, the United States, while, at the same time, condemning acts of violence against civilians and especially against children.

Look at the statements Khamenei made before a convention Iranian of army commanders and Basij leaders. These quotes are verbatim, they are taken from FARS, an official Iranian news service:

“In compliance with the logic of Islam, the Islamic Republic of Iran opposes and condemns any kind of explosion and killing of innocent people no matter it takes place in the United States’ Boston or in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.”

“The attitude of America and others who allege to be supporters of human rights towards the killing of innocent people is contradictory and we, thus, believe that the United States and the front standing against the Islamic Republic of Iran are irrational.”

“What kind of logic is this that if children and women in Afghanistan and Pakistan are killed by Americans and if the terrorists supported by the US, the West and the Zionists cause catastrophes in Iraq and Syria, it wouldn’t matter, but if a blast takes place in the US or a Western country, then the whole world should pay the price for it.”

Unfortunately, the arguments put forth by the undisputed and leader of Iran will ring true and meaningful in many, non-Western, corners of the world. At the same time, these statements, Khamenei’s biting critique of the United States and US policies, can help us in the West in our understanding of why Iran and her allies believe that the United States and the West misunderstands Iran and the rest of the world.

What is missing from the Khamenei’s attack against the United States is any acknowledgment that at the same time that he condemns terror against innocents, money from Iran is pouring into terror organizations plotting to do just that, kill murder and maim as many innocents as possible. But self-awareness would be too much to expect of The Grand Ayatollah.

The biggest flaw in his diatribe, the most glaring misrepresentation, is not omission of the well known secret that Iran sponsors both the terrorist organization Hezbollah and the terrorist organization Hamas and bankrolls their attacks but that Iran also monetarily supports Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his attacks against his own people.

The other part missing from the Grand Ayatollah’s rhetoric, from his condemnation and attack on the US is any mention of the fact that, in his mind and in the mind of Islam, anyone connected to the conflict is no longer considered innocent. That means that all Israelis – young and old, men and women, children and elderly are, in his gestalt, all justifiable targets.

And that also means that eight year old Martin Richard was a fair target for the perpetrator/s of the Boston terror attack.

Iran is in conflict with the United States and the United States is a target. So are all her citizens. Including eight year old children. Especially is they are within the area targeted for attack. Period, end. For Iran, it is that simple and straightforward and equation.

Now, I am not saying that Iran sponsored the twin terror bombings in Boston. I am arguing that Iran does not care about the deaths of innocent people when they do sponsor terror attacks. And I am saying that the condemnation of the attack by the Ayatollah Khamenei is vacuous and a public relations ploy intended for the non-Western world which understands, without explanation or cue cards, his true intention and the meaning of his carefully chosen words.

So what does the Grand Ayatollah really mean by his response to the Boston terror attack bombings? The entire discussion is one of political expediency. Khamenei is using the opportunity to justify his own position and discredit the United States with no compunction over the fact that he is, when you read his statements carefully, justifying the actions of the terrorists. He is publicly calling the United States out and saying: What do you expect given the way you treat the rest of the world.

That’s how the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei does things.

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Graffiti in Teheran

By Micah Halpern

Thursday September 13, 2012

Column:

The Middle East is changing in some most unpredictable ways. And some of the most surprising changes are the work of individuals, not governments.

For example: The Iranian city of Shiraz have been sprayed with Hebrew graffiti. The graffiti reads ‘No to war.’ The phrase was also been also written in Farsi, the Persian language, and in English. I assume these Iranian graffiti artists want to make sure that no one misses their message.

This is not a ploy orchestrated by the Mossad to convince Iranians living in their capital city to stop their saber rattling. The graffiti was scribbled by a group of activists called TeHTel, which stands for Teheran Haifa Tel Aviv.

TeHTel is a grass roots campaign among citizens in those three cities who believe that bombing each other is not the answer and that it is extremely dangerous and it is wrong. The group likes to emphasize that they are a campaign of people-to-people and not state-to-state. They point out that theirs is not a political undertaking.

These activists are not flower children drawing love symbols. They are acutely aware of the issues and the dangers in their message and, more importantly, of the medium through which they have chosen to deliver that message. They know very well how the writing on the wall will look. In the book of Daniel the writing on the wall was in Aramaic. Here it is in Hebrew, Farsi and English.

Any graffiti in Iran could land the artist in prison. Graffiti that challenges the government is met with even greater punishment. Now add to that Graffiti that is written in Hebrew. The TeHTel movement has taken some very brave steps for their cause. Scribbling this message on the walls of Teheran and linking themselves to the Israelis who are scribbling the same message on their walls puts group members and their loved ones in certain danger.

Another example: The Israel Electric Company (IEC) is attacked between 10,000 and 20,000 times a day. That’s right, a day.

The electric company is a good, ripe target for cyber terrorists and cyber attackers. If the electricity of Israel is compromised, the entire country is in danger. That means everything from water and hospitals to defense systems and planes.

One would think that most of these attacks against Israel would come from the greatest enemy of Israel today, i.e. Iran. But that would be an incorrect assumption. Iranian attacks on Israel number only 100 – 200 per day. That could be the work of a single hacker or of a few teenagers. It is hardly a massive cyber offensive by Iran. It certainly is not a dedicated team of high level mathematicians and computer scientists attempting to hack into Israel’s soft underbelly.

Where do most of the 10,000 to 20,000 daily attacks come from? Most of the attacks come from China, Russia and North Korean. When you think about it that makes much more sense.

These two events lend important insight into the workings of the Middle East. It showcases the bravery of individual people willing to cross boundaries and borders for a cause in which they mutually believe. And it highlights the need to protect the essential services of one country from the people of other countries out to destroy them. One is an act of bravery, of people not afraid to show their hand in defiance of their governments. The other is an act of cowardice, of anonymous, brainwashed, hackers doing the bidding of their government.

Cyber terror can cause great harm. Graffiti can the raise consciousness of a sleeping people. Both acts are punishable if caught.

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Women Murdered in PA

By Micah Halpern

Thursday August 16, 2012

Column:

Murder is wrong and murder must be punished. It is a fundamental principle and should be a basic tenet of all societies, cultures and religions. But it is not. There are those who justify murder under a rubric called honor.

Justifying murder under the rubric called honor is neither honor nor is it justified.

For centuries the Islamic world has practiced what they called honor killings. Even supposedly secular governments in the Muslim world treated honor killings differently than they did murder. The excuse was that honor killings are part and parcel of Middle East tradition.

But there is no honor in murdering defenseless women and there is no way to justify the actions of the men who murder them.

So-called honor killings are most often perpetrated by men who are out of control – angry and shamed by the actions of their female victim. They murder the objects of their anger and absolve themselves of shame.

The numbers are staggering. Since 2007, forty-two women have been murdered in the Palestinian Authority in honor killings. In 2011 alone thirteen women were murdered. So far, in 2012, twelve women have been murdered by their husbands.

The Palestinian Authority has done almost nothing to stop this epidemic.

Last year PA president Abbas signed a new law changing the status of honor killers. On paper, men who murder in the name of honor are to be treated like all other murderers. In practice, the new law has never been in effect. Palestinian men who kill their wives or daughters are seldom convicted and if they are sentenced, they are given a mere six months. In Gaza under Hamas the maximum sentence for honor killing is twenty-four months.

The most recent and a very blatant example of honor killing took place in Bethlehem just steps away from the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus. The victim was Nancy Zaboun, a twenty-seven year old mother of three who had been was abused by her husband for ten years and was finally filing for divorce. After a court hearing Nancy left the courthouse and walked up the steps through the open air market in Bethlehem, extremely close to the Church. He husband then stabbed her multiple times in the chest and slit her throat. It happened in broad daylight, in the open air market, and everyone watched.

Over the years Nancy Zaboun had been hospitalized because of the beatings and yet, her husband was never charged. Instead, the police had him sign a document saying that he would no longer beat his wife. In this case he did not beat her, he stabbed her and slit her and murdered her. And now her five, eight and eighteen year old children have no one to look after and protect them.

A silent march was organized in Bethlehem to memorialize Nancy Zaboun, victim of an honor killing, and to truly honor her. Marchers carried signs that read: “No to murder, yes to life” and “Shame on us Palestinians who kill our women.” But the protest, not surprisingly, had very little impact.

Even the term used to describe these murderous acts is wrong. Calling them honor killings bestows an ill placed and even false sense of honor upon men who have premeditatedly murdered a relative. Using the term killing buys in to the erroneous belief that what they have done is a justifiable act and it lessens the degree of criminality.

These murders are not justified – not in the Koran and not even in post-Koranic Islamic law. The Koran actually forbids the murder of another believer. That explains why these murders have been swept under the category of tradition or, as it is sometimes called, culture.

Islam, especially the Islam of the Middle East, is heavily influenced by tribal customs and this is one of those examples. When someone brought dishonor to the family/ tribe they were killed and through their death honor was restored to the family or tribe.

Traditionalists, on the other hand, actually argue that holding the threat of death over a family member protects the family unit from breakdown.

They argue that the knowledge that if you shame your family you will be killed and justifiably, by the person shamed – is an essential part of family and tribal life.

This issue is not going away. During the month of July there were two more horrific examples of honor killing in the Palestinian Authority during which fathers beat their daughters to death, one in the city of Tulkaram and the other in Hebron. Imagine beating your child to death.

If there is any good news it is that this year, in Gaza, a husband was executed for murdering his wife and Nancy Zaboun’s estranged husband was arrested at the scene of her murder. Nancy was killed because she sought a divorce.

After the murder Nancy’s family refused to bury her. They said they would bury her only after justice was carried out and her murderer was himself convicted and executed. But soon after making those statements the family succumbed to Islamic law and tradition and community pressure and laid her to rest.

The PA has not yet decided how to proceed with charges, but Palestinian leadership is sensitive to world opinion and Palestinian leadership might respond to pressure if the non-Islamic world pays attention to this murder and other honor killings. The PA wants to join the community of nations and the community of nations should not look away and neither should they condone this behavior.

What disturbs me is how, in the aftermath of these murders, the feminist movement and almost all women’s organizations have remained silent. There has been no audible outcry to protect these women by the organizations whose very reason for existing is to defend women. One excuse that I have heard is that these women’s groups are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place: how can they attack the Palestinians, the group that they so vehemently defend against Israeli oppression.

It seems to me that their lack of response is a clear message saying that they are more true to their hatred of Israel than they are to their defense of Women’s Rights. I say to them, there are other organizations to champion the case of Israeli Palestinian relations, these women have no one else.

These women need you now, before another woman is senselessly and unjustifiably murdered in the name of false honor.

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Egypt’s Candid Camera

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 15, 2012

Column:

I never watched Candid Camera when I was a kid. We only watched The Wonderful World of Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. My parents enforced strict TV rules. But as an adult, when I can watch whatever I please, I really enjoy those old shows and have made up for lost times when it comes to shows like Candid Camera. Watching the episodes years and years after they were first shown, I still get a kick out of the antics of the producers and the actions of the unsuspecting guests. Candid Camera took normal situations, twisted them and made them funny. The camera caught real, unrehearsed, responses to the most mundane situations.

It all began in 1948 when Candid Camera was a radio show starring Allen Funt and called the Candid Microphone. Eventually the program made its way from ABC to NBC to CBS. In 1949, now on television, the name of the show became Candid Camera. It was the precursor for many of today’s popular reality shows. And like reality of TV of today, it was very popular and consistently top rated.

Candid Camera of yore was wholesome, honest, fun. It was laugh-out-loud amusing to see real reactions to strange and funny situations. It was funny to see someone’s reaction after a mailbox talked to them. It would have been funny to see a person walk into closet thinking that it was a bathroom, but that episode was nixed because, in those days, the episode was considered too dicey.

Times have certainly changed.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But in the case of a newly reborn version of Candid Camera now airing on Egyptian TV, I am not so sure the adage proves true.

In the Egyptian version of Candid Camera the surprise almost always follows the same script. The set up is always the same. The sketch repeats itself. The only different variable is the personality upon whom the prank is played. Several episodes, aired in Egypt from July 20 through July 22, 2012 can now be viewed at: www.memritv.org/clip/en/3504.htm

Viewer be warned: these episodes are truly shocking and extremely candid.

In each episode a famous personality is invited to a cable network for an interview. The guest is made to think that the program airs on a German TV network. While on air a caller calls outraged that this person is actually appearing on Israeli TV. The caller is cut off. he guest puts the pieces together thinking that he or she is now on Israeli TV. Tensions rise. Often, so do fists. The guests shout ugly, horrendous, curses against Israel and about Jews. They beat and punch and pull hair and kick the production staff even the female host thinking that they have been tricked into appearing on Israeli TV.

One guest, still thinking that she was on German TV, said that Jews are all liars and that there was no Holocaust. When asked if that was not an exaggeration she said of course not.

As a famous Egyptian entertainer was being led into the trap he said that peace was between governments and not between peoples. He said there will never be peace between peoples. After the traps have been sprung and the anger erupts, the production staff steps in to save their on-air people from the anger of the guests.

Without exception, at the end each and every episode concludes with clapping and shouting that everyone is an Egyptian patriot, that it was just a gag, a joke, Candid Camera.

It was a joke and it was a gag – both in poor taste and certainly, it was candid. After viewing these clips over and over I came to the conclusion that the material was, by its very nature, much more honest and candid than I could have ever imagined. No dialogue with an Egyptian would have elicited as much raw anger and unadulterated hatred toward Israel and Jews as this faux Candid Camera. The guests, all of them, interchanged the words Jews and Israelis which is very important to note. And they did not use the word Zionist which is what the Iranians use. While it is commonplace for Westerners to assume that the anger and hatred is reserved for Israel and Israelis, not against Jews, that is totally untrue as these scenes reveal. This is what they call entertainment in Egypt. This is considered funny and mainstream.

Western thinkers and analysts speak about the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nouri party as representing extremist idea and attitudes these are real uncensored people voicing those same ideas and exhibiting those same attitudes. It is wrong to think that the Egyptian masses do not hold these attitudes toward Israel and the Jews and the West.The Candid Camera I love to watch concludes with the phrase: Smile, you’re on Candid Camera. There was nothing in this version to make me smile. They made me cringe.

Again, the website to watch is: www.memritv.org/clip/en/3504.htm

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Egypt TV- Fully Covered Women

By Micah Halpern

July 27, 2012

Column:

Her name is Mariyah.

She is a new Egyptian television satellite station set to launch on July 20, 2012. It is a satellite station like no other. Mariyah will be staffed from on air talent to behind the scenes producers to volunteers running a phone-a-thon – by women and women only. And every woman will be wearing a niqab a full facial covering.

Every interviewer and every interviewee, will be in a niqab. And if the production staff cannot find an expert guest who wears a niqab, for either a studio or field interview, they will request the guest’s permission to blur her face. If permission is not granted, that guest will not appear on Mariyah.

The wearing of a niqab in many parts of the Arab world is commonplace. In Egypt, it is not. As a matter of fact, for decades it was even illegal for a woman to cover her face with a niqab. And it was certainly against the law to wear a niqab on Egyptian television and in Egyptian schools. Mariyah is a response to the anti-niqab dictate.

For many years Egyptian Muslim leaders went so far as to say that the wearing of a niqab was pagan, that it emanated from pagan tradition in far off lands. They said that ignoramuses and pagans brought the tradition to Islam and the great Islamic scholars of Egypt will not be dragged into that behavior by non-scholars from Afghanistan. In one blatant and recent example of anti-niqab sentiment a grand scholar of Islam in Egypt addressing a girl’s high school spotted a young woman wearing a niqab and demanded in very strong and colorful language that she remove it on the spot.

Maryiah is meant to shock Egyptian society. Founders of the station are intent on educating Egyptian women in their understanding of Islam or more correctly, in re-educating them. The satellite station head is El-Sheikha Safaa Refai, a very popular female preacher who says that the niqab is an absolute ‘red line’ for her and for the station. In an interview for the news outlet al Aram, Refai explained that her new channel is the brainchild of El-Sheikh Abu Islam Ahmed Abdallah, the owner of the Umma Channel, which has already aired several programs featuring women wearing full face veils.

Refai asserts that there is a programming need for niqab-only TV. She promises that the station will address topics of a serious nature and not shy away from controversy. They have already scheduled a program called ‘Memories of a Woman’ which addresses the issues of immorality and adultery.

Even the name chosen for this woman-only station is imbued with history, controversy and Islamic culture. Mariyah was Mohammed’s concubine/wife. There is a long and detailed argument which continues to this day between Muslim scholars of Koran as to whether Mariyah was a wife or a slave. Without a doubt, she was a Copt given to Mohammed as a present after the treaty of al-Hudaybiyah by Muqawqis a Byzantine leader in Egypt. Almost all scholars agree that Mariyah converted to Islam.

The argument about whether Mariyah was wife, slave or concubine is a significant one. There are different kinds or levels of wives in Islam. The word in the Koran for concubine is actually ‘sarryiah’ and the word for marriage is ‘sirr.’ The similarity to Mariyah is obvious. The concept of concubine in Islam has important and deep rooted tradition in Koranic and Islamic tradition. Ishmael is the product of the relationship between Ibrahim (Abraham) and Hajar (Hagar). It was an established fact of tradition in Islam (although her name is not in the Koran ) that Hajar is a sarryiah. There is no more authoritative text in Islam than the Koran and so tradition must embrace the concubine in order to embrace Ishmael. For his part, Mohammed had four concubines and Mariyah was his favorite.

In Islam, names are not accidental. Great thought is given to names and names resonate with history and tradition. People do not invent names. They could have named the station Faith or Believer. They could have named it Freedom or Independence. They did not. They named this television satellite station after a concubine/wife who converted from Christianity to Islam and bore Mohammed progeny.

The choice of the name Mariyah is a direct attack against non-Muslims. The assertion is that this beloved woman found Islam and converted. Mohammed benefited from her, Islam benefitted and she, Mariyah, benefitted from her conversion.

The station’s backers, of course, are betting that they, too, will benefit from this radical introduction of all-woman, all-naqib television.

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Jewish Arbor Day-15th of Shvat

By Micah Halpern

February 8, 2012

Column:

Tu b’Shvat is called the Jewish Arbor Day. But the timeline is backwards.

Arbor Day was first celebrated on April 10th in the year 1872, in the state of Nebraska, by J. Sterling Morton. Since then many countries around the world have adopted the idea and created their own Arbor Day. On that first Arbor Day it is estimated that Nebraskans planted one million trees.

There is no doubt that the Hebrew birthday of the trees far preceded the modern celebration.

Modern Zionists, founders of the State of Israel, grabbed on to the date Tu b’Shvat, the 15th day of the month of Shvat, as a way to bridge the past with the present. They wanted to extend Jewish tradition and its connectedness to the land to their modern ideas of cultivation, trees and ownership.

Tu B’Shvat is first mentioned in the Mishna of Rosh Hashannah during an important discussion over distinctions within the Jewish lunar calendar. The discussion centered on the question of what is the start of the year – is it Nissan, the month that houses the Passover holiday and ushers in the spring or is it the month of Tishrei, when Rosh HaShannah, the New Year, is celebrated.

The Mishna rules that there are four New Years. One, Rosh Hashannah or Tishrei, the new year for the world and the time the world was created. Two, Passover or Nissan, the new year for freedom and rebirth. Three, a new year to commemorate the coronation of kings. Four, Tu B’Shvat, the new year for the trees.

During their thousands of years of Jewish life in the Diaspora Jews yearned for many things. The yearning to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple was primary and they often repeated the phrase L’ Shana Ha’ba b’Yerushalyim, next year in Jerusalem. And they also yearned to plant trees in the Holy Land and they clung to a tradition that respected, even revered, nature.

The planting of trees was easier to conceptualize. The rebuilding of the Temple was ethereal and difficult to understand.

Eating “bokser” or dried carob and thinking of acacia trees, olive trees and date trees was much more practical. So when Herzl created the modern Zionist movement one of the items that he established was a land bank that bought land and planted trees. This resonated with European Jews. It was, for them, a modernized fruition of Tu B’Shvat.

That was the precursor to JNF, the Jewish National Fund – the official gardeners and foresters of the State of Israel. Every Jewish parent and grandparent had a little blue box in their home.

It was the JNF “pushka”, the charity box. And every year those boxes were filled and sent to Israel in order to plant trees and reclaim the land. And school kids received certificates with little stamps to lick and stick on a tree announcing proudly that you had bought a tree to be planted in a forest in Israel. (Hardly a forest the way we imagined in North America.)

Tu b’Shvat enabled Jews to build the land, it transformed the Jewish people from victims to masters of their own destiny. When we put money in the blue pushka it was not only to cultivate the land, it was to cultivate a new generation of Jews proudly called Israelis.

The myth was so deeply in bread that a delinquent Israeli youth might plunder and pillage, but they would never, ever, pick a wild flower.
And there was nothing wrong with that image. But today, that very same image, that very same forest, cultivated with those trees, is seen as a symbol of occupation by the Palestinian.

How could something so good be interpreted as being so oppressive?

The answer is simple. The original idealistic Zionists paid very little attentions to local Arabs. For the founders of Israel settling the land and buying land and cultivating land and planting trees was seen only through their context. And to the Arab residents the Zionists were few in number and seen as weird Europeans who spoke and dressed differently. They even had women working the fields dressed in shorts and shirts.

The clash would only happen when it was too late to create any real rapprochement. When the Arabs realized that the Zionists were in Israel to stay, by the time they figured out that the power had shifted – the locals no longer had any real influence. Today’s tensions and what is referred to as the “situation” are an outgrowth of that very realization. The power is now in the hands of those who bought the land and cultivated it, those who expanded the arable land and planted and then planted more and more. Those who built modern cities, not those who once lived on and then sold the land.
This is all an outgrowth of Tu b’Shvat

The victims in the success story called Tu b’Shvat are the Arabs still living in the area. They were, and are still, ill equipped to handle the modern challenges that Israel presents. The best solution would be to co-op the locals and help them engage in the same transformation that morphed the Jews into Israelis.

But I don’t see that happening. Their leadership will not let it happen and they are not strong or organized enough to go it alone.

Tu b’Shvat, once a simple act, now a raging symbol.

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Republican Primaries

By Micah Halpern

Thursday January 5, 2012

Column:

Let’s talk Republican primaries. It seems to be the only topic that almost every pundit and poll taker and news commentator can talk about lately – so I’ll just plunge right in.

To be perfectly blunt, I find a great deal of the discussion and punditry to be so irresponsible and so far from realistic it frightens me to even refer to it as political commentary.

The first thing the public should realize is that gone are the days when Iowa and New Hampshire set the tone for the national election. This should not be news. Think back four years. Mike Huckabee won the last Republican primary in Iowa. And now, rather than president, he’s a pundit. Winning Iowa did not make him a candidate, it just separated him from the non-candidates.

Now think back a little farther. In 1996 Pat Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary and we all know that winning that “key state” primary hardly made Buchanan more electable.

Iowa and New Hampshire get attention as they should – but they deserve that attention because they are the first, not because they set the tone. The votes cast by the responsible voters of Iowa and New Hampshire is not in any way, shape or form representative of the national trend. On the contrary, they are exceptional in as many ways as they are quirky.

All presidential candidates have foibles and the idea of a campaign is to minimize the ugly and put forward the attractive. Iowa and New Hampshire are given first chance to tell the candidates how they are perceived by the public, and then it’s up to the candidates to refine, revise and reposition themselves.

The 2012 Republican pack is filled with characters, but it is not filled with candidates. The men and woman who have put forth their candidacy have roles to play and serve different purposes. Ron Paul is not a Republican candidate, he is a Libertarian and the purpose of his candidacy is to educate voters, not to win the nomination. For example, a former Ron Paul staffer who worked with him for twelve years says that Paul is not an anti-Semite or a racist, but that Paul definitely thinks too much US time, energy and money are dedicated to Israel and that things would be better if Israel was not there. That’s just another reason to scratch Paul off the real candidate list.

Newt Gingrich is now becoming a contender. He will self destruct. But from the beginning it was clear that he was not a real player. Behind the scenes his campaign shows poor organization and tension. And as people see more of him, Gingrich will again slip back into the position he is more comfortable with and appropriate for, speaker, thinker and critic. He is a gadfly and that, by definition, ousts him as a candidate.

Honestly, intelligence is way overrated in a presidential candidate.

More important than intelligence is the ability to build assets – to assemble and then to listen to what smart, informed advisers are telling you. That requirement for successful leadership has been underplayed in this campaign. But assembling and listening to advisers is one of the most important character traits we need to have in a president.

A president need not be the smartest person in the room. But the president must assemble the best minds for advice and integrate that information and then make decisions.

That does not mean that we should vote for the charismatic candidate and be content to have uninformed men or women cloaked in the mantle of the presidency. A candidate should have new ideas and should be able to work them through and bring them to fruition. And at every meeting, advisers should be presenting hundreds of those new ideas to the candidate just as they will do when that person becomes president – and then the candidate cum president ferrets out the most salient and runs with them.

Basic issues fall by the wayside during election years and we are entranced by smoke and mirrors and big words and promises of bigger ideas and great debates. But simple organization and teamwork should never be minimized as they were, for example, from the Gingrich campaign when the Gingrich team neglected to register in Virginia – and Virginia is the candidate’s home state. That type of mistakes tells it all. And then after failing to get the required ten thousand signatures needed for the ballot the campaign responded by saying they would launch a write-in campaign in Virginia. But, oops, it is not permitted to have write-ins for Republican Party presidential primaries in the state of Virginia.

On the bright side, it is better to see examples of massive disorganization, poor foresight and frankly amateurish leadership during a campaign than it is to discover it all after the election. Meeting deadlines and getting the paperwork done is just as important as turning a cute comeback line.

The voters are starting to intuitively understand the subtext of these Republican primaries. They know that brilliance, interesting ideas and fresh points have their limitations. They know that the constant challenge to debate for endless hours without a moderator is stimulating some candidates to make large, expansive, impossible to fulfill, statements.

Time flies when it comes to electioneering and November 2012 is, in election terms, upon us. As soon as the non-candidates deplete their election coffers, the real race will begin. It can’t happen too soon.

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Revenge is Not Justice in Libya

By Micah Halpern

Monday November 21,2011

Column:

Ghadaffi is dead and that should not have happened.

Moammar Ghadaffi, the Colonel as he preferred to be called, was murdered. Not in battle or a shoot out, the thug-hero who ruled Libya was murdered, in cold blood, after he surrendered.

Rules of war, as well as the rules of Islam, require that when a person surrenders, he be taken prisoner. Even tyrants. Even despots and dictators. Even Moammar Ghadaffi. But that is not what happened.

The question that needs to be asked is this: Was the murder of Moammar Ghadaffi the best outcome. In other words, was it best to drag him, beat him and kill him or should Ghadaffi have been arrested and then tried in a court of law?

Any established democracy would respond by saying that the tyrant should be brought to trial and be given legal representation – but Libya never was and is still not, a democracy.

In all probability, with almost certainty, had Ghadaffi been brought to trial he would have been given a death sentence, a sentence which he rightfully deserved. That is not the issue I am debating. My issue is whether or not this death, dealt in this fashion, was the best course of action to be taken by a developing country emerging from forty-two years of oppression.

The rules of war are very clear. The ethical and just ways of acting in war are also clear. Killing in war is justified, not simply because the clich of ‘kill or be killed’ is true, but because war is about survival. In this case, the war was about eliminating the dictator who ruthlessly oppressed and maimed and killed the people of Libya over an extended time. It was about ousting an oppressive murderous tyrant.

As long as the Ghadaffi was fighting, killing was justified by those in opposition to his rule. But as soon as the dictator stopped fighting, the equation changed. That is when killing as an act of war turned into murder. After that, the only way to take a life is by way of trial, conviction and then execution.

It is the role of the soldier to protect the life of his prisoner once that prisoner surrenders. That is the case regardless of the horrific extent of the prisoner’s crimes. So says the rules of war and so says the rules of Islam.

Ghadaffi knew the rules. That is why, on the tapes, we hear his voice shouting: ‘You are wrong.’ ‘You do not know right from wrong. ‘You do not know Islam.’ ‘You sin.’

Ghadaffi was counting on this eventuality. He had thought it through. He knew that there was a chance that he would be captured and not killed in battle. And if that were to happen he wanted to make certain that he would receive protected status as a prisoner. But it didn’t happen. Instead, the angry crowd reportedly sodomized him with a combat knife before lynching him. We heard only one voice saying: ‘Do not kill him’ as Ghadaffi was dragged off and murdered.

Rules aside, there are other reasons why it was wrong, morally, ethically, historically and financially wrong to murder Ghadaffi. Unfortunately, these reasons were never made clear to the opposition fighters, Libyans interested only in exacting immediate revenge for the gruesome acts committed by the tyrant who ruled over a thugocracy in Libya.

From the very beginning, as the rebellion started and the no-fly zone was erected, opposition leaders should have made clear to their fighters that capturing a live Ghadaffi was more important than displaying a dead Ghadaffi. They should have explained that the cathartic experience of recording the hundreds of thousands of atrocities perpetrated by Moammar Ghadaffi, of recording each and every one and entering them all into the historical archive, was essential for national healing.

A public trial, where the horrific acts would be articulated, broadcast, written down as part of the history, even if it took years, would eliminate the possibility of the re-writing history, or questioning of the veracity of events, years later. It was for this purpose that Adolf Eichmann was captured, brought to Jerusalem and tried publicly. The objective of Israel was to enter events as part of the legal and historical record. Had Ghadaffi been brought to trial his trial would have been an educational tool and a historical catharsis for a country that suffered under a brutal tyrant.

Then there is the subject of money. $200 billion or more is socked away. No one knows where. That is money that should be used to rebuild Libya. It is money for education, health and retraining. It is money that the families of those Libyans tortured, terrified and murdered by their leader could use.

This $200 billion, or it’s equivalent, will now come out of the pockets of Western democracies, of Western tax payers who will foot the bill for the lion’s share of the first stages of reconstruction Libya so desperately needs after the rebellion. Certainly, the Libyan oil industry will help offset the cost – but only later on. If Ghadaffi were still alive and able to reveal where this $200 billion is, that money could be put to use immediately.

But these Libyans were not interested in history. These Libyans were out for revenge. And that is just what they got. And that is not good news for the future of Libya.

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Iran and the Hajj

By Micah Halpern

By Micah Halpern
Wednesday November 16, 2011

Column:

Internal divisions within the Muslim world are as old as Islam itself. Disputes and conflict have resonated throughout history.
This period of the Muslim year is known as Id al Adha. It is at the end of the month long Hajj, the Pilgrimage is no different from any other internal Islamic conflict. It all boils down to the conflict between the Shiites of Persian Iran – and the rest of the Sunnis of the rest of the Muslim world.

Mecca is the most holy site in Islam. In Mecca sits the Kabbah, a massive black stone, the focus of prayer for all Islam and the site to which 1, 500,000,000 Muslims from around the world yearn to make a Hajj, a pilgrimage.

The city of Mecca is located in Saudi Arabia and for some Muslims that is a problem.

There is a movement underway to re-orient Islam away from Mecca. The person at the forefront of this movement is a well respected Iranian Shiite cleric named Ahmad Alam al Hadi.

This Shiite cleric has his supporters. Al Hadi is trying to convince the greater world of Islam that Muslims should not pray towards, nor visit holy sites in, Saudi Arabia or Iraq because those countries are controlled by infidels. He asserts that the leadership of Saudi Arabia is empty of Islamic value and interested only in its own self preservation. He asserts that Iraq is run by the West. And al Hadi attacks the prevalent form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, Wahabism, as extremism and as not representative of true Islam.
Ahmad Alam al Hadi proposes an alternative site. He suggests replacing Mecca, the centerpiece of Islam, with Mashhad.

Do not pray to Mecca, he says, pray toward Mashhad. Do not make pilgrimage to Mecca, make pilgrimage to Mashhad. Reorient yourselves, he says, towards Mashhad which has been a spiritual capital of Islam for hundreds of years. These are very powerful statements coming from a respected religious leader and they have sparked significant debate.

The truth is that Mashhad is and has been a Muslim holy site, primarily for Shiite Muslims, but it also holds importance for Sunni Muslims. Al Hadi claims that Mashhad already accommodates 20,000,000 Iranian pilgrims and 80,000 foreign pilgrims every year and can certainly accommodate the greater onslaught of pilgrims who would be making their way to Iran.

On paper, the plan works. But Islam is not about progress or about change. Islam is about tradition. Even the use of the verb “to orient” is based on tradition. The word “orient” means “to the east.” Every Muslim place of prayer contains a mikhrab, a prayer niche, and that prayer niche points in the direction of Mecca. Moving away from Mecca, replacing Mecca, would be a revolutionary move in the world of Islam – and a move that would foment an Islamic revolution.

The irony behind the choice of Mashhad as the new holy site in Islam should not be lost. Imam Raza, the 8th Imam and one of the most influential leaders in the development of Sufi Islam, is buried there. After Imam Reza was murdered in the year 818, probably poisoned to death, there was massive conflict over who should take control his Abbasid Empire. The fight was between his two sons. One son was the son of his Arab wife, the other was the son of his Persian wife. The Shiite Persian son won.

Internal historical conflicts between Islamic groups have very deep roots. So do linguistic traditions. Saudi Arabia is called the land of “Hijaz,” an expression which really means the lands of the Hajj, the religious pilgrimage to Mecca. Iran can try to unseat Mecca as the holiest of holy sites, but they will fail – there are too many direct links to the Koran and Mohammed. When the move to change is approached from the perspective of serious Muslim scholarship which begins every investigation by examining the written word of the Koran and the teachings of the prophet Mohammad the argument to replace Mecca with Mashhad appears very, very weak.

Iran wants to take over the world. But first, the Iranians will have to conquer the Islamic world.

This is a good – even if unsuccessful, try. They will try and try again. Iran does not shy away from conflict and dispute.

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Jews and Obama

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday October 12, 2011

Column:

No one person, neither a president nor a prime minister, can destroy the relationship between the United States and Israel.

The relationship is, simply put, complicated. It is a relationship deeply connected by history and shared values. The relationship is so unique that these two countries, vastly separated by continents, have often been likened to siblings. As so often happens between older brothers and younger brothers, tensions arise some more significant, some less significant, than others.

Part of that relationship has to do with the Jewish Community that lives in the US, a community that is very well organized, very protective of Israel and while admittedly less blind to Israel’s faults than they once were, still extremely pro-Israel.

Jews make up about two percent of the population of the United States and account for roughly three percent of the vote. Jewish votes are important only in a very few swing states, like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. A high percentage of Jews come out to vote each election day and historically, they have voted Democratic overwhelmingly Democratic.

So when politicians and their handlers begin to smooth over relations and lobby the Jewish community for support, it is not about getting their vote. It is about getting their money.

The Jewish community is extremely generous. They make up anywhere between thirty and sixty percent of Democrat fund raising dollars. And anyone who has been part of an election will tell you – the person with the biggest war chest, usually wins.

The Obama Administration has earned a reputation for having put undue pressure on Israel. As a result Jewish money is not as quick to flow into the president’s war chest as it did four years ago. That’s not to say that Jewish donors aren’t giving. They are giving, but much less. Much less to the Democratic party and much less to the Republican party. No donor wants to completely shut the door in the face of a politician.

Donors want access even if they disagree with the policies, decisions and voting patterns of the politician.

They show their displeasure by not being as free with their monetary gift. They give enough to maintain access, not so much that they can be counted upon for unwavering support.

This time around, no one is certain that Barack Obama is slated to return for a second term. And since no one wants to back a losing candidate, donors are being extremely cautious in allocating their funds.

The president knows all that and his carefully worded speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations was a very important step in the proper direction for many Jewish contributors.

And then, continuing his policy of gentle appeasement of the Jews, the Obama Administration sent Vice President Joe Biden to speak to a select group of fifteen rabbis in Boca Raton. Biden has an iron clad history of support for Israel. He is the perfect choice to send to a friendly crowd of rabbis in Southern Florida, a crowd that unabashedly loves and supports him. The objective of the meeting was to smooth over differences with the White House and to secure more donors, in essence, to free up the flow of money into Democratic election funds.

Biden spoke about how the Obama Administration had made some mistakes. That’s a gross understatement when it comes to Israel and the Jewish community, but it broke the ice and showed that Washington is ready for a reality check.

And then the subject turned to Jonathan Pollard, the Jewish American analyst was convicted of spying for Israel.

Biden told the group that President Obama was considering clemency for the spy who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987. And then the man of too many words said that he, Joe Biden, friend of the Jews, had advised the president, even using the term ‘over my dead body” not to allow Pollard to get out before his sentence is up.

Considering that Biden was sent by the White House to smooth over issues with the Jewish community and to pave the road for campaign funds to come rolling in, this was an unfortunate admission.

The question of Pollard’s actions and his early release are hot buttons within the American Jewish community. The Jewish community is very sensitive about Pollard. His early release has been on and off the table during the tenure of several presidents. While the best method of dealing with the issue is to confront it directly, Biden took it to the extreme.

The first rule of diplomacy is exactly the same as the first rule of medicine. It is the rule brought down through history by the great Greek philosopher Hippocrates and known as the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm.

Joe Biden, though he later softened his remarks about Pollard, did great harm to the relationship between the Jewish community and the man who wants to remain president of the United States. Unlike the relationship between the United States and Israel, the relationship between a politician and the Jews of the United States can be easily destroyed.

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Al Qaeda Condemns Iran

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday October 5, 2011

Column:

Sometimes, truth comes from the most unexpected, unlikely source. And that source almost always offers not only unimpeachable information but also clear, sharp and most important, revealing, insight.

The latest source in this category is al Qaeda. That’s right, I am referring to the al Qaeda condemnation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The condemnation that came after Ahmadinejad delivered his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The speech was long and rambling typical of the Iranian president. The part that really irked al Qaeda was when Ahmadinejad spoke about 9-11 and said that the attacks were part of a conspiracy perpetrated by the CIA and other Western groups, including the Israeli Mossad.

Al Qaeda was not the only party to be upset by this theory. As soon as Ahmadinejad began to spout his anti-Western rhetoric the United States walked out of the great hall. When Ahmadinejad began his diatribe against 9-11 many other countries left as well. The United States bristled at the accusation. Israel, for their part, has gotten used to false accusations and hateful tirades from Ahmadinejad.

The essence of his presentation was that 9-11 was fabricated in order to make an excuse for the United States to invade Iraq and continue their colonial Western presence in Islamic lands. In this new chronicle of history as imagined by Ahmadinejad, al Qaeda pays no role — and that they find extremely offensive.

9-11 put al Qaeda on the map in the Islamic world. To take that away relegates them to a miror organization.

In their most recent edition of Inspire, the al Qaeda English language web zine they call Ahmadinejad’s assertions ridiculous, wrong and a fabrication, nothing more than a simple conspiracy theory. “The Iranian government has professed on the tongue of its president Ahmadinejad that it does not believe that al Qaeda was behind 9/11 but rather, the U.S. government.”

“So we may ask the question: why would Iran ascribe to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence?”

The author of the piece then explains that the reason Ahmadinejad chose to alter history is because al Qaeda and Iran are battling for the same Muslim souls and explains that: “For them, al Qaeda was a competitor for the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised Muslims around the world.” Al Qaeda’s PR agent goes on to outline the dramatic differences between their organization and Iran and then takes the gloves off: “Al Qaeda … succeeded in what Iran couldn’t. Therefore it was necessary for the Iranians to discredit 9/11 and what better way to do so? Conspiracy theories.” For the Iranians, he exclaims, jihad is just an idea while for Al Qaeda it is a physical war.

An interesting aside is that a footer on the article asks for volunteers to help out. Al Qaeda, it turns out, is looking for people “with any skills – be it writing, research, editing, or advice” and ask that they volunteer for the cause.

In the end, it’s all about jihad. Jihad under the Iranian flag or Jihad under the al Qaeda flag. Let them battle it out amongst themselves. They are both dangerous and they are both enemies of the West. But for now they both hate one another.

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9-11 The Past 10 Years

By Micah Halpern

September 12, 2011

Column:

Seldom in history can we look at a single moment and say with complete and unwavering conviction that because of the events that transpired during those specific moments on that particular day, history was transformed. Seldom can we pinpoint the specific event that transformed our future.

The world is a different place today because of the acts of willful and mass destruction that shattered the early morning of an otherwise insignificant Tuesday ten years ago.

As much as the world was effected and is now changed, the powerful United States of America, her financial and cultural center New York City and her seat of military power, the Pentagon, were even more profoundly affected and have, as a result, been dramatically transformed.

The unthinkable occurred. The unimaginable became real. Fantasy turned into cruel reality.

The horror we, citizens of a free and democratic world, are still reeling from as a result of the atrocity called 9 -11 is not just about the sheer numbing number of dead and injured. There have been larger atrocities. It is not just about the fact that the United States was the target. That, too, had happened a decade earlier when the same World Trade Towers were targeted by the same al Qaeda terrorist organization in a partially successful attempt to bring down the building that housed the business center of the world.

For the United States and for the West this was a jarring wake up call.

Americans could not understand why they were chosen to be the targets, why they, the great defenders, had become the victims of attack. It has taken a long time to internalize the message. The United States, the symbolic Big Brother of the Western World, was targeted for what the West represents – not for any specific actions it took or did not take. The Western world represents ideas that are so deeply antithetical to the mindset and teachings of the Islamic terrorist that the terrorist has only one way in which to respond – by attempting to destroy the West. And the United States represents the West in all of its incarnations. In the eyes of the terrorists the United States is the most acclaimed representative of the world of the heretic, the Western world.

Before 9-11 Americans were blithely and innocently unaware about how they were perceived and what they represented to the non-Western world. Proud and chauvinistic, Americans could not even imagine that a large part of the world did not share their convictions about freedoms and democracy. People, even people who were knowledgeable of and familiar with world events, had never heard of Osama Bin Laden or of al Qaeda. Terror happened in other parts of the world, other countries and populations were targets of terror, not them, not super power Americans.

Ten years ago Americans felt that the values of freedom, women’s equality, equality among all races, agreeing to disagree on issues of religion, recognizing that differences make for a more exciting dynamic and productive society, were universally held. Ten years later, Americans still hold true to those beliefs. But now, they understand that their own Western beliefs are not universally held. They know that they must fight for their beliefs and they are up for the challenge.

The terrorist struck at what they considered to be the heart and nerve center of the West – Wall Street. They saw their attack as a great victory and as a lethal blow to the US and the West. The blow was painful, but it was not lethal, it was not the death blow al Qaeda has intended.

The United States had always understood that a certain modicum of terror was acceptable. It was considered the cost of doing business. Until 9-11 Today, US policy has shifted into a no tolerance policy, a policy of seek and destroy. Trillions of dollars have been dedicated to finding the new enemy, the Islamic terrorist. Wars are being fought and countries have been invaded all in order to get a handle on the elusive enemy, the enemy that has no borders and respects no borders.

There have been successes and there have been many near success. There would never have been a worldwide approach to confronting terror had the Western world not been awakened as it was on 9-11. Terror would have simply been one of those unfortunate world events the Israelis deal with on a regular basis and the Europeans deal with every once in a while.

9-11 it changed us all. It awakened Westerners to a new reality.

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Ramadan Explained

By Micah Halpern

Monday August 22,2011

Column:

We are now in the Muslim month of Ramadan. But what is Ramadan? Let’s clear up some misconceptions.

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar. Every day, throughout this month called Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and break their fasts only at night. The fast is referred to as sawm, the breaking of the fast is called iftar in Arabic.

Ramadan is a month dedicated to introspection and repentance. According to Islamic lore it is thought to be an extremely auspicious month, a month during which through prayer and fasting, believing Muslims are moved even closer to Allah, God.

Conceptually, Allah is the same as the monotheistic God of Judaism
and of Christianity. In fact, in Judaism, one of the classic names of God is Al, exactly the same name as the God of Islam – it is in the English language and in Christianity where the name God is altered. The word God comes from the middle German “Gut” meaning “good”, as in all good. In English we use a descriptive word explaining what God is rather than by a name itself, a decision most probably taken so as not to violate the commandment against using the Name in vain.

In Islamic tradition great events took place during the 9th month of Ramadan. It is understood that the Koran was given to the Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan. And during Ramadan the first major battle against the pagan tribes of Badr, a battle that highlighted the powers of Muhammad as a great leader and military thinker, took place in the area around Mecca. And it is at the close of one of the odd-numbered days of the last ten days of the month, a time called Laiylatu Qadr, the Night of Power, during which Allah evaluates the deeds of each person and seals their destiny.

The month-long fast concludes with a three-day holiday called Id el Fitr which is best translated as the Festival of the Breakfast Feast. This is the centerpiece of the Muslim calendar. It is believed that celebrating the Id with music and dance will bring families together and so families erect tents and sit and visit and entertain and gifts are presented to Muslim children. Many Muslims remember the breaking of the fast of Ramadan on the three day festival of Id el Fitr as the most memorable part of their childhood.

In Arabic, the word zakat means purity and growth. Zakat is the charity given by Muslims, it is what is called alms in the Christian world and zedaka in the Jewish world. It is important that every Muslim participate in the act of zakat and there is a special calculation made to determine how much each family or individual should give. It turns out to be 2.5 percent of your wealth and for farmers it is 5%-10% of the annual harvest. Ramadan is a particularly important time to give zakat and the charity given during Ramadan is understood to be 70 times as powerful and as important as the same zakat given at any other time of the year.

There is no doubt that Ramadan, like so much else in Islam and like many things in Christianity, emerged out of Jewish tradition. In fact, Muhammad made an appeal to the Jewish tribes living around the cities of Yatrib and Mecca to join his newly-created movement called Islam. They rejected his approach.

Muhammad then modified or changed several components of Islam that he borrowed from Israel. He, quite literally, turned his back on Jerusalem and chose to pray to Mecca. The Jews pray toward Jerusalem, the Muslims pray to Mecca. He upped the ante and instituted prayer five daily times instead of the original three times a day Jewish prayers are offered. And he transformed a single day of introspection, repentance and prayer into a full month. He turned the day of Yom Kippur into the month of Ramadan.

Like the rest of the Muslim calendar and unlike the Gregorian calendar, Ramadan floats. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar with months that are either 29 or 30 days long. The Gregorian calendar is linked to the sun and is called a solar calendar.

Ramadan moves around, it falls back in time and in a course of 34 years Islam will have lost an entire year. According to their calendar, Muslims age slower than non-Muslims so when a non-Muslim reaches the age of 68, a Muslim will be only 66 years old.
The Jewish calendar is also a lunar calendar. Because of the Biblical decree that Passover be celebrated in the spring, the High Holidays of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur and Succot be celebrated in autumn and because Chanukah must fall in winter, the Jewish calendar instituted corrections and leap years to make certain that the holidays match their seasons. The Islamic calendar did not.

Actually, even today the Islamic calendar is not standardized within itself. Muslims will start Ramadan and celebrate Id el Fitr on different dates depending on where they live and who determines the dates.

Despite the fact that some followers of Islam believe that if a Muslim dies on Ramadan while defending Islam in Jihad, that person will be rewarded with an even more special place in heaven, Ramadan is not is a time to fight. Ramadan is a time to pray and a time to evaluate. It is a time for peaceful introspection.

Ramadan is a lot of things. It is certainly a very special time of year for Muslims.

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Ziggy Marley In Israel

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 20, 2011

Column:

In the year 1930 a new emperor was crowned in Ethiopia. He took the name Haile Selassie and, like all emperors in Ethiopia, he traced his roots all the way back to wise King Solomon and his wife, the African beauty, Queen of Sheba.

This emperor, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassia I, also known as the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Elect of God, was thought to be a messianic figure among followers of the Rastafari movement. The movement, begun in the slums of Jamaica, believes that Africans are the true Israelites sent to exile in Jamaica as divine punishment.

On a visit to Jamaica in 1966 the emperor, who denied any divine abilities, was unsuccessful in convincing Rastafari supporters of his mere mortality. Upon his arrival on the island a long drought broke -it finally rained. Among the many people transfixed by Haile Selassia and moved to convert to Rastafari was a woman named Rita Marley, the wife of Bob Marley.

Bob Marley changed the world through his music. He introduced the beat of Jamaican music to the West. And as he popularized reggae music in the Western world he taught our world about what it means to be a follower of Rastafari – not just the dreadlocks, but the religion and the politics. Marley was not the first to combine music with politics, but he was one of the best.

The tradition begun by Bob Marley is carried on today by his son, Ziggy Marley. Ziggy follows in his father’s footsteps in music, in culture and – in accordance with Rastafari belief, in being a major proponent of the use of marijuana.

This summer, Ziggy will perform two concerts in Israel, one in Tel Aviv and the other in Jerusalem.

In a recent interview with YNET, Israel’s premier internet news provider, Ziggy, whose middle name is David, as in King David father of Solomon, described how he was jealous of Jewish tradition and how he celebrates all the Jewish holidays.

In the interest of full disclosure – Ziggy Marley is married to an Israeli woman named Orly and together they have three children who are, according to Jewish law, all Jewish. Ziggy’s wife and children all have biblical Hebrew names. Orly means my light. Their daughter is named Judah Victoria, their eldest son is named Gideon and their baby boy is Abraham Selassie.

Ziggy went on to explain that he has had a strong connection with
Judaism, with Israel and with the Jewish people since childhood. He said that the teachings of his father and learning Bible stories and the connection with Rastafari thought and Halie Selassie’s message were inspirational. He said they combined to instill in him a message of love and affinity. Marley admitted that he participates in Jewish holiday observances because his wife and his children are living the Jewish experience. He says that he is jealous of Jewish culture.

Ziggy Marley, although he knows he is not Jewish, is very comfortable with Judaism and Jewish traditions. Jewish culture and the Jewish calendar are a big part of his life.

He would never think of boycotting Israel the way so many other big name entertainers have done. Ziggy Marley, like Bob Dylan who just wound up a concert tour in Israel, are not about to be swayed by the scare tactics and virulent hatred spewed by the organizers and supporters of the most recent boycott against Israel. They are not afraid of the call to blackball anyone who does business of any kind with Israel.

BDS stands for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. It is an umbrella organization that helps groups organize anti-Israel programs especially boycotts of Israel on campuses around the world.
In this day and age of electronic media, campaigns can be waged and wars won and lost all by way of the internet. It is easy for a pop star or for a company or a politician to fall from popularity because they sided with the wrong cause.

It is not popular to be vocally pro-Israel today. Ziggy Marley is taking a risk. But he understands the risk. It is something he believes in. Marley believes in the uniqueness of the Jewish people and in their unique connection to the land of Israel. He has known it since childhood, he was taught it at his father’s knee.

Ziggy Marley is carrying on the message of his father. He conveys the message through his actions and through his music. It is a message about culture and history that is interwoven into the fabric of Israel. The message is that Israel represents lofty, heavenly ideals of truth, covenant and connectedness. The earthly Jerusalem may be flawed, but it remains a light unto the nations.

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What’s Next in Egypt

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 13, 2011

Column:

The revolution in Egypt, one of many that rocked the region, came to its conclusion five months ago. And we still do not know when – or if, stability, peace or democracy will come to the country that dethroned a long time dictatorial leader and replaced him with military rule.

It is impossible to predict what will happen in Egypt in the near or in the distant future. The information we have is contradictory and confusing. The signals we are receiving both from the people and the ruling government are mixed. The only certainty is that Egypt today is a state in flux.

For example, in Egypt, for the past months, Muslims have been attacking Christians. Brutally beating them and burning their churches. And the perpetrators of the attacks are being given protection under the army.

And then, about as far to the other extreme as you can get, an official poll conducted by the government of Egypt and released by the government of Egypt shows that 67% of Egyptians want to continue the peace treaty with Israel. 67% is equal to two-thirds of the population. A small 2% of the Egyptian population wants to revise some aspects of the treaty and only 11% want to scrap it entirely. 20% would not answer the question.

The survey of 1062 people was conducted by the Cabinet Information Decision Support Center – the research arm of the Egyptian cabinet.

Significantly, this the first time we have been made privy to the inside opinion numbers of Egypt’s decision makers.

Given the tensions and the rhetoric that has been emanating from Egypt since January, the solidarity with the Jewish state is the aberration, not the war against Christian countrymen.

There’s more. The poll also asked Egyptians if they were willing to vote in the upcoming election. An overwhelming 87% of those asked said they will vote – as opposed to the underwhelming 18% who voted in the last election. Remember, this is an internal, official, Egyptian poll. Their poll, their numbers and their press release – not a leak intended to embarrass or weaken the government.
So should we be hopeful, or should we be worried.

Here is one more example of life and day-to-day activity in Egypt circa summer 2011: Government officials, aka guards, sit by and watch as a truck with a handful of men armed with machine guns pulls up to a natural gas pipeline relay in the Northern Sinai Peninsula.

The armed men intimidate the guards, forcing them to leave their post, and then set explosive charges on a natural gas line and blow it up. The facility is government owned and controlled.
This act of terror and sabotage took place in Bir Abid, 60 miles east of the Suez Canal. The intent was to stop Egypt from providing natural gas to Israel. It was the third attack on a gas line and the fifth attempted attack to shut down the gas flow from Egypt to Israel. But the gas from the line that services Israel does not flow exclusively to Israel – it also flows to Jordan.

There is a very vocal movement in Egypt to renegotiate the Camp David
Treaty which articulates a special relationship between Egypt and Israel and includes the natural gas provision. But here’s the catch.
Israel, it turns out, was much more heavily dependent on natural gas from Egypt before January when unrest took over the country than it is today. Before January, Israel received over 35% of its natural gas needs from Egypt, since the uprising Israel has weaned itself off Egyptian natural gas and Egypt now provides only 12% to 15% of their gas. That number, too, is dropping.

Jordan, however, has not found creative alternatives. Jordan remains 85% dependent on Egypt for natural gas. Damaging the pipeline to Israel hurts the Arabs of Jordan significantly more than it hurts the Jews of Israel.

To complicate matters even more, the line that was blown up was not the correct line. The destroyed line, according to a highly knowledgeable source, was an internal natural gas line.

In Egypt today there is general acceptance of the status quo. There are some very vocal and very well organized groups who want to change that status. On the one hand the government and the army is neither interfering in those plans nor stopping the organizers from putting their plans into action. On the other hand, the government itself is initiating actions that indicate a willingness, at least, to test the waters of democracy and stability.

The pipe line situation is a perfect metaphor for Egypt today. The stations are obvious targets. They need to be shorn up and better secured. They need to be secured because it is in Egypt’s best interest to do so. It is in the interest of regional affairs and it is in the interest of a healthy and viable economy. By not securing their pipelines, the Egyptians are sending a message to all foreign investors that Egypt is insecure and that investment is risky and unreliable.

I am certain that the army can control the situation. I am not certain that they want to control the situation. That difference frightens me.

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Iran’s Nuke Conference

By Micah Halpern

Monday June 27, 2011

Column:

Last week Iran hosted a two day international conference on nuclear non- proliferation called “Nuclear Energy for All – Nuclear Weapons for None.” Honest. Only the Iranians could make up something like this.

The purpose of creating and hosting this conference was two-fold. Iran’s first and real reason was to call the world’s attention to Israel’s nuclear program which has always been cloaked in secrecy. The second and more obvious reason was to deflect attention from Iran’s own and very problematic nuclear program and nuclear aspirations.

Representatives from forty countries were in attendance at this, Iran’s second conference on nuclear non-proliferation. The first took place just a few months ago and, not surprisingly, that conference, too, was called “Nuclear Energy for All – Nuclear Weapons for None.”
Apparently, the Iranians believe in sticking with a good thing when you find it. Not only were they not laughed out of the international community of interested nuclear watchers when they named and called their first conference, but they actually had attendees. I won’t be surprised to see more of these same-named conferences in the coming months.

Iran has mastered the art of worldwide public relations.

Pointing the finger at Israel and deflecting attention from themselves are important enough reasons to hold these conferences, but for Iran, there is more. Ultimately, Iran wants to topple United States hegemony and influence in the world. To get there, Iran is taking advantage of a double standard in US foreign policy.
Iran wants to invert the pyramid. One of the central objectives of Iran’s own foreign policy is to position itself as leader of the world and topple US dominance. The world, as Iran sees it, is unjustly configured and as a result, unjustly policed. The United States and friends have an advantage and no one else even gets a fair hearing.

Only a few countries sit at the top of the pyramid along with the United States, the masses are positioned at the base. Iran thinks it can invert the pyramid so that the voices of the many are heard and so that the favoritism of the US – with all its special relationships, is relegated to nothing more than a distant, unpleasant memory.

Iran’s argument resonates in many countries around the world. In the Middle East it resonates especially powerfully where the classic example of this perceived imbalance is Israel’s nuclear program. Precisely because Israel chose not to be a signatory on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel is able to deny unfettered access to their nuclear installations with no repercussions or, pardon the pun, fallout.

This is what Iran is calling the double standard and it is eating them up.

The obvious fault in the Iranian argument and with Iran’s point of view is that it compares Israel, the only Western democracy in the Middle East with Iran – a theocracy. In Israel there are checks and balances and rule of law. In Iran there is no equivalent, the ultimate head of everything, the unquestioned leader of it all, is the Supreme Leader, the Grand Ayatollah. But fact and logic have nothing to do with Iran’s objective or argument and little to do with the stated and unspoken purposes of the conference.

For Ahmadinejad and for Iran, it is all about illusion. Israel is the aggressor and Israel is the only country in the Middle East with advanced nuclear technology. Therefore, Iran will help and will sponsor any other country interested in obtaining or advancing nuclear technology

The plan is working. Ahmadinejad is slowly and effectively chipping away at the foundation of the agenda set by the West. Whether we like it or not, Iran is successfully challenging the United States for the position of leader of the world.

They are dividing the world in to nations who support the West and nations who support Iran. Stay tuned for many more Iranian machinations that will rally nations against US and Western goals.

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Speech V Speech

By Micah Halpern

Monday May 30,2011

Column:

Barack Obama has made over nine hundred public presentations and speeches since assuming office. Every one of them has received media coverage. Obamacare aside, few have received the coverage given to his two most recent talks about the Middle East.

In the first of these speeches, a policy speech presented to the American public-at-large, the president spoke of Israelis and Palestinians returning to the borders of 1967 and thereby achieving a peaceful status quo. In the second speech, publicized yet delivered before the select group called AIPAC – the American Israel Public Action Committee, the president eloquently said that’s not really what I meant. In plain English, the president flip-flopped.

The president of the United States is not supposed to flip-flop. He is supposed to gather information, weigh options and say what he means. The American people and the world need to be able to trust the president’s instincts and rely on his decision making skills.

Officially, according to the administration, the first speech was a policy speech. The redefined speech before AIPAC was not. So why try to change what was said to the public when speaking to the Jewish group?

Because the Jewish world was livid with the president’s original remarks and when the Jewish world is livid, their political contributions dry up.

When Obama referred to the ’67 borders he spoke with the full understanding that the topic was a lightening rod for supporters of Israel – especially on Capitol Hill and especially within his Democratic donor base.

What he should have known is that while the ’67 borders might be the foundation of the discussion about peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the desire of those requesting Palestinian statehood, those borders would ultimately be the end result of the negotiations and the ideal conclusion for the Palestinian side, not the starting point of negotiations. And even though the president did make mention of agreed upon land swaps, Jewish leaders were very upset by his choice to include the borders in public pronouncement and policy statements.

The conservative estimate is that Jewish contributions to the presidential election campaign fill one-third of the Democratic coffers. Other estimates put that number at fifty percent. Then there are Congressional donation dollars. That’s a lot of money from a small minority of voters.

In 2008, Obama received 78% of the Jewish vote. But that’s not what put him over the top. Almost one hundred percent of Jews come out to vote. And that still amounts to only about 2.2% of the population and 2.5% of the vote. Jewish contributions to the Democrats and to the presidential election campaign far exceed their numbers. That’s what makes the difference. That’s why this president and every other has courted Jewish voters.

In this era of soft money it is very hard to determine the exact figures, but the implication is very clear. Even a ten percent drop in satisfaction by the American Jewish community can result in a huge loss to the democrats. And fairly or not, everyone knows that the chances of winning an election are often based on the amount of money in the campaign fund.

Those running for election in November of 2012 have to find their money, too. And the Jewish donors who were outraged by the president’s first speech and unsatisfied by his second speech, are going to ask ‘where were you when the president was making statements about 67 borders?” Congress has to decide whether to follow the president or withhold funds to the newly minted unity government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

It is the pragmatic element that upsets Jewish donors more than any other single dimension of the president’s policy as articulated in his speech. To urge Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority that has just partnered with Hamas, a terrorist group bent on Israel’s destruction, suggests that deep under this president the White House does not fully understand the meaning of peace process.

The 1967 border between Israel and the Palestinians truly is indefensible. At its thinnest point it is only about seven miles across to the Mediterranean Sea. The late statesman Abba Eban, who served as Israel’s foreign minister during the Six Day War, dubbed the pre-1967 border ‘The Auschwitz Border.’

For Obama, it’s about dollars. For Israel and the Jewish world, it’s about security and defense. For everyone, it’s about survival.

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US & The Middle East

By Micah Halpern

Monday May 23,2011

Column:

The United States simply does not understand the Middle East. It doesn’t make a difference who holds the reins of power – the past few administrations have not understood the Middle East and neither does this administration. From the president to the West Wing, from the State Department to ambassadors on the ground — the Middle East remains elusive and misunderstood.

As a result, US foreign policy in the Middle East has, for decades, been an abysmal failure. America’s leaders have come up with one catch-all solution for almost every problem in the Middle East. Riots and uprisings – throw money. Tensions and terrorist attacks – throw money. Poverty and poor schooling and an undeveloped economy – throw money. Everyone in the Middle East wants and accepts US dollars, but no one wants to be the “front” to advance US interests.

So the United States throws out more and more money with little expectation of return on their dollar.

Meetings are arranged, leaders gather, agendas are set, requests are made – and Middle East leaders shake their heads in agreement and smile through photo ops and then return home with filled coffers and unfulfilled commitments. And the United States, rather than castigating these countries, calls for another round of meetings and offers more money.

Money is leverage – or it could be if the United States chose to use it as such. The United States wants to bring about change in the Middle East but is fearful of using their clout to make demands on the monarchs and rulers and leaders of countries with belief systems vastly different from Western belief systems, thought and practice. Instead, the United States backs away from making real demands on Middle East countries and from following through on agreed upon commitments.

From all Middle East countries, that is, except Israel. When it comes to Israel, the only Western country in the Middle East, the United States exerts leverage and exacts promises. With Israel and no other.

From the point of view of the United States, Israel has the most to give and the least to lose. While Egypt and Pakistan and every other country in the region feel free to disregard not only requests put to them by the United States but also the commitments they have made to the United States, Israel is held responsible for every handshake and every nuanced nod of the head. Unlike her neighbors and her enemies, Israel receives from the United States and Israel gives in return.

Mahmoud Abbas – chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and president of the Palestinian Authority, the political head of the newly declared national unity government between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority – knows exactly where the United States stands on the issue of Hamas. And yet, Abbas forged ahead creating a formal, political and military alliance with Hamas with the expectation of continued revenues and financial aid from the United States. Abbas has no doubt that after only minimal and pro forma hesitation, the United States will continue to funnel through regular cash infusions.

The Palestinians cannot conceive of a situation where the United States will not support the Palestinians cause. And they may be correct. Unless Congress refuses to allow monies to go to the Palestinians as long as they remain united with Hamas, the money will come.

There is a hope that Congress will stop sending funds to the new Palestinian unity government, but the White House is doing its best to counter the argument. Congress understands better than anyone in Washington just how dangerous a nexus with Hamas can be. But Congress is also stuck in the mire of DC decision making. They understand the tradeoff – they know that change in the Middle East requires US aid and that change in the Middle East includes peace between Palestinian and Israelis and that peace is predicated on continued aid from the United States to a group partnered with Hamas.

The White House is propelled by politics. They set goals and go about accomplishing them. Congress concentrates on history and law. It is Congress that, in a similar situation, passed the law making transfers of US aid to Hamas illegal. It will take a lot of fancy foot work and arm twisting to change that point of view – even for the Palestinians.

The United States will make concessions, but sending money to an acknowledged terrorist organization is wrong. Even if sanctioned by the president it is morally, ethically and politically wrong – and it is illegal.

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Egypt Blows Up Pipeline

By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 28, 2011

Column:

The pipeline that delivers natural gas from Egypt to both Israel and Jordan has been blown up. Terrorists blew up the control station located just outside of the city El Arish.

When terrorists blow up a natural gas pipeline, heads should turn.
It is an act of destruction that has the ability to alter a region.

It is an act that should force regional countries – and the international community, to respond immediately and harshly. Inaction, passivity, sends out a message to the terrorists and spurs them on to commit other terrorist acts that could also endanger the already fragile power structure of the region.

The explosion was so effective that succeeded in not just damaging the line, but in putting it completely out of commission. Egyptian authorities are saying that it could take weeks before the fire is under control and the gas line can start flowing again. Pictures show flames as high as 65 feet tall.

This is not the first time the pipeline and this station has been the target of terrorists hoping to scuttle the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel. And it is not the second.

The first explosion took place of February 5th of this year. That attack was ineffective in terms of damage, but very effective in providing the terrorists with the information and know-how they now used to execute this third and very effective attack. Had it not been for the diligence of Egyptian authorities who thwarted the second attack, the pipeline would probably have been successfully blown up on March 27th.

Clearly, the Egyptian military know that this site is a target. The attack on the natural gas monitoring station took place at 3am, in the dark of night. The army should have had this location under very tight surveillance, this attack should never have happened – but it did. Finger wagging is permitted in cases of gross negligence.

Based on the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, Israel received 40% of its natural gas from this pipeline. A part of this treaty even provides for a special relationship between Egypt and Israel concerning the price of the natural gas. The relationship is special – but not cheap. Israel still pays twice as much for the gas delivered to them by Egypt than the Syrians pay for the same natural gas.

There is no coincidence between the timing of these attacks -attempted and successful – and the activity taking place in Egypt. There should be no doubt that it is the rhetoric of politicians in the new Egypt that has set the ground for this terrorist action. Days before the explosion Egypt arrested their former energy minister, Sameh Fahmy, along with five other former bureaucrats from the ministry.

They were arrested because according to the 1979 peace treaty Egypt was supposed to guarantee Israel a set amount of natural gas at a set price. Now, under the new regime, under the current prosecution, according to many newly influential Egyptians politicians vying for popular support, that deal is tantamount to treachery. Too much gas for too little.

Actually, the deal is the backbone of the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel. But Israel saw what was happening in Egypt and as tensions rose, the Israelis reduced their dependency on Egypt for natural gas. Now Israel gets only about 29% of its natural gas from Egypt – down 11% from the original 40%. These saber rattling pronouncements, prosecutions and arrests are fueling an already tense and volatile environment within Egypt. A full blown anti – Western, anti-Israel front is overtaking the country.

We are looking at one prominent example of the new Egypt. The army running Egypt has done very little to clamp down on terror, in fact, it is almost as if the military wing is helping stimulate anti-Israel attitudes and subsequent actions. When you couple acts of terror against symbols of oppressive outsiders and perceived cultural colonialists with aggressive political rhetoric you are creating a dangerous environment. When terrorists search out and destroy the symbols cum targets the masses who may have been sitting on the fence become emboldened.

The only reason for putting out the fires – literally, not at all figuratively, is the fact that Jordan relies heavily on the natural gas they receive from the now destroyed pipeline. The same pipeline that supplies Israel with 29% of its natural gas, supplies Jordan with 80% of its natural gas. Jordan cannot survive for long without the Egyptian pipeline.

Maybe when Jordan cries out for help the international community will come out and, at least symbolically, pay attention to the acts of international destruction being perpetrated in Egypt. Maybe.

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2 States Really Means 3 States

By Micah Halpern

Monday April 18, 2011

Column

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salim Fayyad is going public with his economic plan for Palestinian statehood. His goal is to declare Palestinian statehood by September 2011. His intention is to achieve that goal by way of a straight up vote in the United Nations General Assembly.

By all estimates, the decision to grant statehood to the Palestinians will fly through the United Nations. But that doesn’t mean that the Palestinians don’t have to first engage in some pretty fancy preliminary diplomatic tap dancing.

The Fayyad Plan, a very detailed three-year plan, has already been distributed to those donor nations scheduled to meet in June. The prime minister hopes to collect $5 billion to jump start the process of Palestinian statehood. He actually lists dollar amounts required to build, stimulate and create a stable economy that will become self sufficient over time.

The declaration of statehood and recognition by the world as put forth by Fayyad is pretty straight forward. The PA will ask that a Palestinian state be established in the post ’67 West bank and Gaza areas – the terminology used by the Palestinian Authority is the post 1967 occupied territories.

There are two significant glitches to the plan. One glitch is that the United States does not want a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. Washington wants a negotiated agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. A unilateral declaration supported by the UN does not define borders, does not delineate defenses and does not detail the new state’s orientation. A declaration almost certainly guarantees continued tensions that can escalate into war with Israel and even result in Israeli conquest which would set back Palestinian statehood indefinitely.

The second glitch in this plan is that Fayyad speaks in detail about Gaza – both in terms of economic growth and the bureaucratic role Gaza will play. But Gaza is not controlled by Fayyad, Gaza is not controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Hamas controls Gaza and in 2007, Hamas tossed the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in a violent, bloody, coup.

The truth is that the Palestinian plan for statehood is not a two-state plan, it is a three-state plan, but the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge that harsh reality. The only way a workable Palestinian state can be declared is with three independent states living side-by-side. One Israeli state, one Palestinian state in the West Bank and one Palestinian Hamas state in Gaza.

Three, not two.

There is little doubt that most of the Western world, including a majority of Israelis and the United States are in favor of a two-state solution. But two states is not what they will get.

As far as Hamas is concerned, the plan put forth by Salim Fayyad holds no value. For Hamas, Fayyad is symbolic of the tensions and the enmity that exist between West Bank Palestinians and Gaza-s Palestinians. When Palestinian elections were held in 2006, Hamas won. Unhappy with the results, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ousted Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyah, and put in his place a trusted ally named Salim Fayyad.

Fayyad was never elected to office and he has no authority – other than being appointed to a position that someone else was elected to. There have been no Palestinian elections since and until this is resolved, Hamas will not honor any future elections.

In the meantime, donor nations will dig into their coffers and provide the Palestinian Authority with the $5 billion they are asking for their three-year plan. It is a very nice plan, but it is a plan that is destined to fail. It will fail because it is built on a fallacy. The Palestinians are not one people, they are two peoples. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority hate each other almost as much as they each hate Israel. That is not going to change by September 2011.

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Executing a Do-Gooder in Gaza

By Micah Halpern

Sunday April 17, 2011

Column:

Gaza is just one more place that the United States and the West do not understand.

The senseless execution of Victor Arrigoni, an Italian human rights activist, at the hands of Palestinian terrorists is a perfect example of just how little is known about how Gaza thinks and how totally out of their element Western thinkers when trying to make sense out of this Hamas stronghold.

In 2008 Victor came to Gaza in order to help, he was the proverbial aid giver. In 2011 he was hanged – because he was an outsider.

Victor Arrigoni was kidnapped. He was kidnapped by a terrorist group operating out of Gaza, but not Hamas. His kidnappers threatened to execute him if their leader and fellow terrorists were not released by Hamas. The deadline was quick and obviously not set up for negotiations, there was no desire for negotiations or even dialogue with Hamas. This led most analysts to conclude that Victor was executed very soon after he was kidnapped. The point of the kidnapping was to shine a spotlight on Hamas.

The Italians applied full-court press on Hamas to find and free Victor but that went nowhere. Embarrassed, Hamas made the effort to find the house where Victor was being held and stormed it, but by then, he had already been executed. They were way too late to save him. When they entered the House they found him hanging.
Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007. The Palestinian

Authority was ousted in a bloody coup. Today’s Gaza is not a monolith. Hamas is the ruling party, but not the only armed group attempting to intimidate Gazans and enforce their own rules. Gaza is splintered, filled will fractions and divisions, mostly defined by clans and family lines. While certain groups do share common objectives, their differences are far greater than the things that unite them. The kidnapping of Victor Arrigoni is but one example, a glaring example, but only one of many.

These smaller groups within Gaza are often unknown to Western diplomats. Sometimes a cell from a clan will simply make up a name for a particular operation and then after the operation, it will disappear. In real terms this means that there is almost no way to deal with the group. Understanding the workings of internal clans within Gaza is as crucial as it is difficult . In this case, in the kidnapping of Victor Arrigoni, a group called al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad initially claimed credit and responsibility for the action. They have now recanted.

Initially, Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad issued a statement saying that they had executed Victor, then claimed his death was the result of Hamas’ leadership. They said” “Even though we have no connection to the kidnapping, we would like to stress that what happened is the natural conclusion to the Hamas government policy against other organizations within the Strip.”

In Gaza, foreigners are pawns and they are always in extreme danger.
That includes diplomats. That includes aid workers. And that includes builders and doctors and all kinds of well-intentioned supporters. There is almost nothing that can be done to insure their safety. Journalist, diplomats and activists can have the support of Hamas and a safe passage guarantee, but a small splinter group can easily launch an operation. In Gaza, no foreigner is safe.

And unfortunately this is what happened with Victor. A well intentioned do-gooder who thought he was protected – but whose death illustrates how deluded that dream really is.

Hamas’ lack of control, their inability to bring safety or unity to Gaza is the reason why almost all efforts to create lulls, ceasefires and any other forms of negotiation fail. Negotiations with the Palestinian Authority fail. Negotiations with the West fail. Negotiations with Egypt and with local, indigenous, warring, freedom fighting factions fail. Hamas cannot police their own. The Palestinian Authority attempted to police Gaza and they were ousted.
Gaza is a perfect example of organized anarchy.

Victor went to Gaza to help, he went to protect Gazans from the Israelis. Victor Arrigoni was consumed by the internal conflict which engulfs Gaza and baffles the Western world. Gaza’s internal conflict may be a far less sexy topic to discuss, but it is far more critical to our understanding of the region and much more dangerous than the usual headline grabbing events.

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Explaining US Foreign Policy

By Micah Halpern

Column

Thursday March 31, 2011

Freedom is always preferred to slavery. And yet, diplomacy cannot be exclusively motivated by ideals. The real life expression of diplomatic ideals is what we call realpolitik.

In the perfect world allies share values and enemies are clearly defined. But we do not live in a perfect world, we live in a world in which our friends have their own priorities and our enemies sometimes have resources and information that we are in crucial need of.

And that, my friends, is a thumbnail history of United States foreign relations in South America, Central America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Libya is no exception. Libya may, in fact, become the text book example of modern day US foreign policy relations.

Through example and through influence, the United States – the greatest democratic power in the world today – has a responsibility to nudge the world towards freedom. The US has that responsibility even with the clear cut knowledge that freedom, without prosperity, wealth and power – the ideals of freedom, will have almost no impact. Norway, Denmark and Sweden may be democracies, but they hardly have an impact on world events or influence freedom movements.

When it was diplomatically convenient the US exploited dictators like Muammar Ghadaffi and Hosni Mubarak with one hand and with the other hand, urged the dictators to reform their oppressive regimes. In the end, the urging had almost no impact and the all too important dollar, profitable trade and oil revenue, triumphed.

That would explain our frustration with China, too. China is one of the worst human rights abusers in today’s world and yet, the United States needs the Chinese so badly because they hold the US debt in their proverbial hands that our great democracy is willing to look the other way when it comes to the atrocities perpetrated by the Chinese on the Chinese. If the Chinese were to call in the debt, the United States would go belly up, go bankrupt, immediately.

How then does the United States handle these seemingly contradictory needs? How does the United States balance the business-side need to maintain prosperity and power versus the ethical and moral needs of freedom?

The dilemma is resolved by living a diplomatic contradiction. The United States does what it must to remain prosperous, i.e., the US talks the talk of freedom while doing business with despots.

The world is a complicated place. Americans feel bad about atrocities and try to prevent them. Interventions in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan are the perfect examples of US involvement, perfect examples of how the US walks the extra mile and tries to improve the situation on the ground. The reality, however, is that the United States is better at throwing money at problems than at intervening and trying to solve those problems.

Armed intervention is part of the resolution of the ethos of the US contradiction between values and prosperity.

At times the seething debate within the US boils over. That’s when actions are taken, even without total knowledge of the situation and with only scant background about what is happening on the ground. Sometimes action is essential, not simply to save lives but because the cost of inaction is so high – because risks aside, the cost of actually saving lives can be so small and the reward so great.

The people of Darfur are livid at the speed with which the US acted to intervene in Libya relative to the inaction and speechifying that they were treated to. But Darfur is not Libya. It is very important that the United States intervened in Libya in principle alone. It is important because the United States sets the tone for the rest of the free world – not just for the dictators.

For too long the thugs have felt that they can get away with it all.

They knew that the cost would be nothing more than a diplomatic tongue lashing or slap on the wrist. No one would have ever believed that the UN Security Council would okay international intervention in an internal dispute in order to save human lives.

It was Ghadaffi who changed the equation – not the United States and not the United Nations. Atrocities are being perpetrated throughout the Middle East and atrocities are the norm in many parts of Africa.

But not like in Libya. Ghadaffi upped the stakes – his access to fire power was far greater than the access of the opposition fighters and the numbers of people he intended to murder was staggering.

The United States did what the United States had to do – albeit too little and too late, but what had to be done.

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Those Who Abstained in Libya Vote

By Micah Halpern

Column:

Monday March 28, 2011

The revolutions that are taking hold in the Middle East have become more about ousting thugs than about inculcating values of freedom, equality and democracy.

That said, it is important to analyze the resolution to authorize international intervention into Libya. The United Nations Security Council passed the resolution, ten member countries voted in favor, five abstained. The abstentions were: China, Russia, India, Brazil and Germany.

Each of the five countries has an individual and collective reason for casting their vote in that manner and now they are each publicly condemning the attacks by the international body as it patrols the No Fly Zone. Collectively, they wanted to make certain that Libya did not use its own air-force in this battle of wills and wits, but what they did not want – and what they now have, is international strikes against Libya.

Any serious military strategist will confirm that in order to create a real No Fly Zone it is necessary to destroy air command centers in order to eliminate mid-air dogfights that place pilots and aircraft in harm’s way. It means taking out anti-aircraft batteries and tanks so that the playing field is made more even.

The steps necessary to create a true No Fly Zone are more than problematic – they are truly abhorrent, for China, India, Russia, most of the Arab speaking and Muslim world and most UN member states. And yet, that is what they, albeit inadvertently, created. Now they are asking “how?” How can the West, under the leadership of the United States, simply intervene in the domestic activities of a member state?

China and India combined constitute most of the world’s population. Then add on the Arab world. Most of the world, it now becomes apparent, is distraught over the sanctioned actions of the United Nations in Libya. Again, they are wondering “how?” How can Western nations get so involved in the inner workings of other nations just because they do not like their human rights agenda?

This is the first time in the history of the United Nations that the Security Council has intervened in the domestic affairs of a member state who has not attacked, threatened or violated another member state. The five abstaining countries and the Arab and Muslim world are seriously worried about the precedent that has been set. And rightly so.

Had the five countries voted “no”rather than abstained, the resolution would not have carried. In uncharacteristically politically polite moves, they forced through the resolution. In the Security Council a “no” vote is a no, an abstention goes over to the “yes” side.

So, given the current climate of internal turmoil, in order to try to obviate and stymie any international intervention, Syrian President Bashar Assad placed calls to many of his fellow Arab dictators and monarchs, i.e. thugs, to make certain that they will stand with him against international intervention – should it come to that. And indeed, he was given the assurances.

The Germans are maintaining that the United States and the other Western states have been misled. They claim that it is Libya’s right to put down internal insurrection without international intervention. Most importantly the Germans are pointing out that they simply do not know that opposition forces represent what we hope them to represent. The German rationale is that they are fearful that, in the end, the Middle East may become even more anti-Western and the entire situation will blow up.

China thinks that the intervention is the height of US arrogance.

How dare the United States intervene with weapons because they do not like the leader of Libya, they ask? How un-democratic. Most member states in the UN are not democratic and the United States should not be given carte blanche to intervene.

The situation now can best be described as a diplomatic earthquake. The tremor is felt around the world – the tremor is the aftershock of the intervention into Libya. The situation is growing out of control. Countries are beginning to align themselves with Libya, countries fearful that they will end up in the same situation.

The aftershock in a diplomatic earthquake, just like in a real earthquake, can be more damaging that the quake.

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Jordan May Be Next

By Micah Halpern

Saturday March 26, 2011

Column:

Jordan is next in line.

The feeling of unrest is palpable on the Jordanian street and in the Middle East, unrest is followed by revolution. King Abdullah of
Jordan knows with utmost certainty that his future and the future of his Hashemite Kingdom are hanging in the balance. He knows that he must navigate the balance beam between brutal crackdown and overthrow.

As a rule even, in more liberal thugocracies there is unrest. There are always groups, be they political, religious or cultural, wanting to oust the dictator. In all cases, again, even in the most liberal of thugocracies, these groups are monitored and then punished.

Often, the way in which the ruler manages these groups is through public humiliation and intimidation. The hope is that the mainstream population will realize how marginal these groups are and how much better it is to keep the dictator in power.

The message to the people is pretty straight forward: these groups are radicals, see what happens to radicals.

In Jordan radicals groups have traditionally been a loose web of religious extremists. This is not dissimilar to Egypt. Religious radicals, many with ties to al Qaeda, are real dangers not only to Jordan and the Arab world but also to the greater world. Now added to the mix is a growing group of disenfranchised radicals – highly educated, technically adroit, Facebook savvy friends and students and unemployed graduates.

And Jordan has begun to respond.

As the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt began, King Abdullah of Jordan was at the very beginning stages of reforming his economy. The King was removing subsidies on necessities like milk, cheese, bread and eggs. This economic reform was planned to get Jordan on its feet and enable it to compete in international markets. But there is an iron clad rule in the Middle East: when people are hungry they are impassioned and they join the cause.

As soon as the unrest began elsewhere, the King put an immediate stop to the reforms, put subsidies back on food and ran to the United States asking for $100 million to defray the cost of these subsidies. Abdullah got his money – but protests began anyway. His next step was to shake up the Jordanian cabinet and introduce a more liberal cadre of policy and law makers. King Abdullah made a promise to the people of Jordan, he promised them reforms.

But small protests continued. And now, the protests are getting bigger and the response of the police is getting even harsher.
Jordan is no stranger to attempted coups. Yasser Arafat attempted to take over Jordan in September 1970. That resulted in a mini war when King Hussein, Abdullah’s father, declared martial law and massacred 10,000 to 20,000 Palestinians. Arafat’s objective was to oust the Jordanian monarchy and establish a Palestinian state in its place.
King Hussein, a mere young thirty-five year old at the time, did not flinch. He swept down and began a rampage against Arafat’s supporters and men. The massacre lasted eleven days and it served to secure Hussein’s kingship and protect his kingdom from Arafat who survived the massacre of his people in comfort and luxury in the Intercontinental Hotel.

King Abdullah II knows the history of his country and of his family well. At forty-nine years old, he has significant experience as the son of a king and as king. Now he needs to gather all that collective experience, all the wisdom he can find in the lessons of his forefathers, and decide how to balance the needs of his people against the need to reform while maintaining the ruling family line and his own eminent position as Hashemite King of the Jordanian Empire.

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The Hajj is Here

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 17, 2010

Column:

The Hajj is here. The Hajj has begun.

The Hajj, a central component of Islam, leaves many in the West befuddled.

Simply stated, Hajj means Islamic religious pilgrimage. But it is much more than the simple translation. Understanding the Hajj can help us better understand Islam.

Hajj is one of the Five Pillars, the five most essential tenets, of Islam. These tenets are enormously important for followers of Islam. According to this pillar, or tenet, Muslims are obligated to make the journey to important Islamic sites. That means that at some point before they die, Muslims must make pilgrimage to Mecca – one of those holy sites.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Hajj is neither grounded in nor revolves around Mohammed. The Hajj revolves around Abraham, known in Islam as Ibrahim, and around his son Ishmael.

Even the name proves this. The word “Hajj” comes from the shared Biblical and Koranic story of Ishmael. In the biblical version, Ishmael’s mother was named Hagar. In Arabic Hagar is Hajjar.

Interestingly (but not importantly), Hajjar is never actually mentioned in the Koran. Nothing too much should be read into that because neither is Sarah mentioned in the Koran. Actually, in the Koran, very few women are mentioned.

The Koran refers simply to “Ishmael’s mother.” The name of Ishmael’s mother, Hajjar, only enters Islamic tradition through the Hadith, the sayings and teachings of Mohammed as handed down and recorded after the Koran.

In both the Hadith and the Koran we see the combined story of Hajjar and Ishmael – and that story is a central component of Islam. Hajjar and Ishmael are abandoned by Ibrahim in the desert and eventually, while searching for water, they find a well. According to the most commonly accepted story, the well sprung forth when the angel Jibral tapped his heal. According to other versions, the angel Jibral tapped his wing. Still other versions of the Hadith tell of the child Ishmael crying and explain that the child pounded his foot on the ground in frustration and from there spouted a spring of water. That spring, in all versions, is called Zamzam

The spring symbolizes life. The spring symbolizes salvation. Because of the spring, Ishamel and Hajjar will live. Hajjar then walks back and forth and back and forth between the mountains seven times. She circles the well seven times. And that is the origin of another important Islamic tradition called the Tawaf ceremony – the circling of the Kaabah, the site located right next to the Zamzam well, seven times.

As the Hajji, the Muslim who has made the pilgrimage to Hajj encircles the Kaaba, he (it is always a “he”, no women are counted in the Hajj) says: “In the name of God, God is Great, God is Great, God is Great and Praise be to God” In Arabic: “Bism Allah Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa lil Lahi Alhamd.”

And on the following day the Hajji goes to Mount Arafat.

It is no coincidence. The first and foremost leader of the Palestinian people, Yasser Arafat, chose his name from this part of the Hajj. To not successfully fulfill this segment of the Hajj is to invalidate the entire Hajj.

Mount Arafat is also called Jabal al Rahmah, the mountain of forgiveness. Arafat means mountain of contemplation. It is at this spot that the Hajji must spend an entire afternoon until sunset reading from the Koran and praying privately. According to Islamic tradition Mount Arafat was the site of the Garden of Eden.

When The Hajji finishes his prayer, he is instructed to ceremonially stone the devil named Ramy al Jamaray. This is the devil who tried to challenge Ibrahim the father as he was taking his son Ishmael to sacrifice. The Biblical and Koranic stories of the sacrifice differ in names only.

When all the steps involved in performing the Hajj have been successfully completed, the festival of Id al Adah begins. Id al Adah reenacts the saving of Ishmael when a ram was found and offered as the sacrifice in place of the son. For Muslims, Id al Adah symbolizes Allah’s mercy in having saved Ishmael. This festival, during which Muslims slaughter rams and partake of festive meals, is celebrated around the world.

Religiously, historically and ideologically, the Hajj is of central import to followers of Islam. It behooves us to understand what matters to Muslims. It weakens us when we do not.

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Mubarak’s November Elections

By Micah Halpern

Monday November 8, 2010

Column:

For the past decade United States foreign policy wonks, those so called advisers within several Administrations, have failed to understand and correctly predict events in the Middle East. They have failed miserably.

The most recent and glaring example of US ignorance in Middle East maneuverings and politics can be seen in Egypt. The United States has been caught completely off guard by the announcement that there will be elections in Egypt in November. Yes, this November, November 2010.

If the United States ever hopes to get a handle on the Middle East, Washington must expand its pool of knowledge and broaden its circle of advisers.

For the past decade the United States has been focusing on the transition of power in Egypt. Washington has been pushing Egypt to liberalize, to open up, to become more and more democratic. Washington has been pushing political Egypt to become more Western. Washington has refused to even consider what Egyptian leadership knows for a fact – that liberalizing Egypt is synonymous with a big win for religious extremists in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, the forerunner of al Qaeda.

The US has paid no attention to the potential price Egypt would have to pay in the name of democratization. Egypt could easily go the way of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. The United States is not even remembering how when, in the name of democracy, Hamas was permitted to stand for election and then promptly and very successfully routed Fatah from office and then ousted the PA from Gaza.

Hosni Mubarak of Egypt may be called President but it is just another way of saying all – powerful dictator. And although there are periodic elections in Egypt, they have no significant impact on what happens in Egypt – because in Egypt, Mubarak is in charge.

All these years US advisers and wonks were convinced that things were changing in Egypt. Why? Because DC thought that it was time for change in Cairo. Because DC thought that Cairo understood that it was the perfect time to transition. After all, the thinking in Washington went, President Mubarak’s health has been in question, he is eighty three years old and has ben in power since Anwar Sadat’s October 1981 assassination at the hand of Muslim extremists. It’s time for a change.

And that thinking explains why Washington went reeling when they discovered that not only will there be elections in November, but that Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, has put himself up for election yet once again. There is no time for challengers to prepare their strategy and there is no chance of their winning even if they did.

Washington has assumed that Mubarak’s successor would be his son. And for the past two years analysts said that the true test of Egypt’s move toward democracy would be seen in how open the next Egyptian elections were. And they assumed that the winner of the next election would be Gamal, son of Hosni.

The foreign policy people in Washington had no idea that Hosni Mubarak had another plan in mind. That’s because Washington has no understanding of the politics and practices of the Middle East.

Of course Mubarak is going to run for office again. Mubarak can’t retire and no transition in Egypt will happen through the electoral process. A change in Egyptian leadership will occur only through an official handing off of the baton. Hosni Mubarak must articulate the transfer of the mantle of leadership publicly and while he is in good health. This must happen so when Mubarak’s time does come there will be no questions. The Egyptian people do not decide, the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak decides.

If the mantle does go to Mubarak junior there will be no chance of failure and no question as to who controls the font of Egypt’s power, politics and military. Mubarak might talk about liberalizing his country but he cannot in fact actually liberalize Egypt. In the eyes of Mubarak transitioning power and liberalizing are impossible while maintaining stability.

You see, Mubarak understands the Middle East. Not to see this coming was downright irresponsible.

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We Misunderstand Turkey

By Micah Halpern

Saturday August 28, 2010

Column

The attitude adopted by Turkey towards Israel should never have surprised the security, political or foreign policy communities. Pay attention and you know what to expect.

The Turks are fed up and they are reacting instinctively by lashing out. Many people lay the blame for this new attitude and behavior on the Islamic orientation of today’s political leadership in Turkey. That it true, but it is only part of the answer. Many blame the steady increase of Islamic political parties leading right up to the ruling party in Turkey. Again, true, but only a partial answer.

Turkey has been misunderstood for decades. Because of the natural western bias of Israel and the United States, it was assumed that Turkey was moving towards the West. It was assumed that Turkey was a Western-oriented state.

That assumption is incorrect. Turkey is a split state – and only a very small part, the part the West has concentrated on, is European. The remainder of Turkey, the vast majority of Turkey, is a part of Asia and of the Middle East.

At one point Turkey did display a serious desire to move toward the West, and while that desire was embraced by the Western world, it was only a blip on the social conscience of Turkey. To understand the stance the Turks have now taken, one must view this split state in the context of the overwhelming anti-Western sentiment that has always permeated Turkey and has slowly peeked out and reared its head over the past few years.

Turkey refused to allow the United States and other Western allies to headquarter on their turf during the second Gulf War. That was the first sign. It should have become clear and apparent that Turkey was more concerned about their internal, local and regional tensions as they were about their international issues. Preventing the United States Air Force from flying out of Turkey did not hinder the war effort, but it did bolster Turkey’s standing in the Muslim world.

In January of 2009, at World Economic Forum in Davos, the leader and mouthpiece of Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, lambasted Israel’s President Shimon Peres about Operation Caste Lead. This, too, was a very clear foreshadowing of things to come.

Because Western leadership was either blind to these glaring messages or perhaps, too hopeful to call them on the carpet, Turkish leadership felt confident that they would be able to successfully walk the tightrope – open their markets, sell their goods and reap the benefits of the Western economic group that would catapult them into a growth market and even, into a major player in the region.

And then, Turkey’s hopes were dashed. For years Turkey dreamed and waited to join the European Union. But here was no possible way Turkey would be admitted as a full member of the EU – Greece would never hear of it. It is in that vein that Prime Minister Netanyahu visits Greece, Turkey’s arch enemy, to cultivate the Greeks now that the Turks have displayed their true leanings.

Turkey needed new friends and new markets. Iran and Syria were the ideal partners.

So at this point Turkish leadership is less likely to respond as quickly or jump as high when the US calls. Tensions with the West are high. While the military is still a very important stabilizing feature of Turkish national power, it is not the army that makes public statements. The US and Israel are despised on the streets of Turkey today. The flotilla incident further strengthened resentment towards the West. In Turkey, Israel is the metaphor for the West.

Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, understood the need to break away from the shackles of the Middle East. He knew that the tiny parcel of European land that bridges Europe and Asia in Turkey was a springboard into a new modern world. That is why Ataturk recreated the Turkish language and dropped Arabic lettering, recasting it with English letters.

Ataturk was a political prophet. He pounded Turkey into the modern world and kept the Muslim religious issues at bay. Everyone knew those tensions would always remain. The question was only how long they could be controlled and sublimated.

We have the answer. Today’s leadership in Turkey uses anti-Western feelings as a fulcrum to motivate domestic politics and to add serious international swagger. Turkey has given up the charade, Turkey is no longer playing another game. In many ways they have switched sides.

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Burqa in Europe

By Micah Halpern

Friday August 20, 2010

Column:

The burning question in European democracies is this: Is it appropriate for a European democracy to prohibit the wearing of the burqa, the Islamic headdress worn by women that covers almost their entire face (most leave slits for the eyes, some cover the eyes with a mesh veil). Debates over the wearing, or non-wearing, of the burqa are spreading like wild fire throughout the continent.

More important than the passion these debates generate is the context in which they are held. The first country to pass a law forbidding the burqa was Belgium. France recently passed its own law. In a poll conducted in England asking 2,000 people what they thought about passing a similar law, 67% were in favor. The Spanish Parliament took up and then rejected the debate.

Surprising as it may seem, the reason for banning the burqa is not religious. This is not a case of religious discrimination. It is, on the contrary, a call for freedom. The mandate to cover a woman’s face in public flies in the face of the women’s movement. It takes away a woman’s freedom and equality. It is also – and importantly, a call based on issues of safety and security. It is impossible to identify someone whose face is covered – it is a security risk.

Democracies do not come without limits. Regardless of one’s belief, one person does not have the freedom to subjugate another. That is the thesis behind the enactment of laws forbidding the burqa in European countries.

Theocracies and non-Western democracies have even more limits. And yet, there are also Muslim countries that have outlawed the burqa. Turkey and Egypt are two examples. Both back up their ban with cogent historical and religious evidence that the burqa is a pagan influence on Islam. More than that, they warn that it is the Taliban who brought the burqa back into popular Islamic culture and for that reason alone the wearing of the burqa should be rejected by mainstream Islam.

These arguments are right, and they are wrong.
The term burqa means to patch or sew. It is used to refer to the headdress worn by women, but it is an improper, inaccurate use of the word. Niqab is the best term for what we call the burqa. In Arabic, niqab translates to mask.

Another word used in Islamic culture that denotes a head covering is hijab, which means curtain. Hijab also refers to the Islamic concept of modesty and privacy, giving it a far deeper theological meaning than burqa. It refers to the separation between the world of man and the heavenly world.

The Koran makes reference to the headscarf using the term khimar, which today, is translated as a body cover. There is a long history of body covering and head covering in Islam. Most of those traditions are a response to and a rejection of pagan tribes and tradition in Arabia.

A rose is a rose is a rose. A burqa is a niqab, is a hijab. And the head covering is being outlawed in more and more European countries. There is sure to be a backlash. The first people to suffer the results of this backlash will not be the European parliamentarians and countries, it will not be Islamic leaders.

It is the women who will suffer. Women stuck between their need to fulfill their religious doctrine and living in a modern European state. Figuratively, maybe even literally, it is the women who will be the ones to burn.

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The Burqa Ban in Europe

By Micah Halpern

Friday August 13, 2010

Column:

The burning question in European democracies today is this: Is it appropriate for a European democracy to prohibit the wearing of the burqa, the Islamic headdress worn by women that covers almost their entire face (most leave slits for the eyes, some cover the eyes with a mesh veil). Debates over the wearing, or non-wearing, of the burqa are spreading like wild fire throughout the continent.

More important than the passion these debates generate is the context in which they are being held. The first country to pass a law forbidding the burqa was Belgium. France recently passed its own law. In England last week a poll was conducted asking 2,000 people what they thought about passing a similar law; 67 percent of those polled were in favor. Now the Spanish Parliament has taken up the debate.

Surprising as it may seem, the reason for banning the burqa is not religious. This is not a case of religious discrimination. It is, on the contrary, a call for freedom. The mandate to cover a woman’s face in public flies in the face of the women’s movement. It takes away a woman’s freedom and equality. It is also a call based on issues of safety and security. It is impossible to identify someone whose face is covered – it is a security risk.

Democracies do not come without limits. Regardless of one’s belief, one person does not have the freedom to subjugate another. That is the thesis behind the enactment of laws forbidding the burqa in European countries.

Theocracies and non-Western democracies have even more limits. And yet, there are also Muslim countries that have outlawed the burqa. Turkey and Egypt are two examples. Both back up their ban with cogent historical and religious evidence that the burqa is a pagan influence on Islam. More than that, they warn that it is the Taliban who brought the burqa back into popular Islamic culture and for that reason alone the wearing of the burqa should be rejected by mainstream Islam.

These arguments are right, and they are wrong.

The term burqa means to patch or sew. It is used to refer to the headdress worn by women, but it is an improper, inaccurate use of the word. Niqab is the best term for what we call the burqa. In Arabic, niqab translates to mask.

Another word used in Islamic culture that denotes a head covering is hijab, which means curtain. Hijab also refers to the Islamic concept of modesty and privacy, giving it a far deeper theological meaning than burqa. It refers to the separation between the world of man and the heavenly world.

The Koran makes reference to the headscarf using the term khimar, which today, is translated as a body cover.

There is a long history of body covering and head covering in Islam. Most of those traditions are a response to and a rejection of pagan tribes and tradition in Arabia.

A rose is a rose is a rose. A burqa is a niqab, is a hijab. And the head covering is being outlawed in more and more European countries. There is sure to be a backlash. The first people to suffer the results of this backlash will not be the European parliamentarians and countries, nor Islamic leaders.

It is the women who will suffer. Women stuck between their need to fulfill their religious doctrine and living in a modern European state. Figuratively, maybe even literally, it is the women who will be the ones to burn.

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Re-inventing The Wheel: Foreign Affairs

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 4, 2010

Column:

Much of foreign affairs is about re-inventing the wheel. The same can be said about much of politics, in general. One has to ask why people appointed and elected to important office feel the need to re-try what others have tried before them – and expect a different, improved, outcome.

In foreign affairs creativity and outside-the-box thinking just don’t cut it. That’s unfortunate.

The approach of the current White House towards Iran is the perfect example of re-inventing the wheel. This White House was certain that if Iran was approached with a proper attitude and by anyone other than George Bush, the Iranians would whole heartedly change their point of view and adopt the US stand on how to develop their nuclear technology.

George Bush has been seen by the current president the American electorate as the resounding cause for the Iranian rejection of the United States’ world view. It was assumed – however presumptively, egotistically and, alas, erroneously, that the new president, i.e. Barack Obama would be able to bring Iran around to the American point of view.

That did not happen.

Now, after the fact, the present administration will argue that they were always skeptical of Iran. But public proclamations and overt actions prove otherwise. In truth, the Obama administration simply started from the beginning and did much of what the Bush Administration had done. And the result is that the Obama administration has brought the US/Iran relationship right back to where it was … just 20 months later.

The mistake that both administrations have been making is in thinking that the problem lies between our current administration (whoever that may be) and current Iranian leadership. No one has bothered to take a historical look at Iran. No one has thought to study or analyze Iranians and their history of reactions to change. Had anyone spent the time they would have concluded that there is no way that Iran could have been convinced that the Obama administration is any different than the Bush Administration.

Iranians have not changed and will not change because the Iranians do not change. Is that outside-the-box thinking, well then excuse me, please.

The metaphor of “reinventing the wheel” is so powerful and so appropriate for this analysis. The wheel is the archetype of human ingenuity. It is one of the earliest of all inventions and is the foundation point of nearly all subsequent inventions. The wheel has enabled man to take giant strides forward. Re-inventing the wheel, is, literally and figuratively a step backwards.

The problem is not unique to the arrogance of the United States vis a vis Iran. Turkey, too, has fallen into the diplomatic trap of assuming they can re-invent the Iranian wheel.

Turkey and Brazil sponsored a deal with Iran to export Iranian uranium to Turkey and, in return, Turkey receives 19.6% enriched uranium. According to the way the Turkish government thinks, this deal will push everyone back from the brink of war. In exchange for the deal Turkey and Brazil, who both sit on the United Nations Security Council, promised to vote with Iran against the new 4th set of international sanctions against them.

From the point of view of the Turks this was a perfect win, a spectacular negotiating feat. They are now positioned as major players in the world and their philosophy that the West cannot conceptually deal with Iran has been legitimized.

But – and it’s a big but, when Turkey recently asked Iran to commence their detailed discussion of the agreement as was promised Iran said “not now maybe at the end of the summer.” Now Turkey is livid. They sided with Iran and went to bat for Iran and now Iran has not changed their stance at all despite all the promises and the agreements.

Turkey should have known better. The United States should know better. Iran develops strategies that help Iran. Iran does not change.

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They Always Blame Israel

By Micah Halpern

Friday July 16, 2010

Column

Israel has become the scapegoat for nearly all problems in the Muslim world. Certainly, Israel is the scapegoat for all problems Palestinian.

It’s always: Why did Israel do that, or, why didn’t Israel do this. If Israel were not there, the regions would be so serene … the lives of Palestinians would be so much better … If Israel would only change policy, terrorism would be down … there would be peace in the Middle East.

What sounds like platitudes and wishful thinking is nothing more than veiled anti-Semitism. Blaming Israel is the excuse for Palestinian failures and ineptitudes. Holding Israel responsible is the way in which leaders of the greater Arab/Muslim world absolve themselves of all guilt, responsibility and shame.

A simple example of just how guileful the international cabal is in their hatred of Israel can be determined by examining the current electricity crisis in Gaza for which Israel is being blamed.

Here’s the story: The original electricity agreement for Gaza was for the European Commission to pay Israel and for Israel to deliver electricity to Gaza. Israel is to provide 70% of Gaza’s electricity, Egypt 5% and Gaza’s own power plant the remaining 25%. After an initial trial period the European Commission chose to transfer all money and all responsibility to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority refuses to pay Israel for Gaza’s electricity. Hamas is livid.

It is the PA that has turned off the lights – and air conditioning and ice makers and refrigeration in the 100 plus degree heat of the Gaza summer, not Israel. In response, anger and frustration, Hamas has begun publicly attacking Palestinian leadership. But the PA is not budging, they are keeping Gaza hot, bothered and in the dark. Adding figurative fuel to the flames is the fact that the actual fuel that runs the Gaza power plant is also imported from Israel and the PA is refusing to pay that cost, as well.

So why is there an electricity shortage in Gaza, because of the staunch rivalry between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority ruling and running matters from Ramallah in the West Bank. A little power in the hands of Fatah run Palestinian leadership is turning into a very dangerous tool.

Electricity in Gaza worked perfectly well all the while it was under the administration of the Europeans, but turned to a trickle as soon as it came under the control of the Palestinians. So much for Europe’s grasp of the Fatah/Hamas dynamic.

In general, it is almost unheard of for foreign aid organizations to blame the Palestinians for anything – for anything at all. But now, one lone and important voice has spoken out. The voice speaks out of frustration.

The following comes from the transcript of a press conference with John Ging, head of UNWRA, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

“It is such a tragedy that, on top of all the other crises that we have in the Gaza Strip, we now have a crisis of electricity.”

“It’s an unbearable situation here at the moment, and it needs to be solved very quickly. It’s a Palestinian problem, made by Palestinians, and causing Palestinian suffering. So let’s have a Palestinian solution.”

John Ging realized that the entire electricity crisis in Gaza is Palestinian produced. It was not easy for Ging to concede that fact. It was not easy for the head of UNWRA to acknowledged that Gazans continue to suffer only because the PA hates Hamas.

UNWRA has been one of the outspoken leaders in anti-Israel attitude and behavior over the past decade. For UNWRA to go public against Palestinian infighting was a calculated decision, undoubtedly intended to embarrass the PA into changing policy and turning on electricity.

It is time for Palestinians to take responsibility for their mistakes, time for the world to hold them accountable. It is far too easy to cast blame and say simply that Israel and “the occupation” are the cause of all ills that befall the Palestinian people.

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THINKING NUCLEAR ABOUT IRAN

By Micah Halpern

Thursday May 27, 2010

Column:

There is a synapse between the assumed nuclear power possessed by Iran and Iran’s goals for their nuclear capability and the reality of Iran’s nuclear arsenal.

# 1: If Iran were to attack Israel, especially with a non-conventional weapon like a nuclear warhead, Israel would destroy Iran. Attacking Israel is tantamount to committing national suicide and Iranian leadership does not have a death wish.

# 2: Iran’s advancement in nuclear technology does not imply an increase in nuclear weapons.

Iran today is a far cry from Russia in the 1970’s. Self preservation was the driving force keeping the Russians and the United States from engaging in a nuclear encounter. The expression used at the time was “avoiding a nuclear holocaust.” The reasoning went: if they shoot then we will shoot, and in the end, both of us will be annihilated. It was also called MAD for Mutual Assured Destruction. This concept became the foundation of nuclear deterrence.

The Middle East is not Europe and Iran is not Russia. There are many reasons why decisions are made by leaders in the Middle East, not the least is pride and machismo. The need to prove religious superiority is another top reason.

Iran does not have a history of attacking. Iran has a history of either utilizing their proxies or of provoking attacks in order to initiate counter attacks. So the scenario would play out like this: Israel would be the first to strike. Israel would hit Iran’s nuclear resources and nuclear sites with conventional weapons. Iran would then counter strike. If Iran counters with even one non-conventional warhead, Israel would strike back again. The deterrence argument that was so powerful in the 70’s has no play in the year 2010.

And the Middle East is not Japan. Nuclear energy does not mean nuclear weapons. Right now, we truly have no idea Iran’s nuclear objectives. How large, or how small, Iran’s nuclear program is and how large they intend to enlarge it?

It is wise to assume that Iran’s leaders will not follow in the footsteps of European and American leaders. They will follow in the footsteps of that other Middle East leader Saddam Hussein when he launched his scuds into Israel.

The problem we in the West have in analyzing and understanding Iran is that we in the West apply Western logic to a very, very, non-Western country.

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THE PIRATES OF TODAY: EQUAL OPPORTUNITY HOODLUMS

By Micah Halpern

Thursday May 13, 2010

Column:

Piracy, that blight on the open seas, must be eradicated.

The economic impact of the current spate of piracy launched out of Somalia is immense. After the ransoms are calculated, the insurance is totaled, defense and security measures are factored in, the cost of piracy probably tops $16 billion per year.

Sixteen billion is not that much relative to the $7.8 trillion dollars of yearly maritime commerce – but that sixteen billion dollar cost is not profit, it is cost that is all passed on to you and me, the consumer.

Other numbers are equally as staggering. There are only between 600 to 1,000 modern pirates making their living off the seas. That’s all. The amount of ransom paid to these gun-toting, bad-guy, entrepreneurs in 2009 was put at only about $30 million. Ransom is the cheapest part of piracy, it is the other costs that add it all up.

Today’s pirates are equal opportunity hoodlums. They do not care if they attack oil tankers or ships carrying children’s toys, if the ships are British, American, Swiss or Syrian. They take over a ship and leave after their ransom has been paid. And a significant amount of the money they receive now fuels the economy of their motherland, Somalia.

Just this week a Greek ship was taken by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Twenty four hostages were taken, two of them Greek, the remaining Filipinos. The captured ship was carrying iron from the Ukraine to China making a stop in Singapore. The Gulf of Aden is the most troublesome spot on the seas for merchants, the most lucrative for pirates. It is where the vast number of piracies takes place.

The funnel between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea is the Gulf of Aden. The Red Sea leads to the Suez Canal which opens into the Mediterranean Sea and from there to Europe.

The Gulf of Aden gets its name from the Yemenite port city of Aden situated at the mouth of the gulf. Yemen sits on the east side of the Gulf. On the west side of the Gulf is Somalia. Next to Somalia is Djibouti and then Eritrea. The Gulf of Eden turns into the Bab el Mandeb, or the Straits of Mandeb, as it narrows to an area only twenty miles wide. All shipping going from Asia to Europe must pass through the Gulf of Aden and the Mandeb Straits and make its way up into the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

The ships sit there, caught in a massive traffic jam at sea, like the proverbial sitting ducks, all lined up and waiting to be picked off by pirates. The pirates make their way from the Gulf to the Straits and onto the ship of their choosing. When I say traffic jam, I mean traffic jam. The numbers are staggering. 15,000 – 20,000 ships pass through the narrow Straits of Mandeb each year. That means that, on average, the Straits accommodate 1,500 ships every month.

Is there no other alternative? For ships traveling from Asia to Europe there is. But time means money and shipping companies are willing to run the Gulf of Aden risk, hoping that some other ship will be boarded. They opt to take the shorter Straits of Mandeb route because it saves them days of travel over the longer, safer, trip around the Horn of Africa. The extra days it takes going around the Horn costs an extra $2 million per ship in fuel and an extra $100,000 in security fees. Every ship needs security teams whether it travels through the Horn of Africa or the Gulf of Aden. The money saved translates into cheaper goods and more efficient uses of energy, time and resources.

Pirates take advantage of their home field. They have no fear of capture and no fear of punishment even if captured. The laws of the seas are unequipped to deal with their crime, there is almost no way of prosecuting them. Ships may be owned by corporations but they fly “flags of convenience.” That means they fly flags from Liberia, Panama and the Bahamas – countries that have no teeth, no legal standing to prosecute the pirates who board them and demand ransoms.

An entirely new approach to stopping piracy is needed. Aggressive naval and police tactics backed by special international courts that have the power to prosecute and convict is part of the answer. For the sake of the world’s economy, for the sake of international justice countries must join together and invest the time, money and energy required to stem acts of piracy.

The world should not continue to support the pirates of Somalia. But we will, unless changes are made. Pirates have no incentive to change what they are doing. We must create that incentive.

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QUITE SIMPLY, THIS ATTACK WAS A SUCCESS

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday May 5, 2010

Column:

The terrorist suspected of planting the car bomb in Times Square has been apprehended. Now is time for us to look carefully at what was really going on.

Thankfully the bomb did not ignite. That was providence. The rest was hard work well done.

The fifty three hours it took from the time a potential bomb was discovered to the time Faisal Shazhad was taken off the Emirates Airline jet is collaborative police and federal agent work at its best. As New York City Police Chief Ray Kelly said, it was a scene right out of the wildly popular TV series “24.” Even Jack Bauer, he of the cell phone battery that never runs out, would have required a few more hours to collar this bad guy before he disappeared into the protective, collective, cocoon of the Muslim Middle East.

Let’s get down to basics:

The bomb. The bomb was large but very crude. It was technically flawed. It was the kind of bomb that is unlikely to cause the massive damage that one would expect from Taliban-trained bomb makers and operatives.

So why even engage in such a sloppy operation? There are several good reasons for that.

# 1: Quite simply, to terrify and terrorize. Even a dud in Times Square is a success from the point of view of Taliban and al Qaeda.

# 2: To use as a research tool, to allow Taliban and al Qaeda to check the emergency response time for such an attack.

# 3: To prove to Taliban and al Qaeda adherents around the world that they can strike at the very heart of the US at will.

The attack: This was not a suicide attack. Suicide attacks tend to have higher efficiency because the bomber gets right into the center of the target. In this case the bomber, who was also the engineer, walked away. That small item made a very big difference in the effectiveness of the operation.

So why was this not a suicide terrorist attack? It is harder to successfully recruit a suicide bomber here in the States than it is in Muslim countries. Few Americans are willing to kill themselves. They might make the bomb, plant the bomb even help the bomber, they may engage in a terror attack where the possibility exists that they will be killed in the act – but intentionally blowing themselves up along with defenseless others, not yet. The commitment it takes to be an American home grown suicide bomber has not yet crossed the ocean from the other side.

The success of the operation: From the point of view of the terrorist and his handlers in Pakistan and in al Qaeda, this botched operation was a resounding success. It could have been more successful but it was great.

So what makes a botched attack with a bomb that did not explode and a terrorist who was dramatically apprehended a success? More than anything else, the Pakistani branch of Taliban is now on the map. Shazhad already admitted in the charge sheet to being trained in Pakistan.

Now for some background and perspective:

This is not the first car bomb in NYC planted. In 1993 al Qaeda planted a bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center. The attack was a dud. The intent was to kill tens of thousands of people and while 1,042 people were injured, only six were killed. That attack used 1500 lbs of urea nitrate hydrogen and was lit by a 20 foot fuse. It blew a hole through four floors of the World Trade Center.

And it set the stage for 9-11.

This attack is Times Square was successful. This attack in Times Square was not a one-time event. It is essential that we understand that. Not to glorify al Qaeda. It is essential that we understand what this attack was and what it truly represents so that we can better protect ourselves.

They will not stop trying. Neither can we.

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IRAN TAKES THE FIGHT TO THE ENEMY

By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 29, 2010

Column:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be in attendance at next week’s Nuclear Non Proliferation-Treaty Conference Review in New York, at the United Nations.

If this proves true, it will be not merely a very gutsy move on the part of Ahmadinejad, but a very effective political maneuver for Iran, as well. It moves Iran off the defense and positions Iran squarely on the offense.

As of this writing I can confirm that Iran has put in an official request for the special travel visa required for dignitaries like Ahmadinejad when they come to the United Nations and the White House has indicated that the request will not be blocked. This visa permits dignitaries who are unwanted on US soil to travel only within a very short radius of the United Nations building. Without that visa, there is no way this Iranian could attend.

The conference is scheduled to begin on Monday May 3rd. The Islamic Republic is scheduled to present at the debate in the 7th slot. As of now, the person scheduled to speak is the Iranian foreign minister. That can be easily changed. The line up for the session is even handed. The opening speaker is the Non-Aligned Group represented by Egypt who will insist that Israel come clean with their nuclear secrets. Preceding Iran is the United States and Canada in the 5th & 6th slots and then Australia follows Iran in the 8th slot.

Showing up at the Conference is a classic Iranian move. Take the fight to the enemy. Take advantage of the surprise factor and make certain that most of the people around actually support you – and not your opponent. It would behoove the United States to learn a few of these tricks. If Ahmadinejad comes, he will win over many of the still undecided countries, countries the United States and her allies are trying hard but not very successfully to woo, and he will score big victories against the West.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was initiated by the United Nations in 1970. The Review Conference was only instituted twenty years later, in 1990. Scheduled to meet every five years the Review Conference is charged with discussing the status of the NPT and monitoring NPT movement around the world.

With Ahmadinejad at the head of his country’s delegation, Iran will be able to successfully respond to all Western rhetoric aimed at discrediting and criticizing their nuclear behavior and intentions. If Ahmadinejad is present at the Conference, the media will pay attention. When that happens, Ahmadinejad is in his element and his messages to the Muslim world and his anti-West propaganda will be broadcast around the world.

Never forget that Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And should you forget, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will remind you. At the Conference he will assert Iran’s right to safe nuclear energy and the right to develop medical nuclear isotopes for cancer treatments.

If Ahmadinejad does not attend the Conference and if, as planned, Iran’s Foreign Minster Manoucherh Mottaki represents his country it will be business as usual at the United Nations. Mottaki does not have the same draw, he does not have the same appeal. He does not have power that Ahmadinejad has. Mottaki will make the event interesting, but he will not make international headline news.

Ahmadinejad likes the limelight, he likes controversy, he likes to demean the West, he especially likes doing it all on good ol’ United States soil.

It’s still too early to know. Stay posted, we’ll see what happens.

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IRAN’S STRATEGIC GAME OF SHOW AND TELL

By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 22, 2010

Column:

Iranian National TV announced that their Elite Revolutionary Guard is planning a new set of military maneuvers in the Straits of Hormuz. That’s news, that’s international news.

When Iran announces military maneuvers they do it for the obvious reason – keeping their military up-to-speed and creating effective war games-style practice. And they do it for international consumption. By announcing that they are engaging in military maneuvers, Iran is announcing to the world that they are mean and mighty and not to be messed with.

The region gets their point and so, too, should the West.

The Straits of Hormuz is not a simple water passage. While small in size, through this strait passes some of the most important cargo in the world today – oil. Nearly one-third of the world’s oil and forty percent of the world’s shipped oil passes through the narrow Straits of Hormuz each year. The country that controls the Straits of Hormuz is ultimately the country in control of the movement of oil all around that world. Iran contends that they control the Straits and Iran intends to keep it that way.

Israel will be watching Iran’s maneuvers very carefully. What kinds of weapons will Iran bring out and what kind of speed boats will be used. Along with the rest of the world, Israel is interested in knowing what types of new surface-to-air missiles Iran actually has. This will be a strategic game of show and tell.

The United States has pledged to keep the Straits of Hormuz open at all costs. But the United States, as Iran well knows, cannot deliver on that pledge. In fact, Iran could not care less what the United States has to say. The Straits is theirs, it is theirs to control, it is in their control – it is Iranian home turf.

In actuality, the Straits of Hormuz are so narrow, that all ships that pass through have no choice but to pass through the territorial waters of Iran on one side and of Oman on the other. The one and only lane that is deep enough to allow large tankers is only about six miles wide. There are two lanes that are two miles wide, one in each direction, separated by a two mile wide median. That’s tiny.

As it now stands, tankers pass through Iranian waters under the “UN Convention of Law and of the Sea.” The agreement for passage is called a “transit passage.”

The United States is flexing muscles in a region where the international shipping lane is actually Iranian waters. Not only does the United States have no diplomatic jurisdiction over the Straits of Hormuz, the United States doesn’t even have a clean transit record. The US has been downright klutzy passing through the Straits.

In March of 2009 a United States nuclear sub collided with an amphibious dock injuring fifteen sailors and dumping 25,000 gallons of fuel into the Straits. In January of 2007 a US submerged nuclear sub collided with a Japanese tanker. So far, the United States has been lucky. Iran has steered clear of US ships. Not so with the British. In March of 2007 Iran captured fifteen British sailors by quickly swarmed the UK cruiser with their tiny, but very swift, rubber boats.

If threatened, Iran would have no compunction about shutting down the Straits of Hormuz. The United Nations could invoke their Convention with a capital “C,” but we already know how little Iran thinks of international diplomacy and how much they enjoy flying in the face of international convention with a small “c.”

Not only do the Iranians have tremendous home court advantage, they also have their rubber speedboats which can outmaneuver larger ships and which can dart in, out and around, striking and retreating, against any target they choose to attack. Iran can destroy vessels and take prisoners. If they chose to sink a single ship – an oil tanker or any other ship passing through – it would wreak havoc on the world economy for weeks.

I know that the United States understands the significance of the Straits of Hormuz. But I do not know that the United States has a plan that is serious enough to counter potential actions by Iran. I do not think that the United States has a plan for re-opening the Straits should it ever come to that. I do not think that the United States has a plan to handle the crisis.

Iran has a plan, of that I am certain. And part of the Iranian plan is based on their certainty that the United States does not have a plan. Iran understands that the United States will attempt to police only the specific area, or lane, within the Straits of Hormuz that is at risk. That means that a serious strike against Iran will be out of the question.

That means that, once again, the Iranians have run circles around the United States.

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THE TALE OF A TALL SYNAGOGUE

By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 18, 2010

Column:

Jerusalem is the capital city of three monotheistic religions. Judaism, Islam and Christianity all have a stake in Jerusalem’s past, ergo, they all have a stake in Jerusalem’s future.

It was in Jerusalem that Abraham bound and prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac and it was in Jerusalem that King Solomon erected the temple. And so, the bond between Jerusalem and Judaism was forged. It was in Jerusalem that the prophet Mohammed, on a white stead, ascended to heaven and created the bond between Jerusalem and Islam. And it was to Jerusalem that Jesus made his pilgrimage and sparked a bond between Jerusalem and Christianity.

In Jerusalem, emotions run high.

The inauguration and re-opening of an old / new synagogue in Jerusalem, a synagogue that has been in ruins since its destruction by the Jordanians in 1948, has touched not only the soul but also the nerves of everyone who cares about or is involved with the City of Jerusalem. The synagogue, called the Hurva, which literally means destruction in Hebrew, has remained a hollowed out shell for well over half a century.

The Hurva synagogue has a long and repetitive history. The name tells it all, the Hurva has almost since it was first erected, been a symbol of destruction. When the Jordanians destroyed the synagogue in 1948 the explosion could be seen for miles. The dome crowning the Hurva was the highest architectural structure in the entire city. The building was the tallest and most magnificent in the entire Old City of Jerusalem.

In cities like Jerusalem battles are often fought building by building. The tallest building is a symbol. The height of the Hurva synagogue was the Jewish check against the Moslem holy sites the Dome of the Rock and the Christian Church of the Sepulchre.

The Muslim Dome was only visible from certain angles. The Church was built even lower in the city. The dome of the synagogue could be seen by almost everyone, everywhere – even outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The Hurva is and was situated high up on a plateau and center stage in the Jewish Quarter of the city. That is why it had been desecrated and destroyed in 1721. And that is why the Jordanians had to destroy it, again, in 1948.

According to Islamic law it is forbidden to build any local building taller than the local mosque. The law is clear, it is stated in the Pact of Omar. Christianity has similar laws and rulings. Building the Hurva as they did was an act of arrogance. The same is the case when the Altneu Shul, a synagogue in Prague, was built. The architectural design was to dig deep down in to ground – and then up. The building, instilled with grandeur, is one of the most spectacular buildings of Europe and circumvented the law.

The re-opening of the Hurva Synagogue has stoked the flames of an already flammable situation. The call to violence and Jihad has been announced by Arab leaders and Imams. Many of their followers are preparing to rise up in defense of holy Muslim sites, to protect them from the Jews.

There are those in the Muslim world who say that the new / old synagogue is breaking the foundation of the holy site al Aqsa on the Temple Mount. On al Jazeera television a cleric explained that the footing of the shrine known in Islam as Haram al Sharif, the holy sanctuary which is itself crowned by a golden dome, is threatened. Geographically and archaeologically the cleric is incorrect, but this is not about fact and accuracy- it is about symbolism.

The Imams and Islamic leaders are correct when they talk about how Israel is destroying the foundations of Islam in the Holy City. But it is their symbolic foundations that Israel is checking. The holy ground is not being uprooted, destroyed or sullied, it is the Jerusalem skyline that Judaism is recapturing.

The Hurva has always been a threat to the Muslim world. Not because it is a synagogue in Jerusalem, because it is such a tall synagogue in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, literally and figuratively, symbols taken on heightened significance.

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WHEN SMART TRUMPS RIGHT

By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 11, 2010

Column:

“Better to be smart than right.”

The world of foreign policy runs on its own set of rules. Unlike in the real world, in the world of foreign policy the opposite of smart is not necessarily not smart, or dumb. The opposite of right is not necessarily wrong. The idea that in the midst of a dispute the right decision will inevitable emerge, the right action will ultimately be taken, does not hold in foreign policy decisions. In the real world there is no argument that can trump the ability to do, or implement, the right thing. In the world of foreign policy, that argument does not hold true.

In foreign and even in domestic policy, being right is not always the best way to go. The smart way is the way to go. Just because the argument is correct, or right, does not make it the appropriate thing to say or wise action to take.

When Eli Ishai, the Israeli minister of the interior and leader of the right wing Shas party, chose to make an announcement about the projected building of 1,600 apartments in Jerusalem in the midst of an extended visit by United States Vice President Joe Biden, Ishai chose right over smart.

As a result of the announcement the vice president was forced to issue a strong, serious, public statement condemning Israel’s action and decision. Biden labeled Israel’s decision as not productive. And when Biden met with Palestinian leaders shortly after the announcement was made topping their list of gripes against Israel was Israel’s deliberate defiance of pre-set conditions and terms, Israel’s desire to be contrary and to engage in non-productive behavior – all as exemplified by their announced intention to build new housing units. They say they are halting settlement activity, yet they announce a new project. Israeli leaders, say the Palestinians, are really closet settlers.

The Palestinian complaint about Israel is the same complain that Israel makes about the Palestinians – that they cannot be trusted.

Shas and Eli Ishai defend their announcement. They maintain that they were correct, i.e. right, in acting as they did. Their argument goes that this announcement reflects the reality – that Israel does what is best for Israel and will not be dictated to by the United States. Ishai and Shas believe that Jerusalem is 100% under Israeli control and that there is no compromising when it comes to Jerusalem. They believe that Jerusalem neighborhoods need to expand if only because of natural growth and demand.

Because of Shas’ conviction and their impulsive desire to pursue the right way, an unconditionally positive public relations event now, suddenly and completely avoidably, has a black cloud hanging over it. A decision to say nothing or to wait for another opportunity to make this announcement would not have been a case of right versus wrong. It would have been the smart thing to do.

When the vice president of the United States visits Israel, he arrives with full court press. Every where he travels in Israel all foreign press stationed in Israel travel along. Every journalist covering the Middle East from Israel latches on to his entourage. China, Japan, India, Denmark, Norway, Sweden – they all have their correspondents follow every movement of the vice president, each one hoping to get a moment’s access with the man perceived to be the second most powerful person in the United States. And they were all there to cover Joe Biden’s biting critique of Israel.

Interior Minister Eli Ishai will not be muzzled. The Shas party will not be punished. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu does not have the backing to bounce them out of his coalition government. With all the safety and security issues facing Israel, with all the neighboring countries hoping to wipe little Israel off the map, it’s shameful that right now Israel’s worst enemy comes from within.

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PLAYING A GAME CALLED PEACE

By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 4, 2010

Column:

The Arab League has spoken. The twenty-two country members and four observer members of the Arab League have decided to support the plan put forth by the United States to jump start the stalemate between Palestinians and Israelis.

On Wednesday, the Arab League voted to support indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. They will meet again in July, four months from now, to determine if, or what, progress had been made. What they discover four months from now might just take the United States by surprise.

It’s all about game playing – and in this game, each player plays by a different set of rules.

On the one hand, Israel is pleased that the Arab League has taken this initiative and is encouraging indirect talks. Israel welcomes the Arab League’s involvement. On the other hand, Israel is not at all fond of deadlines. According to Israel’s rule book, deadlines usually force one party to make hasty decisions on issues that are of vital importance, decisions that would not otherwise be made, decisions that will later be regretted.

Palestinians are looking at the Arab League vote somewhat differently. On the one hand, indirect talks are intended to lead to direct talks and if that is what is accomplished at the end of these four months, the Arab League’s mission will have been accomplished. On the other hand, somewhere in the fine print of the Palestinian rule book it is written that now that the Palestinians have the attention of the greater Arab world, a privilege they are often denied, at the end of these four months, they might just be able to finagle independence and statehood out of the deal. And they will do it without the direct support of the United States and the United States will be too diplomatically polite to dispute it, even if it is not what Israel wants.

The player with the most complicated rule book is the Arab League. It turns out that the Arab League, however well intentioned, has no authority to make decisions about Israel and the Palestinians. They have no jurisdiction here. Going into the meeting, the Palestinians declared that they would respect the decision of the Arab League. Note the use of the word “respect” and not the choice of the word “follow.” In the end, it behooves the Palestinians to both respect and follow the decisions of the Arab League which is a far more conservative body than those pro-Western countries usually dictating policy.

Delegates to the Arab League are the foreign misters of their countries. Not only does the Arab League not have authority in this matter, the Arab League – according to a decision made by the delegates themselves – does not even recognize Israel’s right to exist. That is not only a rule they have played by for a long time, it is a rule they just recently re-confirmed. And here they are, suggesting indirect talks with Israel.

The Syrians, with another set of rules, broke the Arab League code of unity that requires all member nations to stand together behind all League decisions, by publicly rejecting the decision to light a fire under Israel and the Palestinians. Syria has said that there is no reason to support any dialogue with Israel at any time.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians disintegrated when the Obama administration came on the scene. The new and inexperienced administration demanded that Israel put a “total” stoppage to all building in the settlements. The Israelis said that they will not comply, citing natural growth and the special status of Jerusalem as reasons for their non-complicity. The Palestinians, however, grabbed onto this diplomatic blunder with great passion and have not yet released their grip. The United States has since realized how myopic it was to expect such a stoppage even in Jerusalem, but the damage has been done.

And now the Arab League has come to the rescue of both the United States and the Palestinians. This vote, this decision, provides Palestinian leadership with a safe and secure route back to the negotiating table with Israel. Now Palestinian leadership has the ammunition it needs to stand up to Hamas when they are critiqued for succumbing to decisions dictated not by their own needs, but by the wants of Washington, DC and Tel Aviv. Now Palestinian Authority leadership can come back to the table with their heads held high and the hope that, this time, their dream of statehood might just come true.

The funny thing about this whole game is that it’s really a pre-game. All this posturing and all these machinations are just to get from the point of indirect talks to the point of direct talks. Imagine what will happen if everything falls into place and Palestinians and Israelis really do make it to direct talks.

Four months is not that very far away.

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THAT’S HOW ISRAELIS ARE TREATED IN DUBAI

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 24, 2010

Column:

Mention Dubai and Israel in the same sentence and the first thing that comes to mind is the assassination of a Hamas terrorist leader … in Dubai … at the five star luxury Bustan Hotel … by Israel’s Mossad … allegedly. Unless, of course, you are an avid tennis fan.

While much of the world has focused attention on Israel, Dubai and murder, the annual Dubai Invitational Tennis Championships has been under way.

Last year the Dubai Championships made big news for unceremoniously withdrawing the entry visa of Israeli tennis pro Shahar Peer. Dubai was fined $300,000 and informed that the next year, if Peer qualifies, she must be permitted entry. In protest over Dubai’s discriminatory action and in support of a fellow tennis professional, tennis great Andy Roddick boycotted last year’s event and Venus Williams, last year’s winner, said she would not compete this year unless Shahar Peer competed as well.

Shahar Peer is ranked twenty-two in the world on the women’s tour. This year she received her visa and participated in the games making it as far as the semi-finals where she was defeated by Williams. The fact that we, outside of Dubai, did not see or hear coverage of Peer’s performance is one thing, but neither did the people in Dubai, neither did the people following the games.

The Israeli tennis star was allowed to participate in the Dubai Championships only against a backdrop of accusations and while shrouded in diplomatic smokescreens. Peer was blanketed by a team of twenty five personal security guards that included former members of the United States presidential secret service detail. Her matches were held on secluded, separate courts. She was confined to her hotel room and allowed out only to go to the matches.

That’s how Israeli athletes, are treated in Dubai.

It’s not how Israelis, especially Israeli athletes, are treated in the United States.

A horrible hatred of Israeli athletes has been festering in many parts of the world over the past few years. At the Australian Open Shahar Peer was greeted by very loud, very obnoxious, protests. But not in America, not in New York, not at Madison Square Garden.

Omri Casspi is the first Israeli in the NBA, playing for the Sacramento Chiefs. During his premier game at Madison Square Garden against the very popular NY Knicks, Casspi, # 18, was cheered and treated like a regular hometown player. The Garden can be daunting for any player, but the Israeli was welcomed with open arms. It didn’t hurt that he was playing on Jewish Heritage Night, but according to a local Sacramento paper, even members of the Arab community in Sacramento have taken a liking to the new player on their team.

Why was Shahar Peer jeered and Omri Casspi cheered? It’s not the difference between tennis and basketball, it’s the difference between the United States of America and the rest of the world. The United States views the Middle East and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict very differently than does the rest of the world. In the United States, there are almost no traces of anti-Semitism, the same cannot be said for the rest of the world.

The United States is not completely free of prejudice, pre-disposition and venom. Ironically, one of the only places where Jews and Israelis are regularly taunted in the United States today is on college campuses. In colleges, there is a no-holds-barred attitude and faculty, as well as students, express attitudes more closely resembling Western European political sentiments than those that reflect mainstream US perspectives. The same age demographic that protests against Israelis on campus allows sporting events to be their great equalizer.

Today it happened in Dubai, tomorrow it will happen somewhere else. As long as there are people willing to take a stand, big name people like Andy Roddick and Venus Williams and boisterous people like New York basketball fans – there is still a chance.

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Did the Mossad Do It?

By Micah Halpern

THE DUBAI ASSASSINATION: A MODERN DAY WHODUNIT
Thursday February 18, 2010

Column:

Israel has not said an official word about the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al Mabhouh. The Arab press is doing the talking for them.

In more than one oped, in more than one Arabic language newspaper, Israel has been praised and applauded for the professional and efficient manner in which Mabhouh was assassinated in his hotel room in Dubai. The authors spoke with respect of the Israeli team and the way in which the team dealt with Israel’s enemy far away from home. They acknowledged the sophisticated intelligence gathering techniques necessary to pull off the operation and the decision to put this particular assassination into operation.

Does Israel deserve that praise? We can’t be sure. But as far as assassinations go, these assassins, whoever they really are and wherever they are now, are certainly worthy of note for carrying out an almost flawless operation. We’ve all read the books and seen the movies, it is not easy to carry out a mission as sensitive and as complicated as the mission they undertook and successfully completed.

It is Israeli policy not to comment on assassinations, targets, hits. The Israelis say nothing, which leads everyone else to speculate. It is possible that the operation was executed by Israelis. It is also possible Israel commissioned an outside team to execute the operation. Or perhaps Israel provided details to another agency, or even country, to perpetrate this strike against Hamas.

Israel did not stand alone in preferring a dead Mabhouh to a live, functioning, terrorizing Mabhouh. Other countries and other governments, including Arab countries, breathed a collective sigh of relief upon hearing of the death. And despite the news reports, none of these governments is asking too many questions.

From the picture that is emerging, it seems clear that Mahmoud al Mabhouh was interrogated and that during that interrogation he gave up a lot of important, even crucial, information. The information that was gleaned during this operation is more important than the assassination itself – which is now being portrayed as either an act of revenge or of justice delayed.

According to Lt. General Dahi Tamim, Chief of Police in Dubai, twelve people participated in the operation, ten men and two women, and they all entered and left Dubai within nineteen hours. Security footage at the airport and the hotel attests to the fact that the assassins were all professionals. They arrived on separate planes, checked into different hotels and changed their appearances wearing floppy hats and wigs, looking like tourists or businessmen and they entered Dubai on passports from several friendly European countries, even one from the United States.

We are now learning that most of the names used on the forged passports are the names of real people and the countries of origins on the passports are the countries from which these people hail – and that most now live in Israel. Dubai is threatening to issue arrest warrants but that would be futile and Interpol will not issue a warrant for a ghost. There is no tracing the faces and the faces do not match the names. The assassination team has disappeared.

The Arab world feels the public need to show that they are doing something to catch the bad guys, so two Palestinians were arrested in Jordan and extradited to Dubai. According to the Police Chief Tamim the men were involved in the operation and after their interrogation, many more details will emerge.

If these Palestinians were involved, they were probably only procurers, the people who provided weapons or materials. They probably knew nothing about the target, the plan or, for that matter, the team. The person dealing with these Palestinians would be so far removed from the team of eleven that there is no way to connect them. Operations like this are compartmentalized – you are told what you need to know and only what you need to know, not as television action dramas would have us believe, the whereabouts of others or their schedules, certainly not their names.

If the Israelis really are the perpetrators of this assassination, Mabhouh was probably given a truth serum and then executed with a drug that mimics a heart attack. Both drugs are hard to detect and the longer it takes to discover and autopsy the body, the harder and harder it becomes to find traces. He was probably not tortured, that takes too long and makes too much noise and would alert authorities in an luxury hotel.

We may never know the details. But Hamas knows that their operation has been compromised, that one of their best is now dead. That’s enough.

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IRAN’S CYBER WAR

By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 11, 2010

Column:

Iranian leadership is afraid of freedom. Freedom of speech petrifies them. And what scares them most of all is the freedom to access information and news.

In other words, the boogey man in the closet of Iranian leadership is the world wide web.

Every citizen of Iran has the ability to both receive and deliver information about anything and everything to anyone in the world -just like you and me. Because of the internet, Iranians can exchange recipes, talk about music and discuss Islam and the Koran and what makes a better Muslim and even, what Allah has commanded them to do. And they can chat about sex.

And that is why Iran is starting its own internet system. It is why Iran has begun blocking Google.

Thanks to Google, Iranian reformers have effectively communicated over the past year. They text message and they email. And they have also mastered the use of other, non-Google communication tools like Twitter. They do it all behind the back of Iran’s authoritarian, obsessive, religious leadership.

Now Iranian leadership feels the need to put a stop to internet freedom. They are made uncomfortable by the comfort level Iranians have attained through their Google gmail accounts. They have blocked those accounts and they have admitted to blocking them. Surprisingly, Yahoo has not been hit by Iranian cyber blockades, at least, not yet hit.

Iranian youth, like their comrades the world over, have become very adroit at retrieving information and using gmail. In Iran, by necessity, the younger generation has also become proficient at bypassing the lulls and service problems that Iranian religious leadership has tried to impose. Iranians youth will log on to a protected internet system and access their internet from there, or they will bounce and forward their gmail email to the new, “friendly” internet system.

Iran is a highly educated and technical society. Technology and science are Iran’s lifeline. Scientists working for the government on internet issues, however, have not been granted the kinds of budgets needed to clamp down on the hackers and techno-geeks and marauders parading across Iranian cybersphere. Iranian reformers have better skills and better help from abroad than do government scientists. The techno-geeks at Google and Yahoo and hackers around the cyber world are lending a hand to try to aid Iran’s reformers take down the Iranian establishment.

As a rule, major internet cyber uber mentschen are apolitical personalities. They are live and let live about almost every issue – except for freedom of speech, except for Iran’s decision to shut them down. For them, freedom of speech is more than a religion right, it is the holy grail. And they will not stop until they have crippled the oppressive Iranian regime.

The cyber war has begun.

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7-6-5- Blast Off in Iran

By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 4, 2010

Column:

The Iranians took a rat, a turtle, a few worms and put them in a rocket ship and launched it into space. It sounds like the opening line of a good joke, but this is nothing to laugh about.

The Iranians really did put a rat, a turtle and worms into a rocket ship and sent it off into space. And with that launch the Iranians have catapulted not only a rocket into space, but Iran itself to almost the very head of the class of global space travel. The funny part was watching the launch and hearing the countdown and seeing nothing happen. The count down was begun again and this time the rocket took off – at the count of five.

The rocket is a Kovahshgar 3, also called an Explorer 3. It is Iran’s third generation of space satellite rockets. What makes this rocket significantly different from other Iranian space ships is that the Kovahshgar 3 is a two-stage rocket system. This machine will travel 320 km into space.

Once a country achieves the ability to develop multi-stage rockets there is no limit to the distances their rockets will travel and the tasks their rockets will be able to perform. In a two-stage rocket the first, or spent, rocket detaches itself after lift off allowing the second, or next stage, rocket to launch again as a lighter space ship with more energy.

A long term objective of Iran’s space program has been to move to any orbit that requires them to launch to 1000 km into space. Now that they have achieved the status of staged rockets, reaching their objective is only a matter of time. The satellites that Iran launches from here on will allow them the ability to monitor everything that happens in every corner of the entire globe. Everything.

Just prior to this launch Iran unveiled three new satellites called the Simorgh, or Phoenix. The unveiling and launch were televised on Iranian national TV and promoted as a part of Iran’s anniversary celebration commemorating the Islamic Revolution. At the ceremony, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at length about the importance of these launches and these satellites. The president spoke about study and technology and the information that will be gleaned from this experiment of sending living organisms into space. The rat, the turtle and the worms will, he said, provide important information for scientists to analyze.

More frightening than the two-stage rocket, more frightening than the launch, is the knowledge that this despotic, demonic, extremist regime is in possession of this technology. The technology that launched the Kovahshgar 3 is the same technology that will allow Iran to provide a delivery system for non-conventional weapons.

This public launching in Iran is a watershed. While the West and the IAEA were running around trying to determine Iran’s nuclear capability, Iran was legally building satellite rockets that easily convert to ballistic delivery armaments.

This launch demonstrates how advanced science and technology are in Iran, how fast they have developed over the past few months. It shows how deaf and blind the world has been to the significance of Iranian threats, how laissez faire the West has been in monitoring the aerospace industry in Iran, one of the most important elements of a nuclear delivery system.

And it shows how proud the Iranians are of their accomplishments – so proud that the Iranian government itself released a video of the launch on You Tube. Iran knows how to play the West – literally and figuratively.

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NUCLEAR IRAN: THE THREE WAY DEBATE

By Micah Halpern

Thursday January 28, 2010

Column:
There is no debate as to whether or not Iran is racing toward nuclear productivity. About that there is no question. There is, however, serious debate in the halls of world leadership over the question of Iran’s motivation in their race to attain nuclear technology.

The debate is divided into three sides. There are those who say that Iran should be taken at their word and there is no reason to believe that their ultimate goal is a nuclear bomb. Those who say that Iran should be carefully watched because we have no way of knowing if they are telling the truth or saying only what is diplomatically expedient. And those who say that Iran’s ultimate goal is a nuclear bomb.

The first group, those who say that Iran is not ultimately interested in the bomb, theorize that what Iran really wants is to be a leader in the new age of energy. For that, of course, they need nuclear technology. This group, led by the Chinese and the Russians, suggest that Iran has never shown any real desire for nuclear weapons and that there is a significant difference between attaining nuclear energy and transforming that technology into nuclear weapons.

The second group, those who say that Iran should be watched because of the obvious potential to transform nuclear technology believe that while the Iranians cannot be trusted, it is not yet too late in the game. This group, led by the United States, has determined that there is still significant time to monitor Iran’s nuclear development and gauge whether the technology is being turned into the bomb. They believe that it is too late to stop Iran’s nuclear technological development so their real energies should be devoted to monitoring Iran’s nuclear program to make certain that what Iran creates is a safe program, not one that is transformed into a weapon’s program.

The third group, those who say that there is no doubt that the objective of the Iranians is to create a nuclear bomb, is led by the Germans and the Israelis. They believe that Iran has one and only one objective in developing nuclear technology and that any movement Iran makes in a nuclear direction is a move toward attaining the nuclear bomb.

This week, theorists were given important new information regarding Iran’s nuclear plans. Der Spiegel, Germany’s premier news magazine and website, published a damning expose. They uncovered an intelligence dossier revealing exactly who was doing what in the world of Iranian nuclear development. Rather than publishing the file in its entirety, Der Spiegel delivered it to the International Atomic Energy Agency and to the governments of Germany the United States and Israel. What they did publish was a significant outline of the material.

According to the material released by Der Spiegel a new office has been created in Iran specifically to develop nuclear weapons. The office is headed by Kamran Daneshjoo, the new Iranian Minister of Science, Research and Technology, is known as the Department for Expanded High Technology. Also included in this project is an important player in Iran’s push toward nuclear technology, a nuclear physicist named Moshen Fakhrizadeh, a senior scientist and officer in the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard. These two characters are said to head up the “secret heart” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Der Spiegel made specific note of the fact that the officials they spoke to confirmed that indeed this is proof positive that Iran has real nuclear weapons aspirations and not simply energy goals. The final piece of evidence revealed in the expose is that Iran already has the ability to produce a crude nuclear devise. According to the report this rudimentary devise is the size of a truck. The next objective of the Iranians is to shrink the size of the devise so they are able to mount it on a delivery system.

Regardless of the evidence, China and Russia will probably not be convinced of Iran’s motives until it is too late.

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Israel: An Intel Briefing

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 20, 2010

Column:

When the chief of Israel’s military intelligence agency speaks, we should pay careful attention.

Amos Yadlin briefed the Knesset’s Committee on Defense. The general chose to brief his select audience on three areas – Turkey, Iran and the Palestinians.

According to Yadlin, the breakdown of the strategic relationship that Israel and Turkey had tried so hard to forge had nothing to do with Israel or even with anti-Israel sentiment – and a whole lot to do with Syria.

Turkey established a relationship with Israel because they had strategic interests. What the Turks really wanted was a closer trade relationship with Western European nations and with the United States. Israel was their way in. Israel was always Turkey’s way to agitate and aggravate Syria for being such a bad neighbor.

The attempt to make inroads into Western business communities was a colossal failure. But Syria did come around and now Turkey no longer needs Israel. As a matter of fact, Israel is now a liability in Turkey’s relationship with Syria. What’s left for Turkey now is to find a way in to Iran and for that, Turkey certainly does not either need, or want, Israel hanging around.

Flip-flopping comes naturally to the Turks who live lives somewhere in between East and West. They geographically live on the border, part in Asia and part in Europe. For Turkey, it is all about expediency and strategic goals. They are easily swayed from one side to the other and right now Iran is the country offering Turkey the best incentives to deal.

On the subject of Iran, Yadlin recalled his earlier analysis. The head of Israel’s intelligence community repeated that he does not see Iran either slowing down its pace or modifying its goal. Iran wants to become nuclear, wants to nuclear technology and Iran wants the bomb. And Iran is showing no signs of caving under pressure from the international community.

Perhaps more importantly, Yadlin does not believe that the international community nor pressure from more serious sanctions will change Iran.

As for the Palestinians, the head of Israeli intel had some encouraging news. According to Yadlin, Abbas and his Fatah party are beginning to crack down on Hamas in the West Bank – and not as a favor to Israel. Fatah is cracking down on Hamas for their own benefit. They do not want the West Bank to go the way of Gaza and to that end they are willing to go to great lengths.

Yadlin explained that the current stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians is crucial for Abbas. The Palestinian leader is intent on convincing the international community to pressure Israel to stop all building in Jerusalem and to ease restrictions throughout the West bank.

On this issue in particular I could not agree with Yadlin more. The Irony of it all is that the Western world will side with Abbas and will, economically and diplomatically, attack Israel. And the reason the West will feel comfortable attacking their long-standing friend is because Israel has been so successful in their own war against terror. For an entire year there has not been one successful suicide attack. Had Israel been less successful in their pre-attack capture of terrorists, the world would be less likely to swallow the lies that Abbas is circulating.

Would Israel prefer to be victim to terrorist attacks in order to gain short term international political benefits? The answer is obvious.

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MASSOUD MOHAMMADI IS DEAD

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 13, 2009

Column:

The recent assassination of a high level Iranian nuclear researcher should raise flags for everyone keeping watch on Iran.

To recap: Professor Massoud Mohammadi was blown to smithereens outside his Teheran home by an explosive device strapped to a motorcycle. Two cars and two motorcycles were destroyed and a whole slew of homes had their glass windows blown out. Massoud Mohammadi was a significant player in the development of the Iranian nuclear program.

Naturally, all fingers are pointing at Israel.

In the past Israel has utilized the same explosive devices against terrorist leaders all over the world. So to suspect Israel makes perfect sense.

But … This was overkill in the most literal sense of the word.

This explosion was so powerful and out of control it was designed to kill, maim and damage in a wide circumference around the bomb. This was not the work of a Western intelligence force, it was not even the work of a Western assassin. Israel has perfected the art of destroying their target and their target only – a car and the people in the car, nothing else at all. Israel goes the extra mile to make sure the damage is restricted and does not injure people or property around the explosion site.

This explosion was the work of others, it was not the work of Israel and neither was it the work of the United States.

So whose work was it, whose signature is on this assassination?

There is a long list of people, parties and organizations that would benefit from the death of Mohammadi, a long list of people who could have planned or hired a team to blow up Massoud Mohammadi.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Israel, the United States or another Western agency hired locals to organize and perpetrate this attack – but it is not likely, Israel and the US have different types of assets in Iran and France and Germany have better contacts in Iran.

This kind of operation requires hands-off supervision. Whoever ordered the assassination of Mohammadi gave a carte blanche to the killer, granting permission to kill in as wide an arc as possible. That type of blessing does not come easily in the intelligence agency halls of Washington, DC, Jerusalem, Berlin, London or Paris. This type of operation does not smell like Moscow or Beijing. It smells much more like the operations ordered by Middle East agencies, like agencies that want to stop Iranian nuclear research cold in its tracks.

Attacks against very specific Iranian scientists can grind all of Iran’s nuclear development to a halt. Even a single attack against one scientist can slow down the process. Frightening others in the scientific community, upsetting them and making them nervous, makes them less productive and slows down the pace of their work.

So who did it? If I were to venture a guess I would say that the countries with the most to gain from Mohammadi’s death are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and other, smaller, countries in the region. That these countries are angry about Iran’s nuclear development is well known. A nuclear Iran makes them sit on edge, petrified that a nuclear Iran will cause the downfall of their personal regimes and destabilize the entire region.

Regional leaders have much more to lose if Iran becomes a nuclear power than anyone else in the world. Iran would have absolute reign over the region. The Persians, a non-Arab nation, Shiites a minority in the sea of Sunni Islam, would take charge. This explosion was probably a local operation, perhaps even an anti-government operation.

Massoud Mohammadi is dead. Iran’s nuclear community will feel the loss. The rest of the world just bought a little bit of time.

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ISLAM MEANS TOTAL SUBMISSION

By Micah Halpern

Thursday January 7, 2010

Column:

Terror is not our enemy. Terror is the strategy and acts of terror are the tool that our enemy uses against us.

Nine years after 9-11 and Western political and military leadership, specifically United States leadership, still treat terror as an enemy like all other enemies. Their problem is conceptual. They have not yet begun to understand the terrorist mindset. Until that synapse is bridged our protectors will never figure out how best to act and counteract, respond and counter respond, to terrorists.

Terror is not the goal of our enemies. The total capitulation of the Western world and all Western culture, the complete submission of the Western world to Islam is the goal of our enemies. Had they truly studied Islam our leaders would know that.

The meaning of the term Islam is total submission. Literally and figuratively, the agenda of our enemy has never been hidden from us, we are just too preoccupied with our own agenda, too narrow and too focused on Western thought and action to see the obvious.

We are defending ourselves against terrorists without really knowing what they want, who they are, why they make their decisions and how they intend to carry out their goal. The relative safety we have experienced until now has much more to do with lady luck and the ineptitude of terrorist operatives than it does with Western politics or Islamic regimes. The safeguards that were in place even before the acts of 9-11 that made it difficult for non-Western foreigners to negotiate easily and freely in potential target areas were an accidental stroke of genius.

Our counter-terror system relies on a good defense and that is its major flaw. We need a good offense, too.

A good offense means hitting people in their home countries.

A good offense means collateral damage.

A good offense means being immune to the names and curses and threats hurled at us by the countries that host and house terrorists.

At this stage in history the United States cannot have it both ways – the United States cannot both be loved and effectively protect American citizens from the terrorist threat. The changes in airport security policies that require added checks for people coming from and holding passports from fourteen additional countries is a good start. It is a late start, but it is a good start.

If you have to wait for the terrorist to infiltrate your airport before your can stop them, you are too late.

If TSA officials at local airports and their x-ray machines are the only barrier that separates American citizens from acts of terror, terrorists will succeed.

If there is only one security significant security fence, it will be breached.

The TSA is not there to stop terrorists from boarding planes. Their emphasis is on paperwork and luggage, not passengers. Bringing contraband, i.e. explosive materials and devices, into an airport is a simple matter of understanding the limits of the machinery. It is not rocket science. Almost everyone knows what an x-ray machine can and cannot see, more importantly, what it cannot distinguish. That is why travelers are asked to separate their toiletries into plastic bags, so that all liquids and vials that appear either full or empty can be checked.

And to think that airports are the greatest venue for terrorists to attack is, once again, to think like a Westerner, not like the enemy.

In the near future our enemy will not take us down. The goal of our enemy is too lofty to be successful. Our job is to prevent our enemy from causing too much damage. Our job is to prevent our enemy from taking too many of our lives.

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THREE SIMPLE FACTS ABOUT TERROR

By Micah Halpern

Thursday December 31, 2009

Column:

It’s a simple fact: There are people who want to destroy us and there is nothing we can do to change their minds.

It’s a disturbing fact, it’s a scary fact, but it is a proven fact and the sooner we acknowledge it, the better off we will be.

All terror is not alike. Political terrorists can be swayed – Islamic terrorists cannot. Vengeful terrorists can be swayed – religious terrorists cannot.

Al Qaeda terror is Islamic terror – it is religious terror. We do not have the power or capability to stop al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists from hating us and wanting to destroy us. We can stop their actions, we cannot change their minds.

And yet, there are people who refuse to see the fact. And some of those people are in positions of power, some of those people are our leaders. They are simply unable to wrap their minds around an idea that terrifies them. That, too, is scary.

Here’s another simple fact: Fighting terror is an offensive, not just a defensive, mission.

Many of those people in power who refuse to accept that fact that we cannot change the minds of terrorists who want us destroyed have no problem sending out helicopter gun-ships to destroy known enemies, gun-ships that might accidentally kill civilians along with their intended targets. They have no problem dispatching soldiers to attack enemies who we know have concrete plots to attack us.

It is the abstract versus the concrete. Religion is abstract. Maps and plans are concrete. The terrorist who has not yet put pen to paper, hand to grenade, explosive to body, is as dangerous and intent upon killing us as the terrorist who has. In the world of terror, thought and action are synonymous.

Religious i.e. Islamic terrorists cannot be educated by us, neither can they be re-educated by us. They hate us because they hate us and there is nothing we can do to change their minds, nothing we can do to prove that we are not worthy of their hate. They cannot be convinced and they cannot be bribed. They want to cause us pain, they want to destroy us and they want to destroy the symbols that represent us.

It’s nice to see that there are people who believe that there is good in everyone – but in a leader, it is dangerous. It is kind to give people the benefit of a doubt – but not when those people are mass murderers.

I understand the mind and the world of Islamic terror. Unfortunately, our president, the president of the United States of America does not.

These terrorists will never be moved by compassionate pleas or promises or acts of good will and kindness. These terrorists are not like Anarchists or Maoists, they are not the Weathermen or the Uni-bomber or Timothy McVeigh. The politics of Islamic terror dwarfs these anti-establishment sentiments in America.
They do not want to change America, they want to destroy America and destroy American values.

These terrorists dream of a world where everyone accepts their values and teachings – fundamental Islamic teachings. They will not compromise, they cannot. Until they have the world that they want, they will not rest.

Here’s the final simple fact: The only way to fight terror is by guarding ourselves, by searching out the terrorists and by destroying them.

We, the United States and the Western world cannot do this alone. We must convince those who host terrorists to help us. Hosts of terror, as opposed to their guests, are open to argument and bribery. They can shut down the terrorists’ bases of operation and force them out.

Not all of Islam teaches a hatred of non-believers. Believers who subscribe to those other, more peace loving, Islamic teachings will be the first step in bringing religious, Islamic terrorists towards embracing other forms of Islamic tradition. They can do it. We cannot.

Note: In deference to certain people in positions of power I have refrained from speaking about the War on Terror and chosen, instead, to use the term fighting terror.

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THE AYATOLLAH HOSSEIN ALI MONTAZERI, A FOND FAREWELL

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday December 23, 2009

Column:

Mainstream Western press has taken proper note of the death of the Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. Even his funeral was covered in a significant and respectful way in major, national, newspapers in the United States.

This Iranian cleric deserved our notice. He deserved our praise.

The Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri had a clear and forward thinking vision for Iran. He helped shape Iran – not the tyranny that envelopes Iran today.

Montazeri functioned as the right hand of the original Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Revolution. Montazeri was his protege and it was Montazeri who drafted the Iranian laws that empowered religious life in Iran. It was he who created the framework enabling parallel lines of leadership, one religious the other political. This Ayatollah’s vision, however, took on a life of its own. Montazeri believed that religious leadership should serve on an advisory level for the political leadership and not be involved in the day to day happenings in the newly established Islamic Republic. The ultimate power of the clergy in Iran today is antithetical to all that he believed and gave root to.

Our press is correct in noting that Montazeri was the first person chosen to become successor to the first Supreme Leader. When that decision was made, he was, without a doubt, the most learned and most widely respected of all Shiite thinkers. But then the cleric overstepped his bounds as both adviser and protege to the Supreme Leader.

He dug his own premature grave when he went on record renouncing a spate of public executions. Later that same week Montazeri started hammering the nails into his own coffin when he went public again, this time rejecting the death sentence that had been issued against British author Salman Rushdie. In his own defense the cleric responded to the outrage over his pronouncements saying that he was fearful that the world would see Iran simply as a society that glorifies killing, nothing more.

Montazeri was immediately stripped of his position and of his future position. The Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri was demoted from Grand Ayatollah to a simple Ayatollah. He was placed under house arrest in the holy city of Qom.

After the death of the Ayatollah Khomeni and the subsequent appointment of his heir, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khamenei, it became clear that a sub par leader had been placed in leadership and that there were far more superior Islamic thinkers than the Grand Ayatollah chosen to lead.

Montazeri had always asserted that the Supreme Leader must be accountable to an earthly body and not, exclusively, to heaven. In many ways this man was not only wise, he was prophetic.

Unlike Khatami and Mousavi, Montazeri had a real and fundamental respect for leadership and cultural for power bases. He spoke without fear of punishment from the establishment because he was indisputably the greater Islamic thinker of our time. Unlike Khatami and Moussavi, the relationship this Ayatollah had with the people of Iran rang genuine, he was their hero. He will be missed by his people. Montazeri’s death, the mourning period and the mourning rituals surrounding his death will be significant and will allow us a window into the hearts of Iranians.

The Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri will be missed. And not only be the people of Iran.

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THE PALESTINIAN PROBLEM

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday December 16, 2009

Column:

No problem. It’s an expression often heard in the Middle East, specifically within the Palestinian Authority. Since Arabic does not have a “p” sound, the words come out sounding more like “no broblem.” To the untrained Western ear this response to a vast array of questions is amusing. Trained Western ears, however, know that whenever those words are uttered it signifies not just a problem, but a very big problem.

The Palestinian Authority has a broblem, a big broblem.

The most pressing of the myriad political issues confronting the PA right now is the looming election. In January, just a few short weeks away, the term will end for both the Palestinian president and the Palestinian Parliament. The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Central Council has just met to draft and lay out a direction that will begin addressing the challenge. The elections has been postponed.

President Mahmoud Abbas has declared that he will not run again, he reiterated his statement during the Council’s meeting. The Council, for their part, has asked Abbas to stay on – at least until a new, new election can be called.
Abbas is their only hope.

If Abbas stays on, the question of the Palestinian presidency will be relieved, even if only for the short term. That still leaves the question of the Parliament. Hamas now controls the Palestinian Parliament and Hamas is hoping for a new election because, according to all polls, Hamas will rout out Fatah for both Parliament and the presidency. Will the Council ask all parliament members to remain on, as well?

The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Central Council, in their infinite wisdom – or perhaps out of sheer desperation, has come up with a different solution. The PLO Central Council has suggested replacing outgoing elected members of Parliament with an appointed committee somewhat representative of the demographic reality and accountable to the president.

This is not a very good idea. The Palestinian Authority purports to be. This is a common practice in thugocracies, whether controlled by benevolent dictators or monarchs, which is what the Palestinian Authority is on the verge of becoming.

Do not get me wrong, I am not in favor of Hamas taking power and Hamas will most certainly get a landslide victory whenever the elections take place. But neither can I support a suspension of democracy because one does not like the potential results.

The political failure of Fatah and the PLO can be traced to the fact that they have never successfully shed their mantle of corruption and a reputation as politicians who hold office in order to better serve themselves, not their public. They have failed in their mandate to provide the Palestinian people with a vision for the future and have provided no alternative to poverty and despair.

Hamas will win not because the Palestinian people favor their form of government. Hamas will win because they will receive the anti-vote. They will receive the anti-Fatah vote and they will receive the anti-US/Israel vote. They will get those votes because there are still a significant number of Palestinians who respect Hamas for rejecting US and Israeli influence.

The PLO still has a chance. There is still time to sway those anti voters who are more discouraged by the status quo than they are pro-Hamas and the way to do that is through social not political means. The PLO must start providing services for the Palestinian people. But I don’t think that the PLO will seize the opportunity and run with it. The PLO Council continues to make poor choices.

For example, look at the demand the PLO Central Council has laid down regarding the peace process: that the world recognize the Palestinian state within pre 1967 borders. Abbas, in his statement outlining the demand, made it perfectly clear that there can be no compromise on this issue, that the state be entirely within the 1967 border – without exception. The announcement runs contrary to years of dialogue. The dominant theme has always been that the 1967 border would be the model, and that when it became unfeasible the alternative would a land swap for mutually agreed upon land of equal size and arid-ability. That announcement dramatically set back the negotiation process and any hope for a resolution in the near future.

The Palestinian state will wait. But what about the election? Fatah and their PLO Central Council have a history of raising expectations to the point of unreasonable and creating situations where compromise is nearly impossible. They do not have a history of learning from their mistakes.

It’s almost January and the parliament will soon disolve. Hamas is waiting in the wings. It’s a problem, a big, big problem.

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THE ARAFAT MYTH DEBUNKED

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 1, 2009

Column:

Many myths pervade the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. None is more powerful and more convincing than the claim made by the first and still most effective leader of the Palestinian cause. Yasser Arafat used to boast that the secret weapon of the Palestinian people is the Palestinian womb.

The assumption is that over time the Arab birth rate will outstrip the Jewish birthrate. The inevitable will simply happen, there will be a Palestinian Arab state within Israel – and Israel will cease to exist.

This myth is the foundation for much of the Israeli nationalist propaganda that espouses the transfer of Arabs out of Israel. And it is this myth that fuels the canard that Israel is a racist state that promulgates racist policies to maintain a Jewish majority. But myth are myths and statistics are statistics and the two rarely coincide.

Population surveys over the past decade paint a very different, a seriously different, picture of Arab population growth in Israel.

Muslim growth in Israel since 2000 has dropped from 3.8% per year to 2.8% per year in 2008. In real numbers that means that there are only 34,000 more Arabs in Israel today than there were a year ago. In round numbers there has been no change, the Arab population in Israel stands still at 1,240,000 people.

Even the fertility rate of Arab women in Israel dropped significantly over the past eight years. Fertility rate is number of children a women is expected to have in her lifetime. In 2000 that number was 4.7, in 2008 it is 3.8. Not surprisingly, the Arab population in Israel is young. 41 % is under the age of 15 and only 3% is over the age of 65. This is a very significant statistic because 7% of Arab married couples living in Israel are childless.

What does this all mean? It means that the Arab womb is not the secret weapon. It means that Israel is not in danger of loosing its Jewish identity. It means that one long time problem facing Israel is gone, off the table – but Israel still has many real and serious threats with which to contend. In addition to the threats Hamas and Hezbollah pose to Israel’s physical existence, Israel is contending with the threat posed by Iran’s expanding nuclear frontier.

And Israel has many challenges ahead. Israel has not yet found a balance between traditional society and modern democratic issues. And Israel must push that envelope in the fields of business and technology in order to continue to be a player in world markets in the decades to come.

Israel will struggle to make the mission and vision of an independent Jewish state exciting and attractive to future generations of Israelis. And hopefully, all Israelis, Jewish and Arab, will reap the rewards of Israel’s struggles and Israel’s triumphs.

Yasser Arafat is probably turning over in his grave.

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IRAN: MASTERS OF FOREIGN OUTREACH AND DIPLOMACY

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 25, 2009

Column:

In the areas of foreign outreach and diplomacy, Iran is masterful.

The Iranians are on a mission to build bridges across the world. They are creating alliances in places most Americans would be too geographically challenged to find on a globe.

President Ahmadinejad of Iran recently paid a visit to Bolivia, a very poor country in the Andes. Ahmadinejad was there to show support. More importantly, he was there to invest. Lithium is a natural resource, it is a very light weight metal and Bolivia possesses more than one half of the world’s lithium.

Lithium is an essential component in the manufacture of long lasting batteries. It is not just used in flashlights and ipods, lithium is the element used for alternative energy car batteries and electronic devices like the computers that have come to control our world.

Ahmadinejad forged an alliance with a country that has been neglected and ignored by most of the world. And to secure that alliance, Ahmadinejad opened a hospital that Iran will fund and inaugurated two milk processing plants. And Iran will invest in investigating how to best move the lithium from the mines to the industries.

It was a subtle diplomatic exchange. In return for the extravagance shown his country by President Ahmadinejad, Bolivian President Evo Morales issued an extravagant statement proclaiming that Iran has the right to develop its own nuclear program without the intruding intervention of Western nations. Let’s examine the balance: facilities that provide health and nutrition on one side, nuclear facilities on the other side. And both sides are happy.

Iran is running circles around the United States. In truth, Iran does not have to run very fast – US foreign policy has not even stepped off the starting gate when it comes to reaching out to countries with untapped natural resources, countries in need of the financing to capitalize on the natural gifts they have been given, countries that can enhance our own natural resources with theirs.

I have learned not to be surprised by the inactions of our foreign policy decision makers. I am surprised, however, that America’s private investors did not lunge for lithium, one of the greatest sources of alternate energy.

Granted, many countries – primarily poor and underdeveloped countries, have a natural predisposition towards Iran and against the United States. These countries see the United States as exploitive and condescending. And Iran plays that card very successfully. But isn’t that what diplomacy is all about?

If the United States government or interested parties from the United States or US investors had knocked on Bolivia’s door before Iran arrived, Bolivia would have welcomed them in and gladly joined forces. Bolivia and countries like Bolivia choose to side with Iran because the United States has not provided them with the other option. In truth, these countries would rather follow the US model and be transformed into a mini United States than into a mini Iran.

I know why Iran has plotted this foreign policy path. I know why Iran is building these bridges. I do not understand why the US is not doing the same. This is a race for world domination and a race to have unrestricted access to necessary natural resources. It is also a race for the hearts and minds of the nations of the world.

It is a race that Iran is winning.

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Contributor’s Corner

By Micah Halpern

My Tunnel Vision for Gotham and Gaza

by Steven Sher

Tough times make for strange bedfellows. Take the MTA’s latest gambit to raise the subway fares and President Obama’s initial overtures toward peace in the Middle East. The timing of both may pose that rare conjunction of events needed to instill hope among fiscally-challenged New Yorkers and to restore America to respected mediator status throughout the Middle East while alleviating the bleak situation of the world’s self-proclaimed most suffering people.

If there is one positive that we can take from the recent war in Gaza, then it is that the Palestinians have a particular skill that would be a boon to New York. They know how to build tunnels. A great maze of tunnels. In a few short years, they have built and maintained one thousand tunnels in an area that is less than half the size of all of Gotham.

What if the MTA could bring a cadre of these two-legged burrowers to the boroughs?
Here is the ready-made, skilled labor that we need to complete projects such as the long-delayed Second Avenue Subway within the current budget. Bring them in as guest workers. Offer everything from green cards (Hamas colors: a nice touch) to private jets. This would have the added benefit of curtailing their attempts to sneak into America-s porous borders.

Say this about Hamas: they are the world’s poster child for underground survival. And no workers are more cost-effective.The MTA can forgo expensive equipment in favor of pick-axes, mules and crude blasting tools.

U.S. cash would trickle back to Gaza too, jumpstart an economy decimated by an unemployment rate seven times greater than New York’s and a crumbling infrastructure.

Moreover, the Arab world would see that we are serious about talking with terrorists. Perhaps it could lead to our inviting the Iranians to beef up our hometown nuke, Indian Point, make it impervious to attack, or our hiring private contractors such as al Qaeda as Park Service guides (no one knows caves and mountainous terrain better than they do) and Homeland Security agents (greeting each ship that docks in our ports).

Further, the more jobs we offer Hamas, the more quickly Gaza will be rebuilt, giving Israeli jets welcome new targets during the next incursion, thereby lessening the possibility of a ground invasion. Many lives will be saved.

Even the EU and the Arab League would have to admit that the U.S. is anything but a passive peace broker. President Obama can score big foreign policy points early in his tenure. Combatants in conflicts around the globe will vie for American contracts.

Think of the photo ops too: the celebrities who will venture down into the subway tunnels to pose with Hamas workers. Great goodwill will be restored.

Maybe we can get the Egyptians, those ancient admirers of massive public works projects, whose firsthand views of Gaza’s tunnels make them the natural choice, to host the negotiations.

Just to be on the safe side though, the MTA had better dust off station cameras. Get out the metal detectors. Call in the National Guard. Recording to passengers: If you see an unattended backpack–take a cab.

ALL IN THE NAME OF THE AMERICAN WAY

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Column:

The decision has been made to seek the death penalty for Khalid Sheik Mohamed and his co-conspirators for the attacks known simply as 9-11.

The decision has also been made, by the Army, to seek the death penalty for Major Nidal Malik Hassan, aka the Fort Hood Terrorist.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Attorney General Eric Holder and most of the media have weighed in with their opinions, advice and counsel. Most of the always heated discussions swirling around the 9-11 trial center on the decision to try the terrorists in the New York area, in the shadow of the downed World Trade Centers.

Those passionate discussions are certainly important, but there are other issues that concern me more than the venue of the trial.

I am concerned that these terrorists be afforded – even awarded, a civilian trial rather than a military tribunal. Civilian trials give defendants more power on issues of evidence, procedure and the all-important question of “beyond reasonable doubt” than do military trials. The threshold for conviction is much higher in a civilian trial than in a military trial. No matter how confident the Attorney General is about the case, every civilian trial is a crap shoot and this is one case neither he, nor we, can afford to lose.

And I am concerned about press coverage during the proceedings. The eyes of the world will be on this trial no matter where is it conducted, no matter if it is civilian or military, but the press will have a much more difficult time turning the trial into a media event if it is held in a military court than a civilian court.

In a military trial the defense does not subpoena witnesses, they must ask the prosecution to do so as a favor. In a military trial judge, jury and even the defense lawyers are part of the officer corps – they are people who are cogently aware of the significance of the trial and of the inherent dangers in confronting terror and the nuances of controlling terrorists and terrorist rhetoric. That, too, concerns me about a civilian trial.

But of all my concerns, what concerns me more than the venue, the latitude, the coverage and the guilt is the punishment.

These defendants want to die.

Last year Khalid Sheik Mohammed asked to stay his trial so that he could plead guilty and be executed. He wants to leave this world as a martyr, a shahid. And I have little doubt that the Fort Hood terrorist assumed he would be killed as he perpetrated his heinous acts of mass murder.

By seeking the death penalty we, the intended victims of their terror, are granting these terrorists their ultimate prize. We, the infidels, the non-believers, the targets and objects of their holy crusades, are granting them the ever after. We are elevating these men to great heights in their own eyes and in the eyes of their supporters around the world. We are accomplishing for them what they did not accomplish themselves.

Acts of terror warrant the most severe forms of punishment. But what happens when the punishment is the fulfillment of the original mission? Those terrorists who by surviving, failed in their mission, will be redeemed by their execution.

Of less concern to me but of import to the world of the terrorist is the stupendous cost of civilian trials. The al Qaeda web sites have underscored this time and again.

Try these terrorists. Convict them. Punish them. But do not try them in a civilian court. And do not reward them with death. And remember, a public trial provides a platform. And during the trial the methods we use to capture, monitor and bring terrorists to justice will be visible to all. We will be handing over our secrets to terrorist organizers who will monitor, learn and adjust their own training techniques. We will do it all in the name of truth, justice and the American way.

This time, in this case, that is not the right way to go.

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TERROR AT FT HOOD

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday November 10, 2009

Column:

The time has come to properly define the term terror.

The decision not to call the Fort Hood shooter a terrorist is self-delusional and self-deceptive. Nadil Malik Hassan is as much a terrorist as are those men and women who strap bombs on their bodies and enter crowded malls and restaurants. He is as much a terrorist as the people who drive explosive laden vehicles into marine barracks and through barricades. The only difference is the choice of weapon, the intent is the same.

Deliberately identifying murderous acts like the one perpetrated by Hassan as psychological breaks rather than calling them what they are – lone wolf terrorists, removes the threat from the sphere of security forces where it belongs and places it in the netherworld of law enforcement and forensics. Maintaining that self-delusion will, in the end, hurt the security of the United States and of United States citizens at home and abroad.

Here is the problem: The FBI defines a terrorist as a person who is part of a group or a participant in a conspiracy. That is a bias and the bias impedes investigations and precludes the need to understand individual terrorists who are influenced by the media or by their teachers and mentors.

The ostensible reason for not immediately classifying an act of terror as what it is – an act of terror, is to calm the masses. So, nine months after the El Al airlines terminal at LAX is shot up one July 4th by a lone Egyptian gunman with no links to any organization, the FBI finally classifies the shoot-out as an act of terror. Think about the uni-bomber, about Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, about the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

To require that a terrorist be a member of a group or a participant in a conspiracy eliminates the lone wolf terrorist. And the lone wolf is the hardest terrorists to stop.

Nadil Malik Hassan did not crack under pressure, just ask one of his colleagues, ask any psychiatrist. His was a premeditated act. He bought his laser sited high tech weapon the first week he arrived at Fort Hood. He plotted and planned his attack. He scoped his target. He knew where to go to wound and to kill the largest amount of people. He prayed early that morning. He said goodbye to his friends, went to the terror site, and prayed again. Then he began his mission of terror.

The Fort Hood shooter did not see his mission as mass murder or as a sin. This was a man who dedicated his life to helping others. And this was a man who saw life through the eyes and mind of a terrorist. The terrorist in him won out. The terrorist in him perceived his action as the fulfillment of his religious duties. That is why prayed and that is why all terrorists pray. They are not praying for forgiveness for murdering innocents and then committing suicide.

They pray that their act will be seen and received as the greatest act of faith. They pray to be accepted as martyrs, to become shahid, martyrs who die while fighting to protect Islam. There can be no doubt that Major Nadil Malik Hassan expected to be killed during his attack. – he began his shooting rampage by shouting “Allah hu Akhbar,” God is great. Not dying is the worst indignity of all.

The actions of Hassan come right out of the al Qaeda handbook. They are in the section that deals with what we call Lone Wolf terror attacks. Perhaps he owned a copy of the CD, perhaps he was told about it, perhaps these behaviors come intuitively to a person warped enough to consider and commit an act of terror. The al Qaeda CD goes down a check list that includes saying goodbye to friends and family especially those with whom you pray. It also instructs to make certain that you explain that you will be going away, traveling. And it instructs to be sure to pray before perpetrating the act.

Calling the shoot out perpetrated at Fort Hood an act of terror is not an indictment of Islam or Muslims. It is only an indictment of those who support the act. Calling it terror recognizes the act for what it is and the perpetrator of the act for the terrorist that he is. Those who are offended are those who would justify and explain away terror as an act of rage. Those who explain it away are apologizing for terror.

There is no apology for terror.

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THE NEW MECCA

By Micah Halpern

Thursday November 5, 2009

Column:

Internal divisions within the Muslim world are as old as Islam itself. Disputes and conflict have resonated throughout history. This period is no different.

Mecca is the holy most site in Islam. In Mecca sits the Kabbah, the focus of prayer for all Islam and the site to which 1, 400,000,000 Muslims from around the world many of whom make a pilgrimage there. The city of Mecca is located in Saudi Arabia and for some Muslims that is a problem.

There is a movement underway to reorient Islam away from Mecca. The person at the forefront of this movement is a well respected Iranian Shiite cleric named Ahmad Alam al Hadi.

This Shiite cleric has his supporters. Al Hadi is trying to convince the greater world of Islam that Muslims should not pray towards, nor visit holy sites in, Saudi Arabia or Iraq because those countries are controlled by infidels. He asserts that the leadership of Saudi Arabia is empty of Islamic value and interested only in its own self preservation. He asserts that Iraq is run by the West. And al Hadi attacks the prevalent form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, Wahabism, as extremism and as not representative of true Islam.

Ahmad Alam al Hadi proposes an alternative site. He suggests replacing Mecca, the centerpiece of Islam, with Mashhad. Do not pray to Mecca, he says, pray toward Mashhad. Do not make pilgrimage to Mecca, make pilgrimage to Mashhad. Reorient yourselves, he says, towards Mashhad which has been a spiritual capital of Islam for hundreds of years. These are very powerful statements coming from a respected religious leader and they have sparked significant debate.

The truth is that Mashhad is and has been a Muslim holy site, primarily for Shiite Muslims, but it also holds importance for Sunni Muslims. Al Hadi claims that Mashhad already accomodates 20,000,000 Iranian pilgrims and 80,000 foreign pilgrims every year and can certainly accommodate the greater onslaught of pilgrims who would be making their way to Iran.

On paper, the plan works. But Islam is not about progress or about change. Islam is about tradition. Even the use of the verb “to orient” is based on tradition. The word “orient” means “to the east.” Every Muslim place of prayer contains a mikhrab, a prayer niche, and that prayer niche points in the direction of Mecca. Moving away from Mecca, replacing Mecca, would be a revolutionary move in the world of Islam – and a move that would foment an Islamic revolution.

The irony behind the choice of Mashhad as the new holy site in Islam should not be lost. Imam Raza, the 8th Imam and one of the most influential leaders in the development of Sufi Islam, is buried there. After Imam Reza was murdered in the year 818, probably poisoned to death, there was massive conflict over who should take control his Abbasid Empire. The fight was between his two sons. One son was the son of his Arab wife, the other was the son of his Persian wife. The Shiite Persian son won.

Internal historical conflicts between Islamic groups have very deep roots. So do linguistic traditions. Saudi Arabia is called the land of “Hijaz,” an expression which really means the lands of the Hajj, the religious pilgrimage to Mecca. Iran can try to unseat Mecca as the holiest of holy sites, but they will fail – there are too many direct links to the Koran and Mohammed. When the move to change is approached from the perspective of serious Muslim scholarship which begins every investigation by examining the written word of the Koran and the teachings of the prophet Mohammad the argument to replace Mecca with Mashhad appears very, very weak.

Iran wants to take over the world. But first, the Iranians will have to conquer the Islamic world. This is a good – even if unsuccessful, try. They will try and try again. Iran does not shy away from conflict and dispute.

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A SUPER POWER CALLED IRAN

By Micah Halpern

Friday October 30, 2009

Column:

Once upon a time, there were many super powers. There was China, Russia and the Untied States. There was Great Britain, France and Germany. Now there is one super power. Iran.

We are not quite there yet, but we are pretty close.

Iran has successfully blind sided, out maneuvered and trumped not only the permanent members of the Security Council but also the rest of the United Nations, most of the Western world and the International Atomic Energy Agency. And none of them saw it happening and most of them still don’t realize it has happened.

Just look at Iran’s response to the draft agreement proposed to them regarding nuclear development. The countries offering the proposal – the UN Security Council members, truly believed they were handing Iran a dream package. They took a proposal originally initiated by Iran, re-wrapped it and handed it back on a silver platter.

According to this new/old proposal, Iran would send 75% of its uranium to France and Russia to be enriched. The uranium would be returned and Iran would use it for the purposes of cancer research conducted at a nuclear facility originally built by the United States. That uranium would be enriched at the low levels of 5%-8%. This deal would, at the same time, insure that Iran retains the right to develop nuclear technology and prevent the Iranians from increasing enrichment to the higher levels required to create a nuclear weapon.

The ultimate objective of the proposal was to gain time. The West would continue negotiations with Iran and if lucky, keep the discussion on-going for a year. In that year, hopefully, Iran would be prevailed upon to keep their nuclear program in the experimental scientific stages and Israel would become convinced that Iran is not a threat. The clock would slow down, pressure would be relieved, Israel would take the option of a military strike off the table for a while and the world would be a safer place all around.

And Iran turned down the proposal.

Not only did Iran turn down the proposal, but Iran turned it down a week after deadline. Iran was instructed to respond to the proposal by last Friday. They responded the following Thursday, following their own timetable and asserting their independence.

The Iranians know that they are in control. They know that they will survive sanctions and they laugh in the face of censure. Iran considers itself to be not an equal among nations, but a superior nation – and that is exactly how they conduct the business of diplomacy and the art of negotiations.

Iran has a counter proposal to the draft agreement that was put before them, an opening salvo to what will inevitably be a long series of negotiations during which Iran will probably, ultimately, receive most of if not everything Iranian leadership wants.

Iran countered by suggesting that the 75% of the uranium they are to send to France and Russia come out in stages, that they retain the ability to enrich uranium and that they have the right to import enriched uranium as they see fit. It is certainly an interesting counter proposal and not only because it flies in the face of pre-existing UN resolutions which forbid the exportation of nuclear materials to Iran. But, then again, Iran always labeled those resolutions illegal.

A large part of the world holds the United Nations in high esteem. Iran does not. A large part of the world either fears or respects the United States. Iran does neither. Iran knows how important it is not to draw Israel into an air strike, but they will handle that. And Iran has already figured out the problem of sanctions against them by instating a new monthly limit of 50 liters of gasoline per driver and by lining up gas imports from Venezuela and China.

It is time for world leaders to take Iran seriously. Otherwise, this story will not have a happy ending.

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THE FAILURES OF THE GOLDSTONE REPORT

By Micah Halpern

Friday, October 23, 2009

Column:

The Goldstone Report fails on moral and legal grounds. I’ll explain.

The Report’s conclusion can be summed up in a few short words: Israel and Hamas should both be censored for crimes against civilians. Eleven words. It took Goldstone and his cohorts 875 pages to get there. Most of those pages were filled with harsh, damning critique of Israel and a carefully crafted attempt to create a sense of fairness – equating Israeli actions with those of Hamas.

The actions taken by Israel and the actions of Hamas are not equal and the same. Hamas is a terrorist operation fighting a terrorist campaign. Hamas leaders might be politicians, but they are first and foremost terrorist guerillas. Israel is a democracy, a country that wages war in order to provide a safe home for Israeli citizens. The Israeli army conducts wartime campaigns in a manner that is consistent with accepted military doctrine, it is an army that values the lives of soldiers and citizens alike – including the lives of civilians living among the enemy.

There are always mistakes made during wars. There are always situations that could have been handled better, or differently. There are always people who violate moral precepts. It happens in every war. But in the Israeli military they are isolated incidents and isolated individuals. The Goldstone Report portrays the opposite.

For better and for worse, Israel has always been held to a higher standard than her neighbors and the region and even to other democratic nations. Israel holds herself to a high and strict moral standard with a code of engagement that is written down and taught. That standard has evolved as times have changed and is evolving now, accommodating for new tools of war and changing methods of war. It is precisely because the Goldstone Report also holds Israel to that higher standard.

Mistakes that happened during the course of Operation Cast Lead must be acknowledged and corrected. The people responsible for those mistakes must be held accountable and responsibility should flow along the chain of command. Punishments should be meted out where required and restitution provided where appropriate.

That is not where the Goldstone erred.

The Goldstone Report erred because, if accepted as the Golden Standard for the Proper Practice of Warfare, it will become nearly impossible for the democratic world to fight the world of terror. And terror is the new face of war. Terror tactics have been insinuated into the tactics of conventional warfare and terror has its own set of laws and by laws, rules and permissible acts. And that is why the Goldstone Report will not win the vote of the Security Council, why China and Russia will vote against the Goldstone Report and why, by default, the Goldstone Report will not become a tool to indict Israel for war crimes in The Hague.

Russia and China understand how wars are now being fought. So does Israel. Goldstone does not.

And the Goldstone Report erred because the document does not differentiate between a defensive military operation and an offensive military action. It glosses over this vital distinction in a few paragraphs and focuses on only one element of the internationally accepted norms of warfare. It focuses on the military imperative to prevent civilian populations from becoming victims. And then it chastises Israel repeatedly for not doing enough to prevent injuries and deaths in the civilian Palestinian population. But it does not place adequate responsibility with Hamas for using human shields in order to better fight Israel. It does not chastise Hamas for hiding among civilian populations and for not wearing uniforms. Instead, it blames Israeli troops for using human shields.

In this war, in this defensive war, Israel’s obligations shifted. Israel’s objective was to eliminate the threat to Israeli citizens. During Operation Cast Lead that meant finding Hamas fighters and caches of Hamas’ weapons and neutralizing them – and they were found among civilian populations, Palestinian populations.

The problems of fighting in the densely populated urban environment in which Hamas was hiding, commanding and fighting from behind civilians, was not dealt with in the Goldstone Report. That a moral obligation shifts in a defensive war when one party is hiding unidentified and uniformed behind innocent civilians was not dealt with in the Goldstone Report. That the moral obligation falls on the fighters who are hiding, in this case Hamas, was not dealt with in the Goldstone Report. But it is in international law. According to international law Hamas – not Israel – is morally and legally responsible for the deaths of civilians as Israel went in pursuit of Hamas fighters.

International law and morality warrant that an army does its most to prevent injury to civilians. And international law and morality recognize that Israel met those obligations by sending text messages in Arabic to the cell phones of the Palestinians in the areas being targeted and dropping leaflets written in Arabic in those areas.

War is different today than it was in the 1864 when Henri Dumont initiated the Geneva Conventions. Hamas and other terrorist organizations are responsible for many of those differences.

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HOW THE WEST WAS LOST, MUSLIM STYLE

By Micah Halpern

Thursday October 15, 2000

Column:

Western democracies were pleased.

Mainstream Muslim Arab countries, countries described as non anti-Western, were coalescing and creating a free flowing block against the extremists in their midst. The movement was gathering momentum and would have inevitably pushed to destroy the more radical groups and states in the region. Even Iran would have been pressured into toning down the Shiite radical views that define Iranian culture and impact upon weaker countries in the Arab world.

The result would be a defacto easing of tensions in the region, the long sought after recognition of Israel and a gracious acceptance of United States involvement in Arab and Muslim affairs in the region

It was happening, it was happening – and then it stopped. And Middle East analysts and Israeli security experts have no idea why.

In an unexpected turn of events, the less extreme states of the Middle East are creating obstacles that serve to further distance them – rather than bring them closer – from the West and from Israel. The newly created alliances between the states is taking once moderate Muslim Arab countries and bringing them in line with radical and extremist points of view.

External manifestations of this shift are obvious and alarming. Turkey, a long standing pro-Western country, has befriended Syria, a breeding ground for extremism and terror. Saudi Arabia, a significant voice in the moderate, pro-West camp has made diplomatic forays into Syria. And Egypt, the big brother of the Middle East has brokered an agreement to unite warring Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas.

Internally, the shift has far reaching ramifications. Efforts are being made to alienate anyone who may have been open to friendly relations with Israel. A respected Egyptian magazine editor, an academic and ground breaking thinker named Hala Mustafa, is being kicked out of the national journalist association of Egypt because she met with the Israeli ambassador to Egypt. Ironically, the ambassador’s name is Silvan Shalom – a name easily understood by the Arab world, a name that the Arab world would spell sallam.

Diplomats in the United States sense that the tide is turning away from them. George Mitchell, President Obama’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, made his dissatisfaction with the current tone in the Middle East known to his Egyptian counterparts. He told them in no uncertain terms that the United States never envisioned nor intended for there to be reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Hamas was to be brought under control and minimized – not embraced and incorporated into the Palestinian government.

And nuanced thinkers in Israel are uncertain as to the reasons for this shift. Some will blame the Goldstone Report for condemning Israeli actions and for tarnishing Israel’s military and humanitarian image. Others will lay blame with Operation Cast Lead. But even those excuses are not enough to warrant a shift of this nature.

The reason behind this massive shift away from the West – and embracing radical extremism is as far away as is possible, is the disappointment and frustration and resentment that the Muslim world feels towards the new American president. The Muslim world feels jilted by Obama. When Barack Hussein Obama took office the Muslim world had high hopes and immediate expectations. Those hopes and expectations remain unfulfilled.

The fact that the president of the United States has not put Israel in its place and has provided only lip service in support of the Palestinian cause has led many in the Arab world who had once been eager to adopt Western ways to instead swallow the Iran/Hamas/Hezbollah mantra that the new president is the same as the old president, he just has a different name.

The mainstream Muslim Arab world was hoping for something new and better. The hope they had felt has turned to betrayal. The Western world had better prepare for turbulent times.

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IRAN: FLIES BELOW & ABOVE RADAR

By Micah Halpern

Friday October 9, 2009

Column:

Iran, under the leadership of The Grand Ayatollah Khamenei and the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has successfully managed to outwit, outsmart and outmaneuver the Western world in both the diplomatic and military arenas.

Western democracies have obsessed over Iran’s embracing of nuclear technology and race towards nuclear capability. And yet, Iran has managed to progress towards their nuclear goal unencumbered by international dictates and convention. Iran has built nuclear facilities, purchased nuclear materials and fooled nuclear inspectors and will soon be capable of making a nuclear bomb.

Iran has done it all by flying under international radar.

But Iran is not only flying under the radar, Iran is also, and very successfully, flying above the radar.

Iran is doing much more than breaking into the nuclear club. This week Iran announced that they will launch another missile, a different type of missile – a missile designed for space. Iran is engaged in a race that is bigger and more significant than the nuclear race. Iran has been racing towards “the final frontier” and all the while, the Western world has remained ignorant of their very calculated moves and the long term implications.

If successful, Iran will be able to use their missiles launched in space, aka satellites, for military intelligence. They will be able to control their weapons systems from miles up above the earth. If successful, the Iranians will be major players in space and they will be totally unhindered in their quest for international control.

Iran is making plans to launch this missile and then another missile into space within the next six months. According to Mohammed Ibrahimi, the head of Iran’s Department of Space Exploration, “The Kavoshgar-3 missile will be launched into space by the end of the Persian year (which ends on March 20th) for the purpose of research.” The Kavoshgar-3 is the new version of the Kavoshgar-2, the space rocket that Iran launched in December of 2008 during their last effort to enter space.

It is neither coincidental nor serendipitous that Iran is racing towards supremacy in both the nuclear and space arenas at the same time. The overlap between the space and nuclear programs is fundamental.

There is one stumbling block that has encumbered Iran’s nuclear program. Even more difficult than enriching uranium is the ability to successfully deliver nuclear warheads – and that is exactly where the space program and the nuclear program overlap. A successful space program will facilitate a successful delivery system.

The same long range missile technology that will send a rocket into space will be the technology that Iran uses to deliver a nuclear warhead to Israel or to any other Western target around the world.

The race began in 1998 when Iran began research into the Shabbab-4. Ostensibly, the rocket was to be used to attack Israel but over the past eleven years Shabbab-4 plans were scrapped and all energies were focused on the Shabbab-3, a better, faster, longer missile with much better controls. The Kavoshgar is an outgrowth of that program.

The Iranian race towards supremacy in space is as big a story as is their race towards nuclear capability – and just as scary and as foreboding. But no red flags have been waving, no statements of condemnation have been issued and no investigations have been conducted.

The Western world has fallen asleep, The Grand Ayatollah and the Iranian president are wide awake and racing ahead.

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A QUAGMIRE IN THE NAME OF PEACE

By Micah Halpern

Thursday October 1, 2009

Column:

Do you know what a quagmire is?

A quagmire is the Middle East right now, a quagmire is the situation the Israeli and Palestinians are stuck in right now. A quagmire is the situation that the Obama White House, however unwittingly and unintentionally, created in the name of peace.

President Barack Obama and his band of advisors embraced the Israeli/Palestinian peace process with gusto and zest, but with very little understanding of the players, the playing ground and the process. The White House does not yet comprehend the value of language and symbols as they apply to the Middle East. And that is a problem. And now Israelis and Palestinians are even further behind in the process of making peace than they were before the last US election. The White House doesn’t even realize the mess they have caused.

It all began with lofty goals and good intentions.

The White House wanted to invigorate the peace process. Since the inauguration in January, the new administration repeated – and repeated and repeated, the need to freeze all construction in Israeli settlements. It was their mantra. The Arab world responded with a great hadad!, which means hurray! in Arabic. Finally, they thought, the United States gets it.

In fact, the United States did not get it at all. The United States President did not understand that he was repeating the Palestinian mantra. He did not understand that freezing all settlements is the Palestinian mantra. He did not understand that for the Palestinians settlements are not buildings and roads, schools and post offices, for the Arab world settlements are a symbol.

President Obama did not understand that, for years, settlement construction has been used as the most licentious and destructive obstacle to an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Instead, the new administration embraced a vibrant chant and called for a settlement freeze, insisting that even one new nail would be a violation of the concept of settlement freeze.

The administration would soon discover that things in the Middle are seldom one dimensional. The US made it clear that past promises, even promises in writing to Israel regarding settlements, would not be honored – and they thought they were nearing a real breakthrough. But the reality was that now the sides were not talking to each other. President Obama had created a sin qua non for the start of dialogue. The attempt to pressure Israel to come to the table was failing.

In the period before the US election, when Ehud Olmert was prime minister of Israel, the parties were speaking and there were no preconditions. Now, The President of the United States said no to construction in the settlements, the Israeli said to no that decree and the Palestinians were saying that they had the blessings of the United States not to come to the peace table because the Israelis were not in compliance.

What was President Obama to do? He back peddled. He sent George Mitchell, his special envoy, to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, in London. Netanyahu explained that he could get his government to agree to a settlement freeze, but. The but was – Jerusalem is not a settlement. The but was that there were 2,500 apartments in Jerusalem that were already under construction.

Mitchell called Washington and it was agreed that a good compromise had been reached, not construction, except in Jerusalem. After all, an effective compromise is one in which both sides give a little, both sides feel that they have been gypped a little and both sides shake hands.

The Arab world was offended. Jerusalem is not only a settlement, it is a symbol. And there is no compromising on a symbol. Palestinians were up in arms, the Arab world felt betrayed.

And Obama back peddled some more. During the United Nations General Assembly in New York the US president scaled back his language. He did not insist on a total settlement freeze. Arabic papers saw it as a major retreat – and that retreat caused the Palestinians to increase their absoluteness and their insistence that no settlement means no settlement.

And that is where the situation remains today. Settlements might or might not be frozen, but the peace process certainly is. Now there must be a calming down period which must, by definition, delay any reconciliation. Not exactly what President Obama had in mind.

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THE IRANIAN PROPOSAL, JUST ONE BIG JOKE

By Micah Halpern

Thursday September 17, 2009

Column:

Natan Sharansky, former Soviet dissident, former minister within several governments of Israel, present head of the Jewish Agency and acknowledged chess pro, once said to me, when referring to the conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbors “they are playing with us chess and we are playing with them checkers.”

The long time politician, the man who once beat the famous Kasparov, was not paying Israel a compliment.

I was reminded of Sharansky’s succinct summary of inept and ineffective foreign affairs and diplomatic maneuverings as I assessed the reaction of the United States of America to the proposal put forth by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

At best, it’s a joke.
In the end, the joke will be on us.

There is no logic in the decision by the United States to accept the proposal put forth by Iran as a foundation upon which to begin negotiations. No logic and no mental contortions will convince me that this is a sound, thought through decision by the greatest power in the Western world.

When the Iranians declared that they were preparing a proposal, I knew it would fall short of any serious dialogue on the issues. Unfortunately, I was not disappointed. I read all five pages, well, almost five pages. The document not only falls short in content and depth, it even falls short in length.

The Iranian proposal is well scripted, diplomatic spin.
Iran does not admit that there is a problem. Not once does Iran speak about itself or its nuclear technology. Instead, it spews forth on issues of justice and freedom. It condemns the empires that promote a double standard in the world. The Iranians even, unabashedly, go so far as to volunteer to be part of a dialogue to rectify these injustices.

Iran titled the document “Cooperation for Peace, Justice and Progress.” It begins with the words “In the Name of the Almighty.” By the second paragraph Iran comes straight to the point. It reads: “Resolution of these problems and creating a world filled with spirituality, friendship … prosperity, wellness and security requires reorganization and creating an opportunity for broad and collective participation in the management of the world.” From there the document cum proposal goes on and on about reorganizing the world – in other words, about ousting the United States and removing all traces of Western orientation.

There is not one word about Iranian nukes. There is not one word about the issue at hand. This proposal should have been publicly dismissed as a non-starter. It was not. On the contrary, it was embraced by the Obama Administration. The Iranians knew what was expected of them, made their own calculation and chose to solve the problem by saying that the problem is not with them but with United States domination of the world.

That the United States accepted this high falutin’ gobbly gook at face value and will now use it as a foundation for serious dialogue to help bring the world back from the brink of a nuclear Iran – is simply ludicrous. Iran wants to focus on the sins of America. Iran wants to focus on the problems inflicted on the world because of America. Iran does not want to talk about what Iranian President Ahmadinejad calls Iran’s “inalienable rights,” Iran’s inalienable rights to develop nuclear technology. Yes, the Iranian president had the gall to borrow a phrase from United States President Thomas Jefferson and turn it on the United States.

The situation goes from ludicrous to surreal.
In a recent Friday sermon the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei said that Iran would love to talk to the United States and other Western countries about issues related to nuclear development in the world. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the Ayatollah will ever allow any discussion about Iran’s nuclear development. He will not.

Add to that the diplomatic coup pulled off by Iran at the 53rd annual meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. The function of the IAEA is to be the nuclear watch dog of the United Nations. Iran proposed and successfully passed a resolution that makes it illegal to attack a nuclear site. The resolution was so resoundingly approved that it received the equivalent of the IAEA stamp of official approval.

Secretary of State Clinton pointed out that during the October 1st meeting between Iranian and US officials the discussion will cover nuclear issues. Clinton said she expects serious responses to the tough questions that will be raised. Don’t expect too much. Ali Akbar Javanfekr, media adviser for Ahmadinejad, said that Iran will not tolerate threats. He said that accepting Iran as a nuclear power was the “first step” toward normalizing relations with the US and with the West.

How quintessentially Iran.
How distressingly American.

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TALE of TWO DESPOTS

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 9, 2009

Column:

One wears tailored suits, the other wears leisure suits. One wears silk ties, the other sports open colors. Despite their apparent differences, they are cut of the same cloth.

Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad despise everything Western. Most of their venom is aimed at anything emanating from the United States. Destroying the West and especially the United States is their individual and united goal. If these leaders of Venezuela and Iran cannot bring down the United States militarily, they will do everything in their collective power to do it diplomatically. It is the glue that holds this unlikely pair together. It is the reason that Chavez has just completed his eighth visit to Iran.

The war against terror is not over, it has taken another, expanded, form. Eight years after 9/11 the West still has enemies. The United States is still being plotted against. Our enemies are not sleeping, neither should we.

Hugo Chavez, the despotic leader of Venezuela, has just concluded a four day trip to Iran. Chavez and the tyrannical Ahmadinejad smiled and shook hands for the camera. And they initiated a new set of deals that will not only propel their relationship forward but that will also, and perhaps more importantly for them, fortify a new bulwark against the United States and the West.

As part of his eleven day trip abroad Chavez also visited Libya, Syria and several European nations including Spain, Russia and Belarus. But Iran was the most important stop of all, because it was in Iran that an outright plan to topple the West was meticulously planned and proudly, publicly, proclaimed.

It goes without saying that Venezuela is wholeheartedly in favor or a nuclear Iran and will do everything to support it and make it happen. Chavez publicly praised Iran for standing up the United States and not giving in to US “blackmail.” That alone would be unsettling, not threatening. The plan, in their own translated words, has Chavez and Ahmadinejad creating a “multi polar world” to confront US influence. As Chavez so succinctly put it, we are “facing the same enemy, which is the U.S. empire and its lackeys. And we will defeat the empire and its lackeys.”

Those are fighting words. This is not wishful thinking or even grandstanding. Chavez and Ahmadinejad have a plan and they are about to implement that plan. Three agreements, building blocks for the plan, emerged from this trip.

The first is the creation of a mutual Iranian-Venezuelan bank in Caracas with an already pledged $200 million dedicated to mutual investment.

The second is a promise by Chavez to export 20,000 barrels of refined oil to Iran every day. That agreement sidesteps the pressure that the United States was planning to bring upon all potential local oil suppliers to Iran.

The third is the decision to mutually dedicate $750 million towards sharing energy technology.

Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are serious. The objective is to unseat the United States as the most significant diplomatic and economic power in the world. During a press conference broadcast on Iranian TV Chavez, standing alongside Ahmadinejad, proclaimed that our “important mission is to help the oppressed and revolutionary nations and to expand the anti-imperialist front in the world.” The oppressed and revolutionary nations are other, smaller nations united in their distrust of the United States, aka the imperialist front.

They will use existing organizations like the United Nations and the Nonaligned Pact, a group of 118 nations who are, by their very definition, at odds with the United States, to achieve their ends. The vast majority of UN members are against the US policy. During the upcoming General Assembly we will see will see Venezuela and Iran coddle up to those nations and convince them to support their plan.

No, the war on terror has not ended. It has just taken a deeply disturbing turn. Sticks and stones won’t break the United States or the West, but these words are sending a loud and clear message.

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BEATING THE NUCLEAR CLOCK

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 2, 2009

Column:

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs is telling us that the United States has not yet heard back from Iran regarding the mid-September deadline to negotiate.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, was quoted on Tuesday on Iran’s Arabic TV network al Alam, saying that Iran now has a counter proposal and is ready to negotiate with the West.

I expect that an Iranian response will be forthcoming. I do not expect it to be a very mature or well delineated response.

The clock is ticking.

The Iranians are game players and they derive great pleasure from beating the West at its own games. There is a long history of gaming between the United States and Iran and just because Barack Obama is new to the game, the Iranians are not about to cut him any slack.

Iran plays to win. As the deadline crept closer and Western threats of more significant sanctions against Iran became more realistic, Iran opened its doors to the IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency). Feigning nuclear transparency, Iran allowed international nuclear inspectors from the United Nations to inspect their nuclear facilities. To the uninitiated game player, it appeared as if Iran was complying with international demands.

The report composed by the IAEA indicated that Iran was indeed becoming more transparent, more willing to divulge their nuclear plans and capabilities. According to the report Iran has slowed its uranium enrichment program, but that observation raises several red flags because there is also credible information indicating that Iran has investigated the technology necessary to produce nuclear weapons.

The end result is that, by allowing inspectors to enter Iran when the timing was right for Iran and not a minute before, Iran may successfully sway the majority of Western nations into believing that they are, indeed, playing by the rules of the nuclear game. And in the statement that Iran released in response to the IAEA report Iran maintains that now there is proof positive that Iranian intentions are peaceful – just as they have been claiming all along,

There are still two options open to Western nations, two means by which the West can force Iran to not only abandon the pretense of conformity but, and more importantly, to abandon the race to develop nuclear weapons. The first option involves the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. They are the only countries in a position to convincingly threaten Iran, the only countries with the muscle and the backing to carry through on their threats of sanctions. The problem with this otherwise august group is that they are united in indecision.

The unofficial spokesperson for those Security Council member countries most skeptical of US/Western policy regarding Iran is Russia. Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, made it very clear that the way to handle the Iranian nuclear issue is not through military strikes but through diplomatic means.

The problem with this option is that it plays right into Iran’s hands. The Iranians have proven themselves extremely adroit at out-maneuvering the United States and the West in diplomatic games.

The best example of this is the way in which Iran has co-opted the IAEA by proposing that the next IAEA meeting they initiate legislation that would condemn any military strike against any nuclear facility in the world. The move is a perfect block against Israel and the United States. It is no secret that Israel feels most threatened by Iran’s nuclear potential and has a defensive, pre-emptive strike plan in the works.
Legislation of this kind within the UN’s atomic energy body will certainly pass.

In the end, Israel will be condemned for conducting a defensive raid and Iran will waltz away unscathed, uncensored and un-sanctioned for aggressively producing the nuclear material in the first place. And when it happens, the majority of UN member nations will side with Iran against Israel – especially because regardless of the veracity of their findings, Iran has opened its doors to nuclear inspection. Iran needs international support in order to stand up against the United States and in putting forth this legislation Iran has found the way to force the US to back down.

The second option involves taking advantage of one of Iran’s few vulnerable points. Iran may be the fifth largest exporter of crude oil in the world, but yet, about half of Iran’s gasoline must be imported.

Iran is heavily dependent on refined oil. They import from all over, but most of all, they import locally from Arab countries. And these Arab countries, like the West, view a nuclear Iran as a significant threat. Actually, almost every Arab country in the Middle East considers Iran to be the most significant internal and external threat that they regularly confront.

The Arab countries of the Middle East, Iran’s neighbors, must be convinced to shut down the refined oil spigot and to turn off the energy switch. Then, and only then, will the West have any real leverage and any chance at influencing Iran and having the Iranians adjust their nuclear policy to one that the world can live with.

The game is not over and time is running out.

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TERRORISTS ARE NOT LIKE OTHER CRIMINALS

By Micah Halpern

August 26, 2009

Column:

Being nice is not always the best policy.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was the driving force behind the decision to free Abdel Baset al Megrahi, the Lockerbie terrorist. The Libyans lobbied the Scotts long, hard and well. They charmed the Scotts and made them great promises. Libya said many things in order to secure the release of Megrahi. And then they played the trump card. Megrahi was old, he was sick, he was dying.

And once the mass murderer from Libya was free, Libya laughed in the face of the world. All bets were off. All promises were null and void. They had their man and that was all that ever mattered.

Right now the justice minister from Scotland is blistering. He feels, correctly enough, used by the Libyans. The Libyans did not live up to their bargain. But why would anyone ever expect them to? History and experience have proven over and over that Muammar Ghadaffi is not to be trusted. It was, after all, the Libyan government’s intelligence branch that planned and executed the Lockerbie terror attack – Megrahi was merely the figurehead of the deadly operation.

On December 21, a Wednesday in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 took off from Heathrow Airport in London bound for the US. The jet liner blown up just after it reached about 31,000 feet. All two hundred and seventy people aboard the plane were murdered, blown up by a bomb that had been planted on the Pan Am plane. What remained scattered over an, until then little known, city called Lockerbie, Scotland.

Many of the victims, one hundred and seventy of them, were Americans. Most of those were students from Syracuse University returning home after completing a semester abroad learning about different cultures and traditions, learning about people who are different from Americans. The bomb was brought onto the plane by Megrahi’s girlfriend. She, too, was a passenger on the plane -carrying a parting gift given her by Megrahi, a tape recorder with a bomb planted inside. Abdel Baset al Megrahi thought nothing of using his girl friend as his mule, as a tool with which he could transport his murderous weapon. And he thought nothing of sending her to her death.

Libya just recently took responsibility for blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 and has made restitution to the families of the victims, the exact settlement sums are still undisclosed. Libya owned up to the terrorist attack because now the Libyans have decided to embark on another mission. Libya has tried and tried successfully to get out of the international doghouse in which they have been placed. Accepting responsibility for the event over Lockerbie went a long way towards proving their new intentions, especially in the view of the United States State Department.

On January 31, 2001 Megrahi was convicted in a Scottish court and sentenced to life in a Scottish prison. Nowadays, Scotland is trying to become independent of the United Kingdom. The Scots want to assert themselves and show that they will not genuflect to either 10 Downing Street or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And so, when Libya approached the government of Scotland about freeing Megrahi it sounded like the perfect opportunity. It would be even better if Scotland secured trade deals with Libya along with the release, that would be sure proof that the Scots can be independent and effectually, stand on their own as a country.

Scotland agreed to release Megrahi on humanitarian grounds because he was dying of terminal prostate cancer. Libya promised to keep Megrahi’s release quiet and not to turn the terrorist’s return home into a media spectacle.

Libya lied. Megrahi came home to a hero’s welcome. Parades, cheering crowds and the son of Muammar Ghadaffi were all there to greet the returning murderer. Libya reneged on the promise and Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was shocked.

Perhaps the justice minister should have consulted with the health minister. Just because someone has a terminal illness and is “supposed” to die does not mean that that person is on a deathbed and dying. Sheik Ahmed Yassin comes immediately to mind.

Sheik Yassin was known as the blind Sheik. Confined to a wheelchair and imprisoned in Israel, he was the spiritual leader of Hamas. Yassin was released from prison, traded back to the Palestinians and returned to Gaza. Why? Because everyone was convinced that the blind Sheik was on his deathbed, they believed that he had only a few days left to live. Five years and many terrorist attacks later Israel targeted Yassin in a helicopter gunship raid that brought down the Sheik and the entire building he was in.

People who murder hundreds of other people should not get humanitarian reprieves. Terrorist are not entitled a break. Terrorist are not like other criminals.

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TRUTH … BIAS … THE MIDDLE EAST

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Column:

All of us, regardless of our profession, have an obligation first and foremost to tell the truth. Journalists, columnists, professional observers and commentators bear that responsibility a bit more heavily than do people in other professions. As do politicians.

I am fond of saying that I am an equal opportunity critic. We all have a point of view and that point of view colors our approach to almost every issue we discuss and every action we take. One of the ways I carry out my obligation to tell the truth is by monitoring the actions and words, the deeds and decrees, of world leaders and when I find fault with them, I point that out to the public.

It seems appropriate now, as President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and President Barack Obama sit in Washington, DC rehashing the problems of the Middle East to take a long, hard look at why the constant pursuit of a resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict flounders in a sea of perpetual failure.

There are many truths in the Middle East and each one is born out of bias – cultural bias, historical bias and religious bias. For almost everyone in the Middle East and involved with the Middle East that bias is more than a predilection for or against, it is a bias that colors their entire approach to events and distorts their ability to critically analyze those events. When it comes to the peace process especially, the distortion can be seen in the Arab and Muslim worlds, in the Israeli and Jewish worlds, and in the Western world.

Journalism, by its very nature, lends information and shapes opinions. A propagandist cannot be objective, a propagandist is blinded by bias. Most journalists in the Arab world, more than in Israel and more than in the West, are propagandists.

In the Arab world there is no real journalism because there cannot be real journalists. They may carry the title “journalist” but in order to survive, they must act like propagandists. In the Arab and Moslem worlds there are nearly no democracies and there is almost no such thing as a free press. It is dangerous to write about or report on certain events on Monday which could get you arrested on Tuesday for writing. In these dictatorships the press, which is government controlled and sponsored, is in many ways a vehicle to control the masses. There are very few exceptions.

The Arab and Moslem worlds feed on conspiracy theories about Jews and Israel. About how Jews murder and steal, about how they destroy and gobble up Arab land. The Jewish and Israeli worlds feed off of paranoia and conspiracy theories too, but to a lesser extent.

Israelis and Jews tend to find anti-Semites lurking about and poking their heads everywhere. Looking at the world through the perspective of anti-Semitism is not only disturbing, it drastically narrows your perspective and limits any real learning. As a result, Israelis become incapable of seeing that sometimes they are the unrealistic party in terms of demands and expectations. Thinking that every stand is a Masada, that every stand is the last stand, and that every decision is one of survival can significantly bring creative problem solving to a halt.

History and culture are hard to unlearn. They bear a large part of the responsibility for the conspiracy addicted Middle East and for the conspiracy lore that has invaded the thinking of Western democracies involved with the Middle East. It will take formal re-education programs to change the foundations upon which these biases are grounded, and that process takes time.

For the here and now, there is a way. To forge a resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict it is only necessary to deal with a small handful of issues. Neither side must love the other – that will never happen. Both sides must agree only to abide by the other, to agree not to kill each other and to stop those others who want to kill them. It will not solve all the problems of the Middle East, but it will bring about peaceful coexistence.

The West has its own bias about the Middle East. Western leaders and by extension Western journalists believe that the panacea for the entire Middle East is the resolution of the conflict between the Israeli and the Palestinians. That is simply delusional. It is an erroneous conclusion based on exclusively Western thought, perception and deep misunderstanding. The problem is much larger than Israelis and Palestinians. The problems between Shiites and Sunnis will remain whether or not the Palestinians live in peace with Israel, but the West has yet to reflect on that truth. And yes, the US presidential election was also impacted by bias and conspiracy theory. The United States is not totally immune.

Without a thoughtful critical press, without insightful view without a truthful approach there can never really be progress. Like everyone else, I too have a bias, but I can say in all honesty that I try to see the varied truths and untruths of all sides.

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FATAH CONFERENCE, SAME OLD, SAME OLD

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 12, 2009

Column:

The 6th Fatah Conference that took place in Bethlehem has come to its conclusion. Phew. There were fireworks, but thankfully, they were only metaphorical.

The Conference was fraught with back stabbing and internal bickering. The single most important objective for most participants was to create blocks of voters insuring that their chosen candidates would sit in one of the one hundred and twenty coveted seats on the Revolutionary Council or one of the twenty allotted seats on the Executive Council. It was all politics, back room deals and disappointments.

The last Fatah Conference was held twenty years ago. In principle, this Conference was all about new ideas, new steps to be taken to forward the Palestinian cause and new leadership. In reality, much of the Conference was a rehash of the old days and a throwback to the reign of Arafat.

Two major votes were taken in Bethlehem and they both went off smoothly and predictably. In a vote taken shortly after the proceeding began the entire plenary unanimously voted that Israel was responsible for the murder of Yasser Arafat.
After that there was a vote by acclamation to renew the positions held by Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority and as leader of the Fatah movement. The vote was only in the affirmative and it was conducted by a show of hands. The intention was to make it impossible to gauge how many people neglected to raise their hands and who they are. The result is that Conference publicists are proudly claiming that Abbas has unanimous and undisputed support for his next term.

Elections for the twenty seat Executive Council were almost as unsurprising as the earlier votes. Before the Conference began, analysts predicted that if the old guard were to be replaced with a new guard, the 6th Fatah Conference would be a success. At its conclusion it became evident that the new guard is not that new and that its members, while not octogenarians like Abbas, are growing old.

Ten members of the old guard ran for positions on the Executive Council, five of them won. One big loser came as a surprise, he is Ahmed Qurei the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat also known as Abu Ala. Queria’s loss was an undoubted blow to the old guard. But many of the new people elected were recycled, ex-Arafat players and advisers.

Jibril Rajoub is fifty six years old and under Arafat he served as head of security for the PA. Rajoub was both feared and revered. Mohammed Dahlan is a tall, dashing, well dressed and impeccably groomed fifty four years old. He was the head of security in Gaza and is thought of as the arch enemy of Hamas and the symbol of Fatah in Gaza. He is also the person that many West Bankers blame for Fatah’s sound defeat at the hands of Hamas in Gaza. The Gaza coup took place while Dahlan was out of Gaza on vacation and no security infrastructure was in place to stem the bloodshed and prevent the takeover.

Marwan Barghouti was elected to the Executive Council, but as of now, he is unable to serve. Barghouti, an “anti-intellectual intellectual” who often sported leather bomber jackets and work boots is a prisoner in Israel. Barghouti, former head of the Tanzim, the Fatah military wing in the West Bank, was tried and convicted for orchestrating five terrorist attacks. Even though he has been out of the political fray for several years, Barghouti is by far the most popular political personality in the West Bank.

Neither Jibril nor Dahlan nor Barghouti are to be considered politically liberal. They were the “iron fist” that enabled Arafat’s rule. As leaders they believe in pursuing peace but not in achieving compromise. And yet, Israel is being asked to release Barghouti as a gesture of good faith that will also shore up the more liberal aspects of the Palestinian society.

Barghouti is in favor of living side by side with Israel but only within the ’67 borders – without a single exception. Dahlan has said that he does not recognize Israel. Rajoub is the most practical of anyone in the new old guard. He wants a Palestinian state but is schooled enough to understand that he cannot force it.

Optimists were hoping that new blood would re-invigorate the Fatah organization making it more of a political organization and less of a military organization. That did not happen. Realists hope that Fatah does not implode and is strong enough to fend off internal threats from Hamas.

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GESTURES THAT COUNT

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 5, 2009

Column:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was officially appointed to his second term as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran in a nationally televised ceremony that came complete with pomp and circumstance. The Supreme Leader, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, presided over the ceremony. After being graced by The Supreme Leader, the new second term president kissed the Ayatollah’s robe and then kissed his shoulder.

This gesture by the president to The Supreme Leader displayed a very formal, very reserved, sense of respect.

Flashback four years.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was officially appointed as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran in a nationally televised ceremony that came complete with pomp and circumstance. The Supreme Leader, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, presided over the ceremony. After being graced by The Supreme Leader the new president kissed the Ayatollah’s hand and cheek.

In the Middle East, much more so than in the Western world, gestures make a difference. In the Middle East, gestures tell a story.

More than time separates these two ceremonial events. Four years ago Ahmadinejad was able to show respect to The Supreme Leader coupled with warmth and closeness. Four years later, he showed respect. The warmth is gone, the closeness is no longer there.

A kiss on the hand and a kiss on the cheek demonstrate closeness and warmth. A kiss to the shoulder and to the robes demonstrates distance. It shows fear. It shows hierarchy and deference.

During the first ceremony the president was saying through gesture and gesture alone that together we – The Supreme Leader and I – will rule. Days ago, as he was inaugurated for his second term, the president showed acceptance of the true reality of his position. The true ruler of Iran is the Ayatollah and the Ayatollah truly rules alone. He, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retains his position purely through the graces of The Supreme Leader and for no other reason.

Communicating through gesture is not unique to the Middle East. The difference is that in the Middle East body language does not need interpretation, it is intentional and specific. Leaning forward during a conversation is as significant as leaning back – and it is intentional. Crossing one’s legs and showing the sole of one’s shoe during conversation is a sure and deliberate sign of disrespect – and when done it is done with intent and with malice. Crossing one’s legs with the toe pointed down, however, is a relaxed expression that says lets continue talking, it is especially cordial if accompanied with the gesture of leaning forward and placing one’s hands on knees.

Kissing on one cheek or on two cheeks or two kisses on the right hand is a shorthand form of conversation in the Middle East. They are ways in which Middle East Arabs and Persians convey both a sense of affection and an appreciation of status and stature.

A kiss on the cheek means that you are close to that person in soul, in blood and in stature. You kiss the hand of someone who is your superior and you kiss the cloak of someone who is your superior. The cloak is significant in the Middle East because it symbolizes the dust, sand and dirt that would be picked up on the hem of the desert ruler’s robes. The hands of the leader are clean and should not be tarnished by a commoners’ kiss.

Hand shaking is not a part of Middle East culture, it is a tradition that became incorporated into Western tradition because of Roman tradition. The Romans were all right handed and held their daggers in the left waist of their togas. Their right hand was their dagger hand and so extending it to shake meant that it was a greeting, it meant that the right hand was unarmed and there was no intention to do harm.

In the case of The Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad we are seeing a president who is clearly contrite. Ahmadinejad was, through gesture and gesture alone, asking forgiveness. The Supreme Leader was creating significant distance. He was letting the entire population of Iran know that he was unhappy with Ahmadinejad’s behavior. It was clear to all of Iran that Ahmadinnejad had disregarded a direct order from The Supreme Leader in regard to his vice president. And despite his support of Ahmadinejad in the elections, challenging The Supreme Leader at any time is unacceptable.

Their relationship will mend. Over the past four years Ahmadinejad has on several occasions attempted to wrestled decision making and other powers from The Supreme Leader. At times he succeeded, other times he failed, but in the end it was always success because he Supreme Leader, the Grand Ayatollah, permitted his president to succeed.

The Ayatollah is in charge and Ahmadinejad knows it. We should know it, too.

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IN GAZA, IT’S NOT A DAY AT THE BEACH

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 29, 2009

Column:

The young people of Gaza are no different than young people anywhere. They just live under a different set of rules.

Gaza has been under Hamas rule ever since June 2007, when Fatah, the Palestinian ruling party, was booted out in a brutal coup. In several subsequent massacres, Hamas has continued killing off Fatah members living in Gaza.

Summertime in Gaza presents it own unique form of torture. On a normal day the temperatures reach 105 – 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The only reprieve from the sweltering heat in dusty, over crowded Gaza is the beach and the water spouts. Everyone, religious Muslims and secular Muslims, flock to the Gaza beaches in the early evening searching for cool Mediterranean breezes and wet, refreshing waves.

That behavior is about to change. Hamas has begun a religious coercion ritual and initiated a “campaign of virtue.” Hamas wants the people of Gaza to live Muslim style lives. One of the most obvious ways of judging that lifestyle is through outward dress and appearance and one of the most obvious places to determine whether or not that behavior is religiously observed is on the beach.

I travel often. I speak at colleges and universities around the country. I lecture to varied communities throughout North America. Periodically, self-described Hamas supporters attend my campus lectures.

The first time this happened I was thrown off balance – but just for a quick second. Then it became clear to me, it made sense. It was not that these students were actively pro-Hamas, they were vehemently anti-Israel.

Most of my potential hecklers have no idea what Hamas really stands for, no knowledge of Hamas’ principles or ideology. All they know is that Hamas preaches the ruination and total destruction of Israel, and for them, that is enough. Once I figured it out, it became easy for me to talk to these students and to address them directly. I know what Hamas stands for. And I know that Hamas is very oppressive towards other Palestinians.

I also know that Hamas is first and foremost an extremist religious movement. Only after that is Hamas a terrorist movement. Internal Palestinian politics trump external issues every time. And this is the prefect case scenario.

Hamas wants people to dress modestly and will without hesitation arrest those who violate the law. Hamas’ understanding of their position of political authority is directly linked to Iran. In this case, the fact that Iran’s religious authority is Shiite and Hamas’ religious authority is Sunni makes no difference. Hamas wants to exert that same power and control over their people as Iranian religious leadership exerts over theirs.

Iran has a set of modesty laws that also kick into high gear in the summer, the time when people shed their clothing and with them their political and religious inhibitions. In Iran people are arrested for violating the code and their families are hauled off to jail. In Gaza the virtue police have limited their actions to intimidation, public beatings and humiliations.

Hamas has already demanded that female lawyers wear scarves in court. They have demanded that female mannequins be totally covered. Now they demand that all women be covered up on the beach. Single men and women are forbidden to cohort on the beach.

For good measure Hamas is also demanding that on the beach, men wear shirts. A lifeguard was told by plainclothes security to dress more Islamic and instructed to wear a shirt and have knee length pants. A young man on the beach was emphatically told to remove his rings and his bracelet because they were Western and under Hamas, all Western styles and influences are shunned.

Gaza is gearing up for a culture clash. These are issues that arise annually, but much more so this year as Hamas police patrol the beaches and enforce the new, stricter rules. As the heat builds and the beach becomes more of a magnet, tensions and tempers overheat. Anyone who knows young people knows that today’s youth march to a very different cadence than do adults and that rules are meant to be broken.

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Jakarta Terror

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 22, 2009

Column:

Americans tend to think of terror as a snake. Slithering, scaly, poisonous, deadly. The analogy works, but only if you think of terror not as a dangerous python or a venomous cobra, it works if you think of terror as the hydra – the many headed serpent from Greek mythology. The monster that was slain by the Greek god Hercules, the monster that grew back two heads each time one was chopped off.

When two luxurious hotels in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, were devastated by a suicide bombing, the CIA was caught off guard. The double bombing of the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels that killed nine people and wounded over sixty was a clear attack on Western targets. The organizers were clearly members of Jama Islamiya, a splinter organization off al Qaeda. Even before JI publicly claimed responsibility for the attack it was easy to determine that they were the perpetrators, all the indications were there – and not just because this same Marriot hotel was hit in 2003 by this same group, killing twelve people.

Jama Islamiya functions as an off shoot of al Qaeda. Jama Islamiya operatives are trained by al Qaeda. Jama Islamiya members and supporters pledge allegiance to al Qaeda. And the CIA had assumed that JI was defunct.

The CIA assumed that this al Qaeda terrorist arm was no longer in operation. One CIA source even said that Jama Islamiya came out of the grave to hit these two hotels. In a classic mistake of Western allegiance, because the group had been silent, because the proverbial head of the snake had once been removed, the CIA thought the group to be dead. They thought cobra, they should always be thinking hydra.

Cutting off the head – in this case either arresting or killing many JI leaders, undoubtedly did slow down the organization, but it did not kill it. It allowed Jama Islamiya to morph and to grow and to evolve all while under the radar of Western intelligence. Western intelligence, in an act of benign neglect brought on by ignorance and self aggrandizement in essence helped Jama Islamiya carry out this devastating act of terror.

As vivid and romantic and compelling as visions of modern day security operative Sir Galahads killing the snake may be, only Hercules can slay the hydra. Killing and arresting terrorist leaders is the easy part, ridding Indonesia of terror is the difficult part, eradicating terror is a constant battle.

What is also so fascinating about the recent attack is that a significant dimension of the story and the motivation of the terrorists was not played out in American media.

Luxury hotels are obvious targets, Western travelers enjoy luxury hotels around the world. Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country in the world. Indonesia is therefore the perfect place for extremists to ply their trade. But we in the United States live in a bubble and see the world only through our own eyes.

This attack was intended to cause a bigger bang for the terrorist world than it actually did cause. What was missing from media coverage of the bombing was the information that the famed Manchester United team was scheduled to be staying at the Ritz Hotel, there to play against the national team of Indonesia. Manchester United is one of the greatest teams in the soccer world and soccer greatly eclipses all other team sports everywhere in the world outside the United States.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world follow soccer, hundreds of millions. There’s more. Manchester United is owned by an American Jew, a businessman named Malcolm Glazer.

Terrorists attack symbols. These terrorists aimed at but missed out on striking two very recognizable symbols – Jewish business and beloved world sports. For the terrorists and terrorist supporters, it was dumb luck that they missed these targets. The rest of the world is grateful.

The world is becoming inured to acts of terror and that is very dangerous. First word of this attack came as reports on twitter. One tweet actually described how, after the attack, people continued to meet and eat in cafes near the site and that scares me.

This attack in Jakarta, perpetrated by Jama Islamiya is an important lesson in the study of terrorist activities. If the security apparatus pays attention it will learn a lot about the bio-rhythm of al Qaeda and al Qaeda splinter groups. The hydra rests, the hydra does not sleep.

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THE KILLING OF IRAQ’S CHRISTIANS

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 15, 2009

Column:

The world has become so focused on Iran that we have neglected to pay attention to what is happening in Iraq. That was a mistake. Without our taking any notice, a religious expulsion has been taking place in Iraq. The Christians of Iraq are being murdered, displaced and disgraced.

Twelve years ago, under the reign of Saddam Hussein, about 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. Six years later, in 2003, the year the United States entered Iraq, that number dropped to 800,000. Today, another six years later, the German Catholic Relief Organization Kirche puts the number of Christians living in Iraq at 400,000 – 500,000.

Where have the Christians of Iraq gone? They have been decimated, fallen victim to a campaign that systematically intimidates, persecutes and even executes Christians. The plan, instituted by Islamic extremists, forces Iraq’s Christian population out of certain neighborhoods, towns, cities and ultimately, out of Iraq.

In attacks against these non-Muslim residents of Iraq the Armenian Church was leveled and the home of the Chaldean Archbishop was bombed. After attacks on Christian-owned businesses the business owners were brutally killed and offered as examples to what can and will happen to other Christian practitioners.

This past week, several Christian churches came under attack. In one incident, a church in Baghdad was bombed moments after completing a religious rite. Several worshippers were killed as they were leaving Sunday Mass. On April 14th, in the town of Mosul, an ancient place once heavily populated by Christians and now almost completely vacated, a Christian father and his family were executed by Muslim extremists. Vehicles have been banned near all churches in the nearby towns of Tilkaif and Hamdaniyah in an attempt to prevent car bombings. These acts of intimidation are having the desired effect.

Christians in Iraq are fearful of retaliation and rightfully so -local Iraqi police are believed to be complicit in these acts. To be fair, the police have taken some actions and even issued precautions during large marches and Muslim memorials in order to protect the Christian minority, but, like in Tilkaif and Hamdaniyah, those moves are more cosmetic than convincing.

Iraq must learn to self-govern and we in the West have taken upon ourselves the responsibility of teaching Iraqis to govern. One lesson we have forgotten, however, is to teach Iraqis that the principle of protecting minority rights is not merely a lofty ideal, it is an obligation, it is one of the building blocks of a society.

The Christian community in Iraq has a long and wondrous history dating back centuries. So did the Jewish community. Once upon a time centuries ago Iraq had a culture that understood minorities and allowed them to flourish. Today, there are no Jews left in Iraq. We cannot let the Christians of Iraq suffer that same fate.

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THE REVOLUTION THAT WASN’T, IRAN 2009

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 7, 2009

Column:

In 1979 a revolution took place in Iran. Thirty years later, in 2009, although many people expected and even hoped for a revolution, the movement never took off.

Let me explain why. The revolution that took place in Iran in 1979, the revolution that overthrew and ousted the Shah from power and placed the Ayatollah Khomeini in power, was religiously based. In 1979 a theocratic state was instituted in Iran and that state is called, to this day, the Islamic Republic.

Without the backing of the clergy, a revolution has no chance of even happening, let alone being successful, in Iran. And in the post-election frenzy that possessed Iran the clergy was conspicuously absent. The mosques were silent, religious leadership was mum.

Iran’s clergy had no respect for the Shah of Iran. He disgusted them, he repulsed them. The Shah of Iran was the symbolic representation of everything that was wrong with Iran from the point of view of the religious leadership. Religious loyalty was with an Ayatollah, a dynamic personality and persuasive speaker who was living in Paris – the Ayatollah Khomeini. This Ayatollah was a religious leader who spoke directly to the masses and as a person, he was held in the highest regard by every single Shiite Muslim cleric.

The clergy in Iran today is pleased with their position and with their influence. Over time the Ayatollah Khomeini was replaced by the Ayatollah Khamenei. While the change may be significant for many segments of the population in Iran and worldwide this change is insignificant for Iran’s clergy.

The mosques and the Imams were not fomenting a post-election revolt. Very few clergy took a stand in favor of revolt and those who did were seen as political figures rather than religious leaders. Even those clergy who opposed a revolt were seen as political but viewed kindly and as part of the establishment which carries very different currency in Iran.

No one in the religious sphere wanted to oust the religious leadership. No one set their cross hairs on the Grand Ayatollah.

Although he was a protege of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Mir Hussein Mousavi was not worthy of the fight. He may have charisma, but Mousavi does not have the following. He does not have the religious credentials, Mousavi is a former politician, he is a poet and an architect. The clergy of Iran are not about to jeopardize their future for the man who would replace not the Ayatollah, but merely Ahmadinejad, the president.

One of the truly greatest insights and quotes of the Shah of Iran, made famous by Salman Rushdie, was: My biggest mistake was that I stopped paying the clergy. When I paid them they did what I asked. As soon as I stopped they ran to the opposition.

Religion and business run hand in hand in Iran. Without one, the other’s power is diminished. And just as Iran’s religious leadership was prominently absent from the 2009 revolution that wasn’t, so too were Iran’s merchants absent. Pivotal to the success of the 1979 Khomeini revolt was the backing of the merchant class.

Iran is a merchant-run society and the merchant class is far more significant and carries much more clout than do students or doctors or lawyers. Professionals and intellectuals have their place in Iran, but the movers and shakers are the merchants.

By definition Iranian merchants tend to be conservative. They have strong values and are motivated by business and family. Although the reformers advocated for a leadership that was more economically responsible it was a message that did not resonate with the merchant class.

The merchants were not convinced. And without merchants you have a movement with no financial backing.

No religious backing, no support from the merchant class and a move to overthrow not the religious leader but merely his mouthpiece, the president. That is not a recipe for success. And the Ayatollah understood it from the outset.

That understanding underscores why The Supreme Leader deliberately ordered the police to be very precise and to exercise restraint. Had too much blood been spilled the ire of the masses, the concern of the clergy and the pockets of the merchants might have tipped the balance and turned passionate demonstrating into true revolution. The Ayatollah would have none of that.

And that explains why the Iranian revolution of 1979 did not repeat itself in 2009.

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KEEPING AN EYE ON KAZAKHSTAN

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 1, 2009

Column:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not make empty threats.

Last week the president of Iran threatened the president of Azerbaijan. Using his foreign minister as a mouthpiece, Ahmadinejad threatened to severely punish Azerbaijan if the official visit of Israeli President Shimon Peres was not cancelled.

The official visit went on as planned. And this week the Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan was called home.

Shimon Peres, undaunted by the diplomatic curve he had been thrown Azerbaijan, continued on to the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is a burgeoning country. It has a blossoming economy and its influence in the Muslim world is substantial and growing more substantial. Kazakhstan is a country in the right place, with the right natural resources, at the right time in history.

Kazakhstan is the 2nd largest producer of uranium in the world and has, by far, the largest uranium reserves in Eurasia. The only country that has more uranium than Kazakhstan is Australia, but Australia can never wield the influence over the Muslim world that Kazakhstan can wield. Nuclear energy speaks volumes in today’s world.

Shimon Peres had multiple agendas in going to Kazakhstan. One of those reasons was expanding relations between Israel and a significant Muslim country. Another reason had to do with nuclear energy. Peres wanted assurances that Kazakhstan would not be supplying nuclear fuel to Iran. The promises were received, but promises from Kazakhstan are not completely reliable.

Last year I wrote about a train that departed from Kyrgyzstan, crossed into Kazakhstan and then crossed the border into Uzbekistan where it was intercepted and stopped. The train was making its way to Iran. The train was filled with uranium. It had already traveled through and crossed over the entire Kazakh before it was stopped on the Uzebeki side of the border.

The Uzebeki border guards were shocked to find the uranium. They sent it back and alerted the Kazakh government. In retrospect, that was probably not the wisest move. According to most people in the know, including International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammed el Baradei, Kazakhstan is one of the most nuclear-trafficked states in the world.

Uranium is for Kazakhstan what oil is for Saudi Arabia. Every country will want it, many countries will need it and Kazakhstan will be one of the only countries that has it. Estimates for the revenue Kazakhstan will reap exporting their natural resource are coming in high, as high as $15 – $20 billion a year for this sleepy little Asian Muslim country.

Central Asia is the future battlefield for the conflict between East and West. It is where Islam retains a strong moderate tradition, it is also where the Fundamentalist population is growing. Kazakhstan realizes that it is coming of age and that it will very soon be in control of the world’s supply of nuclear fuel much the same way OPEC is in control of the world’s oil production and supply.

We must keep a very close eye on Kazakhstan. We must nurture the Kazakhs and help them grow responsibly. We must cultivate a deep and trusting relationship with Kazakhstan. We must make every effort to lure Kazakhstan away from Iranian influences. If Kazakhstan falls under the influence of Iran the results will be cataclysmal for the Western world.

That is why Iran’s president saw fit to make threats. It is why Israel’s president thought it wise to pay a visit.

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THE FACES OF OUR LEADERS

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday June 24, 2009

Column:

Think of a word that expresses the ideal for which the Western world strives.
That word would be “democracy.”

Think of a concept that epitomizes a dream for all Westerners.
That concept would be “freedom.”

Think of a game that emblemizes the way Westerners chase after that ideal and live out that dream.
That game is “follow the leader.”

As independent as we think we are, we in the West look to leaders to rally us forward and define our purpose. For Westerners, especially in the United States, every movement needs a face.

Good movements or bad movements, ideological movements or religious movements, self help movements or mass demonstration movements – every movement needs a leader, every movement needs a face.

Americans join the army because Uncle Sam asks us to. Americans slim down because Tommy Lasorda, Valerie Bertinelli or Oprah ask us to. Our leaders shape our world by shaping our ideas.

We cannot understand Islamic terror, so we focus on Osama bin Laden. We cannot understand the complex tribal balance between Arab groups, so we focus on Saddam Hussein. We cannot understand Hezbollah, so we focus on Nasrallah. We cannot understand the thirst for freedom, so we focus on twenty-six year old Neda Agha-Soltan lying dead in the street. We cannot understand a government so willing to strip away the freedoms of its citizens, so we focus on Mir Hussein Mousavi.

We cannot understand, even our supreme leader, our president, does not completely understand, but we should try.

The power of the events now unfolding in Iran has revealed the true Iran. The curtain has been lifted and we must allow the reality of life and governance and religious control in Iran to take hold in our minds and in the minds of our leaders, our decision makers, the faces we look up to and follow.

The execution of Neda, shot through the heart by Iranian secret security sniper fire has outraged the world. Neda’s death is proof positive that the leadership of Iran is not about to either reform or to liberalize. And as that reality sinks in we must also realize that no matter who the elected face of government in Iran belongs to, nothing will change.

Mir Hussein Mousavi’s greatest contribution to the movement that we think he leads is that he is not Mohammad Ahmadinejad. The biggest difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad is that Mousavi wears nicely cut pinstripe suits and Ahmadinejad wears polyester leisure suits.

The people of Iran had their cause, they had their movement. They were not looking for a leader – they were looking to express themselves in a peaceful manner. They went out to vote, not riot. And then they went out to peacefully demonstrate, not violently revolt.

But the West could not understand what was happening. So the Western media chose a face for the people of Iran, and that faced belonged to Mousavi. The media chose Mousavi not for Iranians – they knew all along that all the candidates were one and the same, they chose him so that the West would have a face and therefore be able to understand the movement taking place in Iran.

Iranians are upset not because Ahmadinejad was declared winner in this election and Mousavi was not, they are upset because Ahmadinejad was proclaimed to have won a landslide victory. And that means that their votes were not even counted. Ahmadinejad might have honestly won the election, but not by that large a margin.

The Supreme Leader miscalculated, and he knows it. And that is why Iran has exhibited so much patience in dealing with this internal crisis. That is why so few protesters have died so far. Hundreds of graves, rectangles dug into the earth, have been prepared for the violence. The family of one victim was told that they
could not receive their loved one’s body for burial unless they paid for the cost of the bullets used to kill him. The sum they were given was equivalent to $3000. Thankfully, most other graves remain open and unused.

Other countries in the region would not have behaved with such restraint. Egypt and Jordan, friends of the West, would never have permitted these protests to continue. By now, Syria would have massacred thousands of protesters making it clear from the outset that protests are not permitted.

And if Mousavi were in office, he would do the same. As prime minister of Iran Mousavi was responsible for 7,000 deaths by execution of Iranians who challenged the authority. Under Mousavi the fatwah, the religious edict calling for the death of Salman Rushdie was issued. Mousavi, the face the West has chosen to represent freedom from Iranian persecution, called upon all Iranians to kill the author on sight.

In the West we need leaders to propel our movements. In non-Western countries leaders inhibit movement.

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FINALLY, THE PRESIDENT GETS IT

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday June 17, 2009

Column:

The light has finally gone on in American foreign policy vis a vis Iran. The token has finally fallen into place. The president is finally speaking about Iran in terms that prove that he, Barack Obama, really, finally, understands Iran.

In remarks that were on target and accurate, soundbites that reflect good advice and sound judgment about the crisis in Iran. President Obama said: “It’s important to understand that although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, in terms of their actual policies, may not be as great as has been advertised…”

He said: “Either way we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons.”

And in discussing the real differences between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir Hussein Mousavi he said that those differences: “[M]ay not be as great as has been advertised.” That is an understatement of the highest order, but at least the truth has finally been spoken by the American president.

Obama is acknowledging, explaining to the people of the United States of America, that when it comes to the big issues, to the issues that mist directly affect the United States – to nuclear development and to religion, that there is little to no difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. Both candidates are insiders. Both candidates were vetted by the religious council of Iran and chosen as four out of four hundred other wannabe candidates to be the mouthpiece of the real leader of Iran, The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. And why? Because both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi represent the mullahs of Iran and both Mousavi and Ahmadinejad respect the religious establishment that is Iran.

So, one might rightfully ask, if Ahmadinejad and Mousavi are so similar, why is there such a public row in the street of Teheran? If they are both the same, what difference does it make who wears the mantle?

The answer is actually very simple. The one great difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi is that Mousavi is not Ahmadinejad. Iranians are tired of Ahamdinejad. The sheer fact that Mousavi is not Ahmadinejad was enough to motivate Iranians to vote for the one and against the other. Anyone would have beat out Ahmadinejad if this were a real election. But a real election it was not.

The vote against Ahmadinejad was a rejection of the religious leadership of Iran. That holds true despite the fact the Mousavi represents the same religious leadership. The vote against Ahmadinejad was a rejection of the role played by the political leadership within Iran. That holds true despite the fact that Mousavi has also held political office, serving as prime minister under the founder of the Revolution, the Ayatollah Khomeini.

As they were casting their votes every Iranian knew that the only vote that would count would be the one cast by The Supreme Leader. They knew it as well as Mousavi knew it.
They knew that the only way Mousavi would win the election would be if The Supreme Leader was convinced that Mousavi would be an even more willing and convincing messenger than Ahmadinejad had been.

The people tried to convince The Supreme Leader. The Supreme Leader was not swayed. Their message was not convincing enough. The people tried hard and they have not given up trying. They are paying with their freedom and with their lives.

Here again, finally, President Obama is showing knowledge heretofore unseen. “I do believe that something has happened in Iran,” he said. “There is a questioning of the kinds of antagonistic postures towards the international community that have taken place in the past and that there are people who want to see greater openness and greater debate and want to see greater democracy.”

And Obama is beginning to understand The Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei and the real monopoly he holds over the lives of the Iranian people. He hinted that the Ayatollah might actually have insight and influence when he said that the Supreme Leader “indicates he understands the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election.”

There are a few things I will never understand. Why the president chose a midday show on CNBC as the platform from which to broadcast the most important and profound statements he has made about Iran since the days leading up to and following the election, is beyond me. CNBC is watched, depending on the day of the week and the time of day, by between 20,000 and 300,000 people. More people watch the local evening news in Akron, Ohio than watch daytime CNBC.

And why it took until Tuesday, five days after the Iranian election, for the president to show us that he has finally been briefed by someone who really knows what is happening is another unsolvable.

As they say, better later than never.

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TWO STATE SOLUTION OR PALESTINIAN SELF RULE

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday June 10, 2009

Column:

Strategy. Tactics. Move and countermove. Sometimes it’s called chess, sometimes it’s called diplomacy.

Foreign policy and international relations aside, United States President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Bibi Netanyahu are now engaged in a game of chess. And no, the pawns in this game are not the Palestinian people or Palestinian nationhood. The pawn in this game is a relationship forged long ago between two countries with many significant shared values and principles.

Obama and Netanyahu each have their own philosophy of fair play. Right now, they are trying to psyche each other out. And as in any game of chess, sacrifices will be made. In this game, sacrifices are being made in order to gain better position and advantage and at times, even to give an impression of changing style and attitude and strategy.

The game is being played over the idea of a Two State Solution, an idea that Obama is pushing hard and Netanyahu cannot accept.

The Israeli prime minister has repeatedly rejected the term Two State Solution while the American president speaks of it as a sine qua non. So where do they go from here?

The president made an important speech on June 4th in Cairo. The prime minister will be making his own important speech, a counter speech,on Sunday at Bar Ilan University. In his speech, Netanyahu will speak about Palestinian self rule. He will stress the importance of Palestinian self rule. He will speak of the necessity of building an infrastructure for a state. He will say that it is a time to build, not to destroy. He will be playing tactical semantics.

For Netanyahu, Palestinian self rule is synonymous with Two State Solution. Palestinian self rule is a term he can live with, Two State solution is a term he cannot bring home to his ruling coalition.

Netanyahu has a difficult needle to thread. The Israeli leader knows how important the issue of Palestinian nationhood is for the United States and for the president of the United States. He also knows that he is the prime minister of a parliamentary government which is very different from the republic of the United States. And he knows full well that his coalition is in place in large part because he chose to include two parties who will not – under any circumstances, support a Two State Solution. These two parties represent only a sliver of Israeli society, but a very vocal and now important of Israeli society. The overwhelming majority of Israel, 78% of Israel, supports the Two State Solution.

But even that 78% has a caveat. Their support is conditional upon their own security and survival.

So Netanyahu will finesse the term. If he pushes his coalition too hard, he will fall and no longer be prime minister. If he does not pursue the matter he will fall from the good graces of the United States and jeopardize US support for Israel, especially US military support. The Obama Two State Solution plan has already been proposed and drafts have been given to Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians. The Egyptians have invited all Arab foreign ministers to a meeting on June 17th to discuss the plan and to make certain that they are all on board.

Here we have it. Netanyahu will be able to finesse his way through the Two State Solution and the Arab world will back the Two State Solution and the United States will be thrilled with the Two State Solution – so wherein lies the problem?

The biggest problem is that there is no real infrastructure within the Palestinian Authority and without infrastructure there is no way to create a state. The Palestinians do not have their bureaucracies in place not for justice, or police, or education, health or self governance. The Palestinians have not yet erected the building blocks of a state.

The next biggest problem is Hamas. If a Palestinian state were to be declared in the West Bank tomorrow or in two months or two years from tomorrow, there is little doubt that as Gaza went, so will the West Bank go. Within six months Hamas will take over, ousting Fatah in a coup and asserting their role as Muslim extremists and establishing a terror state.

The same 78 % of Israel that supports the idea of a Two State Solution knows full well that until the Palestinian Authority can control Hamas it will be impossible to avoid the Hamas state. And that they reject – and so to does the rest of the Arab world. Neither Arab leaders nor the Arab street want Hamas to take control. The only player unconcerned by the lack of Palestinian infrastructure and the rise of Hamas is the United States. It is a part of the greater game plan that the United States considers to be neither likely nor serious.

Netanyahu will do what it takes to protect his people and pacify his friends. But he will not allow his country to be checkmated.

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THE OBAMA DOCTRINE: DESTINED TO FAIL

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday June 3, 2009

Column:

Let it be known that, first and foremost, the Obama Doctrine for the Middle East is a doctrine for and about the United States. It is the personal wish list of this president of the United States.

President Barack Obama and his team of advisors, envoys and mediators are acting in the best interest of the United States and of the United States only. The people who conceived of and the people implementing the Obama Doctrine do not have a mutual interest – or even a partial interest – in what benefits Israel.

True, they would be saddened should something catastrophic happen to Israel but the ultimate security of Israel is not primary in their minds. Israel’s safety and Israel’s security is purely in the hands of Israel. Right now, the United States will not move a dingy, a toy soldier, or a paper airplane to assist an Israel in crisis.

The intent of this new doctrine is to resurrect the status of the United States, to reshape the power base of the United States and to reposition the influence of the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds. The Obama Doctrine for the Middle East is a classic replay of geo-politics.

Barack Obama wants to even out the playing field. And in making things even the special relationship between Israel and the United States is automatically diminished. Significantly diminished. And the Obama Doctrine is already in play.

The historic foray into the Middle East embarked upon by the Obama entourage visits four Middle East countries – and Israel is not one of them. The trip to Israel would have been an easy sashay over the Egyptian border, the most significant stop on the trip. Instead, Israel is being snubbed, ignored, diplomatically reprimanded.

The rationale is that a broader US coalition in the Middle East will make for a safer Israel and that a safer region is a safer Israel. The logic is that if, in the long run, Israel will be safer, who can argue with the means through which this happens. Stating his thesis even more pointedly, Obama asserts that only good friends can be so brutally honest with one another. His objective is to apply pressure on the Israeli populace to force their prime minister to buckle under US pressure and to accommodate this new doctrine. Obama is dangling the special Israel/US relationship in the faces of Israelis assuming that they will care so passionately about the relationship that it will override the traditional skepticism that has been so ingrained in the Israeli psyche and that has kept their nation alive until now.

The fact is that there are more Muslims and more Arabs than there are Israelis and Jews in this world. In the end, the Obama camp will cast aside shared values, issues of mutual benefit and past special relationships for the sake of the massive numbers represented by the Muslim and Arab states. It is a quotient somewhat familiar to those students of history and diplomacy who watched the United States cast off a relationship with Hong Kong in favor of a new relationship with Mainland China.

When the inevitable danger befalls Israel in the near term, Israel will be prepared. But Israeli military superiority cannot last long because the qualitative edge that Israel holds is often due to the weapons received from the United States. Will it happen before or after the fall of the Obama Doctrine, I cannot say.

But the Obama Doctrine for the Middle East will, inevitable, fail.

It will fail because Hamas will overpower Fatah and take charge of both the West Bank and Gaza.

It will fail because Israelis will not support Obama over Bibi if only because of the Holocaust mentality and Masada complex which is part and parcel of the Israeli nation.

It will fail because, despite Obama, the Arab world will not trust the United States.

It will fail because Arab leaders cannot believe the naivete of Barack Obama regarding Iran and they cannot believe that the president of the United States will move ahead and try to befriend Iran over the Arabs.

No matter how charming and how powerful his speeches are, no matter how powerful or poetic his rhetoric, the Obama Doctrine in the Middle East will fail. I just hope it doesn’t take too many casualties along the way.

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THE DANGER OF THE OBAMA DOCTRINE

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday May 26, 2009

Column:

President Barack Obama’s desire for change is admirable, but it is also dangerous. It is especially dangerous when he reaches out and embraces other nations and cultures. Especially, in the Middle East.

The buzz has begun on the Obama Middle East doctrine. The speech is still in the formation stages, but it has already had a huge impact on events in the region.

The chosen date is June 4th. The chosen venue is Cairo. It began during the presidential campaign and has been repeated over the last 100+ days. Obama advisers have promised a broad, far reaching presentation aimed at putting into perspective the desires, intentions and ambitions of the United States for the Middle East. In short, this address will speak of the changes that President Barack Obama hopes to wrest from the Israel, the Palestinians, Iran and the nations, cultures and religions of the Middle East region.

The concept of such a speech is as grand as it is tactically well intentioned. Barack Hussein Obama has chosen an Arab center of power from which to reach out to the Muslim world and explain where the United States stands on important issues. In his own way, Obama is restoring to Egypt the grandeur of days long gone, re-asserting the power and presence of Egypt in today’s historic and diplomatic context.

Obama will not lay out details of an Israeli/Palestinian peace, the White House made that clear last week. He will mention it and he will emphasize the US conception of a Two State Solution and he will stress the need for Palestinians to have their own, independent state, one that lies next door to Israel and lives there is peace.

He will talk about terror and about freedom and about Iran and about Iran’s race to acquire nuclear technology. He will speak of advancement and of culture, of sharing and learning and understanding. The speech will be very polished and very well delivered – that is the Obama way. And the president of the United States will probably include phrases in Arabic and perhaps even begin his address with an Arabic verse from the Koran. He will not speak in Pharsi, the language of Iran. And much of what he says will fall on deaf ears.

As smart a tactical move as making this speech is, as good as it will look and sound from the point of view of the United States and the West, the impact of this grand maneuvering, of this speech, will be, at best, negligible in the Muslim world. At worst, it will be dangerous.

The Muslim world is divided into three parts. Part one is looking for a ray of light, of hope, of change, from the United States. Part two can never see or hear or experience anything positive from the United States. Part three, the majority of the Muslim world, requires much more than a well spoken, well intentioned, grandstanding speech from the president of the United States of America to impact the way they view US/Muslim interaction.

Despite the good intentions and the positive aspects of the speech, it will bring about no serious change in US/Muslim interaction. By definition, it cannot.

Arab and Muslim cultures are deeply informed by myths and historical narratives. Those narratives take a long time to develop and to seep into the culture. They may be and often are based on half truths and incorrect, revisionist, history but they are a part of the collective memory of the region and of the entire culture.

And part of the currently held myth is that the United States and Israel are inextricably bound together. The myth propagates the idea that the US protects Israel and oppresses the Arab and the Muslim. Part of the myth is that Israel is grabbing Arab land and that Israel is intent on the destruction of the Arab people and Muslim/Arab culture.

Iran has already rejected everything Obama is about to propose, even before the words have been said. Iran has no desire to reach out and grab the Obama gesture. Rather, Iranians exploit Obama’s gesture and use it as cover for their own duplicitous end in acquiring nuclear capabilities. Iran understands Obama, realizes how weighty his words will be to part of the Muslim world and knows that they can be the counter weight to this message.

As he ascends the literal platform to deliver his address in the heart of the Arab world, Obama is handing over a figurative platform to enemies of the West. And that is dangerous and damaging.

For Iran, the Obama message is a message of assimilation and a Western cultural attack against Islam. For Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah it is emboldening. The warming period that Obama has extended to these rogues has given them the opportunity, means and motives to act more boldly and become more powerful.

I admire Obama’s desire for change, but the Arab world is not the United States.

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VISION, NOT HISTORY

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday May 20, 2009

Column:

It happened because it had to happen, because history dictated that it happen.

Barack Obama, the newly elected President of the United States of America and Benjamin Bibi Netanyahu, the newly resurrected Prime Minister of Israel, were fated to meet. The meeting had historical precedence. The meeting had diplomatic overtones. And like historical precedence and like diplomatic two steps, the meeting yielded nothing except for another page written into history and another diplomatic gesture politely completed.

Think tactics, not strategy. The changes in the administrations brought about under the leadership of both Obama and Netanyahu will be tactical changes, not strategic changes. To think otherwise is to be naïve and overly optimistic.

The changes we will see will be in the attainment of short term goals, not long term objectives. Both men acted maturely and stately. The tensions that were expected were present, but only minimally. They heard each other out. They shared and they discussed for one hundred and five minutes. And they both leaned a little.

They learned about each other and about each other’s agenda. And because they were engaged in discussion and dialogue, not in debate, they actually heard what the other had to say. In the end, Netanyahu confirmed what he knew about Obama the man and came away reassured about Obama the leader vis a vis his take on Iran. Netanyahu came away so reassured on that one important issue that he was quoted as saying that “the US and Israel see eye to eye on Iran” and since the meeting, Obama has repeated more than once, that Iran must not be allowed to acquire military nuclear power.

The Palestinians are another matter. As part of their give and take, their point and counterpoint discussion, Obama made his case for a Palestinian state to be created now. And Netanyahu, the consummate orator, treated Obama to a brief course on Israel’s reservations about creating a Palestinian state at this juncture. There was nothing new in the material that either the American president or the Israeli prime minister delivered over, but the time, the place and mutual respect between these two Western leaders required that it be said and said in its entirety.

They spoke, they listened, they changed nothing. Not at the White House, that is. On Capitol Hill Netanyahu who had been courting the Hill was greeted with great fanfare – and with frankness. Much as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had done, John Kerry, Chairman of the Senatorial Committee on Foreign Relations made it very clear that the United States is in favor of creating a Palestinian state and that the United States wants Israel to cease settlement building.

America wants a two state solution and so do the vast majority, over seventy percent, of Israelis. That comes as no surprise, but it does come with a bit of a problem. The problem for Israeli leadership, aka Bibi Netanyahu, is that in order for Israel to sign off on a Palestinian state there must be real safeguards, not theoretical safeguards, within the Palestinian government. And right now, there are no safeguards of any kind.

Looking out on the Palestinian horizon there is no leader who can control the Palestinian factions. Looking past the horizon the only figure to emerge would be Marwan Barghouti, but he is serving a term in an Israeli prison for his role in terror attacks against Israelis. In the absence of a real leader it will be almost impossible to reign in the various Palestinian factions in. Without a real Palestinian leader it will be impossible to strike a blow against Hamas and return Hamas to its proper place in the Palestinian hierarchy. And without a real leader the Palestinians will never be able to invest in building the institutions that will help pull them out of the muck and mire and into the modern technological world.

Despite their desire for a Palestinian state to be established, US senators realize the dilemma of the situation. And that is why, in a letter addressed to the president they wrote that they hoped he would “promote far greater involvement and participation by the Arab states both in moving toward normal ties with Israel and in encouraging moderate Palestinian elements.”

Creating a Palestinian state takes vision, not history. The meeting between Obama and Netanyahu was historic. The meeting between Obama and Netanyahu was not visionary.

The relationship between Israel and the US remains very strong.

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A TWO STATE SOLUTION or ONE BIG PROBLEM

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday May 13, 2009

Column:

The pressure is on for a Two State Solution. Almost everyone, from east to west, is hounding Israel’s new prime minister, pushing and pushing hard.

The UN Security Council issued a statement advancing the idea.

Egypt clearly and directly stated their point of view in a face to face meeting with Netanyahu in Sharm el Sheik.

Jordan’s King Abdullah is calling for it. The European Union. Spain. The Czech Republic. President of the United States Barack Obama and General James Jones, his National Security Adviser, are endorsing it.

The only voices not heard advocating for a Two State Solution are the voice of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the voice of Hamas.

The question we need to ask is “why?” Why are so many countries and so many world leaders so very interested in a Two State Solution. There are as many answers as there are countries. Each country has its own agenda, its own special interests, its own selfish reasons for wanting the Israelis and Palestinians to live side-by-side, state-along-state, sharing and in harmony.

King Abdullah of Jordan has a one word reason for pushing towards a Two State Solution. War. For the past year the Jordanian monarch has been repeating the same refrain: it is essential that there be a resolution, a peaceful resolution, a Two State Resolution because the alternative is war. He has said that if there is no resolution within a year, the Palestinians and Israelis will be at war.

So far, the King’s prediction has not panned out. In fact, as far as war goes, the Palestinians are closer to a civil war than an Israeli/Palestinian war. And as far as an Israeli/Palestinian war goes, there is less likelihood of that happening now than there was a year ago. In fact, the head of Israel’s Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin, just testified before his Knesset committee saying “the likelihood of war with the Palestinians within the next year is low.”

The US National Security Adviser explained the American point of view while interviewed on a recent Sunday morning talk show. Jones explained that the United States supports the idea of two states and then took it a giant step forward. He said that solving the problem of Palestinian/Israeli tensions would help reduce the problem of Iranian nuclear tension. It’s an interesting theory, but the NSA chief is way off the mark. His first error is in his analysis, his second error is in turning his analysis into political posturing. It’s embarrassing.

There is absolutely no connection between Iran and the Palestinians and certainly, there is no connection at all with Iran’s nuclear program. Iran pays tribute to the Palestinian issue but does nothing to advance the Palestinian cause. Iran offers words and words only to the Palestinians and when it comes to the Palestinians the word of the Iranian government is nothing more than hot air. And the Palestinians are happy that way.

Mainstream Palestinians reject Iran and reject Ahmadinejad. Only Hamas supports Iran. Mainstream Palestinians reject Iran’s message and Iran’s culture. The Palestinians view the Iranians as heretics. The Palestinians are not alone in their opinion of Iran.

The entire Arab world views Iranian support for the Palestinian cause as a façade. They view it as a tool used by Iran to advance its own objectives and primary among Iran’s objectives is to be positioned as the leader of the Muslim world.

Sadly, President Obama’s most important and influential adviser, James Jones, buys into Iran’s rhetoric. And if Jones cannot realize that simple truth about Iran it calls into question some of the most critical decisions taken and to be taken by the United States regarding the Middle East region. The Saudis are livid. The Egyptians are fuming. The United States has shown itself to be ignorant of the machinations that run the Middle East.

The 50 state large United States has no idea of what a Two State Solution means.

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UPDATE THE LAW, PUT DOWN THE PIRACY

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday May 5, 2009

Column:

The equation is simple: pirates capture, companies pay.

Millions and millions of dollars have been paid out as ransom to pirates who capture vessels on the high sea. The story has repeated itslef many times over the past few months. The glaring turth is that the modern world is extremely under-prepared to battle piracy.

The world has changed, but piracy hasn’t.

Centuries ago civilized nations were held hostage by pirates, much as we are today. Centuries ago civilized nations were virtually powerless to act against piracy, much as we are today. Centuries ago it was fear that gripped the civilized world, today, that fear is mixed with law.

Historically piracy was never considered political. It was never seen as a form of terror. It was seen through the prism of thievery. Pirates were self motivated. They wanted money. They still want money. But in today’s world, if pirates are helping a government and that government, in turn, helps them continue to kidnap ships the law says that the pirates are outside the boundary of the the international law of the high seas and of UNCLOS.

The UN Convention on the Law Of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines piracy as
“any illegal acts of violence or detention, committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship”
“on the high seas”
“outside the jurisdiction of any state”
This is the definition of piracy as laid down in international law. It is Article 101 a,b,c. It is simple, direct and woefully incomplete.

Imagine this situation: a NATO ship captures an entire pirate crew, captures them red handed, with their weapons, with the goods and even saves the day by freeing the hostages and returning the captured vessel to the crew. After a spectacular rescue the NATO team has the pirates and the pirate vessel. The crack NATO team confiscates the weapons, searches for more weapons, finds and takes those, too and then – then the NATO team releases the pirates. Why? Because according to the law NATO does not have jurisdiction. NATO cannot arrest pirates, NATO cannot bring pirates to trial and NATO cannot punish pirates.

The reality is that legally, not only NATO has no jurisdiction. Almost no country will arrest pirates, that is the unwritten rule of the sea and it is a rule that pirates know well. The exception to that rule is in those rare cases in which the rescue team is from the same country as the captured crew. In other words, the only way that pirates will be arrested is if, by chance, the host nation is around and sails to the rescue. Why? Because that way there is no jurisdictional challenge. And that almost never happens.

According to this inadequate definition of piracy, the Somalian pirates plying their trade within the territorial waters of Somalia, are not practising piracy. And according to this definition, pirates who pay tribute to local governments and leadership are not practising piracy either. The act of paying tribute transforms the illegal action from an international act to a local act. Jurisdiction is then covered locally because the pirates have linked themselves to a particular cause and political leader. In the eyes of the law they have been transformed from money and booty seekers to political or governmental activists.

These laws must be changed.

These antiquated perceptions of piracy help the pirate, defend the pirate and lend no incentive to stop the pirate.

When looking at the situation around Somalia it becomes clear that the Somalian government is powerless. The government of Somalia is too weak to stop the piracy and the government of Somalia does not want to stop the piracy because the government gains from the piracy. Rather than stop the pirates, local governments offer the pirates protection, safe haven and refuge.

During the 19th century Barbary Pirates ruled the seas. Civilized countries paid regular ransoms to insure that either their ships were protected in advance or that the vessels would return safely after being boarded and abducted. It was Teddy Roosevelt who said enough, and charged the United States Marine Corps with the responsibility of crushing piracy. Rooselvelt asserted that neither the free world nor the world economy should be brought to its knees by a handful of sea pirates.

The Marine Corps is still capable of handling the job. They just need international law behind them. The time has come to update the law and put down the piracy.

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CHANGING THE MIDDLE EAST, OBAMA STYLE

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday April 28, 2009

Column:

Change, the central theme of the Obama campaign, is now insinuating itself into Middle East policy.

The LA Times recently reported that the Obama administration has asked Capitol Hill to change the law on Hamas. If the president was asking for only slight alterations, even a few cosmetic modifications to the way the United States handles Hamas, Congress might let it slide. But no, this is true change, big change.

As it now stands, it is against the law in the United States to send money that in any way will benefit Hamas either directly or even indirectly. US funds may not support the terrorist organization Hamas or the terrorists of Hamas. Congress has been very clear on this matter. So clear on this matter that Congress came to their decision without the prodding of the “Israel Lobby” or any other “pro” Israel group.

The change President Barack Obama is requesting would alter bedrock assumptions about Hamas and terror. It would permit Hamas’ people to be part of a Palestinian unity government if the individuals themselves were not terrorists, just leaders of a terrorist organization.

For the United States Congress, this distinction will not be about political expedience. It will not be about prevailing winds. For Congress it is not a test of friendship between the United States and Israel. Should the Obama change be implemented that friendship will change quickly and completely, perhaps irrevocably.

The men and women on The Hill view dealings with Hamas, the avowed and acknowledged terrorist organization, as an issue of right and wrong. Israel is right and Hamas is wrong. Congress was not planning on altering its stance vis a vis Hamas until Hamas altered its stances on what Congress considers four essential givens. Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist, must renounce terror, must actively try to prevent terror, must agree to abide by and honor previous agreements. If change of any sort was expected, it was expected to come from Hamas, not from the United States.

Congress is not alone. These four stipulations were laid down by the Quartet the last time an opportunity arose for Hams to join a Palestinian Unity government. The Quartet, a group composed of Russia, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations, is not what anyone could call an overly demanding group when it comes to making demands on Hamas. But even then Hamas was unwilling to meet the demands.

So why does this administration want to bring about this change? The Obama administration likes to look at things, even tried and true, iron clad, basic rules of diplomacy, differently. The Obama administration wants to challenge “what has always been done” and transform it into “what we are now doing.”

In some ways challenging basic issues and ideas is refreshing. But it can also be dangerous. And the people who will be paying the price for this particular change in policy towards Hamas don’t live in Washington D.C. they live in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ashkelon and Sderot. It is Israelis who will be paying the price for Barack Obamas’ creative zeal. The new kids on Pennsylvania Avenue will be sitting back, watching their experiment play out from a safe and comfortable distance.

The White House’s argument is that they are doing this out of their love and commitment for Israel. They will say that this is not an anti Israel stance, that it is an incentive package for Hamas.

Hamas will not change because Hamas does not want to change. Hamas will neither stop terror nor renounce terror. Hamas may pretend to be a political organization, but terror is their trade. Hamas will not accept Israel. That is clear. And now, in the midst of this era of new ideas, it is becoming clearer and clearer that neither will the present day ruling faction within the Palestinian Authority.

Just a few weeks ago Mohamed Dahlan, probably the second most publicly recognized person in Fatah and second only to Mahmoud Abbas, clearly stated that just because the government had to accept Israel, it does not automatically follow that Fatah, the ruling party in the PA, must accept Israel. The government needs to recognize Israel because of world politics, but that fact does not reflect a change in the policy of Fatah.

And now Abbas is even challenging the principle of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state as a sine qua non for movement in the peace process. Abbas came out and said “no” it is not. He said “they can call themselves what they want but I do not have to accept it. I do not accept it and I say it publicly.”

The White House, the Palestinian Authority and Israel are about to go head to head to head. It will all come to a head in May when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu makes his first visit to Washington. The real battle will be waged on Capitol Hill. If the White House successfully convinces the Hill to adopt this new approach towards Hamas it will lead to a revolutionary period in United States diplomacy and the attitude of the United States toward Israel.

If Congress does not stand strong, Israel will truly be all alone. All those ideas of peace and two states will be gone, off the table until some day in the distant future. If Congress does not stand strong hope of containing Hamas inspired terror will be gone. Hamas will emerge stronger and empowered. But true to its mandate, the Obama administration will have brought about change.

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DURBAN II: WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday April 21, 2009

Column:

On Sunday April 19th, on the day that was Adolf Hitler’s birthday, Hans Rudolf-Merz, the president of Switzerland, met with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran.

On Monday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an avowed Holocaust denier, addressed the forum at the UN sponsored Durban II conference held in Geneva.

On Monday members of Western delegations, in attendance at the conference, walked out of the hall as an unfazed, unflustered, uncaring Ahmadinejad spouted his rhetoric, lambasting Israel and the United States of America.

On Monday night, Jews world over began marking Holocaust Memorial Day.

What were they thinking? What were the planners of the conference and what were the handlers of the Swiss president thinking?

The Iranian leader was invited to give the keynote address at the conference and took every advantage of the opportunity to spew terrible hatred and bald faced lies – his mainstay rhetoric and public pronouncements. Representatives from 24 Western nations walked out on Ahmadinejad.

The European Union, in attendance only as observers, walked out.

Jordan, repulsed by what was being said, walked out.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, host of the event, stayed seated but released a statement. The secretary general condemned the Iranian leader’s speech and pointed out that, in advance of the address, he had spoken to Ahmadinejad and made it clear that the United Nations has officially repealed the Zionism is racism pronouncement and has affirmed the historical reality of the Holocaust.

In the end, the keynote speaker was the only head of state remaining in the room. And you want to know what Ahmadinejad was thinking? He was pleased. He had made his point. And Ahmadinejad continued on, regurgitating the same hate filled lies.

The Western world and even some members of the Arab world, made a point of walking out on Ahmadinejad and the president of Switzerland made a point of welcoming him into his country.

Hans Rudolf-Merz justified his meeting with the Holocaust denier and rabid anti-Semite Ahmadinejad by repeating the by now overused and incorrect cliche that Switzerland is a neutral country, that as a neutral country Switzerland embraces the idea of maintaining open channels and talking to everyone in order to properly facilitate negotiations between battling parties.

It is the same empty cliche that the Swiss used during World War II to avoid saving Jews, the cliche they used to cover up collaboration with the Nazis.

Neutrality does not mean spineless. Neutrality does not mean an incapacity to differentiate between right and wrong. Neutrality does not mean the inability to condemn evil and wrongdoing.

Neutrality means taking no sides, but it also means adopting a set of values that embraces moral and ethical principles.

Switzerland should have joined countries of conscience and condemned Ahmadinejad, condemned the words he used and the ideas he espoused. Instead, by paying him a courtesy call, the Swiss leader showed that he is not at all repulsed by the ideas Ahmadinejad holds dear. The Swiss president followed the lead of his predecessors and remained silent in the face of evil.

Excuses aside, Switzerland did not host the event. Durban II was hosted by the United Nations and held on United Nations territory. Switzerland was as much the host of Ahmadinejad at Durban II as the United States was when he came to New York to address the UN General Assembly in September.

There was no diplomatic need, no protocol for the head of Switzerland to go out his way and have a special dinner with the head of Iran. And because of that meeting Israel has called its ambassador to Switzerland back to Jerusalem for consultation and has called the Swiss ambassador to Israel in for a serious tongue lashing and is demanding an explanation.

Israel is making symbolic gestures, the president of Switzerland was not acting symbolically. Israel was pointing out that Switzerland has not learned their lessons. Nothing has changed in Switzerland. The Swiss witnessed Jews being murdered and did worse than nothing, they sent them back to Germany.

And today, a man preaches the murder of Jews and the Swiss plead neutrality and dine with the preacher.

Shame on Switzerland. Shame on the United Nations. Shame, shame.

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BARACK vs BIBI: THE PARAMETERS OF TERRORISM

By Micah Halpern

Monday April 13, 2009

Column:

Israel and the United States are on a collision course.

The issue they are colliding over is world terror.

When it comes to terror, either you are against it, or you are a terrorist. The disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington is not over the definition of terror, it is over the parameters of terrorism.

Barack Obama and Benjamin Bibi Netanyahu, both newly elected, are out to strut their stuff – in front of their respective countrymen and in front of the world. This collision course is premeditated, it is about perspective. Given the personalities and public flair of these two men, the clash between their administrations was predictable.

Obama and Netanyahu need to collide in order to clearly define the red lines of each of their new administrations. The purpose of this deliberate sparring match is for each leader to discover how far the other will go in order to pursue his country’s new Middle East policy.

Fear not, this collision will not shake the foundation of the strong, vibrant and important relationship between the two countries. That relationship is built on a mutuality of interests and in the end the friends will, as the children’s song goes, shake hands and make amends. But it will be heated and it will impact on the relationship not of the countries, but personally, on the relationship of the two men.

The new Obama-led administration wants to insist on enforcing the principles laid down in Annapolis almost two years ago during the previous administration. The United States wants to make certain that the Palestinians uphold the stipulations of the Road Map developed by the Bush Administration.

That plan includes a two state solution.

The even newer Netanyahu-led administration refuses to embrace Annapolis. Israel has asked for new ideas to solve the current logger jam. Israel has carefully and delicately done a diplomatic tiptoe around the famed two state solution.

The collision is being played out in the press and on the Hill.

Obama’s team has already begun to brief Congress about their new plan and the need to hold Israel to the Road Map. The Obama team is promising continued support for Israel and is emphasizing the need to continue to defend Israel. But they also want the Palestinian track to be put on high speed.

Netanyahu’s team knows how to use Congress, as well. Their plan will be to set up numerous face-to-face meetings with Congressional leaders with the intention of sabotaging Obama’s objectives.

Obama has tried to outsmart Netanyahu by being the first to approach Congress. Netanyahu will be making his first trip to Washington as new Israeli prime minister next month. Bibi will be forced to play catch up, but Bibi is no newcomer at this game. Unlike Obama, Netanyahu is on his second go round in office.

The Israelis will come calling on Capitol Hill with three cards in their pocket, three critical cards that will be difficult for the Obama people to refute.

Card #1 – The Palestinians have never been able to deliver on any significant agreement that included reigning in terror and confronting Hamas.

Card #2 – The plan that the Obama administration is presenting is a replica of the Bush plan with only a few minor revisions. It is a plan that has failed and will fail again.

Card #3 – Iran is spinning out of control. The Obama plan lacks real substance and is Pollyanna-ish at best and extremely dangerous at worse when it comes to Iran. It is one thing to play roulette with Israel’s security vis a vis Iran, but the new president is also playing with the security of the United States.

Israel’s messages will resonate loud and clear with the leaders on the Hill. Obama’s bonafides are in serious question and Bibi Netanyahu can be very convincing and very compelling when he speaks about threats to Israel’s very existence,

Even, especially, as the United States is stretching out both arms to Iran, Iran has become more and more involved in political acts that are destabilizing Arab world friends of the United States.

Egypt recently arrested almost one hundred terrorists connected to Hezbollah who, most importantly, are connected through Iran. The Egyptians have blamed Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah for the new terror infrastructure that they have uncovered.

A Kuwaiti newspaper called al Jarida recently wrote that the Egyptians have arrested Sami Shahib an Egyptian trained in Iran by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. From Iran he was sent to Egypt to organize a Shiite underground terrorist organization which would destabilize Egypt.

An Egyptian newspaper called al Ghoumhouria wrote the following about Nasrallah in an editorial: “We do not allow you, monkey sheikh, to mock our judiciary, for you are a bandit and veteran criminal who killed your countrymen, but we will not allow you to threaten the security and safety of Egypt … and if you threaten its sovereignty, you will burn!”

Egypt is taking this very seriously.

Netanyahu will make certain that Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill take it seriously as well. He will let it be known full well that by supporting President Obama’s new policy they are, albeit inadvertently but certainly definitely, destabilizing both United States interests and United States control in the world.

There will be a collision. Don’t expect a big bang, but be ready for some fireworks.

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A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 2, 2009

Column:

In the year 1532, when Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince he could never have dreamed that his ideas would ring true even until today. He could never have dreamed that arch enemies, The United States and Iran, would bond over a relatively insignificant country called Afghanistan.

The United States is at diplomatic war with Afghanistan. Iran is at diplomatic war with Afghanistan. The United States and Iran are united in their different wars with Afghanistan. Confused? That’s foreign policy for you.

A cardinal rule in foreign policy is that there are no best friends. There are best interests. And foreign affairs work best when there are mutual best interests between countries.

So, yes, diplomatically speaking, the enemy of my enemy is my friend – but my best interests come first. And that explains how the unlikeliest of buddies, the United States and Iran, sat down together to discuss the problem called Afghanistan.

The United States experiences no greater global tension than in its dealing with and about Iran. And yet, in a desire to control the threats emanating from a third country these two countries, diametrically opposed on every other issue, sat down together at a United Nations sponsored summit held this week in The Hague dedicated to discussing, dissecting and neutralizing Afghanistan.

The idea belonged to United State Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iran jumped on board immediately. Iran had two reasons for agreeing to the secretary of state’s suggestion. Firstly, Afghanistan is a true problem for the international community and Iran recognizes how important it is to solve the problem and solve it effectively. Secondly, Iran wants to show the Arab world that it can work side-by-side with the United States to solve some issues.

Don’t get too carried away, now. The Summit pitted the United States and Iran against Afghanistan but that is where the mutuality ended. The summit also pitted the United States and Afghanistan against one another in terms of each country’s style of operation, specific complaints and endgame solutions.

Iran wants no outside forces in Afghanistan. By outside forces Iran means no non-Muslim forces in Afghanistan. Right now, the United States is not only a force in Afghanistan, it is a significant force in Afghanistan and getting ready to increase their presence there. Looking at the situation from Iran’s point of view, Iran borders Afghanistan and having US soldiers in Afghanistan makes it all the easier for those soldiers to saunter on over and enter Iran. Iran also borders Iraq. That puts Iran in the middle of two countries playing host, invited or uninvited it makes no difference, to US forces. In other words, Iran is surrounded on the north by way of Afghanistan and in the south by way of Iraq.

Despite Iran’s desire to rid the region of the United States the deputy Foreign minister of Iran, Mehdi Akhundzadeh, agreed to an understated albeit significant meeting with Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s personal troubleshooter for Afghanistan. The meeting was brief. The outcome was a decision to keep in touch. This kind of discussion, on this diplomatic level, is less important for what happened at the moment than for what might happen in the future. A door has been opened and when and if the need arises, and we know it will, these two men can walk through that door again.

The honest truth is that there has been no serious change in United States policy toward Iran. In diplomacy you need backdoors in order to deal with substantive issues on the ground. And there has been no serious change in Iranian policy toward the United States. The final outcome aside, Iran had its own objective in agreeing to this meeting.

Iran was poking fun at the United States in front of other Muslim countries and the almost one hundred countries in attendance at the summit. Iran was using this opportunity to show the rest of the Muslim world how they can and will boldly make their Muslim agendas known to the United States. Iran was standing up for Muslim hegemony. Iran was saying that the major obstacle to real solutions in the region is the aggressive meddling of the United States and Iran was saying it to their face. Iran is making a regional play, hoping that resentment toward US interventionism will sway countries back in their direction.

Iran and the United States have had a modicum of success in the past when they joined forces in collaboration in the war against drugs. And at this summit the United States and Iran again agreed to start working together to curb the drug trade that empowers many of the Afghani warlords.

Two steps backward, one step forward. At least there’s a step in the right direction.

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MAKARA, IT MEANS DECEIT

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 24, 2009

Column:

Makara. It means deceit. It is part of an ancient Arabic custom, still practiced today.

Kyhr. It means subterfuge. In Arabic the word kyhr shares a root with the word makara. Makara and Kyhr its root are mentioned 43 times in the Koran.

Certain concepts, inconceivable to the Western mind, are commonplace and easily comprehendible to the Arabic mind. In order to understand the Arabic mind, in order to anticipate the decision making process that goes on in the Arab world, the West must suspend its own system of beliefs and open its collective mind to allow for contradictions in words and actions.

Mohammed Dahlan is one of the most significant leaders the Palestinian people have who is neither in hiding nor imprisoned in Israel. Tall, broad shouldered, well dressed and smooth talking, Dahlan is known as the strong arm man of Fatah. It was Dahlan who was responsible for security in Gaza and the West Bank. It was Dahlan who was at the helm when Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza, essentially ousting him as security chief. Mohammed Dahlan has a vendetta to settle with Hamas. Not only was he publicly embarrassed, but the armed forces under his control were horribly treated and brutally killed.

And still, Dalhlan, the face of Fatah, and Hamas are joined at the hip when it comes to Israel.

In a recent interview on PA TV (Palestinian Television) Mohammed Dahlan said, simply and matter-of-factly, that the Palestinian Authority recognizes Israel, but that Fatah does not. A shocking contradiction? Yes, if you are a Westerner. Not at all if you are a Palestinian.

Dahlan said that Fatah was not asking Hamas to recognize Israel. He explained that the only reason the Palestinian Authority recognized Israel was to get the money that the Western world was doling out to the Palestinians because they had made that concession and publicly claimed to accept Israel. He said the PA would never get the money if they did not recognize Israel. But that was the PA, not Fatah. A distinction with a difference.

In the minds of most Westerners, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority are one and the same, it is Hamas that is on the outside. In the mind of Mohammed Dahlan and his compatriots, things look different. Dahlan is adept at double speak, and double speak has a long history in the Arab world.

Double speak is one of the many facets of makara and in the Arab world, makara has both positive and negative attributes.

In the Koran, in both Sura 3:54 and in Sura 30:8 Allah is referred to as Makara. It therefore stands to reason that if Allah is deceitful, and deceit can be good. If Allah can practice kyhr, subterfuge, which has a similar word in Farsi (Persian, the language of Iran), practicing subterfuge can be good.

The Koran tells a glorious story which teaches that Allah will plot against those people who plot against him and Allah will win out in the end. Dahlan has a modern day take on the story.

Quoting from his interview with Palestinian TV, Dahlan said: “I want to say for the thousandth time, in my own name and in the name of all of my fellow members of the Fatah movement: We do not demand that the Hamas movement recognize Israel. On the contrary, we demand of the Hamas movement not to recognize Israel, because the Fatah movement does not recognize Israel even today.”

And he is not alone. Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah chair and the president of the Palestinian Authority gave voice to almost the exact same sentiment in 2006 when he said: “Hamas is not required to recognize Israel … It is not required of Hamas, or of Fatah, or of the Popular Front [to liberate Palestine] to recognize Israel.”

And he gave voice to it on PA TV when he said: “The PLO, in 1993, recognized Israel. As Israel recognized the PLO. Every person has the right to say “I do not recognize,” okay? It’s your right. It is the right of every organization. But the government which will be formed, and which will function opposite the Israelis on a daily basis … every hour and perhaps every second, there will be contact between Palestinian ministers and Israeli ministers. And I ask – how can this government, or these ministers, not recognize their counterparts, and then solve people’s problems?”

It’s a good question. The simple answer is, they can’t. Israel and the West must try not to let deceit and subterfuge and double speak get in the way.

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IRAN & HAMAS: LET THEM SWEAT

By Micah Halpern

Monday March 9, 2009

Column:

Lieutenant General Omar al Bashir is a ruthless thug.

The despotic president of Sudan has spurned the world’s condemnations of the mass murders perpetrated under his rule and following his direction in Darfur. The delusional al Bashir has gone so far as to, on the one hand, say that the mass murders never happened and on the other hand, to claim that he is doing everything in his power to prevent further killings.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has just drawn up papers ordering the arrest and prosecution of Omar al Bashir. The court is charging him with direct and indirect responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur. Modest estimates put the death toll at 300,000 and the number of people forced from their homes at 2.7 million.

The ICC is the court of justice. The Hague is charged by the United Nations with the task of defending the oppressed and with prosecuting tyrants who persecute, terrorize and murder masses of people. Practically, the Court is problematic and it has a very uneven track record. But the principle under which it was created – that the free world should have access to an international court of justice that takes on issues of human rights, is an important one.

In the case of the people of Darfur the process has been extended, but finally, justice will be served. In corridors of power throughout the world the decision to act against al Bashir was met with great enthusiasm and expelled sighs of it’s about time. In two corridors, however, news of the decision has been met with anger laced with fear.

Neither the leadership of Iran nor the leadership of Hamas is pleased to know that the leader of Sudan is to be prosecuted by The Hague.

Rather than acknowledging that justice is to be served, the Iranians publicly condemned the world court calling the action a corruption of justice and wondered how it was possible for the world court to act against Sudanese President al Bashir before it had acted against the Zionists. Similarly, Hamas announced that it was acting in solidarity with the Sudanese leader and issued a call for other true Arabs to do the same.

To prove their points, on Friday Hamas and Iranian delegations flew to Khartoum, Sudan to show their support for al Bashir.

Upon touching down at the Khartoum airport Ali Larjani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, made a strident and aggressive announcement. He termed the decision of the international court to prosecute al Bashir “an insult.” In the eyes of Larijani and all of Iranian leadership, the act truly is an insult not just to al Bashir, but to all Muslims. The Hamas spokesman, Tahir Nunu, called the indictment a political ploy.

In choosing to prosecute Omar al Bashir the International Criminal Court in The Hague has violated a fundamental principle in the Muslim world. According to that principle non Muslim-authority and non-Muslim forces may not impose their standards and their values on Muslims, especially in Muslim controlled lands.

Iran and Hamas are not just being good friends and good Muslims. Iran and Hamas have their own axe to grind. Certainly, both constituencies long to see Israel in the docket, but right now, that is not their biggest worry. They fear that they will be next in line for prosecution by The Hague.

For Iran and for Hamas, this is personal. If the Sudanese leader can be arrested and brought to The Hague for trial so can they. And that is not a precedent they want to see set.

Iran is responsible for numerous terror attacks around the world. Iran sponsors terror organizations including Hezbollah and including Hamas. Hamas, obviously, is a terror organization that has perpetrated hundreds of terror attacks. They are speaking out and politicking in support of al Bashir out of pure, selfish, self interest.

What neither Iranian nor Hamas leadership realizes is how ridiculous their actions. What neither Iranian nor Hamas leadership realizes is how slowly the wheels of justice at The Hague turn. Look at the enormity of the crime perpetrated by the tyrant Omar al Bashir and then look at how long it took to draw up a warrant against him for that crime. The likelihood that they will be the next targets of ICC justice is truly, quite small.

But let that be the little secret of the freedom loving world. Let Iran and Hamas sweat a little or even a lot. It’s OK, let them sweat.

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GIVING DOLLARS TO GAZA! AHHAA!

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 3, 2009

Column:

The official announcement was made on Monday, at the Donors’ Conference held in Egypt, but the story was not news to any of the participants.

The news was leaked days before the event took place. The story splashed across newspapers throughout the country and in many parts of the Western world. The United States of America was pledging $900 million to the Palestinians.

Wow! That was the response of most of the people when they learned of the pledge. Didn’t matter what side of the aisle they sat on, Republican of Democrat, pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, Muslim, Christian or Jew. $900 million is a lot of money.

The idea of the Donors’ Conference, according to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose idea it was, was to create a forum through which money would be raised to rebuild Gaza. As a result of Israel’s twenty-two day operation against Hamas in Gaza, which was a response to the terror strikes and constant barrage of rockets fired into Israel by Hamas, Gaza, which was never a luxurious spot under the care of the Palestinians, is pretty much a wreck.

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister appointed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, raised an ambitious nearly $5 billion at the Conference.

Pledges came in. The United States put Fayyad at nearly one-third on the way towards his goal. Israel has already given $100 million, a modest but still significant donation. The Quartet and other European countries came out saying that they were willing to give, as well.

Now comes the first AHA moment.

Salam Fayyad is the PA prime minister of the West Bank, not of Gaza. He, along with Abbas and the rest of the PA were kicked out of Gaza, ousted in a coup, by Hamas, a year ago last summer. They may care about the plight of the Palestinians of Gaza but they have no purview over Gaza. Now, Fayyad has a wonderful personal record. It was he who revolutionized the Palestinian Authority coffers. It was he who convinced Yasser Arafat to direct deposit government salaries thereby removing the temptation from Arafat to dip his fingers into everyone else’s tills as he stuffed their envelopes with cash which was his favorite way of doing business.

Fayyad cares about the people of Gaza, but he has no way of controlling, overseeing or even monitoring the flow of money. That responsibility belongs fully and solely to Hamas because Hamas is the only address in Gaza.

Here’s the second AHHAA moment.

It is against United States law to give money to Hamas. It is against United States law to transfer money to support terror. The US State Department considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization.

Congress, the governing body that set up these laws, will not be happy if money finds its way into the hands of terrorists. But how can it not? Nothing comes into or goes out of Gaza without some of it accidentally falling off a truck and going directly into the hands of Hamas. Nothing. Hamas totally controls Gaza. The Palestinian Authority has no police, no soldiers, no authority and no clout in Gaza. Unless Congress finds a way around Hamas, that $900 million will be going to Hamas. By dividing the allocation and announcing that they are giving $300 million to humanitarian relief in Gaza and the other $600 million to the PA for reconstruction Congress thinks they have found the way.

And now, the third AHHHAAA moment.

The Arab League, which also pledged money to Gaza at the Donors’ Conference, has not yet fulfilled an earlier pledge to help out the people of Gaza. In January the Arab League obligated itself to a donation of $1 billion. That pledge, that obligation, has not yet been met.

As recently as last week, the Arab League explained that they could not deliver on the money while stability and unity between the Palestinians was unclear. In other words, the Arab League is uncertain. The Arab League is afraid that their money will fall into the wrong hands. And who understands the dynamics of Hamas leadership if not the Arab League?

Here comes the fourth AHHHHAAAA moment.

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THE SILVER LINING IN OUR CLOUD

By Micah Halpern

Column:

Thursday February 26, 2009

Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth his silver lining on the night?

Those words were written in 1634 by John Milton. While very few of us can quote the poem verbatim, almost all of us have expressed the sentiment inherent in these words and said: every cloud has a silver lining.

The economic downturn we are now experiencing has rippled throughout the world. The news is not good and yet, every cloud, even this cloud, does have a silver lining. And while they are few in number, there are a few positive changes that have occurred specifically because of this colossal calamity. The number one change is worth discussing.

The most important change to have been brought about by the economic condition is the drop in oil prices.

Oil prices are down from the record high summer price of nearly $150 a barrel. The prices will remain down, hovering in the $30-$40 range, and may even drop a little lower before they go up again. Funny, isn’t it, how what was such an all consuming worry and topic of conversation has been pushed to the sidelines and almost ignored. Sad, that very few of us have been able to enjoy the upside of the oil conundrum because of the downturn in the economy.

OPEC wants to drop production in order to increase prices. But to their chagrin, the general demand for oil has dropped. So even if OPEC drops the price their short term benefit will be minimal. In an ideal world, OPEC would have the price of oil even out at between $75-$85 per barrel.

And who is the most hurt by these low prices? Iran. Iran is hurting bad.

In truth, it’s not just Iran. Venezuela and Russia are also suffering seriously because of the great drop in oil prices. But it is Iran that is most affected and interesting to us.

Iran is the third largest producer of oil in the world and yet, Iran must resort to importing its own gasoline. Iran has antiquated refineries and has not built any new refineries since they threw BP out a half a century ago. There’s more. Iran not only imports gasoline, the Iranians have no real natural gas and must import that also.

It gets worse for Iran. Add to that an inflation rate that the present regime admits to be at 26% and the country is ripe for an economic implosion. Others, including Khatami who will be opposing Ahmadinejad in Iran’s upcoming election on June 12th, put the inflation rate as high up as 65%.

The Iranians need the price of oil to be close to $80 a barrel so that they can break even. They are inefficient. They need subsidies. They need to import. They have almost no cash reverse from their product and they are hemorrhaging money. Iran also made the mistake of dropping the dollar as the official currency exchange link and adopting the Euro, a move that has not proved beneficial.

The picture for Iran is very bleak indeed. No amount of nuclear energy will be able to pull Iran out of this very deep hole.

During the “seven good years of plenty” Iran should have been investing, saving and improving their systems. That, they did not do. That’s what Qatar did. Qatar improved its oil infrastructure and is reaping the profits of their investment. The break even point to produce a barrel of oil for Qatar is about $10, substantially lower than what Iran needs. Iran was expecting to earn well over $100 billion in oil revenues this year. With the slashed prices, that number will probably be way down at $20 billion.

So what does this mean? While it is tempting, there is no great pleasure to be had in wallowing in the misfortune of Iran. But what we can do is point a finger, and that finger is pointed at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the man responsible for the dramatic economic failure of Iran. Ahmadinejad ran for office on a platform that promised to improve and resuscitate Iran’s ailing oil industry. And oil is the only real industry Iran has to export.

If the Supreme Leader, The Ayatollah Khamenei, would lift his head from the clouds and see Iran the way it really is right now, he would oust Ahmadinejad as President of Iran. The people might vote, but it is The Supreme Leader who determines the winner.

If Khatami, the former president and present political rival, wins the election that would be good for Iran. Khatami is less abusive. He is less of a bulldog when dealing with the West. He is more pragmatic and less prone to rhetoric. He understands the need to deal with oil. He understands the need to deal with economics.

OK, so maybe the cloud’s lining isn’t really silver. But neither is it completely black.

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BOYCOTT & TENNIS, THE WRONG MATCH

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 17, 2009

Column:

Tennis is a sport, it is not a political movement. Tennis tournaments are supported by sponsors and should not sponsor terror, terrorists or terrorist activities. Playing tennis is about competition, not boycotts.

The Dubai Tennis Championships ranks among the most prestigious tournaments in the world of professional tennis. Coverage of the Dubai receives international attention. This year, the coverage began even before the first match was played. The United Arab Emirates has denied an entrance visa to the person ranked 48th in the world in women’s tennis.

Who has the distinction of being denied entry into the UAE? Her name is Shahar Peer. Why has Shahar Peer been singled out? Because Shahar Peer is an Israeli.

The decision sent shock waves throughout the international tennis community. Peer herself received word while participating in a match in Thailand. The shock was dramatic. The response of tennis players has been a unified clamor of dismay.

The players have all sided with Peer. Their support is as admirable as it is ineffective.

International sports at the level of the Dubai Tennis Championships should stand above politics. The reason the Olympics was re-established was specifically to highlight the credo that great sports and great athletics transcend the boundaries of politics and even of war.

The Women’s Tennis Association should have cancelled the tournament. The WTA knew that there was a possibility that one of their players would be denied entry into the host country. They warned the hosts not to be discriminatory, not to deny a participant the chance to compete because she came from a country not on their politically approved list.

Larry Scott, director of the Women’s Tennis Association, explained the situation by saying the WTA “knew it was an issue, but we made it clear that she was going to be in the draw and we wanted to be optimistic that she would get the visa.” But, he said, “they (the UAE) waited until the 11th hour to deny it (the entry visa ).”

The WTA director continued by saying: “I made it clear to them that if Shahar were not allowed to play, they would run the risk of losing their tournament. It would be a big blow to lose one of this prestige and money, but if it comes to the principles of fairness and openness, there can be no compromise.”

Scott said all the right things. The problem is that he did nothing.

Larry Scott and the WTA have already compromised. They permitted the tournament to play despite their own warning and without the participation of one of their own member players. Larry Scott and the WTA did nothing to insure or to insist that the boycott against Israel declared by the Dubai Tennis Championships be rescinded.

Larry Scott and the Women’s Tennis Association spoke up, but they took no action. They let the ball fall where it may. Canceling the Dubai Tennis Championships would have hurt the rankings of all the women scheduled to participate. Now, the only woman to be hurt is Shahar Peer, she has been cancelled, not the tournament.

This boycott is not personal it is political. Shahar Peer is a symbol, not a person for the Dubai organizers and decision makers. Her fellow players understood the situation and that is why they were in favor of supporting Peer and exerting more pressure on the hosts. The players were less afraid than the Association.

Shame on the Women’s Tennis Association. The world has come to expect little of the United Arab Emirates, the decision to block Peer was true to form.

Boycotting Israel is wrong – regardless of the justification. There are organizations that boycott Israeli scholars and academics even translators and organizations that are attempting to divest from Israeli technology. Not agreeing with Israel is not the same as fostering hatred of Israel. These boycotts are enforced not to cause financial harm, these are boycotts for the sole purpose of fostering hatred.

The Israeli operation in Gaza was an act of defense. Even if one disagreed with the operation, one must accept the principle that Israelis eventually have the right to defend themselves against terrorists who want to see them and Israel wiped off the map.

By permitting the Dubai Tennis Championships to play on without the player ranked 48th in world women’s tennis, the Women’s Tennis Association has allowed itself to be co-opted by the wrong kind of sponsor. The United Arab Emirates does not sponsor athletic shoes, the UAE does not sponsor artificial turf or watches or soft drinks. The UAE has the full support of the Women’s Tennis Association and they boycott Israel.

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THE WRITING WAS ON THE WALL

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 11, 2009

Column:

Monday morning football is always rough, even when it happens on a Wednesday. Players nurse their wounds and elevate their swollen joints. Bruised egos need massaging and swollen egos need time to relax.

The elections in Israel are over. The race was tight, but the winner won by a large margin. The winner, you see, is not a party. The clear cut winner in this Israeli election is the Israeli people, the masses were the winner.

Sure, some commentators will say I told you so and others will justify their projections. In the coverage leading up to this election most commentators fell into the trap of predicting what they, personally, wanted to happen rather than what the Israeli public was saying they wanted to have happen.

The masses in Israel are in the middle and that is how exactly they voted.

That is how the voters voted in the last election and in the elections before that. Israelis are not extremists. Despite stories that pepper media around the world, Israelis are not on the lunatic fringe. Israelis are moderates.

In every election since Yitzhak Rabin was voted into office the masses have voted for the middle. The same people sway slightly to the right on one election and then slightly to the left on the next election. The same people who ousted Peres when he took over the position of prime minister following the Rabin assassination voted for Netanyahu. And the same people who voted Netanyahu in ousted him and voted for Barak. And those are the same people who then ousted Barak and voted for Ariel Sharon.

Sharon was the first prime minister and party leader to figure it out. And that is why he moved away from Likud – toward the center, and created the Kadima party, a party that could swing a little bit right and a little bit left. That is why Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni will be called upon to form a government. She did not tinker with success.

And that is why Bibi Netanyahu and his Likud Party was successful and garnered so many seats. The vast majority of Israelis voting for Likud are only slightly right of center, they are not extremists. And the vast majority of Israelis voting for Kadima are only slightly left of center and some are actually right of center.

That is how the center took the plurality.

So why were so many people, pundits and pontificators fooled? There are several reasons.

The foreign press stationed in Israel, and it is one of the largest postings for foreign journalists in the world, find it entertaining to cover the characters who occupy the fringes. It’s good reading. It’s sexy. The people on the fringes are interesting, even if they are not representative of mainstream Israel.

The local press, for the most part, is revolted by the right wing. And they feel the need to transmit that revulsion to the masses. They see the right, even the slightly right of center party supporters, as Neanderthals, as people who have only one response to every situation – violence. Don’t get enough health and welfare services – violence. Not enough money for education – violence. The Palestinians – violence. Of course, the local press knows how to temper their portrayals of the right wing. But when local stories are picked up by international media the nuance is lost, the coverage is warped, the story is out of perspective. For their part, the average Israeli feels battered by the press. The lives they lead and the lives portrayed on media screens and in newspapers collide and clash.

And that explains why everyone was so far off in predicting the end result of the election in Israel and in predicting the continued stability of Kadima and Livni. No one paid attention to the masses in the middle. The coverage focused on the extremes.

The race was close and Livni squeaked by Netanyahu. They may have to share power, they may even have to negotiate a rotation of power. Right now the process of coalition building, the true art of compromise, begins. There too the center will emerge – just watch.

Instead of reading their own columns, the commentators should have been reading the writing on the wall.

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HAMAS, THE PLAYGROUND BULLY

By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 5, 2009

Column:

If life was a school playground the revered and feared principal would say “OK boys, shake hands and be friends” and voila, the boys would do just that.

But life is not a school playground. And there is no revered and feared principal. And Hamas and Fatah are not about to shake hands and be friends just because the United States, with the backing of many other Western nations, wants them to.

It’s not what they want to do. And who’s gonna make them?

Since the conclusion of the Israeli operation against Hamas by way of a grudgingly agreed upon if not entirely adhered to unilateral cease fire, the Western world has been calling for an end to hostilities not between the avowed enemies, but between the two parties who are in reality the one enemy. In other words, forget about Israel for now, let’s get Hamas and Fatah together. And then we can call it a Palestinian nation and turn our attention to a peace treaty between Israel and the now unified Palestinian nation.

The idea is to co-opt Hamas and make them a part of the greater Palestinian cause. And it is a very bad idea.

Forget about whether Israel thinks that this is a good idea, which they do not. Forget about whether Egypt and Jordan think this is a good idea, what do they know and why should they count, they are the bordering countries who understand the customs, cultures and citizens of the not-yet-formed Palestinian state. Why take into consideration the concerns of those people who are most affected by any decisions taken by the various strata of Palestinian leadership.
And why take into consideration the lessons that should have been learned from not-so-distant experience.

Just ask Hamas. They’ve been there and done that. Hamas wants nothing to do with this idea now just like they wanted nothing to do with it after receiving a majority in the Palestinian Parliamentary election.

Doesn’t anyone in the Western world of diplomacy and decision foisting remember what happened last time there was a power sharing situation between Abbas and his Fatah party and Hamas? Come on, it wasn’t that long ago. It was such a resounding success that the United States and most other Western countries cut off all aid and relations with the Palestinian Authority. And that happened why? That happened because Hamas refused to accept the three principles of the Quartet. Hamas refused to accept Israel’s right to exist, Hamas refused to uphold previously entered into peace agreements with Israel and Hamas refused to denounce terror and work towards combating terror.

When asked just recently whether they would join Fatah and Abbas, Hamas said “no.” Hamas did not even blink. For Hamas it is a no brainer. Hamas does not like to share, does not want to share and will not share. Once again, think schoolyard. Hamas likes to bully. Once again, think back just a little. Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza only a year ago last summer. They won an election and received a majority of seats in the Palestinian Parliament. Hamas has no need for Fatah.

Hamas not only has no need for Fatah in Gaza, Hamas actually wants to oust Fatah from power in the West Bank. In the eyes of Hamas, Hamas deserves total control.

The Western sponsored proposal for Palestinian power sharing would have Fatah’s Abbas as the number one man and Hamas coming up second. And now the West is surprised that Hamas finds the proposal, how shall I say it, unacceptable. Fatah and Hamas are sworn enemies. And as far as Hamas is concerned, Abbas is a traitor.

Hamas believes that Abbas and, by extension, Fatah were in favor of the Israeli operation into Gaza. Hamas believes that Fatah collaborated with Israel. And in the world governed by Hamas calling someone a collaborator is akin to an Imam calling someone an infidel. Hamas believes that Israel would never have been so successful had they not had the assistance of Fatah members on the ground. And that is why the human shields that Hamas used in Gaza against the Israelis were families of Fatah affiliates.

Ismail Haniyah, the Hamas leader from Gaza who was elected Palestinian Prime Minister, has vividly depicted Abbas as a man who would “ride into Gaza on an Israeli tank.” The imagery is powerful. The imagery resonates with Hamas advocates and Hamas supporters. It is a symbol that will be repeated in the Arabic press and on the Arab street. It means that Abbas permitted Israel to do what it did all in order to reap the benefits of an Israeli operation that would crush Hamas and neuter it militarily. This is a blood feud as much as it is a religious conflict.

The battle between Hamas and Fatah is the central story in the Palestinian world today. Neither side is shaking hands. Hamas and Fatah are not about to become friends.

They’ve learned their lesson. We should learn it, too.

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A TRUCE BY ANY OTHER NAME: HUDNA & TAHADIYAH

By Micah Halpern

Monday January 26, 2009

Column:

Israel is proposing an eighteen month truce with Hamas. Hamas is asking for a twelve month period of quiet with Israel. So what’s it gonna be?

It’s gonna be a serious problem. As the prison guard in the movie Cool Hand Luke so eloquently put it: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” What we have in this particular case is failure to communicate on two levels.

Level one deals exclusively with Hamas. Truce, cease fire, deal – these notions are all anathema in Hamas’ understanding of Islam.

Level two deals with the Western world’s understanding, or better yet, lack of understanding, of Hamas. Without understanding the Hamas approach to decision making, decision makers, diplomats and politicians from countries around the Western world will try to force Israel into a situation that is hardly optimal. It will be a colossal mistake. It will be a mistake made in the name of peace, laced with all best intentions, predicated upon a total lack of understanding of Hamas’ motives and Iran’s intentions. It will be a tragic mistake.

In Arabic culture conflict can be resolved in only two ways. One way is Hudna. Hudna has a deep historical and theological history. The second way is Tahadiyah. In contrast, Tahadiyah has no theology and absolutely no history outside of modern, contemporary events.

Both terms have been bantered about, both have been mistranslated. Neither Hudna nor Tahadiyah means what politicians in Washington DC, the United Nations and European capitals think they mean.

Hudna is a concept best described as a tactical response to being out numbered and out armed. As opposed to admitting to losing in conflict, Hudna is a move that permits the fighting to be halted in order to be continued on another day. One strikes a Hudna in order to regroup, rearm and then, most importantly, to attack and vanquish the party that you struck a treaty with. Hudna has a built in time limit of 10 years, but it may be renewed. It is far from anything we would consider to be a truce.

As a classic form of Islamic diplomacy Hudna was first introduced by the prophet Mohammed when, according to the Koran in the 48th Sura known as “The Victory,” Mohammed engages in an agreement with the tribe of Quraysh.

The story begins in Medina. Mohammed takes 1500 men and marches on Mecca, his native city. He is confronted by an army that is far superior to his own from the tribe of Quraysh at a place called Hudaiybiyah. It is at Hudaibiyah that the two parties agree on a ten year pact. But two years later, after building a bigger and better army Mohammed breaks the treaty, attacks and enters Mecca victorious.

As the ten year pact or treaty was being negotiated, Mohammed’s advisers, principally his general Umar ibn al Khatib, rejected the idea. The advisers called entering into a pact with the knowing intention of reneging on your word dishonorable. But the Prophet made it very clear that this was the way to proceed and so it was done.

As an interesting aside, the Sura aka “The Victory” in Arabic is called Al Fath. It was no accident that the first Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, chose to name his organization Al Fatah after that very same Sura in the Koran.

Tahadiyah has much less history. It is not a theological term, it is not in the Koran and there is no link to any decision or stratagem of Mohammed.

As a modern Arabic term Tahadiyah simply means calm or lull. It is a very problematic term and it is the term that Hamas is using now in talking about the cessation of hostilities with Israel. Tahadiyah does not mean cease fire. A lull implies a reduction, not a stoppage, of aggression. The concept of Tahadiyah implies that there is plenty of wiggle room. Tahadiyah is not quiet nor is it a commitment to enforce a quiet. Quite to the contrary a Tahadiyah actually allows for attacks and a gradual increase of pressure and a change in the status quo over time. It is a very ambiguous and amorphous term that translates into a very ambiguous and amorphous status on the ground.

Tahadiyah is a diplomatic Pandora’s Box. Hudna is diplomatic double talk. It really makes no difference if the world-at-large believes that Israel and Hamas have a year long truce or an eighteen month long truce. In the end, the hostilities will resume when Hamas is ready for the hostilities to resume. And then, Israel had better be ready.

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THE IRANIAN / SYRIAN PRISM

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 13, 2009

Column:

Iran and Syria see the world through their own prism. They keep each other’s company, they enjoy each other’s company, they support each other’s diplomatic machinations, they don’t trust each other one little bit and they certainly don’t trust anyone else.

For Iran and Syria, that’s normal. Iran and Syria need to feel in charge. Ask Hamas and Hezbollah leaders and they will answer that they are independent entities, but observe Hamas and Hezbollah and you will know that they are ruled by the whim, whimsy and wealth of Iran. Ask the rulers of Lebanon and they will claim to be an independent country, watch what happens in Lebanon and you will see the guiding hand of Syria. It’s a mutual admiration society – Iran applauds Syria, Syria applauds Iran and they both applaud Hamas and Hezbollah.

Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, just came back from a multi day trip to Syria and Lebanon. This was not a routine trip. This trip had a definite, specific purpose. Larijani went to gather information about Gaza, he wanted details on the Israeli operation against Hamas.

Larijani is not your typical guest. He was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. He is a master strategist. He and Iranian leader Ahmadinejad are a team, they might disagree on economic issues and Ahmadinejad may take issue with some minor tactics within the larger strategic plan that Larijani composed, but that has not compromised their alliance.

If the Western world had been paying attention, if the Western world had bothered to monitor Larijani’s comments during this trip, the Western world would have a better understanding of the rudder that guides Hamas. Instead, the Western world has averted its collective eyes, clogged its collective ears and turned oblivious to one of the most significant visits to take place in the Middle East in a long time. That’s how we missed out on reacting to one of the most poetic descriptions delivered on the Egyptian/French cease fire proposal in Gaza.

While in Lebanon, after meeting with Hezbollah, Larijani summed the initiative up by calling it “honey injected with poison.” While in the Syrian capital Damascus Larijani met with Khalad Mashaal, the head of Hamas. Yes, the actual head of Hamas is not in Gaza, he is in Syria, living under the protection and sponsorship of the Syrian government.

The Iranian/Hamas meeting lasted hours, it ran deep into the morning and when it was over, there were no official reports, no statements, no press conferences. Iran wanted details. Iran wanted specifics about Gaza – how much damage has been done, how strong is Hamas, how capable is Israel. Larijani was not interested in the mainstays of Arab conversation, rhetoric and hyperbole, he wanted cold, hard, facts, he wanted what the business world calls a real time assessment. For Larijani the situation in Gaza is a business deal turning sour.

Mashaal was not interested in giving over information, Mashaal wanted Iranian support, even Iranian intervention. If he could not persuade the Iranians to enter the fray against Israel he was at least hoping for them to sanction and enable international terror strikes, if not that then to at lest unleash Hezbollah rockets upon Israel from the North forcing Israel into a two-front war. He got none of that.

In return for information Iran promised to give money and to help rearm, retrain and rebuild their proxies – but they will not act. Iran will not jeopardize assets and push to the margins their larger objectives to help Hamas in a losing battle. Iran will serve as cheerleaders galvanizing Muslim support for Hamas and rally against Arab leaders, against Israel and against the West, against anyone helping Israel even by fiat or through acquiescence. Nothing more.

Iran is taking the Israeli invasion of Gaza very seriously. So seriously that Larijani is not the only high ranking Iranian official to visit Syria and meet with Hamas and Hezbollah. Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, also traveled to Syria and met with Syrian leader Bashar Assad. More importantly he met with Halad Mashaal and Ramadan Salah, the head of Islamic Jihad, the other terrorist group in Gaza. Jalili, not quite as poetic as Larijani, echoed a common Iranian theme, saying that “the Zionists are one step away from collapse.”

Syria and Iran are trying to spin the situation in Gaza, they are trying to figure out how to best manipulate world opinion against Israel. That’s why Mashaal rejected all the cease fire proposals but demanded that Israel live up to the UN and Egyptian/French proposal. Is that seems like a contradiction it’s only because you are analyzing the situation from a Western perspective. From the Iran/Syria/Hamas perspective the UN and Egyptian/French proposals are ammunition with which Israel can be attacked in the international arena.

Gaza is not going away. Syria and Iran are not going to change. Hamas and Hezbollah are not going to give up. If we want to keep up with the situation, we had better start looking at it through the Iranian/Syrian prism.

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HAMAS, FOR WHOM DEATH IS A VIRTUE

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 30, 2008

Column:

Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, is a terrorist organization that trains cohorts from that other terrorist organization, Hamas. Hezbollah also sponsors Hamas through donations of weapons and donations of money. The nation of Iran is another large supporter and sponsor of Hamas. Iran also lends Hamas moral support, offers advice and serves as a general cheering squad.

It comes as no surprise that Hezbollah and Iran have been loud and public in denouncing Israel’s retaliatory strike on Hamas security strongholds in Gaza.

The surprise comes in the form of the almost inaudible voices of protest emanating from the rest of the Muslim world. Protests against Israel have been minimal. Disapproval of Hamas, now and in the period leading up to the Hamas decision to discontinue the “lull” with Israel has been vocal.

Major players in the Arab world urged Hamas to continue with the “lull” but Hamas turned a deaf ear, Hamas would not heed their urgings. In a break with tradition, rather than showing a united Arab/Muslim front against enemy Israel, Arab leaders have come out in censure against Hamas.

On Sunday, the second day of Israel’s operation, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas held a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Gheit. Abbas minced no words, he laid all the blame on Hamas. “I say in all honesty, we made direct contact with the leaders of the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. We spoke with them in all honesty and directly and after that we spoke with them indirectly, through more than one Arab and non Arab side … We spoke with them on the telephone and we said to them: We ask of you, don’t stop the lull. The lull must continue and not stop, in order to avoid what has happened and if only we had avoided it.”

In response, Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, called Jordan and Egypt collaborators and an arm of the Zionists and the Americans in the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.

Mainstream Arab leaders think that Hamas brought this situation upon themselves and believe that now Hamas must suffer the consequences of their own actions. They hope that the operation ends quickly and they hope that the innocent people living in Gaza are spared from too much suffering and horror. President Bush, who made contact with many Arab leaders in the region expressed that same concern for the people of Gaza. So, too, did Israeli leadership who allowed one hundred supply trucks to enter Gaza from Israel on Monday. The trucks contained medicines, blood, cooking fuel and even ambulances.

Even Palestinians living in Gaza, victims of the destruction brought on by this retaliatory effort by Israel, blame Hamas and not Israel for the death and destruction. Even a seven year old girl who woke up to find bricks on her head and her younger sister lying dead beside her after an Israeli air raid was quoted in an interview on Al Aksa Hamas TV saying that she blamed Hamas for the death. In Gaza, Hamas is far from loved, in Gaza Hamas is feared.

Hamas has embraced death as a virtue.

Palestinian Authority legislator Fathi Hamad, interviewed on Hamas TV on Monday explained it this way: “For the Palestinian people death became an industry, at which women excel and so do all people on this land: the elderly excel, the Jihad fighters excel, and the children excel. Accordingly [Palestinians] created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the Jihad fighters against the Zionist bombing machine, as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: We desire death as you desire life.”

This sentiment, this revelation that Hamas respects death and uses innocent people as human shields, is not new. It is not merely a response to Israel’s retaliatory raid. In the weeks before this raid, in the weeks of the “lull,” Hamas began the process of instituting a series of punishments, their own revision of Koranic law that was meted out during the medieval period. The Hamas penal regressions were broadcast across the Arab world, to the horror of Arab leaders from other countries who themselves have archaic judicial and penal systems, but nothing as severe as those Hamas intends to impose.

Some of the laws are literally directed at the Palestinian Authority and at Palestinian leadership. It seems clear that according to the new/old Hamas laws all Palestinian leadership is guilty of capital crimes. The language of the law proposes “primary and secondary” laws.

Primary laws include: “Koranic laws, blood revenge, lashes, crucifixion, and execution.” The new law establishes that the “punishment of death will be enacted on any Palestinian who intentionally does one of the following: raised a weapon against Palestine on behalf of the enemy during war, was appointed to negotiate with a foreign government on a Palestinian issue and negotiated against Palestinians’ interest, performed a hostile action against a foreign country in a way that endangers Palestine in war or in harming political relations, served a foreign army in time of war, advised or helped soldiers to enlist in this army, weakened the spirit or the force of resistance of the people, or spied against Palestine especially during war.”

Hamas is not the victim. Hamas is an oppressive, terrorist regime. The rest of the Arab world sees this very clearly. And for the first time, the rest of the Arab world is not afraid to speak out against Hamas. That’s how bad the situation in Israel has gotten. Even the Arab world is sympathetic to the plight of Israel.

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THE SINGING TERRORIST

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 23, 2008

Column:

His stage name is Massive. He is a rapper. And he is a singing sensation in certain parts of the Middle East. Courtesy of the Goethe Institut, a German based cultural agency, Massive just concluded a tour of the West Bank. His Palestinian audiences were enthralled.

I, on the contrary, am appalled.

This is a verse from one of Massive’s most popular numbers: “I’m planning a terrible suicide attack. I’ll storm you with a 100 year old beard and we’ll blow you up like the Twin Towers.” Other lyrics speak of terrorists as freedom fighters and glorify “their fight against the Israelis the Americans and the West.”

Massive’s parents call him Wassim Taha. He is the son of Lebanese parents who arrived in Germany by way of a United Nations refugee camp set up for Palestinians. Wassim Taha was born in Germany, but his heart and soul and music are pure Palestinian.

The Goethe people claim that they were duped. They say they had no idea of the message Massive spreads through his music. They say that they relied on the good judgment of their satellite office in Ramallah. Truth is, you do not have to go far to uncover the imagery invoked by the Palestinian rapper. Massive is not into subtlety. His songs, his posters, his album covers, all scream hatred.

Middle East diplomacy and culture are rife with complexities that Westerners cannot understand. What Middle Easterners interpret as nuance, Westerners call duplicity and lies. The basic rule of thumb for dealing with Arab Middle East entities is to verify, to check and to confirm through outside sources. Never believe what was promised. That truth holds for politics, for aid packages and for business. It holds for cultural exchanges even for concerts.

The Goethe Institut did not do their due diligence. When the agency discovered that their money was sponsoring an individual who fomented hatred and embraced suicide attacks they expressed embarrassment. German politicians and German newspapers raised serious questions about how this debacle happened.

Politics is not a part of the Goethe Institut. They are a state sponsored educational center that brings German culture and language to the world. Their mandate is to highlight the beauty of Germany. The budget comes directly from the German foreign ministry and the government press office.

The head of The Goethe Institute in Germany issued an important, albeit weak, statement. Klaus-Dieter Lehmann said: “Some of Massive’s texts are not free of violence. In the future we should be more careful with whom we invite.”

I say, in the future you should be more careful about whom you hire.

The local Ramallah Goethe people should be fired. They knew what they were doing and why they had to hide it. It was no accident that they invited Massive with his lyrics to tour the Palestinian Authority. They sold the home office a carefully crafted lie. And those in charge in Germany simply believed what they were told.

Saying I’m sorry is not enough. The damage has been done.

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TAKING ON IRAN WITH FORESIGHT, NOT HINDSIGHT

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 9, 2008

Column:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Polish born National Security Adviser under President Jimmy Carter who became an early adviser to the Obama campaign, is still dispensing foreign policy advise.

At eighty something years old Brzezinski, aka Ziggy, is probably too old to want to get his hands dirty with the nitty gritty of daily crisis management that a close national security advisor to the president of the United States must be involved in. I do not expect to see Ziggy playing a formal or significant role in the White House of Barack Obama. But I do expect that we will be hearing from him.

Right now, Brzezinski seems to feel more comfortable as an arm chair advisor than as a paid or appointed advisor. And right now he has decided to make the State of Israel the recipient of his hard earned experience and erudite advise.

In an interview with the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, Brzezinski leveled some harsh and disturbing criticism, in the guise of advise, upon Israel’s military and political leadership. Brzezinski’s remarks were made in the context of following up on comments made by the president-elect. Specifically, Obama saying that he would meet with Iranians without preconditions and his recent Meet the Press interview during which he described the carrot and stick incentives he intends to propose to Iran enabling them to put aside their nuclear aspirations.

Brzezinski had four main points to make:

# 1: He advised the Israeli government “not to engage in this campaign for an American attack on Iran, because I don’t think America is going to attack Iran, and if it did, [and] the consequences would be disastrous.”

# 2: He warned Israel saying “I don’t know if Iran believes the military option is real, but I think it’s not a real option for the U.S., and it is not a real option for Israel, because Israel doesn’t have a capability to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities.”

# 3: He predicted that “It can damage them, so it can only delay the process, while intensifying Iranian extremism and wielding together Iranian nationalism and Iranian fundamentalism, which I don’t think is in anyone’s interest.

# 4: He heckled. “Last, but not least, Israel really cannot execute effective strike without our permission. Because if you look at the map, you can see the reason why it is so.”

Brzezinski is taking Israel to task. The former national security adviser under one of the most unfriendly former presidents of the United States towards Israel, is publicly asserting that Israel is behind the move to stop Iran’s race to become a nuclear power. He is asserting that Israel is exerting serious force on the United States to intercede and prevent Iran from becoming an atomic nation and a nuclear leader in the Middle East.

While there is little doubt that Israel sees a nuclear Iran as a significant threat, there is also little doubt that the United States has arrived at the same conclusion totally on its own. And so has the United Nations. And that is where and why Brzezinski’s analysis falters. Any student of the global political map knows with clarity and certainty that while Israel may hold some sway over United States policy, Israel holds nothing over the United Nations.

Even the conspiratorialists who actually believe that Israel has a lot to say and considerable pull in determining US policy could never convince any level headed person that Israel pulled the strings and exerted influence to convince the United Nations to exert their power and efforts to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. The UN Security Council has been the most significant force attempting to persuade Iran from becoming nuclear. And seated on the UN Security Council have traditionally been some of Israel’s most vocal and forceful opponents.

While Ziggy is no longer an Obama adviser, his ideas area shared by many of the people who are current Obama advisers. But not by all. There are others who think as I think. Who think that while Brzezinski was a brilliant advisor years ago, now he should remain in his arm chair and keep his thoughts to himself.

If the United States wants Iran to take their demands seriously, the United States must make level demands upon Iran. One of those demands must specifically call for Iran to behave within nuclear norms that are internationally acceptable. Another equally important demand must be for Iran to tone down the rhetoric and stop threatening to wipe Israel off the map. America must demand that Iranians proves that they are a country of builders and not destroyers before they are allowed to have such dangerous technology.

I believe that the new administration will pursue the right path when it comes to Iran, not the Brzezinski path. They will do so because when you analyze the situation today, now, not with hindsight but with foresight, they will discover that there is no other realistic option.

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WE HAVE BEEN WARNED IN MUMBAI

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 2, 2008

Column:

We have come face to face with the terror of the future and it is ugly, heinous, barbaric, very well planned and executed with verve and precision.

The enormity of the terror attacks perpetrated by relatively unknown but flawlessly trained terrorists upon the city of Mumbai has left the world shaken and speechless. The legacy of the perpetrators of this terror speaks volumes.

Shariyah, Muslim tradition, clearly commands that all Muslims receive a proper Muslim burial regardless of whether they lived as “drunkard, rapist or criminal.” The obligation to bury the nine men who shattered the social, cultural and economic bubble of India fell to the Jama Masjid Trust, the group responsible for the Muslim cemetery in Mumbai. They declined. The Jama Masjid Trust refused to bury the dead Muslim terrorists.

It is an act unprecedented in the modern world. Muslims refusing to bury Muslims. The highly respected and accepted Muslim leaders of the Trust would not accept these men in their cemetery. Why? “[T]he people who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslims” they said, “Islam does not permit this sort of barbaric crime.”

The elders of the Jama Masjid Trust understand what happened in Mumbai during those three days of terror. They understand what the terrorists were doing and why they did it. They understand the implications of their own decision. Just as the terrorists were sending a message, they are sending a message.

The message sent out by the terrorists was not at first understood by the world. The people covering the attack and the people deciding how the story line should unfold had no clear idea of the mission of the terrorists. Maybe because the messengers transmitting the message – the media – were too busy with thanksgiving stories to pay attention to what was really happening in the city known as the Silicon Capitol of India. They were too busy focusing in on the American and British passport holder angle of the story to understand that “American” and “British” were just shorthand for “Western.”

They were too busy recounting the story of the one person who said he was Italian and was told by the terrorist that he could go to focus on the story of the little boy who miraculously escaped in the arms of his baby sitter, the little boy whose parents were mercilessly massacred.

The story behind the terrorist attack on Mumbai is the story of terrorist targets. No location was arbitrarily chosen. No terrorist entered a site by chance. The locations and the people inside those locations were carefully chosen.

The terrorists chose to attack Western hotels, Western hang outs and the Central Train Station populated by Western nationals. They entered those locations in order to cripple India economically. They entered in order to make India pay for the crime of fraternizing with Westerners, for the crime of falling under the influence of Western mores and norms. They were there in order to show the West and the world that ultimately India was weak and incapable of caring for their Western investments, their Western concerns, their Western guests.

The terrorists chose to attack a Jewish Israeli center because Jews and Israelis do not belong in India. Locating the Jewish site was no accident. It required a great deal of research and knowledge. The terrorists were asserting the very nature of India by attacking the Chabad center. India is a Muslim country, Muslims host neither Jews nor Israelis.

These Muslim terrorists were in India to teach the Indians a lesson. Their lesson should not be lost on us. A large part of the world despises, truly despises, the West. The principled Muslims of the Jama Masjid Trust are few and far between. The majority of Muslims will not turn into terrorists. But others will. And they will be well armed, well trained and well organized. We have been warned. We have seen the future of terror.

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KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’ MIDDLE EAST STYLE

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday November 25, 2008

Column:

In the past year the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, ruled by King Abdullah son of Hussein, signed nuclear agreements with the United States, with Russia, with Great Britain, with France and with South Korea. They also initialed a set of understandings with China.

That set of understanding has now turned into a treaty. China and Jordan have just signed a nuclear treaty. Of all the treaties entered into by Jordan, the one that most interests me, the one that most reverberates throughout the Middle East, the one that most impacts the world, is the treaty with China.

Predicting what will happen next in the Middle East is one of the trickiest games ever played in the foreign policy arena. But careful observation of Jordan, monitoring what Abdullah considers to be important and what he considers inconsequential, tracking those colleagues with whom he has conversations and those whom he snubs, is one of the most precise ways to determine the future of the Middle East region and one of the best guides to be used in shaping Middle East policy.

Under Hussein, Jordan was a significant player in the Middle East. Always hosting, always promoting. The former leader of the Hashemite Kingdom took some bold steps and brought his country into the big leagues, into league with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The apple has not fallen far from the tree. Abdullah has continued to maintain the stature of Jordan in the Arab and Muslim world, maintaining order even while he brings about change in Jordan. With this latest move the Jordanian monarch and benevolent despot is planning for the future.

King Abdullah has seen the path toward nuclear capability burgeon in the Middle East and he has decided not to let his own influential, but small, country linger on the sidelines. That is why Jordan signed on with China. According to the treaty these two unlikely partners have signed, China will train the Jordanians in nuclear technology, China will help Jordan build an experimental nuclear reactor and finally, China will teach Jordanians how to mine for the Uranium that already exists in at least two spots in Jordan.

In other words, China will prepare Jordan for what King Abdullah perceives to be the inevitable future – a nuclear, trigger happy, Iran.

Jordan may not border Iran, but Jordan is still threatened by Iran. Iran threatens every nation in the Middle East. Iran threatens even non-democratic, non-Western nations. The Middle East is no longer about a conflict between Israelis and Muslims. The Middle East is a bigger conflict, it is about Muslims and Muslims, it is about Shiites and Sunnis.

Iran is struggling to get nuclear technology and so the rest of the Middle East must struggle to keep up with Iran, knowing that they can never get ahead of Iran. It is a case of keeping up with the Jones’, Middle East style. When it comes to nuclear affairs, Iran has set the agenda for the Middle East and hence, for the world.

The big powers in the Arab world need to respond to Iran’s nuclear acquisition now. Saudi Arabia and Egypt and now Jordan need to be prepared. Following the lead of the major players are some smaller countries, like Yemen, which has also begun the process of developing nuclear technology. Other countries are sure to follow and that is not mere prediction, it is a reality. Iranian expectations have caused a spiral effect in the Middle East region. The balance of power will be shifted and then re-shifted and re-shifted again after Iran attains nuclear superiority in the region.

Sunni Jordan realizes that there will be a time when they will have to shoot out of the blocks to maintain a sense of parity against Shiite Iran. Egypt will do the same. So will Saudi Arabia. Ironically, the big winners in this Middle East race towards nuclear technology and capability will not come from the Middle East region. The big winners will be China and Russia. It is China and Russia who are supplying the countries of the Middle East with the technology and information they need and lack. And in the end both China and Russia will be uniquely qualified to determine the assets of each of the player countries. China and Russia will know which buttons to push, literally and figuratively, because they are the countries to have installed them.

The world is changing. Allegiances are changing. Change is not always for the best.

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WHITEWASHING SYRIA

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 19, 2008

Column:

The United Nations is scheduled to release a report on nuclear activity in Syria. Specifically, the report will present data on whether or not traces of uranium were discernible at the Syrian site attacked by Israel on September 6, 2007. In plain terms, the UN is asking whether or not Israel was justified in attacking Syria.

The answer is obvious – to everyone except the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nation’s watch dog agency. The United States knows that Israel was justified, Israel knows that Israel was justified, Syria knows that Israel was justified, but the United Nations is still unsure.

Initially, the UN reported that the evidence was inconclusive. Soon afterwards the UN reported that traces of highly enriched uranium were, indeed, found at the site. And now Muhammad El Baradei, head of the IAEA, is scheduled to release the formal, long awaited, report on the matter.

In a more informal setting El Baradei gave out a hint of what will be found in this report. Speaking at a Cooperation Conference held in Dubai El Baradei said that the soon to be released report will be “inconclusive.” First the findings were designated inconclusive, now the report will be inconclusive. The word “inconclusive” I now conclusively declare is a code word in UN speak. It really means “we do not want to condemn Syria.”

The UN and El Baradei put it more delicately. They have said that they had wished that Syria “would have been more transparent.” They said they had hoped to get more help form Syria. I ask: Why would Syria help?

Immediately after the predawn air strike by Israel on the building that abuts the Turkish border the Syrians came out with bulldozers and plowed under the entire site. Anyone who watches CSI knows that they not only tampered with the evidence, they not only contaminated the site, they destroyed it, they decimated it, they wiped it clean. The Syrians wanted nothing to remain, they wanted nothing standing and nothing on the ground, they wanted nothing that they knew would be part of the inevitable investigation.

Syria does not want to cooperate, Syria wants to complain.

Initially, Syria said that the building was an agricultural laboratory. Now, more than a year later, an adviser to Syria’s President Bashar Assad asserted on CNN that the site was a military building. Which was it? It cannot be both. And we know that it was neither.

When trace elements of uranium were found at the site, the Syrians began shouting out explanations. First, they claimed that the trace was from the Israeli bombs. Second, they said the world is conspiring against Syria and their proof is that word of the uranium story was leaked by diplomats even before Syrian authorities had a chance to hear the accusations.

First things first. The Israelis did not use nuclear warheads in their attack, so there goes that theory. Second, the world is conspiring, but not against Syria. The world, using the United Nations as the largest representative of the world, is conspiring to whitewash Syria, to benefit Syria, to bend over backwards and give Syria more than the benefit of doubt.

When the IAEA report is released it will say that the presence of highly enriched uranium is not evidence of a nuclear reactor. That is true, but it misses the point.

The inspectors, the International Atomic Energy Agency and even the Syrians are missing the point of the Israeli strike. The point was to hit the reactor before it was on line. The point was to set Syria back on their timeline for nuclear purposes. The point was to stop Syria before it was too late.

If the structure truly had been an agricultural laboratory, or if it had even been a military building there should not have been fission material on site. And if the material was found at the site it should only have been in minute amounts. But the material was found and it was found in larger than minute amounts.

Israel knew what it was doing and we should say thank you. We all know what the United Nations is doing and we should be afraid.

When you hear hoof beats, don’t start looking for zebras.

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How The Muslim World Saw the Election

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday November 11, 2008

Column:

We may all live in the same universe, but we also live in very different worlds.

The Arab world, with the exception of al Qaeda, is pleased as punch, tickled pink, just plain thrilled that Barack Obama has been elected to the high post of president of the United States. The Arab press has not stopped singing the praises of the man now known as 44.

The choice of Barack Hussein Obama as president of the United States of America is seen as a victory for the Arab and Muslim world by the Arab and Muslim world. The vast majority of that world has been frustrated, annoyed and angered by United States foreign policy for many years, never more so than under the helm of President George Bush. When Obama first entered the presidential race he was heralded as a hero. Almost every statement released by the Arab world prior to the election endorsed Obama. Now that he has won he is just short of a messiah. They are convinced that now everything will be different. They are convinced that Obama is one of their own, they are convinced that foreign policy under Barack Obama will smile upon them.

What has become evident from the coverage, editorials, statements and comments by leaders of the Arab world in praise of Obama is just how little these societies understand about the United States and about democracy. They think, they truly believe, that US foreign policy will change on a dime. The Arab world thinks that this new administration will come to its senses about Israel. They think that the United States and Iran are about to begin a friendship.

Certainly it is customary to congratulate a winner in any election, but the congratulatory messages from the Arab world were anything but standard protocol.
Here is a sampling of their comments:
Iranian President Ahmadinejad: “Obama’s victory proves Bush failed.”
The Iranian president even wrote a letter to Obama saying that the time has come for Americans to stop butting into the affairs of other countries and focus on internal affairs.

Hamas: “Obama should learn from Bush’s mistakes.”

Syrian Minister of Information: “hopes that Obama will herald a change in United States policy” and that the US will be constructive instead of destructive.

President Mubarak of Egypt: “expects a constructive approach to the Middle East.”

President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas: “Obama is serious about the Middle East.”
He “hopes that Obama will make headway in the Middle East Peace process.”

The president of Iraq: “eager to cooperate with Obama.”

A large and influential newspaper in Saudi Arabia wrote: “the election of Obama is the end of the era of white men in the White House.” “We want to be able to admire the US once again.”

Al Qaeda did not share in these sentiments. Al Qaeda is disappointed in the election of Barack Obama. Al Qaeda was hoping that John McCain would be elected the next president of the United States so that, to paraphrase them,
the United States would continue the failed policies of George Bush which would serve to motivate more fighters to join al Qaeda in the Jihad against the US.

The Arab and Muslim world will be disappointed.

United States foreign policy under Barack Obama will differ very slightly from United States foreign policy under George Bush when it comes to the Middle East and to terror. It makes no difference who the president is, facts are facts and security briefings are security briefings and Barack Obama has already begun to get his daily briefings. The strength and direction of US policy will continue because there is no other alternative if we are to remain safe and win the war against terror.

Fundamentally, neither priorities nor policy can change. If there is anything that can humble the most powerful man in the world it is his daily security briefings.

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HAMAS: WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday November 4, 2008

Column:

Agreed: Hamas has never foresworn terror.

Agreed: Hamas refuses to recognize Israel.

Agreed: Hamas refuses to adhere to previously signed peace treaties.

Agreed: Hamas is and should be labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States and across Europe.

These are facts. They are not in dispute by any Western country. Neither are they in dispute by non-Western countries. With Hamas, what you see is what you get. Hamas pulls no punches. Hamas puts up no facade.

Why then, how then, could the European Union Parliamentary Delegation officially invite Hamas legislators to come and visit in the Spring of 2009?

This isn’t some surreal novel or a Hollywood action flick, this is for real. This is happening, now, in 2008.

The invitation to Hamas was issued by the head of the EU Parliamentary Delegation, Kyriacost Trianphyllides. When the Reuters news agency challenged the delegation head as to the appropriateness of the invitation given the status of Hamas in the eyes and on the State Department list of the United States and of EU countries, Trianphyllides was ready with a response.

He said: “We don’t care who they are as long as they are members of the Legislative Council.”

He said: “We don’t ask if they are members of Hamas or members of Fatah.”

He said: “The PLC was elected in 2006 and it was democratically elected.”

Well, he should care. And he should ask. And he should be reprimanded. And the European Union should be challenged for allowing this invitation to be extended to a sworn enemy of freedom and democracy.

Freedom is not to be taken lightly. Is the European Union Parliamentary Delegation intentionally making a mockery of that which we hold dear?

Agreed: Hamas should not be given a forum anywhere in the free world for any reason until they have sworn off terror.

Agreed: Hell will freeze over before that happens.

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IN SEARCH OF A PRIME MINISTER

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday October 28, 2008

Column:

For the third time in only six years, Israelis will be heading to the polls in search of a prime minister.

I must confess, I did not see this one coming. Seldom have I been as off base as I was in thinking that the leader of the Kadima party, Tzipi Livni, would be unable to form a government. My predictions concerning the Middle East are usually on target and ahead of the curve – this time, however, it came at me like a curve ball.

Livni was in position to inherit a government from her predecessor. Ehud Olmert had left everything in place. All the former foreign minister and current head of the Kadima party had to do was make the same promises to the same people and parties that Olmert had made. The same promises that Ariel Sharon made before Olmert inherited his government.

Of course there are slight changes, variations on a few themes, but the principles are all the same. In the end, Livni was only able to cobble together 60 out of 120 Israeli Knesset members, exactly one half of the Parliamentary body. And that just wasn’t enough. She needed one more vote.

Sixty is not a majority government in the Knesset, it is a narrow government. Other governments have been formed with only sixty members, but it has never been a prudent move. In a country in which a “vote of no confidence” is never farther than a breath away, it is a dangerous political move. And it was a move Livni was not prepared to make.

So now the country waits for another national election.

The part of the political equation that I got so wrong was the Shas party part. Shas has 12 seats in today’s Knesset. With Shas in her government Tzipi Livni would have had a comfortable majority of 72. But Shas would not join.

My assumption was that Shas would do everything to avoid elections because elections themselves are so risky, because it is never clear whether a party will go up or down, will gain or lose seats and stature and power. Polls taken now in Israel have Shas losing seats in an upcoming election. A basic and sensible rule of Israeli politics is avoid elections if you think you are going to lose seats. But Shas doesn’t play by the rules and my mistake was in underestimating just how far afield they would go this time around. Shas is not a regular political party. It is often referred to as an ultra religious party. It is not. It is a party run by religious leaders.

The masses of the Shas party are traditional, rather than religious themselves, but they feel very positively toward religion and toward their religious leaders. The members are the immigrant children and grandchildren of Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries. They are called “Aidot Hamizrach” which translates to mean “Eastern communities” and they are sometimes referred to as Sepharadim. In the 60 year context since Israel’s establishment this group has felt they have not had opportunities for growth and true assimilation into the higher echelons of Israeli society. So Shas was created and continues to function as the political arm that fights for the social, political and religious needs of immigrant Jews from Arab lands.

The masses of Shas voters serve in the army. But the decisions in Shas are made by their great rabbinic leader, by Rabbi Ovadiah Yossef. Shas political leadership advises the Rabbi, but make no mistake about it, the decisions themselves are made by the Rabbi.

And Rav Ovadiah ruled that Shas was not to join in the Livni government. The conflict was over three items: Jerusalem; money to schools; money for families with large children. Most of the issues were resolved. But most is not good enough for Rav Ovadiah.

Shas will probably be a member in the next government go round, but after that election, they may have fewer seats which translates into a lot less power. And to their chagrin, that government may again be headed by Livni.

According to two polls out right now, Kadima headed by Tzipi Livni will keep the same number of seats or gain a couple more, which puts them at 29 – 31 Knesset member seats. Likud, the party that thinks it can steal the crown, will increase their seats to 26 – 29 which is not enough to edge out Kadima. According to the polls Labor is on the way out. Labor will not be a contender and Israel has probably come to the end of an era of Labor national leadership.

Mainstream Israelis responded well to Livni and to the fact that the almost-but-not-quite prime minister said “no” to Shas and would not buckle. Shas, on the other hand, is counting on luring back voters because the party stood on principle and did not capitulate on the issues so dear to their constituents.

What do I think? I think I’ll think about it a little longer.

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ISRAELIS FOR OBAMA, OR MAYBE NOT

By Micah Halpern

October 6, 2008

Column:

When Ephraim Halevy has something to say, most people listen. And Halevy, former chief of the Israeli Mossad, does not believe that Israelis should be involved in American politics. The Obama camp, apparently, thinks otherwise.

In a new Obama ad, an ad that will begin running on You Tube, on television and on radio this week, prominent Israeli heroes are seen and heard endorsing Obama Barack for president. According to the ad, the suggestion is that Obama is best for Israel and for the region and a vote for McCain is a vote for the continuation of George Bush’s “failed” Middle East doctrine. Only problem with the ad, say some of the Israelis, is that when they were interviewed, they were never told that it was for a campaign ad and certainly not for an Obama ad campaign.

The stretch-the-truth ritual has been celebrated by candidates ever since the advent of political advertisements. This year, however, the candidates aren’t just stretching or bending the truth, they are twisting and turning the truth, sometimes even going so far as to make up or fabricate what they then call truths.

The former head of the Mossad actually likes Obama. “I think that Obama is a breath of fresh air,” he said during the interview. But he is not about to let the Barack Obama campaign twist either his words or his implication. Halevy is livid, to quote him directly: I told them I thought it was inappropriate for an Israeli to express an opinion on who should be president of the U.S. … it angers me. I think it was an improper use of the interview with me and I will demand that they correct it …”

The back story about this ad is becoming big news in Israel. In a piece that ran in the largest Hebrew daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot and on YNET, the papers popular web site, Halevy denied ever having expressly supported Obama. He said: “I said he’s a fresh, interesting personality and so forth, but I also said positive things about McCain.”

The group responsible for – and under fire for – putting this ad together is called The Jewish Council for Education and Research. This same group is responsible for two other Jewish voting initiatives for Obama, they are the sponsors of jewsvote.com and The Great Schlep. Jews Vote is a program that tries to register as many democratic voters as possible. The Great Schlep has gained fame and notoriety for developing the Sarah Silverman ad, a campaign directed at younger, Jewish voters urging them to schlep to Florida in order to convince their bubbes, and I presume their zaydees as well, their grandparents, to vote Barack Obama for president. Silverman is so impassioned in her plea that she says: “if Obama loses this election I’m going to blame the Jews.”

General Uzi Dayan, a nephew of Moshe Dayan arguably one of Israel’s most famous war heroes turned politician, is another of the heroes featured in the ad campaign. In the ad Dayan says: “I would say that an American president, in my personal opinion, needs actually to be engaged with Iran … you can’t not talk to the Iranians and then one day attack them … I’m not saying give in to them, because ultimately, you need to stop Iran from reaching nuclear capability.”

After discovering that he was featured in the ad Dayan said: “I never said I support Obama or his opinions … they interviewed me in early July and said the interview would be devoted to questions of Middle East policy that would be on the new president’s desk … I don’t know what I’m doing in a campaign video.” Like Halevy, Dayan has asked for a correction and asked the Obama people at The Council for Jewish Education and Research to remove him from the ad.

Other voices, like those of Reserve Brigadier General Shaul Arieli and ex-Mossad agent Yossi Alpher, are heard on this ad criticizing the Bush administration for Middle East failures and asserting that McCain seems close to the Bush doctrine so with McCain there will be more of the same.

The issue here is not as simple as a manipulation of quotes and out of context interviews. The issue is intention and the intention of this ad, and other ads like it on both sides of the aisle, is to change reality. The intention of this ad specifically is to exploit American viewers by having first exploited Israeli war heroes. That is wrong. That is immoral.

Are there no ex-generals or intelligence people who actually do subscribe to the Obama thesis? Are there no military types who would willingly and knowingly praise Barack Obama? If there were, why would the Obama campaign have resorted to trickery and chicanery and why go all the way to Israel? It makes me wonder.

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AHMADINEJAD: THE MAN WHO WANTS TO CHANGE THE WORLD

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 24, 2008

Column:

Ahmadinejad is many things but he is far from crazy.

The present and future ruler of Iran is totally in control of his faculties. Thinking of him a raging lunatic is a serious mistake. Thinking of him as an out of control maniac is a serious miscalculation.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is dangerous, very dangerous. He is not dangerous because he is deranged, he is dangerous because he has a brilliant grasp of the way the world works. And the way the world works is not the way Ahmadinejad wants it to work. So Ahmadinejad wants to change the world.

It’s that simple.

To discount Ahmadinejad because he rants and raves and makes statements that are so outside the realm of believable that he sounds crazy only puts us, his non-believers, at risk. To minimize his power and his importance as the conveyer of ideas to his many followers is to misunderstand the power that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad truly wields.

There are people who trust his word and believe his rhetoric. There are people who have fallen under the mystique he has created about himself. But there aren’t enough people like that. Ahmadinejad is trying to drum up more followers, more believers, and to achieve that aim, he ratchets up his rhetoric.

Ahmadinejad is an anti-intellectual intellectual. He deliberately presents himself as an anti-intellectual, as someone against the intelligentsia and the wealthy elite of Iran. In reality the leader of Iran is a true intellectual, schooled deeply in history and literature.

So when Ahmadinejad makes his statements about Israel or when he denies the Holocaust he is not speaking out of ignorance. He is using buzz words. He know that the words “Israel” and “Holocaust” elicit a visceral, a palpable, reaction in the Arab Muslim world. Ahmadinejad has a reason for what sounds like madness.

His objective is to lead a united Islam under his control.

Ahmadinejad does what he must do to attain the status he seeks. Certainly Ahmadinejad knows that there was a Holocaust in Europe, he knows that the Holocaust resulted in the murder and destruction of the Jewish community of Europe. He also knows that the way to achieve his objective is to feed off of the conspiracy theories that thrive in the Muslim world. And he knows that in order to obtain standing in the greater Muslim Arab world he must pay lip service to the Palestinian cause.

Ahmadinejad does what he believes because he himself is a believer. He rejects the premise that a non-Muslim body can control Muslim land. And there is no more Muslim land than Jerusalem. He rejects Israel’s very presence because Israel has shattered Islamic hegemony over the land. And he cannot tolerate or condone a situation that allows Zionists to exist on holy land and a situation that even allows the Zionists to control the holy sites in the Holy Land.

Ahmadinejad acts the way he does because in his own world, he is politically savvy. He will never speak the word “Israel” or use the term “Jewish State” because, surprisingly, the Koran does not always view the Jew negatively. In fact, in the Koran there is at times an intimation that the Jew is valuable and important. Instead, Ahmadinejad uses the term “Zionist entity.” That is why he so carefully differentiates between “Jews” and “Zionists.”

If there was no Holocaust there is no justification for creating the Jewish State. By rejecting the Holocaust Ahmadinejad takes away the moral, ethical and historical grounds upon which Israel was created. The truth has nothing to do with the reality when you are a motivational Muslim extremist. Theories are built upon emotion and emotion, in Ahmadinejad’s case, is used to stoke the passions that will enable him to rise as a leader.

Ahmadinejad is not crazy. He is ruthless.

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MICKEY MOUSE, SOLDIER OF SATAN

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 17, 2008

Column:

Mickey Mouse is getting mauled in the Muslim world.

It all began when Hamas children’s television transformed the lovable Disney character into a Palestinian character, renamed him Farfu and had him beaten up and pummeled within inches of his life by Israeli soldiers. It was in very poor taste. It was immoral. Co-opting one of the most universally recognized and loved Disney characters and turning him into a creature that preaches rage and teaches hatred, murder and revenge was unconscionable.

The world cried out, the Magic Kingdom threatened lawsuits but the Palestinians persisted. Mickey Mouse recently re-appeared in a program produced by Palestinian television and geared for children. In this go round Mickey and his friends remain in the background as the child host of the program educates his audience on the subject of the borders of Palestine, omitting any mention of Israel.

Now the situation has taken a more adult and more sensational turn.

A leading Sunni cleric has come out with a Fatwa, a religious edict, declaring that all mice, including and especially Mickey Mouse, are repulsive and are to be destroyed. The cleric behind this religious pronouncement is named Mohammad al Munajid. The Fatwa was made public during an interview on Al Majd TV.

Al Munajid was not just grabbing headlines, there is reason to his madness.

This sheik is no stranger to the West, on the contrary, he is conversant in and very aware of Western culture and Western television programming. Al Munajid was stationed in Washington, DC as a diplomat in the Saudi Embassy.

According to this cleric Islamic law is unambiguous about mice. Mice are repulsive, corruptive, creatures. Al Munajid maintains that Disney purposefully transformed these vile rodents into lovable characters instead of portraying them as the awful creatures that they truly are. Al Munajid quotes the Shaariya. He says that mice are linked with Satan. He says that mice set fire to the house, that mice are the soldiers of Satan.

These are pretty harsh attack against a defenseless cartoon character.

It’s easy to simply respond by saying that Munajid is corrupting the essence of Disney. Right now, however, a little perspective is essential in order to truly understand what is behind these controversial, confrontational comments.

Sunni cleric Mohammad al Munajid is a radical. He is radically anti-Western, radically anti-American and radically anti everything that is not Muslim. He is an extremist. He lives off anger. He is the Sunni sheik who gained notoriety during the Beijing Olympics by calling the games satanic and by calling them the Bikini Olympics. Yes, he is that Muslim, he is that character.

When Walt Disney first conceived of a mouse named Mickey there was some fear on the past of the company about how the world would connect with a mouse. Screaming and running away is exactly the opposite of the desired effect. Those fears proved unfounded. Mickey Mouse entered the homes and the hearts of children and their parents all across America and around the world.

And some of the homes that allowed Mickey to enter are located in the Muslim Arab part of the world. And that frightens Sheikh Mohammad al Munajid. And that is why it was not only permitted to corrupt the image of Mickey Mouse in the Muslim world, that is why it was encouraged. And that is why Mickey Mouse has now been banned.

Mickey Mouse deserves better. So do the children of Islam.

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LAUGH UNTIL YOU CRY

By Micah Halpern

Thursday September 11, 2008

Column:

One of the best ways to evaluate a society is by examining the humor of that society.

Freud asserted that in every joke there is a kernel of truth. I would assert that there is much, much more than simply a kernel. There is profound expression in humor. Societies use humor as a way of calling out, of crying for help, of pleading for law and order, a way to save their victims from untenable situations. The twist is that the call, the cry and the plea are accompanied not by tears, but by laughter.

In many circumstances the joke, humor, is the only way to actually raise essential societal questions while also allowing people to live through a situation that should be viewed as crazy and out of the ordinary, but that has become their everyday norm.

Jewish jokes have set the standard for gentle but honest self-deprecation. Jewish jokes were also the first to tackle indelicate situations in a digestible way. The jokes, written by Jews and about Jews are a window into the pain and pathos of the Jewish people during specific times in history. Originally intended for Jewish audiences, the genre has now become familiar to all ethnic groups and is a staple of many comedic performances.

It’s okay to laugh at a Jewish joke, even if you’re not Jewish. It’s acceptable. In many cases, it’s expected. That is not the case in all societies.

The Jewish people have a heightened sense of humor. Jews have taken to expressing themselves through humor even in the most horrific of situations. Sometimes, that humor is used as a defense mechanism. Sometimes it is a release from the tensions of life, or of death, surrounding them.

This poignant and powerful tool called humor was even used to help navigate through the horrors of the Holocaust. In Nazi Germany the Jews were being murdered. There was no escape from the German death machine. And yet the period is replete with jokes about Hitler and his allies, about Poles, about Lithuanians and Germans and everyone else. There were jokes about the murderers, about the allies, about the collaborators and even about fellow Jews.

Even the movie Cabaret, a story about the sidebar atrocities perpetrated by German Nazis during the Holocaust, makes its point through humor. The cabaret inside the movie Cabaret is the vehicle for humor, the cabaret is the release valve, it is the time and place where one is not only permitted, but encouraged, to laugh.

Humor provides people a tool and the ability to critique even in the most oppressive societies, even in the Muslim world.

In most of the Muslim world there is no free press, there is no freedom of expression and there is no permission to offer critique. Muslims living in Muslim countries do not have the right to freely assemble or to publicly redress grievances. Freedoms considered essential by Americans and by most of the Western world do not exist in the Muslim world.

But humor does exist. Humor in the Muslim world is an underground movement. Jokes never have authors, they just have a life. It’s safer that way, so when a joke really takes off no one knows where it came from and when it will stop. Internet joke listings and SMS cell phone messaging have propelled Muslim humor. There is even an Iranian joke that ends with Ahmadinejad receiving a joke about himself on his own cell phone and getting so angry that he purges the cell phone company’s entire SMS bureau. That’s funny. That’s a joke that was written by and for Iranians, but made its way to the Western world.

Most of the Iranian jokes that have made their way through Iran portray Ahmadinejad as a buffoon. They are mostly about the Iranian leader and his interaction with Western society. There are, of course, a good number of Iranian jokes about George Bush.

Many of the jokes that pervade the Arab world in general deal with Ahmadinejad. They also deal with the previous henchmen and thugs aka former leaders of Arab Muslim countries, leaders who can no longer retaliate against the humor. By and large Arab leaders found jokes to be offensive and called them criminal acts against the state. They said jokes foment anti-state feelings. Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat fell into that category. So does Muammar Qadaffi, despite the new relationship between the United States and Libya. So do most of the monarchs and dictators still ruling the Middle East.

Humor is not just political commentary. It is a panacea that allows people in oppressed and in free societies to wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night. It allows us to laugh until we cry.

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DIPLOMACY BE DAMNED

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 3, 2008

Column:

There are countries that practice diplomacy as a form of fine art and there are countries that practice diplomacy as an “in your face” martial art. And there are countries that practice a mix of the two arts.

Western countries usually, successfully, practice the fine art form. The Palestinians usually end up in the “in your face” martial art category. The first phase of Palestinian diplomacy, the obligatory polite, fine art, phase, almost immediately gives way to the we-will-do-it-our-way-but-make-believe-we-are-still-being-polite phase which then turns into their we will do what we want, when we want, whichever way we want “in your face” final stage of diplomacy.

And when that happens, which is almost always, only another Arab country can get the Palestinians to change policy or principle. No Western power, not the United States, not Israel, not any other Western democracy has any power, or recourse, or redress when the Palestinians have made up their minds and decided diplomacy be damned.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinians Authority, leader of Fatah and successor to Arafat just demonstrated the type of diplomacy he practices. It was “in your face” of the highest rank. Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Lebanon for a special meeting with one of the most notorious, most vile, most celebrated, freed from prison in a prisoner exchange, terrorist alive today.

Abbas met with Samir Kuntar. Kuntar is the terrorist recently released by Israel along with four other terrorists held in Israeli prisons in exchange for the mutilated, desecrated and obviously tortured remains of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev who had been kidnapped by Hezbollah and taken into Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

Kuntar was captured by Israel only after he had brutally and publicly murdered a four year old girl, bashing her skull with the butt of his machine gun until blood oozed out of her ears and her head was so crushed it looked to those who found the dead body like a raw egg. And he killed her father. And he killed a policeman. And in the throes of the terrorist attack he perpetrated her younger sister died, too.

Why? Why would the leader of the Palestinian people, the man lobbying for his own country by promising peace with Israel, even go to a meeting with Samir Kuntar let alone ask for the meeting as Kuntar proudly boasted.

The King of Saudi Arabia did not call for a meeting, or even call, Samir Kuntar. Neither did the president of Egypt or the Emir of Dubai or the Emir of Qatar. Abbas paid double respect to the released murderer, he called him upon his release and has now met with him.

Why? Because politically Abbas gains much more from the meeting than he loses. The hits or losses that Abbas takes from this meeting are obvious – Israel is very, very upset, the United States is very upset, Germany is upset. But those countries will move on and as they say in diplomatic circles, they’ll get over it. It will take Israel the longest to get over it and it may come back to haunt Abbas, but there will be no immediate reaction. The response at home is immediate.

Abbas calculates that the benefits from the meeting will win him points at home. He does not hope to convince fence sitters because there are no fence sitters in the Palestinian Authority. There are supporters of Hamas and there are supporters of Fatah. And they are killing one another.

The President of the Palestinian Authority met with Samir Kuntar to prove that he is not a Jew lover, that he is not an Israeli lover. Diplomacy be damned. He wants to prove that Mahmoud Abbas and notorious killer of Israelis Samir Kuntar are cut of the same cloth. Abbas went to Lebanon to put on a show for Palestinians and Arabs world over. He went to prove that Abbas embraces murderers of little Israeli Jewish children.

The actions of Mahmoud Abbas, the intentions of Mahmoud Abbas, should inspire fear in every person who fights terror and favors democracy. The heart of Mahmoud Abbas is stone cold. He places politics above humanity. He embraces terror. That has just been proven with one significant visit to Lebanon.

The reality of Palestinian politics is that, at this point, Fatah has a plurality over Hamas and that advantage will for the near future. Sometimes, some people get frustrated with the corruption of Fatah and the extremism of Hamas but few will ever bolt to the other party. In the Palestinian Authority most party lines divide by families and loyalties to family members in various positions of power.

Most recent polls show that Abbas beats Hanyiah of Hamas 53%-39% and Fatah beats Hamas 43%-29% in party polling. The numbers are virtually unchanged since the last serious poll.

You see, Abbas really did not have to prove anything. He’s made it. Abbas met with Samir Kuntar because he wanted to meet with Samir Kuntar, because in his heart, he probably respects Samir Kuntar. The intense emotional pull Mahmoud Abbas felt for terrorist Samir Kuntar overrode diplomacy. And it overrode decency.

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THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN

By Micah Halpern

Thursday August 28, 2008

Column:

A recent poll shows that 63 percent of Americans favor a military strike against Iran should diplomacy fail.

Sixty three percent, that’s a whopping big number. It’s an important number. It’s a number that speaks not of an America that is fed up, tired or weary. It speaks of a spirited and vibrant America. And it’s a number that shows that Americans are not gun shy, that Americans have not become weakened by the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Americans do not like injustice, Americans do not like evil and Americans are not afraid of bullies. And for Americans, Iran is all of those.

But there’s a problem with the results of this poll. The problem is that the people of America are not the government of America. Americans are not afraid, but the government of America is afraid, or at least, wary. The results of this survey come at a very important time, they come only days after the conclusion of the conflict between Russia and Georgia, a conflict during which the United States of America chose to stand on the sidelines rather than stand up for freedom and democracy.

Interestingly, this poll was commissioned by the Israel Project, an unabashedly pro Israel advocacy program in Washington DC – and proud of it.

To give this study credibility, and to guarantee objectivity, the Israel Project went to both Democratic and Republican pollsters and jointly they produced the study. On the Republican side the poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies. On the Democratic side it was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. They also took the poll to Germany and Great Britain.

85 percent of Democrats and 97 percent of Republicans see Iran as a serious threat to the United States. That is about as close as one can get to a bi-partisan agreement on anything, let alone a call to war. These conclusions are enormously important for the presidential candidates. They are also important for those countries around the world who hoping to continue to receive infusions of support for their burgeoning democracies from the United States.

Right now, right when the results of this poll are being released countries like Israel and Georgia are trying to integrate the lessons learned during the conflict between Russia and Georgia. They are trying to understand the how could they and the why did they not of the American response. Now they have an answer, the American people will support them, even if the American government does not. They know it because 55 percent of the Americans polled said that they viewed positively a strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities.

They know it because they know that 57 percent of Americans actually understand Iran better than most American politicians do. 57 percent of those Americans polled responded that they believe that the reason the Iranians want to attain nuclear power and nuclear weapons is to maximize their own, personal, regional authority and world power.

Americans attribute an actual motive to Iran’s nuclear pursuits. And they are not afraid to admit it.

Take heed, that is the American way.

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THE ZIONIST DREAM REVISITED

By Micah Halpern

Thursday August 21, 2008

Column:

The Zionist dream is alive and well.

Refugees are once again abandoning their place of birth, enduring great physical hardship and risking their lives to enter the Land of Israel. These are not the Jews of Europe, fleeing anti-Semitism, yearning for their ancestral home. They are not the Jews of Iraq, expelled from their homes and hiking across borders to take refuge in the land of their biblical forefathers. They are not the Jews of Ethiopia who walked for hundreds of miles and hundreds of days to escape persecution before they were, finally, airlifted to safety in Israel.

They are Muslims.

They are survivors from Darfur.

And only the lucky ones make it. Since January of this year nineteen people have been shot to death at the border between Egypt and Israel. Hundreds of others have illegally but safely and successfully crossed the border into Israel.
The Jewish government of Israel allows these non-Jewish escapees who have made their way across the fertile plain to enter their country unharmed. The Egyptian Arab government shoots to kill as fellow Muslims attempt to leave their country. How ironic. How very sad.

Egyptian policy is to use lethal force, that’s the way they do things. Israeli policy is to offer medical plans.

Despite all the horrific anti-Israel vitriol than pervades the Muslim world, despite the lessons of hate that children are taught from their earliest years in schools and in places of worship, these people fleeing for their lives know that escape to Israel is one of their only chances of survival. They risk danger in order to enter the Land of Zion, in order to achieve their own dreams of coming to Israel.

Persecuted Jews came to Israel in order to transform their Jewish experience from one of being the victim to one of being the defender. They came to be a part of a society that is new, vibrant and free of oppression. So, too, with today’s refugees entering Israel. What makes Israel so exciting to the people of Darfur and other parts of Africa, what makes Israel so enticing, so worth the risk of getting there is the life they will lead once there. Freedom is a hard commodity to come by in most of the world, even today.

The story of the miracle of Israel has taken hold in the hearts and minds of oppressed people – even oppressed Muslims in far away Africa. In Israel, the Jews made the desert bloom. And in Israel they provide health care and offer education to everyone regardless of religion or color or citizenship.

The Darfur Muslims now entering Israel are given a home and a haven. When Jews were in trouble the gates of the world were shut to them. Israel will never shut the gates – not to Jews and not to any peoples in need. Just like the stranded Boat People of Viet Nam who entered Israel in 1978 when the world was willing to let them die and few other countries were granting refuge, most of the Darfur refugees who made it to Israel will find their place in Israeli culture and society.

It is still unclear how Israel will process the new population illegally entering the country. Some have been arrested and some have been granted refugee status, some have been granted citizenship and some are living in tent camps. But a solution will be found, the process has begun and the refugees are still attempting to make their way to freedom in the State of Israel.

One thing is for sure, they are not being shot at at the border – not as they enter and not if they choose to one day leave.

So how do these Muslims fit into the Zionist dream?

They don’t. But Israel will see to it that they will.

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THE WORST CASE SCENARIO

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 13, 2008

Column:

The biggest military threat Israel faces is not Iran, the biggest threat is a combined attack against Israel involving Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. What we call in sports a pile on. I have been analyzing this potential threat for many months now. That specific attack is a worst case scenario – a coordinated effort during which Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah missiles and rockets come pummeling into Israel all at the same time. The result would be more devastating than any war Israel has been involved in since the creation of the state.

On Tuesday August 5, 2008 the Strategic Air Command in Israel conducted an exercise that precisely simulated my worst predictions and fears. The exercise was not intended to be kept a secret. It was made public and was filmed by Israel’s Channel 10 News and reported on by the popular Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1008808.html
It was intended as a warning.

The exercise was an overwhelming success. Of course, certain elements will require tweaking but should Israel become the target of a three pronged attack by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, Israel will mount a successful defense. Yes, the Israeli military will be able to defend the citizens of Israel in a worst case scenario attack.

The further Israel gets from the worst case scenario, the fewer enemy players involved in the attack, the better the odds are for Israel. Fewer enemy nations translates into higher odds. How does Israel stay out of the worst case scenario? By managing their own three pronged, non-military, attack – threats, disincentives and classic cold war tactics.

The ultimate objective is to frighten Israel’s enemies and aggressors. Those countries intent on destroying Israel must know that if they were ever to attack Israel or join forces with Iran, Syria or Hezbollah in order to destroy Israel, their own potential for loss would be significantly greater than the internal, Muslim and Arab world glory they would gain for attacking the Zionist infidel state.

The Arab world is struggling under the weight of a double message about Israel. Message one perpetuates the conspiracy theory of the greatness of Israel and Israel’s military might. Message two speaks to a growing sense that Israel’s army has faltered and its former glory is fast fading. Israel’s military prowess and capability as proved by this latest exercise, combined with Israel’s non-military actions, should set the record straight.

Over the past year defense and strategy groups in Israel, Washington and London have spent a great deal of time debating Iran’s potential for attacks and the West’s ability to counter attacks. Some DC policy planners are of the opinion that Iran’s capability is really irrelevant, that Iran will not take the initiative and initiate an attack. The thinking is that Iran has a thousand year history of non-aggression and that history is not about to be altered now. These same people assert that while the real fear is not an Iranian initiated attack, the real fear is an Iranian counter-attack. They are of the belief that if Iran is pushed, if Iran interprets Western actions as insults, that may well trigger what the Iranians will view as a counter attack. Is it a game of semantics? It is. Is it a game of perceptions? It is. Either way, it is a dangerous situation.

Israel does not have the luxury of banking on a historical precedent. Semantics and perceptions are no longer relevant when an attack is launched. Israel must prepare for the worst possible scenario if only to repel the bluster that Iran is perpetually spouting. Iran is trying desperately to become the epicenter of the world. Iran wants all eyes on Iran. And that explains why, for example, in response to an ultimatum and deadline calling for Iran to cease and desist in the development of uranium the Iranians arrogantly, conceitedly and openly proclaimed that they had no plans of the sort.

The Iranians were playing to the Muslim world. They were hoping to galvanize the Muslim world against the West under the leadership of Teheran. The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Mohammad Ali Jafari, held a press conference and announced that Iran had just tested a new anti-ship missile that could sink “enemy ships” at a range of more than 200 miles. http://www.nysun.com/foreign/iran-threatens-to-shut-strait-of-hormuz/83142
He asserted that Iran could shut down the Strait of Hormuz with ease, he said: “Enemies know that we are easily able to block the Strait of Hormuz for an unlimited period.”
Everyday about 35% of the world’s oil travels through the Straits of Hormuz on its way to Africa and Asia. It does not matter whether Iran is capable of closing the Straits either for the long or short term. The threat alone will have a cataclysmic effect on markets and world economies.
Iran’s threats need to be taken seriously by the West because they are being taken seriously by the Muslim world. And one day another Muslim country just might decide to take up the cause and join Iran in an attack against the West. And if that happens a very bad scenario becomes worse.

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Israel Needs the Phalanx

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Column

Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, returned to Israel from a visit to Washington, D.C. In an almost revolving door scenario, Barak arrived on the coattails of Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel’s Chief of Staff.

They were there to talk about Iran.

Iran has been the most important topic in every conversation between Israel and the United States for the past eighteen months. Iran is the most critical challenge to Israel and the most significant factor impacting the region. Iran is the most problematic force in the world today according to the thinking of the most powerful country in the world today, the United States of America.

And then they discussed terror.

They discussed Hamas and Hezbollah generated terror. They discussed the role of Iran in sponsoring the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist organizations. Towards the end of that agenda item the United States and Israel probably shared insight and information on the status of world terror.

Finally, they discussed the Palestinians and the inability of the Palestinians to reign in terror even in the West Bank, let alone in Gaza.

Those were the discussions. Then came the crux of the visits. Then came the request.

Ashkenazi and Barak came to ask the United States for help in putting a stop to the acts of almost daily terror Israel is subjected to by Hamas. They came to brainstorm and to investigate. Israel is thinking of either borrowing or purchasing an American made weapon called the Phalanx CIWS Cannon. CIWS stands for Close-in Weapons System.

Both Barak and Ashkenazi are experienced in the military needs and demands of Israel. Like Ashkenazi, Barak once held the position of Israel’s Chief of Staff. During his tenure as Israel’s senior military official he was often touted as the most highly decorated officer in Israel’s history. He was a prime minister once before and hopes to become his country’s prime minister once again.

In Israel right now defense officials are frowning on buying the Phalanx or any new military equipment, for that matter. They want to concentrate all their investment energy and resources in one direction. They want to complete development on their own, new, weapon – a weapon that will protect Israel and be available for export around the world. It is called the Iron Dome.

The Iron Dome will probably meet all of Israel’s expectations. The only thing the Iron Dome cannot meet is Israel’s needs now. The Iron Dome system is not scheduled for completion until 2011. Israel needs help now.

Actually, the city of Sderot, the city most in need of protection from the daily onslaught of missiles, needed protection yesterday and the day before that and the months and months before that.

There is no doubt that the Phalanx will improve the defense of Sderot and of other communities that abut Gaza. But the Phalanx alone will not work. The Phalanx is nicknamed R-2 D-2 because it looks like the droid from Star Wars. This cannon system works like a hi-tech gatling gun. It shoots 3,000 to 4,500 twenty millimeter rounds a minute. It is designed to hit missiles and rockets and mortars that fly in low. Every United States Navy fighting ship is equipped with this system. The Phalanx uses two sets of radar, the first set tracks and the second, much more powerful and precise, guides the shot. There is also a Phalanx designed for the ground.

If the Phalanx was used together with an advanced radar system the people of Sderot would be able to sleep quietly at night – in their own beds, not in shelters. If the Phalanx was in Israel today the entire country would be safer. If the Phalanx was in Israel today Hamas would be one large step further away from destroying the lives and weakening the morale of Israel’s citizens.

Buy it or borrow it. Go back to Washington. Israel needs protection now. And now, only the United States has the equipment capable of providing that protection. Some things are not worth waiting for.

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TIT FOR TAT, PALESTINIAN STYLE

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 30, 2008

Column:

There are murders, mass arrests and a leading newspaper has been shut down. Tensions that had been simmering below the surface are now out in the open and they are boiling over. Hamas and Fatah are not only out for blood, they are out for power and control.

Gaza and tension go together like America and apple pie. They are inseparable. Even when the tension was not obviously manifest, even when it was not visible to the naked, untrained, non-Palestinian eye, it was palpable, it could be felt by the locals. An outsider’s first peek at the rising tensions came when five Hamas military members were killed in a parking lot explosion in Gaza – and Hamas immediately pointed the finger of blame at Fatah.

And where Gaza goes, the West Bank is sure to follow. Here too, tensions, violence, acts of intimidation and menacing threats are emerging and hitting the streets and byways. Hamas began by arresting members of Fatah in Gaza. Fatah followed by arresting Hamas members in the West Bank. Now it is a game of Tit for Tat, Palestinian style. And for the players in the West Bank and Gaza Tit for Tat is a war game.

The game has just been taken up a notch. Murders, arrests, finger pointing, newspaper closings – those are the old components of the game. A new component has just been unleashed, it is the Palestinian propaganda machine. When it comes to Palestinian propaganda, Fatah is at a distinct disadvantage, Hamas is master.

It was one year ago that Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza. Seven months earlier Hamas defeated Fatah in a parliamentary election. Hamas is using that imagery to convince the Palestinians of their superiority and right to rule. Hamas is using that imagery to instill fear in the hearts of Fatah and all other Palestinians. It is the imagery of victory and defeat.

Hamas has released some very powerful statements that cut to the core of every Palestinian citizen and taunts present-day, mainstream Fatah leadership. “Now the Zionists are protecting you,” says Hamas. “You know that once the protection of the Zionists is over, people will enter your headquarters and kick you out.”

These statements evoke memories of the coup in Gaza, pictures that every Palestinian has etched in their memories as clear as the photos that were taken and proudly flaunted at the time. Hamas gunmen taking over Fatah headquarters in Gaza. Hamas gunmen kicking up their feet with a massive portrait of Yasser Arafat on the wall behind them. Fatah, forced out and on the run.

“You must know,” continues Hamas “we are not acting against you now in the West Bank because … we know the Zionists will immediately back you.”

Believe me, the average Palestinian is thinking those exact thoughts. And judging by recent polls it looks as if Hamas is gaining popularity – not in overwhelming numbers, but certainly gaining.

Palestinians leadership, that is Fatah leadership, is caught in a real sticky situation. Fatah needs Israel to prop them up, but Fatah cannot be seen as collaborating with Israel. The average Palestinian wants an end to the conflict, but the average Palestinian does not want to live in a West Bank ghetto. Palestinians prefer economic opportunity, Palestinians want freedom of movement. Palestinians want to be able to go into Israel and find work. Israel is a tool that is and will continue to be used by both sides in this war of words and actions.

The intimidation continues. So do the arrests and so does the bloodshed. Reuters reported that human rights groups are charging both Fatah and Hamas with the use of torture. The situation is out in the open, once again. The situation will continue to escalate.

The war between Hamas and Fatah never ended, it just went underground for a while.

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PHOTO-SHOPPING REALITY

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 23, 2008

Column:

The Muslim world often sends out mixed messages, one message for the outside world, another for inner consumption. It’s not ineptitude or poor translating capabilities, it is pure, simple, intentional manipulation.

The Iranians have mastered the art of international diplomacy. The Iranians have also bested their Muslim brethren in the art of mixed political messaging and media manipulation.

The Iranian missile tests, intended to showcase military prowess as well as nuclear capability, was quickly and artfully re-shaped into a showcase of creative, media manipulation. Not only did the Iranians photo-shop the pictures – for external consumption, they photo-shopped the facts – for internal consumption.

IRNA, one of the official Iranian government media outlets, ran a news scoop after the missiles were released. According to the report, Israelis were fleeing for their lives in fear. Why? Because now the world had proof of Iran’s great missile system and now it was clear to every country that Iran is the most powerful of all.

“Following the successful maneuver executed by Iran last week, which included the firing of new missiles, Zionist residents living in occupied Palestine have begun to flee from there.”

“The residents told their illegitimate government that this was the reason they refused to go on living there.”

The report actually says that there has been a “massive emigration from Tel Aviv following the military maneuver.”

Iran wants their internal world to believe that they are a great and undefeatable society. Iranian leadership wants to assume the mantle of Cyrus the Great and lead the people of Persia to world dominance. But this is far from the truth.

And what Iran refuses to acknowledge is that an accurate assessment of military abilities is as essential in foreign diplomacy as it is in war. That is why Iranian leaders not only photo-shopped the missile launch transforming a mid-range dud into a long range threat, but they also created a fiction in which their every movement evinces fear and quaking from the citizens of Israel.

Iranian political and military leadership has made it almost impossible to ferret out the truth from the bluster when it comes to Iranian nuclear development and capability. Propaganda and nuclear preparation go hand-in-hand. Diplomacy and deceit are interwoven and at times, both are very convincing.

In the midst of their race for nuclear technology, Iran is taking the time to attempt to open diplomatic channels with the United States. Several times in the past week Ahmadinejad has said that he would not be averse to the opening of a US diplomatic office in Teheran. In one instance he said it was a good idea and that it would improve relations between the countries especially after the November presidential elections.

Iran is courting the United States at this historical juncture because Iran understands that most of the Western world is soft when it comes to military strikes and that the only two powers that really count in that arena are Israel and the United States.

They know that the vast majority of the world will condemn a strike against Iran. They know that most countries will deceive themselves to avoid a military strike. And they know that letting in inspectors, negotiating with the inspectors, stopping the inspectors from doing their job and then starting all over again is a diplomatic game that allows European nations to cling to a glimmer of hope that Iran might be on the verge of acquiescing to world demands and actually cooperating. And where there is hope there will be no strike. It costs the Iranians absolutely nothing and it buys the Iranians good will and more time.

By making overtures to the United States in an effort to open a diplomatic office, especially a trade office, Iran is achieving a double goal. They are deflecting attention away from their nuclear mission and adopting the role of peace maker. It is Iran playing the role of peace loving nation by holding out the olive branch to the largest country in the Western world. It is the United States and by extension Israel that are now forced into playing the role of nay sayer and war monger. Iran is all good, Israel and the West are all evil.

The West cannot allow Iran to re-write history or photo-shop reality. It is our job to understand all the messages emanating from Iran, those for internal consumption and those for diplomatic convention. It is our job to weed out truth from rhetoric, to predict and to be prepared.

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THE QUALITATIVE EDGE

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 15, 2008

Column:

For years, Israel was considered to be the superior force in the Middle East. That fact alone kept Israel safe from many of her enemies, most of the time. It was the deterrence factor, and historically, the deterrence factor has played an important role in keeping countries – and the world, safe.

Mutual deterrence was the pinnacle of the Cold War, it was the reason why there was a stalemate between the US and USSR. Deterrence is what kept Israel safe in the midst of the Middle East. Until now.

It is not that Israel has changed, it is the world that has changed. Major players in the world are no longer nations – strong, powerful, autocratic or democratic nations, some players are now organizations -terrorist organizations.

For years Israel and her friends have touted the concept of the qualitative edge as a significant tool in the arsenal of military deterrence. The United States was a strong proponent of the concept and, within the Arab world, encouraged the image of Israel’s superior military status which in turn kept Israel’s enemies at bay.

Israel always had better fighters, better training, better tanks, better planes and better intelligence. Israel was wealthier, more motivated, more successful, more worldly, Israel was more Western. Israel was more free and Israel was more democratic. Still is. But all that no longer matters. The overwhelming intimidation, the powerful facts on the ground and the fear factor that kept Israel safe for years no longer works against this new breed of idealistic, terrorist, enemy.

Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda as well as the lone country Iran are neither stunned nor smitten by the Israel’s great military prowess. Israel neither petrifies nor paralyzes them. They are fearless. And the rules of the game they play are solely theirs.

With most countries, the qualitative edge still works. It was deterrence that brought about peace between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan, it is that qualitative edge that keeps the peace alive. Other, more established Arab and Muslim countries, have realized that Israel is here to stay and have begun dealing with the Jewish state even if only behind closed diplomatic doors. Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Qatar have begun interacting with Israel. Even Syria is now in the throes of third party negotiations with Israel precisely because of this very intimidating qualitative edge.

These are countries that are still informed by the same basic concept that informed them twenty years ago. It is called self-preservation and it still works. It is the same motivation that kept the world safe during the years of Cold War.

Islamic extremists like al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas and the powers leading Iran are wired differently. Self preservation holds no interest for them. They cannot be intimidated and they do not have conventional thresholds of fear. They exist in perpetuation of a principle, they care only about total compliance to a religious idea and they cannot be deterred. Anyone who rejects the foundation of their extremism, even another Muslim, becomes a blatant target of the movement’s ire. According to their new dogma, it is religiously permitted to attack non-believers.

The warriors in the armies of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran are not afraid of dying. Their leaders think nothing of sacrificing the masses to achieve the organization’s greater goal. The goal is to attack – at all costs, regardless of impact or effect.

According to the rules of play of extremist, terrorist, religious, organizations, every attack, even a minor attack, is major victory. The obsession is the attack, not the result of the attack. Precisely because of Israel’s great military superiority any small irritation by Hezbollah or Hamas is interpreted by group supporters as a death blow to Israel. Any counter attack by Israel or strike against the terrorists is considered a victory for the terrorists. Theirs is an all-or-nothing game. If they are not wiped out totally, they are victorious. If even a single Hamas or Hezbollah believer remains standing, it is considered to be a win against Israel. Israel was unable to defeat them. The same rule extends to al Qaeda and to Iran and their wars with Israel and with the world.

The challenge is ours, the Western world. We must develop a new model to confront this new form of enemy. We must prepare ourselves to confront this new threat to our war plans and strategy, to our way of life and to our existence. The Western world must find a new deterrent, appropriate in the fight against extremism. We need to develop a new qualitative edge.

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Almost a Done Deal

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 8, 2008

Column:

The deal is done. Israel has agreed to exchange live Arab prisoners for dead Israeli soldiers. Walking, talking, alive and breathing, tried and convicted terrorists and 190 dead terrorists for the corpses of kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

In politics, much like in big business, decisions do not always follow the classic game theory model. Win-win, win-lose and even lose-lose do not always apply. Sometimes, decisions are made only in order to cut future losses and move on. Israel is cutting losses, Israel is moving on. Israel has nothing more to gain in this go-round with Hezbollah and nothing more to lose.

Bad decisions were made from the beginning and those bad decisions will live on, setting a bad precedent. When the War with Lebanon began two summers ago, the intention was to find Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev and bring them home – dead or alive, to return Israeli soldiers to Israeli soil. Along the way Israel lost sight of the original goal. Instead of fighting to find the boys, Israel fought to debilitate Hezbollah. By the time a cease fire was called, neither goal had been achieved.

There have been other deals between Israel and Hezbollah and none of them have been good – but neither have they significantly hurt Israel. This deal, which includes exchanging notorious terrorist Samir Kuntar, will number among one of the worst deals the State of Israel has ever cut with the enemy.

The reasoning for accepting the deal goes like this. The parents of Goldwasser and Regev, their immediate family, need closure. Their extended family, which has grown to include the entire country of Israel, needs closure. The Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem has said that Hezbollah has no more information to give about Israeli navigator Ron Arad who was shot down, taken hostage and abandoned on enemy soil twent-two years ago. If Hezbollah has no more information to give, then Kuntar has little currency. Politically Kuntar is now dead weight.

The best use of Kuntar right now is to sacrifice him for the remains of the Israelis, to stave off the possibility of Goldwasser and Regev turning into Arad – disappeared into a black enemy hole with no one claiming knowledge or possession. By retrieving the bodies Israel will be denying her enemies the pleasure of gloating over a prized possession – the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.

Kidnappings take a tremendous toll on a tiny, tightly knit, nation like Israel, a place where there are very few degrees of separation between families and the masses. In Israel almost everyone serves and that means that almost everyone’s child is put at risk.

Israelis loan their children to the army, defending Israel against enemies is an unfortunate but totally understood reality. Israel receives those children with a special promise – to protect them, to make certain they do not die in vain. And if a parent is called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for home and country, if an Israeli soldier is killed, Israel has always promised to bring back the body and erect a proper grave.

The Israeli army mantra, the Israeli army code, of “no body left behind in the battlefield” is not only meant to soothe soldiers and their families. It is also meant to tell the enemies of Israel that they will be denied the perverse thrill of publicly mutilating the bodies and then exchanging the corpses for live terrorists.

The ramifications of this deal are significant. The bodies will be returned, graves will be erected, but a gaping hole will have been placed in the Israeli justice system because of this prisoner exchange. The Arab terrorists in this exchange were tried and convicted by the Israeli court. Kuntar was sentenced to four life sentences without the possibility of parole for his brutal acts. Israel does not have capital punishment, this judgment was the toughest sentence the court could give.

Now the message is being transmitted to all terrorists – those already convicted and those still planning their acts – that there is always a way to get out, there is always the possibility of exchange. The message to the terrorists is that there is always a way to get out. Just kidnap Israelis and hold them for ransom.

And then there is the blow to the victims, the people injured by the terrorists now being released, the families of the people whom they killed and the people injured and killed in the capture of these terrorists. All Israelis understand the risk of living in Israel. All Israelis understand the dangers of terror and the reality of army service. These citizens of Israel relied on the State for justice. Now the brutal murderers will be set free because the State is cutting political and military losses.

There are some in Israel who think that this exchange does more than cut losses, they think that it hurts Israel militarily. They think that it signals a death sentence for Gilad Shalit, another hostage, another kidnapped Israeli soldier who is being held in Gaza by a Hamas-related group. They think that the enemy will now believe that if you can get so much for a dead soldier, why go through the trouble of keeping Shalit alive? The answer to that is, strange as it sounds, Hamas is not Hezbollah. Each enemy group, each terrorist organization, each country at war with Israel plays by their own set of rules much as Israel deals differently and independently with each of them.

There are those in the intelligence and the defense world who say never exchange live prisoners for dead soldiers. Live for live, dead for dead, no exceptions or you lose the advantage in negotiations. That thinking has merit. But today’s politicians have acted differently and right now, in this exchange, it is too late to implement that policy.

This will not be the last negotiation because this will not be the last kidnapping. Terrorists are rehearsing. They have training films and propaganda reels. Recruits are learning how to grab the Israelis and how to carry them away.

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THE POINT OF NO RETURN

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 2, 2008

Column:

Ever since the Friday June 20th piece in The New York Times describing an Israeli air force training exercise into Iran analysts and prognosticators have been busy commenting, speculating and, in many cases, downright fantasizing.

The front page piece detailed an exercise involving hundreds of Israeli fighter jets flying over nine hundred miles and refueling mid-air on a practice run into Iran in order to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability. Now everyone is busy speculating on if and when Israel will invade and attack Iran for real, not merely as exercise.

Truth is Israel might invade Iran, but only when there is no other alternative, only if the international community falls down on its job and allows Iran to achieve independent nuclear capability. And that time is not now. And should that time come, Israel will not announce it anywhere, not in the Israeli press, not in the international press and certainly not on the front page of The New York Times.

The story was released not by Israel, the story was released by the United States. Publicly announcing Israel’s ability to target Iran is not in Israel’s best interests – it is in the interest of the United States. This story was pitched not by Israel in an attempt to place pressure on Iran, it was pitched by the United States, a public relations ploy, a way for the Washington to apply pressure on Iran. True, Israeli defense and diplomatic channels have neither denied nor confirmed the activity and they have probably collectively chuckled over the speculative effect this story is having, but it was not their leak.

Washington is telling Teheran that there is a third party out there and that party is acting independently. Washington is telling other European capitals to look out for Israel, because Israel can do it on its own – and Israel will destroy Iran’s nuclear capability on its own if they do not hurry up and act to get Iran under control.

The training exercise that took place a few weeks ago, in early June, was not the first such exercise by the Israeli air force. It will not be the last. Israel needs to plan. Israel needs to be prepared for a worst case scenario. Israel needs to be ready to thwart an imminent attack.

At the point of no return, if it seems certain that Iran has gone beyond the threshold and is on the verge of having everything necessary to create their nuclear bomb, at that last possible moment, that’s when Israel will attack. And according to all Israeli estimates – if Iran cannot be derailed by the international community, that time will not come for at least another eighteen months.

An Israeli attack will be a specifically targeted attack. Israel will not set out to destroy everything Iran has, that takes too much effort and the risks are too high. All Israel needs to do is derail Iranian nuclear productivity, to set back the clock, to delay the process. A successful Israeli attack against Iran will be an attack that buys the time to bring down the weight of the world upon Iran and ultimately destroy Iran’s dreams of successful nuclear development.

When Israel hit the Syrian agricultural laboratory on September 6th of last year the air force knew how to negotiate the mountain ranges of Turkey. They knew because they had practiced and practiced and practiced and they had permission from Turkey to fly over Turkish air space. Specifically, they had permission from Turkey to fly over their air space in order to enter and exit not Syria – but Iran. The Turkish government was not pleased, to say the least, that Israel chose to use their air space to bomb Syria without asking, but Turkey got over it, because Turkey realizes the need to keep Iran in check and Turkey knows that should all else fail, Israel will be forced into action.

Should international sanctions of Iran prove effective, Israel is less likely to attack Iran. Should the international community successfully limit Iranian nuclear development an Israeli attack will be less likely regardless of the vitriol and intensity of Ahmadinejad’s verbal attacks against Israel and the West. Should Iranian Supreme Leader The Ayatollah Khamenei lose confidence in Ahmadinejad and trust that Israel and the international community are capable of striking Iran and should he consequently decide to soften Iran’s nuclear stance, even for the short term, the possibility of an Israeli attack is reduced.

Inner Iran and the international community factor into the Israeli decision making process. But probably the most significant factor of all is the next president of the United States of America. Israel will not and cannot go into Iran without the permission of the United States and that permission is handed down directly from the Oval Office. Israel will petition for carte blanche permission. They will probably get a conditional yes depending on the intelligence reports and urgency. That’s the way it played out on September 6, 2007. Plans were in place and Israel wanted to hit the Syrian site during the summer. The United States said no, the United States wanted more intelligence, proof that more and more materials were arriving from North Korea. And then, when the United States was satisfied of the need and the urgency, Israel attacked.

Iran has said publicly that “the Zionists do not have the capacity to threaten the Islamic Republic.” But Iranian leaders know Israel’s potential and they are willing to walk the tight rope, to balance the odds. Iran wants to be in control. Right now, Iran has the most to gain from this conflict. The Iranians are getting tremendous pan-Muslim support by simply standing up to the United States and drawing Israel into the conflict.

Israel realizes how dangerous Iran is. Israel knows how costly an air attack will be. If the time is right, if Israel does attack Iran, know that, without a doubt, we will have reached the point of no return.

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They Want to Kill Ahmadinejad

By Micah Halpern

Friday June 27, 2008

Column:

There have been two assassination attempts on the life of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the past several weeks. The first attempt was made while the Iranian leader was on an official visit to Iraq, the second attempt was planned for last week, in Italy.

In making these threats public the government of Iran has added the name Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a long and dubiously distinguished list of world leaders who have been openly targeted for assassination.

Today, every world leader no matter how popular or how reviled must consider every threat a serious threat. Assassinations and terrorist attacks are a part of today’s political culture. A leader represents a political party, a social agenda and a country. Today’s leaders wander through many sets of cross hairs by virtue of position – personality hardly enters into the assassin/terrorist agenda and master plan.

There have been seventeen known attempts to kill a sitting United States president. Four, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy, Jr. succeeded. Presidents Zachary Taylor and Warren Harding died while in office and rumors and several books suggest that both presidents were poisoned. Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, by an Israeli citizen, in Israel. Mohandas Ghandi, Father of the Nation of India as he was affectionately called by most of his country, was killed on January 30, 1948. Assassinations and attempted assassinations are not relegated to the domain of autocratic, dictatorial governments. Democracies are by no means immune from assassination attempts.

Assassinations have altered history. The successful attack on the life of Ferdinand, Archduke of the Austria, sparked World War I. And the assassination of Lebanese President Rafik Hariri is still setting off sparks in the Middle East.

There are many attempts that never make it to the history books. In the United States there are numerous threats that never make it outside the offices of the Secret Service. There are plots that are just that plots and hundreds of those are investigated each year. All it takes is one successful attempt – and when it comes to the assassination of a world leader, one is too many.

If the Secret Service is kept busy thwarting attempted attacks on the life of the president, imagine how busy the army and secret police are in a religious police state like Iran. In Iran, thousands of people are arrested for the crime of having ideas contrary to the ruling religious leadership. In Iran today, there are numerous groups and countless individuals who want to do away with Ahmadinejad.

The Iranians blame the United States for the two plots on the life of Ahmadinejad. Specifically, the Iranian government blames President George Bush. They rationalize the accusation by pointing out that on several occasions the US president has said that the conflict the United States has with Iran is not with the people of Iran, it is with the leadership of Iran. In Iran-think, the leap is obvious. Iranian leadership interprets this diplomatic statement as a direct threat and credits the US president with sponsoring coups as well as assassinations.

The Iranians would do better analyzing the data rather than fabricating an unreal scenario if they truly wish to protect their leader. Both plots would have Ahmadinejad assassinated outside his own country, in Iraq and Italy, respectively. That is important. It is not to say that the assassins, or intended assassins, were not Iranians – it is to say that if caught, the assassins would be outside the jurisdiction and control of the brutal Iranian police force. The plotters were looking for more freedom and more safety. Local governments are less concerned about the plot against foreign, visiting dignitaries and have less intelligence about the plotters.

The odds are there really are people out there trying to assassinate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But those people are not the CIA or any United Sates agency. There is a significant Iranian expatriate community who see Ahmadinejad as a tyrant. There are a significant number of Middle East Arabs who see him as one the most explosive and problematic leaders in the region. These groups fly way under the radar in Italy and especially in Iraq, but they are on Iran’s radar. They are probably the same groups trying to sponsor political opposition to Ahmadinejad, at home, in Iran.

Ahmadinejad, like almost every other world leader today, is on someone’s hit list. A news flash, planning an assassination is a lot easier than executing the plan.

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THAT ELUSIVE DREAM CALLED PEACE

By Micah Halpern

Friday June 20, 2008

Column:

Peace is an elusive term in the Middle East, especially if you are Israel. Peace is the dream, never the reality. While Peace In The Middle East is not quite the oxymoron many people believe it to be, it is a concept that goes by many names.

Despite it all, despite a long history of missed opportunities and wasted efforts, despite the many intentional misrepresentations and outright lies, if Israel had a wish list, Peace With Neighbors – or some variation on the theme – would top the list. Right now, at a dizzying speed, in both much heralded and grossly overlooked negotiations, Israel is pursuing peace with all those neighboring nations with which there is no signed document diplomatically termed a peace treaty.

In the end, as history is our teacher, Israel will be lucky if even one opportunity turns into a reality – even a short term reality. There will be disappointments, but that is all part of the process, it’s what happens when a Middle East country, especially Israel, pursues peace.

Hamas and Israel
Word of the ceasefire, truce, lull, between Israel and Hamas has been front page and lead story news. At best, the situation as it now stands is tenuous. It was a long, complicated process and even eleven hours before the cessation of attack and retaliation was actualized the office of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert predicted that the truce will be fragile and short lived.

But that’s okay. The day before the ceasefire 50 rockets and mortars were shot from Gaza into Israel. The day before the ceasefire Israel shot back hitting two launch sites in Gaza. The day after, there were none – no rockets, no mortars, no retaliation. Just as there is no doubt that a ceasefire is critical for the well being of those Israelis within firing range of Gaza there is no doubt that an open border is good for the Palestinians living in Gaza.

The biggest problem right now is that the terms of this variation-on-the-theme – of – peace are not clear. In an off the record interview one Israeli official made it perfectly clear that this is not to be construed as peace. Call it a truce, call it a lull but do not for a minute call it or think of it as peace. And it doesn’t even matter if each side calls it a different name. This arrangement is not a written agreement, it is an agreement brokered by third party Egypt. All Israel and Hamas have is the information given them by Egypt. Neither Israel nor Hamas have any idea what was said by Egypt to the other side.

It is a game of perception.

Israel and Syria
Most people would be surprised to read Israel, Syria and peace linked in the same sentence. But right now, Syria is out to surprise.

Surprising at it may appear on the surface, the Syrians are looking at the Egyptian brokered deal between Israel and Hamas with optimism. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem said that Israel’s lifting of the blockade against Gaza will help the Palestinians – which is as close as Syria has come to complimenting Israel in pasta memory. He was, not surprisingly, quick to add that he also expects that the Israelis will soon violate the agreement.

Even more surprising is that in another press statement the Syrians said that a peace deal with Israel will “produce a harmonious Middle East.” Even the Syrians are putting Israel, Syria and peace in the same sentence.

And even much more surprising is an item spilled by Claude Gueunt, Chief of Staff to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Gueunt suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may sit down face to face with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Paris on July 13th of this year, of 2008. The occasion will be a summit of European and Mediterranean countries hosted in Paris by Sarkozy who thinks that he can get the two men, these two nemeses, in the same room.

Even if they don’t shake hands, that photo will be worth many words.

Israel and Egypt
Israel and Egypt have a “cold peace.” They are not at war, neither are they friends. It is a situation that works for both sides of the border. The key word here is border. What is good for one side of the border is good for the other and Egypt’s border with Gaza is no exception. By brokering this deal Egypt was also doing itself a favor. And just as neither Israel nor Hamas know what Egypt told the other, no one knows what the other told or promised Egypt.

Egypt worked hard making this agreement happen. The deal with Hamas is not just with Hamas. Egypt had to get the agreement of 12 different organizations in Gaza, each individual organization had to agree to stop firing at Israel. Then Egypt had to convince Hamas to absorb most of the responsibility for compliance and insure that the other 12 groups would not violate the agreement. At least, not violate the agreement in the short term.

Hamas has to stop the attacks. Hamas has to stop smuggling weapons and building tunnels and producing rockets and explosives. Only then will there be an opening of the border to allow in food and other supplies for Gazans. And after that, if it works, there is to be accelerated talk about exchanging 350 Palestinian prisoners for one Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held in Gaza.

The role of Egypt was applauded by certain other members of the Middle East Arab community, especially by Egypt’s comrade-in-arms, Jordan.

Israel and Jordan
Israel and Jordan, too, have a “cold peace” arrangement. Warmer than Israel and Egypt but still diplomatically chilly.

At a conference that he was hosting for Nobel Prize winners in Jordan, the King took the opportunity to speak about the lull between Israel and Hamas. King Abdullah of Jordan said that it would indeed be a great tragedy if this opportunity was lost to create a Palestinian state.

Israel and Hezbollah
While most of the headlines are going to the lull between Hamas and Israel, there is another story going on between Hezbollah and Israel. In this noted but much less heralded story, Germany is to Hezbollah and Israel what Egypt is to Hamas and Israel.

In this story, Germany is the middle man, the broker, the deal maker. In this story Germany has been working to create a situation that would allow for the return of the two Israeli MIA’s, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, captured by Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 and taken to Lebanon.

Israel and Lebanon
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert announced on Wednesday June 18, 2008 that Israel wants to embark on direct bilateral relations with Lebanon. Now that is a curveball that barely made any news at all. It should have.

What makes this an even more interesting and compelling and historically newsworthy story is that Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has made statements in the past proudly proclaiming that Lebanon would be the last Arab country to make peace with Israel. Is the fat lady about to sing? Olmert’s statements were on the record, even if they were not widely recorded.

It all seems like just too much for one country to handle. The past week has seen a flurry of diplomatic tap dancing in pursuit of promises, pledges and peace. What will next week bring?

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THE “X”FACTOR: HOW MANY LIVES vs HOW MANY LIVES

By Micah Halpern

Friday June 13, 2008

Column:

In the end, it will all come down to a simple, strategic, calculus. The “X” Factor. How many lives versus how many lives. How many Israeli civilian lives have already been lost and how many Israeli military lives will be lost in an operation fighting Hamas and Islamic Jihad forces in Gaza versus how many civilian and military lives will be lost if the situation remains status quo.

Heartless? Humane? Those are the issues that Israel’s political and military leaders have been struggling over.

For months there has been talk of an Israeli invasion into Gaza. The objective is obvious – to silence, even if only for the short term, the relentless barrage of rockets and mortars that rains down on Israeli communities bordering Gaza.

The mission would be justified morally and legally, about that there is no question. Even die hard Israel bashers Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu have condemned the Palestinian launched rocket fire on these defenseless, civilian Israeli townspeople. Even the United States, in a high level meeting held several weeks ago, asked Israel if they had a response to the Qassam crisis, a response other than sitting still and allowing the rockets to fall where they will. Even the venerable United Nations has made it clear and public that, although restraint is advised, Israel, one of the unacknowledged least favored nations, has the right to act in order to protect Israeli citizens and protect Israeli borders.

Internationally, of course, there would be a backlash from the typical far flung corners of the world. The Muslim world, the Arab countries, Venezuela, and one or two European countries will cry out for the pain of the Palestinian people denied their favorite sport – injure the Israeli.

An Israeli military response to the untenable situation called Gaza has been in formulation for long months. And during those months many Israelis have been injured, some physically, some financially, almost all psychologically. An Israeli does not have to share a border with Gaza to feel national pain. The reason the response plan has not yet been activated is because the political side has not yet been reconciled with the military side. Political Israel is less comfortable with the calculus than is military Israel.

How fast and furious are these rockets and mortars coming? On Thursday June 12th, 40 mortars and 24 Qassam and I GRAD rocket fell on Israel. What has been the damage in terms of lives? 8 Israelis and I Ecuadorian farm worker have been killed by Qassam rockets in 2008.

The decision to invade Gaza will be made easier if the death toll goes higher. If more than 2 Israelis are killed by mortar or rockets in a single week Israel will be forced into it and the response will commence.

Israel needs to have fresh victims in order to respond. Israel needs to appear to be responding to a fresh act of aggression. Israel needs this to happen because Israel is unlike many other nations, because Israel does not arbitrarily, indiscriminately, unjustifiably invade another entity. For the sake of Israel it must appear that Israelis are responding to a specific act of aggression, even if most of the free and democratic world is convinced that Israel would be justified if the response attack came now – right now.

The X Factor calculus weighs most strongly, but there are other issues that go into the decision making process of whether or not to launch an invasion into Gaza to ferret out and destroy the Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket launchers. One of those issues putting the brakes on a military response is that military intelligence is saying that Hamas is preparing for an Israeli land assault.

The way in which Hamas prepares is to physically, bodily, lay in wait and create booby traps for the invading Israelis troops. If that happens, casualty numbers will be great and that troubles decision makers. Then again, the situation in border towns like Sderot, particularly in Sderot, is unacceptable and intolerable. And that troubles decision makers.

It took Hercules to cut off heads of the many-headed serpent. It took super human (Herculean) strength to defeat the Hydra from the Lake of Lerna. And Israeli defense planners are saying that they have a series of plans to invade and cut the off the many heads of their own Gazan serpent.

The ancient Greek myth has taught an important lesson to Israel’s leaders. Over the past 8 weeks 81 Hamas leaders have been killed by Israeli soldiers using In and Out operations and air force helicopter and unmanned drone attacks. More than 300 Hamas leaders have been killed over the past 6 months. It also has become apparent that Egypt has begun an attempt at foiling acts of aggression within Gaza by protecting their own border and by searching for underground tunnels with the help of the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Hamas might be on the ropes. There is talk of internal conflict. There was an assassination attempt by Iranian backed Hamas fighters against the current leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

It might soon be time to formulate another calculus: How strong is Hamas – will an Israeli invasion into Gaza unify Hamas or topple Hamas.

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A SMEAR CAMPAIGN GONE AWRY

By Micah Halpern

Thursday June 5, 2008

Column:

If Tzipi Livni is elected the next prime minister of Israel, she should say a big “thank you” to The Sunday Times of London.

And The Sunday Times of London will probably respond by saying “oops.”

This is a story of a smear campaign gone awry. It is the story of misplaced values and misunderstood priorities. It is shoddy journalism from one of the most respected newspapers in the democratic world. The Sunday Times of London recently devoted space to a large and probably exaggerated piece on Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The newspaper had an agenda – to marginalize a serious contender for the position of prime minister. Instead, they elevated her status. If I didn’t know better, I would say that Livni planted the story herself – but she would have been more accurate.

The Sunday Times of London may understand their British public, but they are clueless about the Israeli public. They reported that during the 1980’s Livni, then a first year law student, took leave to become a Mossad agent attached to Israel’s Western European operation. The Sunday Times claims that young Livni was attached to an assassination team charged with hunting down Palestinian terrorists in Europe. The story they tell runs similar to the story told in Munich, the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie, depicting an Israeli assassination team sent out to find and kill the terrorists involved in the 1972 Munich massacre of the Israeli Olympic team.

Tzipi Livni’s connection to the Mossad is not a secret. Tzipi Livni’s specific role in the Mossad has been and will probably always be cloaked in secrecy. But portraying her as an assassin is almost definitely a stretch. It has always been assumed that her role in Europe was that of analyst and gatherer of intelligence. An attractive woman who frequents coffee houses, chats up the clientele and pieces together and passes on the information she receives.

According to the piece in The Sunday Times Livni was part of a team specifically charged with gathering information needed to search out terrorists and then assassinate those terrorists. The Times does not place her as an assassin, but definitely as part of that team. The objective was to smear Tzipi Livni. The objective was to point out that Israel’s foreign minister has a dark past, to point out that she acted to seek out and perpetrate assassinations. The objective was to point out that, as a law student on leave, she knew the difference between revenge and justice, she knew that justice is cold and revenge is hot. The Sunday Times of London had an obvious political agenda in writing this piece.

The next Israeli election might take place six months from now, it might take place a year from now. The timing of the election is unclear, the knowledge that Tzipi Livni will be on the short list as a candidate for Israel’s top position is perfectly clear. The Sunday Times wants to influence the political field. The Sunday Times wants international leaders to begin exerting pressure and playing behind-the scenes games now.

But the plan is backfiring.

In Israel, the only place where it really counts, the political stock of Tzipi Livni has skyrocketed. What the Sunday Times failed to understand is that by circulating a rumor that Livni was willing and able to defend her country in a way few people can, that she was a part of the dangerous and secret world that defends Israel internationally, they showed that this woman, Tzipi Livni, has what it takes to lead the country.

Israelis like female leaders. They like them on the right of the political spectrum and on the left. They particularly like them if they have the strength to act to defend their country. In Israel this is not an inter-party argument, it is the sine qua non of every Jewish, Israeli party.

Israelis have a long history of senior leaders, prime ministers, having been in involved in dangerous and desperate acts in defense of their country. Benjamin Netanyahu, like his brother Yoni, was a member of the IDF anti-terror team and was one of those responsible for rescuing a hijacked plane. Ehud Barak was a member of a secret team and even disguised himself as a woman and entered Lebanon in order to assassinate terrorists. Yitzhak Shamir was Mossad station chief in Egypt and was also stationed in France after WWII, which would account for the superb French accent of this tightly wound little man who broke his teeth over English. Menachem Begin fought in pre-state Israel against the Arab terrorists and was responsible for blowing up the wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where the British were headquartered.

She is a woman. She is a defender of her country. She has political savvy. She has a track record. The Sunday Times of London has helped to strengthen Tzipi Livni’s bona fides far more than it has damaged her.

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WHEN 1+1 = 6+10

By Micah Halpern

Thursday May 29, 2008

Column:

In a mathematical equation, 1+1 always = 2.

In an ideological equation, 1+1 can sometimes = 6+10

When it comes to the lives of their soldiers, Israel does not think mathematically, Israel thinks ideologically. And that makes the equation much more difficult to analyze, much more difficult to work out and much more emotionally laden. Ideological equations are not computed in our brains, they are wrenched from our hearts.

And that is the how and the why explaining Israel’s decision to engage in talks with Hezbollah over the exchange of one famous Hezbollah terrorist, four live Lebanese prisoners, one Israeli Druze who spied for Hezbollah and ten dead Lebanese for two Israeli soldiers taken captive over the Lebanese border by Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. For Israel, it’s 16 for 2 when the two are Ehud Goldwasser, affectionately known by the entire country as Udi, and Eldad Regev.

The faces of Udi and Eldad, along with the face of a third Israeli soldier taken captive by Hamas, Gilad Shalit, are known to every Israeli and almost every Jew worldwide. Their birthdays are noted. Their family members are recognized on streets and in airports. Their capture is mourned, but they have not been turned into martyrs. That is not the Israeli way.

That is the Hezbollah way. And that is why it is so important for Hezbollah to include the famous Hezbollah terrorist Samir Kuntar in this prisoner exchange.
Samir Kuntar is a symbol more than a man for Hezbollah, he is a part of Hezbollah lore.

Samir Kuntar represents the ideal terrorist, he is the man every Hezbollah member hopes their child will become. On April 22, 1979 Kuntar arrived on Israeli shores in a rubber speedboat and terrorized the Haran family in their home in the port city of Nahariya, Israel’s northernmost city. Within one hour he had shot and then drowned Danny the father in front of his four year old daughter and then turned around and bludgeoned and bashed four year old Anat. He bashed, he brutalized, he butted. He shot, he drowned, he bludgeoned.

Fearing for their lives, twenty four month old Yael was hiding in a crawl space with her mother Smadar and a neighbor. Cradled in the loving embrace of her mother, fearing Yael’s cries would alert the murderers, the helpless baby was smothered.

In every negotiation between Israel and Hezbollah, Samir Kuntar is on the table. He has been Hezbollah’s most often repeated request from the time of his capture, conviction and sentencing. Hezbollah has not yet secured his release and Kuntar is in an Israeli prison, sentenced to four life terms. This time, only thirty years into his sentence, Hezbollah might just get their man.

These deals are never simple. This one is even more complex. When the sides refuse to negotiate directly, when they will not talk to each other, when conversations are conducted through third parties, the risk of miscommunication is obvious. In this type of sensitive negotiation the possibility for misunderstanding and the probability of misinterpretation is great.

Israel and the Arab world have engaged in, negotiated and successfully arranged several swaps over the past several years. Many more have fallen apart. For the most part Israel has received dead Israeli soldiers and returned live prisoners – and that was OK, because every Israeli is deserving of burial at home. One notable exception is the recent swap Israel conducted with Lebanon which resulted in the return of Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli criminal/businessman and former IDF colonel was captured by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The question is not whether Israel should do everything to free Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. According to a poll published by the Israeli daily Haaretz, 63% of Israelis think that releasing Kuntar for Goldwasser and Regev is a good idea. 21% do not agree and the remaining 16% are unsure.

The question is what happens when Israel exchanges live terrorist symbols for Udi and Eldad. Does a bargain of this magnitude increase the possibility of more captured soldiers? Hezbollah has already proclaimed that capturing Israelis is one of their most sought after goals. And one of the reasons capturing Israeli soldiers is so enticing to Hezbollah is, without doubt, because it is an effective way to bring Israel down on her knees.

The question is what is the obligation of a country to the families of the victims? What is the obligation of a country to the justice system that tries and sentences terrorists? When the exchange centers on the dead bodies of terrorists, decisions are easier. When the exchange centers live terrorists, the decision is more complex.

The question is – is Israel like every country?

When Samir Kuntar entered Israel, he came with three other terrorists. Two of the four were killed. Ahmad Al Abrass, the fourth member of Kuntar’s terror unit, was freed from Israeli prison in May of 1985 as part of a prisoner exchange of 1150 Lebanese prisoners for three Israelis POW’s held by Lebanon. Because of the success of that exchange the terrorists were emboldened to act again. Within months the same Palestinian group from Lebanon hijacked the Achille Lauro. They killed a disabled American Jew named Leon Klinghoffer, a passenger on the ship. And then they pushed his dead, drooping body, still in his wheelchair, overboard. They did it because they were emboldened, they did it also because they were angry, they did it because Kuntar had not been included in the original prisoner exchange. And then, once again, they demanded the release of Samir Kuntar, their star terrorist.

It is essential to recall these events and their brutality. It is essential because it provides perspective. Israel must do whatever Israel can do to negotiate the release of prisoners held by the enemy. But at what price? What about the victims of terror, what about those families? It’s a very hard call. It’s a question of justice.

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AND THE KING SAID “NO”

By Micah Halpern

Monday May 19, 2008

Column:

George Bush participated in the festivities and was himself feted on his trip to the Middle East in honor of Israel’s anniversary. And while that component of his visit was important, it was not the focal point of the trip.

The most important discussion George Bush made on this diplomatic mission to the Middle East was with Saudi Arabia. And it was also the most demeaning.

The president of the United States, the most powerful country in the world, attempted to persuade the King of Saudi Arabia, the most oil rich country in the world, to increase oil production for US consumption. And the king turned the president down. And this wasn’t the first time it happened. Only eight months ago the president made the same visit to the king with the same request and received the same negative response. O.K, so this time it was not an outright “no.” This time a promise was made to increase oil production for the United States by 300,000 barrels a day – but in diplomatic-speak, that is worse than a “no,” that is a “dis.” It means “I can do it if I want do, but I don’t, so I won’t.”

Why did Saudi Arabia turn down this request by the United States?

Because they could. And because it makes the Saudis feel very good and very powerful to turn down the United States. And because Saudi Arabia knows that they will suffer no repercussions for having turned down a heartfelt plea from the most powerful country in the free world.

In diplomatic terms, this was a botched job. It proved, once again, just how little the policy wonks of the United States understand the Middle East. The United States, in the person of President George Bush, threw diplomacy aside and begged. And when he was laughed at for begging, he scuttled out leaving gifts behind. Good gifts. Great gifts. Valuable gifts. Gifts that will elevate the status of Saudi Arabia in Middle East circles. Gifts that will change the status of the Region.

The United States approached Saudi Arabia from a position of weakness, it was, in the eyes of the Arab Middle East, an act of humiliation and degradation. By repeating his request to the Saudi king, Bush telegraphed to the Arab world just how needy the strongest country in the world is.

The entire situation could, and should, have been conducted differently. As opposed to putting forth his request while in the Region, the United States could have continued the discussion from home field. It is an ages old rule in the history of diplomacy in the Middle East – power sits with the host. And as opposed to rewarding the Saudi Kingdom with gifts following the refusal of the Saudi Kingdom to aid the United States, those gifts should have been held back either as rewards for complying with the request and significantly expanding oil production for the United States, or held back and denied entirely.

And what are those gifts:
Gift # 1: On the Friday following the turn down the White House announced that the United States will help Saudi Arabia develop atomic energy.

Gift # 2: The United States has signed a very expansive military arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The US will be selling some of the most sophisticated and most advanced weapons in the US arsenal to the Saudis – this deal includes new planes and technology.

Israel, not surprisingly, has issued a formal request to torpedo the deal because these new weapons would significantly threaten Israel’s qualitative advantage in the region. This time it was the United States who said “no” and the US will go through with the deal.

What could have been important fulcrums for leveraging power have turned into fool’s gifts. What incentive do other countries have for assisting the United States when gifts are lavishly dispensed anyway? All countries create foreign policy and act in their own best interest. Saudi Arabia is no exception, neither is the United States. The point is that until now the United States had tremendous leverage when urging other countries to help out. Bribes worked, arm twisting worked. Dangling enticing carrots from the Oval Office packs far more power than standing hat in hand in another country’s front yard.

So what if the world accused the United States of offering bribes? The United States can handle that. In many parts of the world, that ability inspires respect and commands fear. That is how successful US foreign policy has often been determined. In the words of Machiavelli, “It is better to be feared than loved.”

And in the words of Alexander Pope,”… fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

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THE BUSH SWAN SONG

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday May 14, 2008

Column:

President George Bush is singing his swan song.

There are several verses to that song. One verse has decidedly Middle Eastern overtones. And that explains this American president’s trip to the Middle East occasioned by Israel’s 60th anniversary.

This trip was motivated by several objectives. One objective is, truly, to celebrate Israel’s 60th. There is no doubt that the United States and Israel have a special relationship and special friends share special occasions. There can also be no doubt about the impact that President George Bush has had on that relationship – he has strengthened and deepened and made that relationship more significant and more unabashedly public.

At the same time, another objective of this trip is to apply pressure on Israel to make concession to the Palestinians in the name of advancing the peace process. For the president, that would be the perfect closing stanza of his song.

George Bush wants to create a lasting legacy and he does not want it to involve Iraq or Afghanistan. Condi Rice wants to create a position for herself as the next vice president of the United States. But Israel should not be forced into being the spring board for either of those noble aspirations.

Israel has sacrificed enough in the name of friendship. Asking Israel to totally abandon borders that keep Israeli citizens safe, asking Israel to take down roadblocks that prevent terrorists and tools of terror from entering their country, asking Israel to stop arresting terrorists is asking too much. Asking Israel to abandon the methods that have proven effective in safeguarding the lives and property of Israeli citizens is taking too much advantage of friendship.

The verses missing in this stanza of Bush’s song are the lines asking the Palestinians to stop the flow of terror and to, of their own volition, arrest the terrorists. Missing is the US demand to Palestinian leadership to clamp down on Hamas and to issue a cease and desist order on the activities emanating from Gaza. Missing is a plea from the president of the United States to the Palestinian people to place their values and their future on the line by challenging Hamas, the real threat to Palestinian dreams.

If President George Bush succeeds in making the Palestinians realize that the real enemy rises from within and that Israel and the United States are there to help them achieve the lofty goals of statehood he will have succeeded in the Middle East. He will have sown the seeds of peace. But if the Palestinians cannot be made to see what is obvious to the rest of free and democratic world, there can never be peace with Israel.

We don’t yet know the words to the Bush Swan Song, they are still to be composed. So let’s just sing the song we do know. Happy anniversary to Israel, happy anniversary to you. And many more!

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MAKING OVERTURES TOWARDS PEACE

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday May 7, 2008

Column:

The prophet wrote “and they shall turn their swords into plowshares.” And when will that happen? When there is peace among neighbors.

Israel is trying to bring peace to the neighborhood called the Middle East. First there were overtures towards the Palestinians, now those overtures are being reformatted and put forth to the Syrians. What is Israel really up to? Is it the Palestinians or is it the Syrians? And is any of this realistic? Or is Israel making a public, ceremonial, wish before blowing out the candles on her 60th birthday cake?

Peace in the Middle East is certainly in the best long term interest of Israel and of the Palestinians and of the Syrians and of the entire region – it’s in the best interest of the entire world, but the truth is that true peace is not exactly what Israel is pursuing right now.

Let’s analyze the situation.

Israel is in a no win situation with the Palestinians. The two are at loggerheads. The Israelis are frustrated and discouraged. The more successful Israel is at fighting terror, the more successful Israel is at keeping the borders safe, the farther Israel is from peace with the Palestinians. It sounds counterintuitive and that’s because it is a matter of Palestinian pride.

Israel, you see, has figured out how to keep terror down without the help of the Palestinians. This newfound security solution is in direct conflict with the accords signed in Annapolis and the testosterone levels of Palestinian leadership. The Israelis do not see the Palestinians as seriously combating terror. Israel wants Palestinian leadership to take charge and bring stability and a sense of normalcy to the Palestinian people and that, the Israelis feel, is best accomplished by providing a safe haven, literally and figuratively a safe home, for the Palestinians.

Clearly the Americans want peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And to that elusive end the United States is investing huge amounts of time, energy and money. The United States wants the conflict resolved and the United States wants it resolved by the end of 2008. Just as clearly, Israel does not want to disappoint the United States, their sponsor and friend. But progress on the Palestinian peace front is v-e-r-y slow and not even arm twisting and document signing has succeeded in moving the process along.

Israel’s success at road blocks arrests and targeted attacks prevent terrorists from reaching their targets. Israel’s success at arresting gang members breaks up the units that are plotting terror attacks. Israel’s success at assassinating terrorist leaders knocks the tops off of terrorist organizational pyramids and disrupts the command and control of the terrorist network. And for the most part, Israel is doing it without Palestinian assistance. And that hurts Palestinian leadership pride.

So Israel has turned her diplomatic energy away from the Palestinians and aimed it in the direction of Syrian. It was not a difficult move. It required nothing more than sending a message to the Turkish prime minister who passed it to the Syrian ambassador who delivered it to the Syrian foreign minister. It is the ripple effect of that overture that is dramatic.

The Palestinians know that Israel can only move on one peace track at a time. Israel cannot pursue peace with Syria and the Palestinians at the same time and the Palestinians know that they have been sidelined. They are upset. The pressure is on.

The world is getting the message that Israel is interested in negotiating for peace. Israel is so interested in negotiating for peace that they are turning to Syria, one of the members of the evil access. That means that Israel is willing to make concessions. That means that Israel has changed and the first country to break the logger jam and join Israel in peace will reap the most rewards.

The United States is being shown, subtly but clearly, that Israel can make diplomatic decisions without consultation, without asking for or receiving permission from Washington D.C. It means that the United Stats must revaluate the power plays of the Middle East because perhaps, just perhaps, little Israel may be able to wrestle Syria out of the grips of Iran. It means that the United States has to accept Israel’s overture to Syria despite any previous hesitations over just such an overture on the part of Israel.

And it all happened without Israel’s ever sitting down with the Syrians.

In real terms Israel cannot possibly come to terms with Syria at this stage. But Israel can put pressure on the Palestinians. And Israel can engage in a diplomatic ploy to push off the pressure by the United States to pursue peace on the Palestinian front.

There are many reasons why countries make overtures towards peace, only one of them is to actually achieve peace.

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IF THE GOLAN HEIGHTS IS GIVEN TO SYRIA TODAY

By Micah Halpern

Thursday May 1, 2008

Column:

Right means left. Up means down. Yes means no.

That’s the Middle East for you.

The best way to understand the play book of the Middle East is to think of a game of opposites. You mean one thing, you say another. You want something specific, you do everything in your power not to have it happen. The cardinal rule of the Middle East goes like this: nothing should ever be taken at face value. Everything should be seen for its superficial meaning.

Take these past few days, for example.

First came rumors:
The Region was rife with rumors about discussions about negotiations about sending back and forth messages about peace between Israel and Syria. The scuttlebutt had it that Israel was willing to cede the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria.

Then came a news report:
The story was first published in a newspaper from Qatar. According to that report Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad intimating that the door to negotiations is open. The idea was that if Assad stepped over the threshold and if a peace accord was hammered out, Syria’s reward for agreeing to peace with a neighboring country would be sweetened by that neighboring country’s good and wealthy friend, the United States of America.

On the surface, it all looks legitimate.

It looks as if, finally, Israel and Syria are getting closer to negotiating than they have since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. But remember, this is the Middle East. Remember, think opposites. Remember, nothing should be taken at face value.

Finally, came confirmation:
Al Manar, Hezbollah satellite TV, interviewed Samir Taqi, the Syrian ambassador to Turkey and the diplomat responsible for delivering the message from Olmert to Assad.

And then clarification:
The real reason behind the move towards negotiations became clear. And I quote: “It is naive to think Syria would behave foolishly and abandon its strategic alliances with Iran and Hezbollah, which are not limited solely to the Israeli-Arab conflict but also touch on topical geopolitical issues. These strategic associations are for the long term.” Taqi continued by explaining that Syrian has no plans for bailing out on Iran and Hezbollah. The real reason for any interest that was shown toward Israel is to stake a more significant Syrian claim on the Golan Heights.

Aha! Now we all get it.

To say the least, Iran became very nervous when Israel made overtures to Syria. Iran knows that if Syria falls into a peace accord with Israel that means that Syria will have been poached from their side of the hostilities and brought over onto the side of the Western infidel, the United States.

Syria knows that Iran needs to be placated, that Iranian concerns need to be soothed. Syria knows that Iran needs to know that all is well, that nothing has changed, that this really is the Middle East game being played.

So Syria sent its ambassador out onto the Shiite airwaves of Hezbollah TV to explain what should have been obvious to Iran and to all Middle East watchers, analyzers and players from the outset. And then Taqi took it a step further. Taqi explained that accepting overtures from the Israelis and accepting an invitation from the White House to attend the Annapolis Conference were one and the same.

Syria is not interested in peace, Syria is interested in getting the Golan back and Syria is interested in destroying Israel.

What stymies me is not that Syria took a great offer and threw it right back in the diplomatic face of Israel. Why stymies me is that serious, seasoned, world leaders actually thought that Syria would go for a deal.

Okay, so Jimmy Carter didn’t get it. I expect nothing more of him. But significant players in the Israeli government – including the prime minister, allowed themselves to be duped by the Syrians – much as the Iranians were. This was not new behavior for the Syrians, they were playing by the old rules, not making up new rules. What happened?

If the Golan Height is given to the Syrians today, Iran and Hezbollah will be there tomorrow. I cringe to think about what those two haters of Israel would do with such an unbelievable vantage.

You know who got it?

You know who reacted only tepidly, very tepidly, to the entire advance toward negotiations episode – the United States, that’s who. The United States does not trust Syria. As much as the United States wants there to be peace in the Middle East, the United States does not trust Syria to deliver on any bargain.

So the big winner in this game is the United States. Thankfully, this time around, there were no big losers.

Game’s over.

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THE KETTLE CALLING THE POT BLACK – MUSLIM STYLE

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 23, 2008

Column:

It’s a case of the kettle calling the pot black – Muslim style.

Al Qaeda is on the defensive – not against the United States, not against Israel, not against any Western country. Al Qaeda is taking to task one of the only countries that really counts in their Muslim world, al Qaeda is taking Iran to task.

For the past several months the Iranians have been spreading a conspiracy theory that diminishes al Qaeda. The theory has it that together, in collaboration, the United States and Israel masterminded 9-11, that it was not al Qaeda, that it was not Osama bin Laden and his henchmen that it was a home grown Western job.

And al Qaeda, in the person of Ayman Zawahiri is setting the record straight.

In a contest that ran from December 2007 through January 16, 2008 Muslim Arabs were invited to submit questions for Zawahiri, the al Qaeda number two man behind bin Ladin, to answer. Zawahiri chose the questions he deemed most interesting and important and has begun responding to those questions via the internet. It is all part of an al Qaeda sponsored public relations campaign. Al Qaeda needs a new and improved reputation in the Arab world.

The first installment of Zawahiri responses came out a few days ago, the second is out now and is a two – hour long monologue available on several Islamist websites.

The message in this installment is clear: when it comes to 9 -11 it was al Qaeda, it was all al Qaeda and it was only al Qaeda.

Why has Iran been spreading this awful anti-al Qaeda conspiracy theory? According to Zawahiri, there are several reasons why.
Reason # 1: “The purpose of this lie is clear – (to suggest) that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it.”

In other words, for Zawahiri, al Qaeda and Iran it is all about the inner Muslim conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.

But Zawahiri could not let it end there. Rather than presenting his argument – which many Muslims could find cogent and convincing, Zawahiri continues on with his own conspiracy theory i.e., his own lie.
Reason # 2:
“:Iran’s aim here is also clear – to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

If it was obvious before, it is all the more obvious now. Al Qaeda and Iran hate one another. Zawahiri has spoken time and again about the intentions of Iran to hijack the Muslim agenda and take charge of the Muslim world. He has repeated over and over again his assertion that Iran is dangerous.

Through his audio preachings Zawahiri is promoting the good that Sunni al Qaeda brings to the Muslim word. It is al Qaeda, says Zawahiri, who is fighting against Western evil. Al Qaeda, he says, is “the primary force opposing the Crusaders and challenging Iranian ambitions” in Iraq. He continues by throwing out the terms ? “Iranian collaborators complicity” and “Iranian agents.”

Those are fighting words.

“Crusaders” is an obvious reference to the United States. “Agents” and “Collaborators” are very strong words in Arabic with serious historical connotations that can justify targeting and killing.

The diatribes of Ayman Zawahiri have become familiar litany to all who listen. And the success of Iran in minimizing the role of al Qaeda can be directly linked to the frequency and intensity of those diatribes.

Sunnis are running scared. Iran is posing a direct threat. Iranian policies, politics and activities are presenting a real challenge to al Qaeda. Iran’s involvement in destabilizing Iraq and their sprint to become a significant nuclear power minimizes the allure and grandeur of al Qaeda in the Muslim world.

Muslim competition for guts and glory is heating up.

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IN PLAIN ENGLISH, THE MAN FROM PLAINS, IS JUST PLAIN WRONG

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 16, 2008

Column:

Jimmy Carter is probably not an Antisemite. He is probably not un-American. In plain English the gentleman from Plains, Georgia, is just plain WRONG!

He is wrong about his take on events in the Middle East. Wrong about his perspective on how to solve conflicts in the Middle East and worldwide. Wrong about the self-important role he has chosen for himself to play – a former president of the United States turned humanitarian for the world.

And because he is so wrong, so very wrong, and because he is so self-centered and single-minded he is doing much damage to the people he represents – the United States of America and to the people whose cause he is championing – the Palestinians. About Israel he doesn’t really care, but he is, of course, doing damage there, as well.

Whatever you think of Jimmy Carter, his is a name that packs weight. Around the world Jimmy Carter’s face, with that broad grin and buck smile, is identifiable and recognized. Around the world Jimmy Carter is respected and highly acclaimed. His is the face of the United States that most of the world both likes and appreciates. His is the kind of face that most of the world wishes the rest of the United States had.

But look closer and you will see the real face of Jimmy Carter. Look closer and you will see that the face of Jimmy Carter is fundamentally the face of a loser and a capitulator. Look closer and you will see that the famous smile masks a political career marred by catastrophic decision making and poor judgment.

I am not referring only to the Iran hostage crisis which cost Carter the presidential election and a second term in office. I am referring to Jimmy Carter’s attitude toward the world. The crisis in Iran is just one example of his skewed world perspective and his faulty, self-interested, analysis.

During this trip to the Middle East Jimmy Carter, peacemaker, cum diplomat, cum thinker has bent over backwards to accommodate the enemies of the West, the enemies of the United States, the enemies of Israel and even the enemies of the people he proposes to save – the Palestinians.

When Jimmy Carter meets and dialogues with Hamas leaders he is by extension bestowing upon those men and the organization they represent a place of stature in world diplomacy. The United States calls Hamas a terrorist organization. Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, major Arab players in the Middle East, are downplaying the stature of Hamas in their region. The Palestinian Authority is trying desperately to belittle the status and stature other Palestinians have bestowed upon Hamas and here Jimmy Carter goes and raises the stature and legitimacy bar.

Carter bolsters Hamas. By meeting with this terrorist organization he is de facto recognizing Hamas and giving Hamas credence. Yes, Hamas also provides social, welfare and other services to certain Palestinians, but that does not make them any less terrorists. A murderer who stops off to deliver a bouquet of flowers to his mother on the way to committing his crime is still a murderer.

To go and lay a wreath at Arafat’s tomb is not to have learned from the investigations and realizations of corruption and malfeasance that became so obvious after Arafat’s death. It is to ignore the facts in favor of predilections and predisposed notions. It is self-serving. It is not morally uplifting. It does not help the Palestinian cause, it perpetuates Palestinian myth and mythos.

It buys into the worst part of the Carter gestalt, the world as seen through the eyes of Jimmy Carter, a point of view that says that everyone is the same, that everyone has equal weight. It is a point of view in which traditional enemies and traditional friends are put on an even keel. It is a point of view that obliterates the special relationship between Israel and the United States.

The entire Arab world knows that there is a special relationship between Israel and the US. The only person who is either unaware of or in disagreement with that special relationship – I haven’t yet figured out which – is Jimmy Carter and his small band of followers.

Jimmy Carter needs to be sidelined – in the name of peace and peaceful co-existence. Jimmy Carter needs to be denied access and special State Department permission to undermine US diplomatic policy and practice. Jimmy Carter needs to get a swift kick in the … but that would be inappropriate, un PC and downright – well, gosh darned it, downright wrong.

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SHAME, SHAME, SHAME ON SWITZERLAND

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 9, 2008

Column:

Which European country is impartial? It could be a question on any TV game show. On Millionaire the answer should be worth no more than $100. On Smarter Than A Fifth Grader the kids would get it right away. The answer of course, is Switzerland.

But really, here comes the buzzer, that answer is wrong. Which country claims to be impartial? That would be Switzerland. Which country hides behind impartiality? That would be Switzerland. But which country truly is impartial – Switzerland is not the answer.

Switzerland has always had the reputation of being impartial. So impartial, in fact, that they are a country without an army. There is no need for protection if you are truly impartial, no reason to feel threatened if you are truly impartial. But Switzerland only pretends at impartiality, Switzerland has successfully put up a facade of impartiality and Switzerland is laughing all the way to the bank – and I mean that quite literally.

During World War II, while the Germans were perpetrating a Holocaust by murdering millions of European Jews, the Swiss claimed impartiality and eagerly accepted German monies and Nazi monies. And then they saved the property and properties of those murdered Jews of Europe who put money in their banks for safe keeping. And when the few survivors tried to regain their family money and property the Swiss put stumbling blocks in their way, all in the name of impartiality. Swiss authorities asked for actual documentation on accounts, they asked for death certificates – they asked for material that was impossible to produce. They feigned ignorance. They pretended not to know that relocation and deportation were Nazi code for murdered.

Switzerland has allowed, even encouraged, criminals and mafia lords to take advantage of their impartiality for years, using Swiss bank accounts to hide illegally gotten gains. And now, right now, Switzerland would have us believe that they are pursuing impartiality by investing in Iran and purchasing Iranian oil.

In today’s world impartiality is both unfeasible and almost impossible. Countries, especially Western countries, should take an interest in and be actively involved in regional and even global affairs – they should not hide behind the guise of impartiality in order to advance their own self interests and personal gain. In today’s world that behavior is immoral and it is wrong.

Societies must condemn evil and condemn the perpetrators of evil. Trading with Iran is supporting Iran and supporting Iranian policy. Iran is a state sponsor of terror. This is not open for question. Iran admits to supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, avowed and acknowledged terrorist organizations. By making a deal with Iran and by purchasing Iranian oil Switzerland is de facto supporting terror.

Switzerland is now not only investing in Iran and buying oil from Iran, the Swiss government has signed a $30-$50 million a year renewable contract with Iran. The loudest voice to declaim this outright abuse of status is the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL has placed advertisements in major newspapers around the world, in European newspapers including Swiss papers and in leading papers across the United States including The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The ads have a clear message: “When you finance a terrorist state you finance terrorism.”

The Swiss have not learned the lessons of history. Once again their behavior is immoral, repugnant and dishonorable. Their insistence on touting their impartial status is bogus and dishonest. The Swiss are breaking the Western economic boycott of Iran because they are getting a good deal from Iran. And they hide behind their thin veil of impartiality.

Shame on you Switzerland for lining the pockets of mass murdering terrorists.

Shame on you Switzerland for hiding behind a false claim of superiority.

Shame on you Switzerland for shunning your responsibility to the Western world.

Shame on you, Switzerland.

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JIHAD MOVE OVER, MOQAWAMAH HAS ARRIVED

By Micah Halpern

Monday March 31, 2008

Column:

Fact: Victory in battle against Islamic radicalism and terror will take several generations.
Nothing new there. Western thinkers have been saying that for years.

Fact: Fighting terrorism means knowing the enemy and knowing the weapons the enemy is using.
Nothing new there either.

Fact: Victory in battle against Western infidels will take generations.
Now that’s new.
For the first time ever the terrorists and the Muslim extremists from whose midst they emerge, the believers who want to topple the West, are declaring outright that according to their plan the actual defeat of the West will take generations to accomplish.

The new approach that Muslim extremism is taking in explaining their plan to rid the world of infidels, to take over the world and to rule the world, is colossal. And yet, rather than boldly heralding this news, rather than proclaiming this transformative thinking to be policy, the Muslim world is slowly slipping it into the vernacular of radical Islam.

The original objective of radical Islam was two-fold.
First, the infidels.
Islamic radicals would bring about the overthrow and ousting of Western society. An Islamic Revolution would transform the world. America, Israel and all countries that embrace Western countries would be toppled, destroyed, eradicated.
Next, the believers.
Islamic radicals would replace the Arab and Muslim leaders with theocracies. The current regimes in the Muslim world are run by Muslims, but Muslims in name only. The goal of Muslim Islamisists is to replace the kings and dictators with Islamic law and run a country patterned after Iran – according to Shariya, according to Islamic law.

Jihad is an overarching concept for the radical Muslim and the terrorist. Originally, radicals like Osama bin Laden and The Ayatollah Khomeini advocated the Islamic principle of Jihad. Jihad is a religious obligation to defeat those who reject the primacy of Islam and resist the hegemony of Islam.

Jihad is no longer the working principle of radical, extremist, Islam. Terrorists and Muslim extremists have made a transition. That transition is manifest in language. It is subtle, it is strong. It signifies an essential shift in principles. Jihad has been replaced with a new theological term.

Jihad has been replaced with Moqawamah.

Moqawamah. The word actually sounds Native American, like a summer camp in the Pocono Mountains or the name of a boy scout troop. It is pure Arabic. It explains an attitude similar to but significantly different from, Jihad. It means resistance.

Jihad implies an all out struggle and absolute victory.

Moqawamah implies that victory is not near at all.

In Moqawamah the fighter must fight, but the fighter must not necessarily win. Moqawamah is not about the current engagement, Moqawamah is about a long, protracted, multi-generational struggle.

Moqawamah is a way for terrorists and radical Islam to save face. It is a way of saying that not winning is not defeat. Not winning is part of a process. Not winning is a step forward. Moqawamah is why Muslim radicals around the world can interpret the Hezbollah war against Israel as victory – Israel did not destroy Hezbollah so Hezbollah is victorious and Hezbollah can continue to strike against and hit Israel. Moqawamah is why Muslim radicals around the world can interpret al Qaeda sponsored and led attacks against Western targets as victory. The resistance is still viable. Moqawamah is successful.

In brief, in Moqawamah, if you do not lose – you win. If there is one fighter still standing, one subscriber to the principle of Moqawamah unvanquished, Moqawamah wins. The flip side for the Western world is that it is almost impossible to defeat Moqawamah.

The terrorist need not win to win. Moqawamah is the perfect equation for a guerrilla – terror philosophy that does not favor fighters fighting in uniform and that promotes attacks against innocent civilians in schools, airplanes, office buildings and trains. Shooting rockets from Gaza into innocent Israeli towns will help the next generation get closer to the goal of ridding the world of Israel. Attacking the Twin Towers will help the next generation get closer to the goal of ridding the world of Western influences.

This thinking is deeply intertwined with theological justification. The Muslim radical has found a way of justifying the cruel reality that Allah has turned his back on Islam. Allah has not heard the prayers of radicals. Israel and the Jews have been blessed while the Muslim world sits in utter poverty and chaos despite enormous oil and gas reserves. Moqawamah puts it all in perspective for the Muslim mind.

Moqawamah turns little actions into large symbols. Moqawamah speaks not to the now, it speaks to the future. Moqawamah allows radical Islam to continue to plan great victory in the future. In the war against terror and radical Islam Moqawamah is the new fact on the ground.

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BARACK OBAMA: HIS FATAL FLAW

By Micah Halpern

Monday March 24, 2008

Column:

Barack Obama is in trouble, serious trouble. He needs help, real help.

The presidential hopeful doesn’t seem to realize the precariousness of his situation, and that’s a problem, a big problem.

His reputation has been compromised. His judgment is being called into question. His allegiance to his country, to our country, is under scrutiny. His unwillingness to either confront or truly separate from a man he considered to be his mentor is turning into a political liability.

“A true master of politics is able to calculate, down to the smallest fraction, the advantages to which he may put his very faults,” said Napoleon Bonaparte. Obama, I believe, has got his math all wrong.

America, as a whole, may be willing to forgive Barack Obama for his association with Jeremiah Wright, even if many Americans do not forgive Wright himself. But there is one statistically small group of Americans who will not be able to forgive. America’s Jews.

I do not know if presidential hopeful Barack Obama will regain his reputation in the Jewish community after the scandal caused by his religious mentor. No doubt, this is a case of “guilt by association” but as Obama full well knows, politics is all about contacts, all about affiliations, all about associations.

Disagreeing with Wright is not good enough. Saying I was not present when those despicable pronouncements by Wright were declared is not denial enough. Explaining that Wright has been an integral part of his life and that separation is difficult is not reason enough. Jeremiah Wright is a liability to the Obama campaign. If the candidate could not see that himself his handlers should have seen it. And his handlers should have forced this separation before the damage was done.

Loyalty to an individual is not a virtue in politics. Loyalty to a nation is a virtue. Loyalty to the people is a virtue. America watched and America listened as Barack Obama eloquently justified the person – not the words, but the person, who had vilified America, preached hate against Israel and against Jews and who stands shoulder to shoulder with, who embraces verbally and emotionally, Louis Farrakhan.

Statistically, the Jewish vote is not significant. Politically, it is very significant. There are a mere six million Jews in the United States – what makes the Jewish vote significant is that almost all six million make their way to the voting booth on election day, almost all six million are active voters. And they are significant contributors to campaigns. And the Jewish community has a strong history of political activism. Forget the numbers, Jews do make a difference. The influence the Jewish community wields in this presidential election is dramatically greater than mere numbers.

If I were advising Barack Obama I would make a concerted effort to woo Jewish America back into his camp.

I would immediately convene a six day to Israel (visiting the Western Wall and Sderot, the city under siege) and to the Mid East (including the Palestinian Authority) region.
How that would help: American Jews need to know that their next president understands the facts on the ground in Israel. Jewish Americans, as all Americans, need to know that their next president has a true understanding of the threats and perils that Iran poses to the West.

I would insist that he condemn (strongly) both the man and his (more strongly) words and publicly announce his departure from Wright’s church.
How that would help: Jeremiah Wright is the antithesis of the Obama unity platform. Obama cannot be trusted to “bless America” when his mentor publicly “damns America.” Obama must place physical and emotional distance between himself and his past influences.

I would have him clearly explain what he knew and when.
How that would help: Apologizing for a lapse in judgment inspired by close family ties is humbling, but ingratiating. Explaining that there was once a time when Obama believed in the virtues that Wright then preached and they were attractive to the Obama family but that has now changed, that there has since been a divergence in beliefs and thoughts shows that Obama himself can change, that he can push the envelope, that he listens and recalibrates as situations change.

Barack Obama needs to do the right thing. He needs to do what is right for his candidacy and what is right for America whether or not it brings Jewish America and disenchanted America back into his camp.

He needs to do the right thing but I am doubtful that he will do the right thing. The man who wants to be the next president of the United States of America does not really know about Americans. He does not realize the depth of the pain that Americans felt as they watched and they heard Jeremiah Wright. For Barack Obama the man, for Barack Obama the candidate, that is a fatal flaw.

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RIGA – 2008 OR 1941

By Micah Halpern

Monday March 17, 2008

Column:

Riga is the capital city of Latvia. Located on the Baltic Sea, Latvia, a scenically beautiful country to behold, is one of the former Soviet states. Riga is a city rich in culture in history and even in human and natural resources.

On Sunday, in Riga, three thousand Latvians came out to join a parade. It was a parade to honor those Latvians who belonged to and fought in and defended the honor of a notorious SS Unit known as the Latvian Legion.

Three thousand people came out and joined that parade. Did I make myself clear? Three thousand Latvians flocked to the city of Riga to participate in a pro-Nazi rally.

It happened this Sunday – in the year 2008, in a European capital.

As Americans, we think that most people think the way we do. We think that not to think the way we do is bad, or wrong, thinking. We think that our understanding of right versus wrong is universal. We think that the reason others do not think the way we think is because they have not heard the power of our argument, that they would be convinced if they had As Westerners, we think that
our belief system is the correct system, the most evolved system, the most popular system. In actuality, we are deluding ourselves. Our view of the world is insular, it is short sighted and it is narrow-minded.

Look no further than Riga, March 2008.

Latvia, along with the rest of the USSR, was invaded by the Germans in 1941. Then, as now, Riga was the capital of Latvia. According to a census taken in 1935 there were 43,672 Jews living in Riga. After the war there were 150 Jews, survivors from Riga.

Most of Riga’s Jews were murdered in a place called Rumbla, a “killing fields” located only seven miles outside the city. There, on two separate days, first on November 30th and then on December 8th, 1941 the Nazis – with the help of the local Latvians, mowed down 25,000 Jews.

The Jewish Ghetto in Riga, like most Jewish ghettos created during World War II, was situated in the most densely populated area of the Jewish community. In Riga that area was called Maskava. In Riga, like in every other city under their control, in order for the Nazi massacre of the Jews to succeed the Germans needed local assistance. The assistance that the Latvian community of Riga gave to Nazi Command came in the form of the Latvian Legion, proud members of the German SS.

We now know, the proof is in the numbers, that local Latvians today, are still proud of their members of the Latvian Legion.

Was there a counter demonstration? There was – and we should be thankful that there was, but their well intended shouts of “disgrace” and “Hitler is Dead” and their few numbers pale in comparison to the pomp and glory of the Pro Nazi parade.

The lessons of the mass murder of the Jews at the hands of Nazis have not sunken in very well in Europe – even in those places where the lessons are most needed. Mass murder is still celebrated. Local mass murderers are encouraged to strut their stuff in style.

The most important lesson we can draw from the citizenry of Riga is not to be deceived. Realize that the values and issues that we hold dear are unique to us. We can try to influence others to adopt our values, we can even bribe them to behave in ways that we deem appropriate, but in their hearts seldom do they truly adopt our values and our sense of right and wrong.

We are who we are because we think that what the Nazis did was wrong. Some of the world still does not agree.

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A SPECIAL PLACE IN ARAB HISTORY

By Micah Halpern

Monday March 10, 2008

Column:

History in the Muslim Arab world, the remembrance and recording of the past, differs from history in the Western world. The Western world records past events and calls them history. The Muslim Arab world recalls myths, hopes, conspiracies and events and calls that history. In the Arab world history and memory merge into a psycho-cultural universe that informs and motivates and plots the future.

The events on the evening of Thursday March 6th, 2008 were part of a chain of events that began years earlier, late at night, on Friday August 23rd, 1929.

The eight Jewish students killed by an Arab terrorist while learning in their religious school, their yeshiva, on Thursday March 6th, 2008 were a part of history even before they were brutally gunned down and massacred. Even before their deaths these Jewish students held a special place in history – a special place in Arab history. The machine gun toting terrorist who entered the Zionist stronghold yeshiva called Merkaz HaRav Kook on that Thursday evening, the people who planned the operation and sent him there and the people who rejoiced for his having been there, were all reliving a historical memory from 1929.

They were reliving the 1929 massacre of Hebron that began in Yeshivat Hebron. They were re-enacting the massacre of other Jewish students in another religious school. The location and the act chosen for this terrorist deed were a direct outgrowth of Arab/Jewish interaction and history, a history of Arabs massacring Jews. They were reconnecting the present with their past.

It was a hot Friday night in August. The students were gathered together in their yeshiva in the city of Hebron. The Sabbath had already been ushered in – and then the massacre began. The calls for reinforcements from the one British policeman in the area went unheeded for five hours, unanswered until it was too late. When it ended, three days later, 67 Jews were dead, brutally murdered – butchered with axes and knives and swords. Those students still alive were evacuated by the British to Jerusalem.

And that massacre, the 1929 Massacre of the Students in Hebron, became the paradigm in the Arab world for removing Jews. Massacre them. Massacre them especially while they are at study in their religious schools. Massacre them today and it will lead to the Jewish evacuation of Jerusalem just as it led to the Jewish evacuation of Hebron in 1929.

In the morning, after a night of murdering Jews, Arab leaders came to the home of a man whom they respected, a prestigious, well liked teacher at the yeshiva. They had a proposal to place before Rabbi Jacob Slonim. If the rabbi were to hand over all the Ashkenazi students, the students of European birthplace, they would end the massacre and spare the lives of the Sephardic students, the students who came from Arab lands. Rabbi Slonim declined the offer. He was killed on the spot. The massacre continued.

In retrospect we can say that in the days leading up to the Hebron Massacre tensions between Arabs and Jews were high, very high, especially in Jerusalem, especially around the area of the Western Wall. In sermons delivered in area mosques and in propaganda spread in Arabic newspapers stories were told about Jews killing Arabs and about Jews taking advantage of Muslim holy sites. These messages fed the already widespread – and still growing – conspiracy theory that the Jews were engaged in what was termed “the wholesale murder of the Arabs.” So the Arabs of Hebron took matters into their own hands murdering the Jews of Hebron and forcing the survivors out of their city.

Re-enactments of the Hebron Massacre of 1929 have been carried out several times over the years, but never so successfully as this last attack. In the city of Ma’alot, high up in the Galil, a horrific attack was carried out in a school. In Gaza, just before Israel evacuated, terrorists massacred a Jewish religious school as the students sat down to eat on a Saturday night. Most recently terrorists attempted to murder students in a school in the Etzion block located between Bethlehem and Hebron. Luckily, teachers thought quickly, acted more quickly and killed the terrorist.

The Arab world claims that their intention to remove Jews is steeped in history, that their desire to remove Jews today is being done “for their own safety” – just as the British did in 1929 in Hebron. In truth, Arab leaders around the world are stoking the flames of the conspiracy in order to motivate their murderers to act. That is one of the most significant reasons that the Arab world, with regular frequency, speaks of the Holocaust Israel is perpetrating on the Palestinians.

There is no Holocaust being perpetrated by Israelis or by Jews anywhere in the world upon Arabs and there are no Jewish land grabbers. If anything, the opposite is true. Jews are ceding land and Israel is pursuing peace. But that message will not motivate.

Hatred and fear motivate evil. Untruths motivate massacres. History and conspiracy theories merge.

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“IF YOU PRICK US DO WE NOT BLEED? IF YOU POISON US DO WE NOT DIE?”

By Micah Halpern

Monday March 3, 2008

Column:

It’s official. It’s on the record. The words have been spoken out loud. Israel, according to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, is using “excessive and disproportionate” force in Gaza.

Now the Security Council knows it. Now the world knows it.

After years of being pounded by missiles and rockets from Gaza, after weeks of escalating Hamas instigated and led attacks, Israel chose to respond. And in turn, the world has responded by condemning Israel.

“While recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself,” said the Secretary General “I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children.”

What did Israel do? Did Israel raze a village, bomb an orphanage, massacre an entire village? No. Israel officiated a counterattack, striking at those terrorists who are targeting Israeli cities and citizens with Qassam rockets and with missiles.

“I call on Israel to cease such attacks” said the Secretary General with the European Union saying almost exactly the same thing, using almost the same language. Well what would Ban Ki-Moon and European leaders have Israel do? What would be an acceptable, proportionate response? Let me offer some suggestions. Perhaps, Israel should:

* day after day, for the next few years, indiscriminately lob rocks into residential areas

* sponsor civilians to build and shoot crude and inaccurate rockets into Gaza

* preach hatred, teach about destruction and dream of annihilating the entire Palestinian population

* reprint textbooks eliminating the Palestinian Authority from maps

Would that change the thinking of those who are now condemning Israel? Would those be less excessive and proportionate responses? I don’t think so.

Israel has initiated a series of surgical aerial operations and ground strikes. There might even be plans for a ground invasion. The purpose of these strikes is to assess the value of an invasion. The purpose is to hurt Hamas command and destroy Hamas resources. And in all that, Israel has been successful. And because Israel has been successful, Israel is being condemned.

Condemned for using excessive force. Condemned for using disproportional force. And this condemnation of Israel comes from the same man who, until now, has been pretty clear about condemning the Palestinians for their relentless Qassam rocket attacks into Israel. And the Secretary General is still condemning them. He is still saying: “I condemn Palestinian rocket attacks and call for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism.”

And Israel is taking this all very seriously.

Israeli Defense Minister Barak, a former Prime Minister and a former Chief of Staff, has officially asked Israeli Justice Minister Daniel Freidman to examine international law on the issue of targeting terrorists who attack from within civilian populations. Barak wants to determine Israel’s right and Israel’s position on hitting Hamas terrorists. The defense minister wants to know how to respond to the world as they vilify Israel for finally initiating what is a low grade response to the daily blows raining down on them from Gaza.

And defense minister Barak wants to reassure Israeli soldiers that the counter attack they are now engaged in, the operation that has already cost the lives of Israeli soldiers is just, is fair, is appropriate and is essential.

There are people around the world who hate Israel and who will do anything to vilify Israel. There are people who are cheering after hearing about the UN condemnation of Israel. There are people, including Jews, who cannot accept Israel in any role other than victim. These are the people who fall prey to the Palestinian public relations campaign that paints Israel as the big, bad Goliath of modern history. But instead of five smooth stones, in this version the wronged and smaller Daoud slings rockets and missiles.

If anything, Israel can be blamed for exercising too much restraint. Maybe it was that restraint that brought about the current situation. Maybe Israel should have responded sooner and responded more vigorously. Maybe Sderot would be safe and Israel would not be criticized in today’s news. But that is a historical, not a military analysis.

Say what they want, if Israel was not using restraint in their response to Hamas many more Palestinians would be dead.

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MONOPOLY: GAME OR POLICY?

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 27, 2008

Column:

There are war games. There are diplomatic games. There are mind games. And there are just plain – games. Monopoly, the most popular game in the world, produced by Hasbro, one of the most successful game sellers in the world, used to be just a game, a fun, simple, wildly popular game.

And then Hasbro decided to take the game one step further. Hasbro already had the Banking Edition, the SquarePants Edition, the Junior Disney Princess Edition, but they did not yet have the World Edition. So Hasbro came up with a plan to invite fan participation and create Monopoly Here and Now: The World Edition. The invitation went out from headquarters in Pawtucket, Rhode Island to the entire online world – vote for you favorite city anywhere in the world and the cities with the most votes will win spots around the coveted Monopoly board.

That’s when the fun stopped. That’s when true competition stepped in. That’s when Hasbro – unwittingly – stepped out of the realm of gamesmanship and into the real world of politics and diplomacy. Problem was, votes came in for the city of Jerusalem, Israel. Problem is, the Arab world does not believe that Jerusalem belongs to Israel, the Palestinians want Jerusalem for their own capital city one day. The problem was solved by an independent-thinking Hasbro employee in the London office. Just take out the comma and the word Israel. London remained London comma England, Paris remained Paris comma France, Istanbul a frontrunner for first place remained Istanbul comma Turkey and Jerusalem was left to stand alone. And that did not sit well with Israel’s friends.

Hasbro does not like to make enemies. Hasbro will do almost anything to avoid alienating clients. Politics is one property that Hasbro does not want to land on. So Hasbro made another decision and this time the decision came from way high up the management chain. All the commas and all the countries were dropped. After all, Hasbro was really only interested in city names for their game. The plan is working, Hasbro dodged the bullet.

Truthfully, Hasbro did the right thing. Hasbro should not be in the game of politics and diplomacy. It’s not good for business. That game is best played by governments and law makers. And the government of the United States of America is playing the Jerusalem game right now.

The United States government, like Hasbro, has dropped the comma and the country from the passports off all US citizens born in the city of Jerusalem. That’s right. If you are a US citizen born in Jerusalem your official, listed, country of birth is —, left blank.

There’s more. Jerusalem is the only city in the world with two United States consulates. One is in East Jerusalem, one is in West Jerusalem. The embassy is in Tel Aviv. Year ago, there was need for two consulates because Jerusalem was in two countries – Jordan and Israel. But that was 41 years ago, everything changed in 1967. When Berlin was divided they, too, had two consulates. The wall came down and one of the embassies went away. Not so in Jerusalem.

The current presidential campaign is the first campaign in recent history during which no candidate has declared that moving the United States Embassy in Israel to the city of Jerusalem is a priority. In other campaigns Israel was discussed and promises were made. OK, the promises were broken, but the inequity was an issue that was opened up and discussed.

Congress even passed an act to move the embassy. The reason it has never happened is because of a presidential waiver written into the law that requires the State Department to agree and traditionally, both professionals and career people in State, have a real problem designating Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
They fear that if the US officially recognizes Jerusalem it will enrage the Arab and Muslim world and create a real problem for any future deal the US makes with the Palestinians. I disagree. I know it would upset the Arab world, but I also think that the Arab world would show more respect towards the United States if the United States, knowing that there would be strong disagreement over the policy, was emboldened enough to make a clear decision on Jerusalem.

It’s about time that the world recognizes that Israel has made her own choice. And Israel has chosen Jerusalem. Jerusalem, comma, Israel.

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THE SIEGE OF SDEROT

By Micah Halpern

Thursday February 21, 2008

Column:

The numbers are numbing.

Do the calculation.

Fifty days. Four hundred Qassam rockets.

If Qassam rockets continue to be fired off at this rate by the end of the year Israel will have been hit by almost two thousand eight hundred rockets.

Last year, 2007, there were one thousand one hundred and fifty rockets hitting Israel from Gaza. This year, 2008, the projected number – if the situation remains unchecked – will be three times this year’s total. That means two thousand eight hundred enemy rockets hurdling into Israel.

Those mind boggling statistics refer just to rockets. What about the people?

What about the people who will be forced to run for shelter 2,800 times this year. What about the kids? Just think about it, a child born into the city of Sderot within the past six years has never known what it is NOT to run for shelter on a regular basis. Has never known that meals are NOT supposed to be interrupted by blasts. Has never known that other people sleep peacefully at night. Cannot know that bedwetting is not the norm, that shaking and difficulty concentrating are not normal childhood behaviors. Has never known life without Qassams.

And what is being done to secure the lives of these people on the brink – on the brink of society, on the brink of sanity, on the brink of the country they call their own – secure rooms are planned for their homes.

3,150 rooms will receive fortification in the near future inside homes that are within a one mile range of Israel’s border with Gaza. Do not misunderstand, 3,150 homes will not be fortified. A designated room within each of 3,150 homes will be fortified. It’s called a safe room, a secure room. It’s where you go when everything around you is scary and unsafe, when your world is literally crumbling down upon you.

In a briefing given to the government by Brigadier General Yair Golan, head of the Home Front Command, that same briefing that announced the 3,150 safe rooms, members of Israel’s Knesset were informed that since the year 2001 $138 million has been spent in the defense of civilians living in the area around Gaza.

Now do that calculation.

In seven years one hundred and thirty eight million dollars was spent. In other words, about $19 million dollars per year has been spent to protect Israeli citizens – locked into their homes because they have no place else to go – from Qassam rockets. $19 million for the people in need is a paltry sum. It is an embarrassingly paltry sum. It is smaller than the annual budget for Knesset travel.

Why are Israel’s decision makers incapable of defending Israel’s poorest citizens? “Why,” as one general put is “are Israeli children on the front line and not soldiers?” It is not the role of children to sit, to play, to learn, to live in a bomb zone. It is the role of the government to protect those young citizens.

The story of the Siege of the Qassams upon Israel is the story of 21st Century international diplomacy.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and members of his government have been traveling the world talking to world leaders trying to get the nod of approval for a sustained Israeli strike against Hamas forces in Gaza. Israel wants to set the groundwork for the propaganda battle that will inevitably ensue after an attack. Israel’s intentions are admirable – but time is being wasted. It is a pre-determined, historically-validated given that most of the world will condemn Israel even as they tacitly acknowledge the moral right of a country to defend her citizens.

Why scurry around the world begging for permission to do what you know must inevitably be done with or without permission? Why waste time, risk more lives, incur more injuries, ruin more lives? Just plan and implement multiple sets of attacks, strategies and counter attacks. Include media plans along with the military plans. Do it before more young boy lose their legs. Do it now.

Do it before a horrific disaster. Quite frankly, that is my fear. I fear that Israel is waiting for a sign – an awful, disastrous, costly sign – to legitimize an Israeli attack against Hamas. I fear that Israel will wait until a Qassam hits a house and kills a family. I fear that Israel will wait until a terror attack from Gaza successfully infiltrates into Israel and people are murdered.

The founders of the Jewish State were obsessed with the idea of taking charge. The idea of creating Israel was predicated on moral and historical ideals. One of those ideals was controlling the destiny of the Jewish people, another was providing a safe refuge for Jews from around the world.

The Jews have arrived. Protect them.

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WHEN HAMAS IS OUT OF CONTROL

By Micah Halpern

Monday February 11, 2008

Column:

Sometimes, the pen truly is mightier than the sword.

Hamas, in Gaza, has shut down a newspaper called Al Ayyam. A Hamas court ordered that the newspaper cease operations and that the people employed by Al Ayyam in Gaza, there are about thirty-two of them, cease work.

The newspaper was ordered closed on Sunday because of a cartoon that appeared on the back page of the paper last November. The cartoon depicted former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh addressing the Palestinian Parliament. All the men he was addressing looked like clones of the prime minister and they all held photos of the prime minister. The caption on the caricature translates to mean “illegitimate” or “irrelevant.”

Haniyeh, to this day, is a strong, mighty and fierce Hamas leader. And Hamas leadership took offense at the portrayal. November, December, January, February. What took Hamas so long to react? That, I can’t answer. Maybe they read slowly. Maybe this was a down period, maybe they were just looking for something else to be angry about, another way to prove to us all how un-democratic and non-Western they are in thought and in action.

But this I can tell you. A Hamas court may have ordered the paper closed, but the paper will not close. Ay Ayyam is a privately owned, Fatah leaning, press. And Al Hayyam is homebased on the West Bank not in Gaza. The thirty-odd reporters who write from Gaza may be forbidden from doing their job, and their lives may be in jeopardy if they continue to post their pieces from elsewhere in cyberspace, but those presses will continue to roll. And given the fact that there are over one million three hundred thousand Palestinians living in Gaza and the fact that only 3,400 copies of the paper were distributed in Gaza, I don’t think the publishers will even notice the loss. My high school paper printed more copies
than are read in Gaza.

And I can tell you that the Hamas declaration ordering the closure of Al Ayyam is another clear and definitive indication of the way in which Hamas is now officially out of control.

Hamas is threatened by the slightest criticism. Hamas, right now, reminds me of the Soviets during the Communist era. We in the West encourage critique and thoughtful dialogue. Freedom or expression, especially freedom of the press, is sacrosanct. Western journalists are willing to surrender themselves to prison in order to uphold that freedom, they are not, as in Hamasland, imprisoned for writing for the “wrong” paper. Hamas feels that freedom of the press should be restricted – and even eliminated.

Hamas’ greatest enemy right now is not Israel. As much as Israel applies pressure upon Hamas, the reality is that Fatah and Egypt are applying even more pressure. Hamas is fighting for survival, but ultimately, not survival against Israel. Israel, right now, is a side show. Israel, right now, is a way for Hamas to let our aggression and pent up hostility. The real battle is being waged within, the battle is against Fatah and against Egypt.

A stable Hamas was dangerous. An unstable, out of control Hamas is all that much more dangerous.

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1 – 2 -3 BOOM

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 6, 2008

Column:

It was a 1 – 2- 3 punch.

An increase in terror inside Israel proper was as predictable as it was inevitable.

Step one, Gazans breached their border with Egypt. Step two, terrorists from Gaza set up new centers inside Egypt. Step three, the terrorists mobilized. Step four, BOOM.

This time the attack took place in a sleepy little city, primarily populated by immigrants and even a group of Black Muslims originally from Chicago. The city is called Dimona, it is home to the most developed nuclear reactor in Israel. The reactor was not the target. A pedestrian mall located in the city’s commercial center was the target.

What makes this terror attack a classic example of terror attacks? The intention of this attack like all other attacks was to wreak havoc and devastation. The intention of this attack like all other attacks was to maim psychologically even more than to harm physically.

What makes this attack dramatically different from so many other attacks? One innocent little old lady who is now dead, one medic who ran to the scene as soon as the boom was heard, one well-trained police officer who saved many other innocent victims from dying and an entire group of people celebrating the deadly attack with candy and song.

After scanning the crowd to determine who was most in need of care the Jewish Israeli medic ran to the side of an Arab man lying on the ground. The medic evaluated the condition of the unknown stranger and ripped open his coat to begin administering care. And then he saw the explosive belt still strapped to his body. He had run to the aid of the second of two suicide bombers, a bomber whose worst nightmare had come true. His partner was dead, he was still alive. The medic, Salomon Amar, ran to help a patient as if he were any injured man, not a man dedicated to ending his own life as a mass murderer. Keeping watch was an Israeli policeman who, after rushing to the scene, had cleared out the area to protect those still uninjured from the blast. And when the hand of the suicide bomber reached towards the explosive belt still on his body, as the suicide bomber attempted to complete his mission, Kobi Mor, the policeman, shot him. Kobi Mor shot him four times in the head killing the Arab terrorist, the failed mass murderer. For 73 year old Lyubov Razdolsky, a retired physics professor, it was too late. She was already dead – killed on impact.

The attack in Dimona claimed three dead. Two suicide bombers and one old lady so badly disfigured that her sons could only assume that it was she after discovering that their father had been seriously injured and their mother was nowhere else to be found. Over thirty people were injured. And then the celebrations began.

These two terrorists were celebrated around the world. Their identities are known and were broadcast on TV and radio. I will not identity them by name, they are not deserving of recognition. They should not be googled, their photos should not be displayed. But the youth of Gaza would disagree with me.

Across Gaza young people handed out flowers and candy. Young men and women stood at intersections and stopped cars giving sweet and fragrant gifts in honor of the two murderers. There was shared laughter. There was a feeling of national pride.

Until we understand a culture that celebrates brutal killing, a culture that calls terrorists soldiers, a culture that transforms murderers and elevates them to the status of national heroes, we will never succeed in the fight against terror.

By reading or listening to the responses of Hamas and of other extremist groups in the Muslim world immediately following this lone attack in the city of Dimona one would think that a death blow had been dealt to Israel. How can anyone truly be convinced that murdering one elderly woman was a death blow to Israel? Hamas and Hamas henchmen, in this case the al Aksa Brigades and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinians, the groups claiming credit for this attack are not super powers, their operatives are not super heroes, they are simply a band of murderers.

They live in order to kill. And their victims are 73 year old women.

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IT’S ALL ABOUT PRIDE

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 29, 2008

Column:

Hexachlorine gas is a major contributor to the enrichment of uranium.

On Sunday Iran announced that they have successfully produced 300 tons of hexachlorine gas.

Once again, Iran is snubbing its diplomatic nose at the United Nations, at the West and especially at the United States of America. Iran is continuing to develop nuclear technology despite a direct plea from the United Nations asking this rogue nation to stop producing nuclear materials and to open their facilities for nuclear inspection. Iran’s race towards nuclear productivity has escalated so quickly that just last week some of Iran’s best friends and business partners publicly turned against the Shiite nation. The leaders of the five countries with permanent seats on the UN Security Council unanimously agreed to expand sanctions against Iran.

Russia, China and France three countries that have been or intend to be facilitators of Iran’s nuclear habit all agree that Iran has crossed the line and is officially, by all definitions, out of control. Last week Russia, China and France, the three countries that stand to gain the most from Iran’s move into the nuclear world took a firm and dramatic stand against Iran.

For Iran it is not just about flaunting defiance in the face of world decision making, for Iran it is all about pride. Iran has and will continue to develop nuclear technology for three simple reasons.

Reason # 1: Muslim Pride
Pride is a strong and inherent trait in the Muslim world. Iran will only be induced to backtrack and halt nuclear development if they can do so and still preserve their pride.

Reason # 2: Shiite Pride
Tensions and competition between Muslims is fierce. For small Shiite Iran winning the nuclear race is a sure way to maintain superiority over the larger Sunni nations that surround her.

Reason # 3: International Pride
Iran needs to have nuclear weapons to prove to the rest of the world that a Muslim country can and will compete in the international arena. Iran needs to have nuclear weapons to prove to the world that a Muslim country can and should be a world leader in technology and science. Iran has the need to feel superior to the rest of the world and the power of nuclear technology empowers Iran.

Iran wants to be a world player. Iran would like to oust the hegemony of the United States and other Western nations, to oust the countries that set the world’s agenda. And that, parenthetically, explains why Iran is in bed with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Iran and Venezuela have nothing in common other than their resentment of and absolute disdain for the United States and for Western agendas. Chavez is not a Muslim, he is a Catholic. Chavez does not lead a fundamentalist state, he leads a democratic, albeit flawed, parliamentary democracy. Chavez does not carry the title Supreme Leader, he is simply called president.

Chavez of Venezuela dreams of turning the world upside down and giving voice to those who cannot speak on their own. Iran dreams of turning the world upside down. And then Iran wants to speak for everyone and convert everyone to Islam.

Meanwhile, Iran still has those 300 tons of hexachlorine gas. That is a nightmare we have to deal with. Quickly.

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IT ALL DEPENDS ON YOUR PERSPECTIVE

By Micah Halpern

Monday January 21, 2008

Column:

Was the glass half empty or was the glass half full? Was the United States displaying strength through restraint or did the United States reveal weakness through inaction? It all depends on your particular perspective.

The incident occurred two weeks ago. It happened in the Straits of Hormuz, the Gulf waters through which about 35% of the world’s oil passes. It involved three United States war ships, a cruiser, a frigate and a destroyer and five blue, ultra light, ultra fast Iranian speedboats.

What were the United States ships doing in the Straits of Hormuz? They were patrolling the international waterway, protecting the waters, following the mandate placed upon the broad shoulders of the United States by the international community. And what were the Iranian boats doing there? They could have been doing anything, after all, the Straits of Hormuz hugs the long Iranian coastline. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that the Iranian boats were aggressively invading the space of the American ships. The big deal is that the Iranian shipmen were teasing and taunting the American sailors. Goading them. Daring them.

And then the Iranian speedboats released little white boxes and propelled them in the direction of the US vessels and announced over loud speakers that they were coming to destroy them.

Were the little boxes bombs or were they simply little white boxes? Were the Iranians really about to blow the ships to kingdom come or where they just blowing hot air? The United States chose not to react. The United States simply announced over their own loud speakers that their mission was peaceful and that they were in international waters. The Iranians turned around as quickly as they arrived and left. The boxes bobbed in the water.

I ask again, was the glass half full or was it half empty?

The Iranians have specially designed their blue boats and specially trained the crews of the blue boats to create havoc in the Straits of Hormuz, an area they wish to have sole control over. The boat teams swarm and bomb. They are trained to attack oil tankers. Their intention is to destroy the status quo and rock the peaceful waters of the Straits, the water so crucial to the flow of so much of the world’s oil supply.

This time the Iranians were sending a greeting to the American president as he was about to embark on his Middle East trip. A week earlier the Iranians sent a similar greeting, that time the response of the United States was to shoot over the bow of the blue boats.

All of these blue boats are manned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a group the United States has determined to be a terrorist organization.

Two weeks ago the United States sighed in relief. Thankfully, their vessels did not take the bait. Thankfully, they did not fall into the well-placed Iranian trap.

The Gulf nations gasped in disbelief. The United States, the great defender, the country responsible for keeping the Straits of Hormuz open to all and free for all, chose not to respond to a direct challenge from the enemy Iran. Once again, just as they had done with the release of the National Intelligence Estimate the United States showed weakness in the face of Iranian aggression. Their interpretation of events: The United States was powerless to act.

I ask again, half empty or half full? Did the United States respond with courage or with cowardice. It all depends on your perspective.

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WHEN ONE PLUS ONE EQUALS THREE

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 16, 2008

Column:

Sometimes, one plus one equals three.

It’s not the right answer, it’s not the way things should be, it’s just the way things are. Sometimes, try as you might, it’s just impossible to make things come out right.

Most analysts, diplomats, presidents and prime ministers concerned about the future of Israelis and Palestinians are in sync about one item on the Middle East agenda. They all agree that a two-state solution is the way to go. Israel and Palestine, Palestine and Israel, side-by-side-separate states. Shared borders, perhaps even a shared capital, but two separate and distinct states.

Here’s the problem: Israel is one state, but Palestine is two.

Israelis and Palestinians are in the midst of high level, on-going, negotiations about the future of the two nations. The talks are tense, but they are moving along. Israel is represented by the government of Ehud Olmert, the elected and recognized leader. The Palestinians are represented by Mahmoud Abbas, the elected and recognized leader of – well, of only a part of the Palestinian people. The other part is led by Hamas. Hamas and Abbas are like oil and water, they are like fire crackers and matches. Put them together and they don’t mix, force them together and the result is explosive.

The way things are progressing right now, the Palestinians want to solve their problem by creating a three-state solution. State one, Israel. State two, West Bank Palestine. State three, Hamas-led Gaza Palestine.

Mahmoud Abbas is dealing with the question of what happens to Gaza if and when a Palestinian state is declared, by ignoring the question. It is a question Abbas and his government cannot answer. It is a situation Abbas and his Fatah comrades cannot handle. It is a war Abbas and the West Bank Palestinians cannot win. Only Israel is asking the hard questions, only Israel is willing to deal with the reality of this unreal situation.

In pre-Annapolis dialogues and discussions the Israelis raised the subject of Gaza. They were ignored. On the bottom of one of the draft documents leading up to Annapolis the Israelis scribbled a note asking about Gaza. It went unanswered. Neither the Palestinians sitting around the negotiating tables of Annapolis nor the Palestinians sitting around negotiating tables in Jerusalem and Ramallah can deliver Gaza. And neither can their leader, neither can Mahmoud Abbas. And because they cannot deliver Gaza the Palestinians want to excise Gaza from their discussions and deliberations.

And by removing Gaza from the dialogue Abbas is de facto turning Gaza into a second Palestine state.

No one involved in talks about the future of Palestinians and Israelis has ever envisioned a three-state solution. It has never been mentioned in any document, it has never been spoken of in any speech. Only now, when the reality of a two-state solution seems closer than it has ever been before, when there is a timetable to be met, has the specter of three states emerged.

The leader of the Palestine Authority will not deal with the situation in Gaza. Abbas is petrified. He does not want to engage in another civil war with Hamas. He lost the last war and he cannot afford to lose again. If Abbas were to publicly lose out to Hamas now the way he lost in June his future as Palestinian leader would be over. Gaza is not only a threat to Israel, Gaza is a threat to Palestinian leadership.

The irony of it all is that even though grass roots support for Hamas is growing, even though the ranks of Palestinians volunteering to be on the side of Hamas is growing, Hamas supporters and adherents among the greater Arab world is dwindling. The irony is that Hamas is losing the public relations campaign because they were so successful in their war in Gaza. The shame of it all is that Fatah cannot control Hamas and if Hamas is not controlled Israel will not be able to continue to negotiate with Fatah leaders.

A Hamas-controlled Gaza, a Gaza that is outside the influence of Fatah and outside the influence of any Western power is a significant threat to Israel. The reason Israel has even engaged in two-state dialogue is to create a situation that is safer for Israelis. Unless and until Abbas is willing to engage in the physical and political battles necessary to wrest control of Gaza from Hamas Israel cannot, in good faith, continue to talk of a two-state solution. The State of Palestine that does not include Gaza under is a very serious risk.

When one plus one equals three something is terrible wrong with the equation.

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U.S. BANG FOR THE BUCK

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 9, 2008

Column:

The truth is that when it comes to Arab countries, the United States gets very little bang for its foreign policy buck.

The United States is great at giving, the Arab world is great at taking, the problem is collecting. When the United States decides to give money away, call it aid, assistance, grant or emergency relief, two assumptions are made. The first assumption is that those dollars will buy the United States good will and support, the second is that some of the money will go towards the purchase of US goods and services.

Many countries, especially Middle East Arab countries, take the money and run without so much as a diplomatic courtesy nod let alone an obligatory purchase of products. The assumption of the countries receiving the multi-million dollar packages from the most powerful country in the Western world is that they are recipients because they deserve to be recipients, not because the United States is helping them, doing them a favor, answering their specific needs.

The United States gives graciously and then the United States goes begging to make good on their deal.

The money comes from Congress. The United States Congress debates the merits of the case and then decides if and how much to give. Real life is not like the movies, but after watching Tom Hanks wheedle and cajole in “Charlie Wilson’s War” you get a basic idea of how the deals are done. In the movie, however, the Congressman received a big thank you. In the reality of the Middle East, however, most of those countries that have received dollar gifts from Congress care not a whit about US policy or objectives. They will extend their hands in acceptance of US dollars and then turn their backs and actively flaunt their disdain for the US and everything Western.

The best example of this flagrant disregard for foreign policy etiquette by an Arab country is Egypt. Egypt receives over $2 billion US yearly from Congress. Egypt is the second largest recipient of US foreign aid, the first is Israel. And Egypt is rarely in sync with their donor on matters of international importance.

This year, as usual, Egypt received their aid. And now, right now, rather than thanking the United States with even a small show of support, the United States is – figuratively speaking, being smacked in the face by Mubarak and his gang. Egypt is thinking through the process of renewing diplomatic relations with Iran. And it looks as if their thoughts are soon to turn into actions.

Well, not if Congress can help it. At long last, Congress – in the person of the republican senator from Pennsylvania is forcing Egypt to play by the foreign policy rules of the United States. Senator Arlen Specter has turned off the faucet that flows from the coffers of the US Congress into the Egyptian treasury.

Shortly before the start of the new year Egypt was publicly embarrassed by Israel. Israel had video footage of Egyptian security teams helping Hamas smuggle weapons into Gaza. The immediate Egyptian reaction was that the situation was doctored, that the tape was doctored, but Israel took the tape to the White House and to Capitol Hill and the United States was convinced of the truth of the story. Congress was shocked.

Egypt reacted by trying to intimidate Israel. But the ire of Congress was raised. Congress promised to cut off $100 million in aid to Egypt unless their conditions were met. Egypt must start working on ways to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza. And then Arlen Specter told Egypt plain and simple and straight forward that if Egypt did not change their behavior they will lose their US funding. And that is exactly what Congress did, they turned off the faucet to Egypt.

But the United States believes in foreign policy, the United States is in the business of helping countries in need and so, in a twist worthy of the movie industry, a Jewish congressman from New York named Steve Israel (I could not make that up) negotiated an agreement with Egypt solving the problem and making everyone happy.

According to the agreement Egypt will use $23 million of their US aid to buy US machinery that can help them find the tunnels used by the arms smugglers. Egypt will also receive assistance from the US Army Corps of Engineers and from US civilian staff to help stop the smugglers. The high tech machinery that Egypt will purchase includes robots, scanners and computers.

Two high powered politicians with a heightened sense of justice and a belief in foreign policy quid pro quo have brought Egypt to their diplomatic knees. The beneficiaries are US business and the US economy, and of course US foreign policy.

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PRESIDENTIAL RESOLUTIONS FOR THE NEW YEAR

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 1, 2008

Column:

Let’s play “association.” If I say “New Year” chances are pretty good that you will say “resolutions.” It’s the American way. Every new year Americans from Phoenix Arizona to Butte Montana and anywhere else honestly and sincerely make their resolutions. And before January turns into February the vast majority of those resolutions have been broken. People in Crawford Texas are no exception. George Bush is no exception.

On January 8th the president and his entourage will be heading out for the Middle East. George Bush has resolved to set the record straight in the Middle East.

Officially, President Bush will be using this, his first official visit to the Middle East since taking office to “…follow up on the progress made at Annapolis in helping Israelis and Palestinian to advance their efforts …”

True enough, the presidential agenda on this trip is to follow through on the work that was begun in Annapolis, but the work begun in Annapolis, truly had less to do with Israelis and Palestinians than it did with the Arab world and Iran. If this trip was all about Israelis and Palestinians, then why are Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all crowded into the agenda? The answer comes in the form of a throw away line in the official announcement outlining this trip which states that the president will use this opportunity “…to reaffirm the enduring commitment of the United States to the security of our allies in the Middle East … and our close work with them to combat terrorism and extremism …”

In Annapolis, Israeli/Palestinian peace was the premise, but there was a very important and delicate subtext. In Annapolis, the unstated objective of the United States was to bring Arab and Muslim countries in concert with the United States of America in an effort to thwart Iran and Iran’s nuclear objectives. And the president almost pulled it off.

He had them in the palm of his hand. While in Annapolis George Bush had the most powerful and most wealthy Arab nations just on the verge of being convinced that he and the United States could actually lead the Arab world in a movement against another Muslim country. He had them almost ready to follow his lead and squelch Iran’s nuclear aspirations. He was, as the saying goes, just about to put the genie back in the bottle.

That support lasted exactly one week, and then the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was made public. George Bush became his own worst enemy. The Arab countries who had quietly stepped forward to join the United States against Iran pulled immediately back. Thousands of hours of diplomatic work was lost. And now, in the course of an eight day trip, President Bush is trying to win it back.

Quite frankly, I do not have high hopes for President Bush’s upcoming trip to the Middle East.

George Bush may have determination and resolve, but his goal of reassuring the Arabs of the region that the Annapolis Conference sub text is actually a primary text and that the US still stands firmly behind the message delivered in Annapolis – that Iran is a real threat and it is crucial to stand shoulder to shoulder against Iran’s development of nuclear technology – has evaporated into thin Middle East air. No visit, no cajoling, no pleading will succeed in convincing the Arab world for a second time to join the enemy against one of their own.

As for “helping Israelis and Palestinians advance their efforts …” the sentiment is sincere, but the President knows the situation. He knows that both Israelis and Palestinians will complain about non-compliance and about how the other side has broken the agreement – again. And Israel and the Palestinians need to know that George Bush, just like the many American presidents before him who sought to bring peace to the Middle East, is driven by American interests. And right now American interests lie in trying to isolate Iran and unify Arabs against the Islamic state. And before putting pressure on Iran the Arab world will demand that the United States pressure Israel to accommodate the Palestinians.

Despite his affinity for Israel and his religious love of Jerusalem, this President of the United States will agree to those Arab demands. And along the way President Bush will make his pilgrimage to the Western Wall and visit the Western Wall Tunnels and tour the excavation sites around the Second Temple. This was the Temple built by Herod during the time of Jesus and it has significance and value for George Bush. He will touch the stones and admire the architecture and marvel at the remarkable feats of construction that brought and still bring people from all around the world to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem shuts down when a United States president comes to town. I have sat on special busses accompanying the presidential motorcade as it drives along. Israelis line the streets, waving. I wave back. Not this trip. The excitement isn’t there. Once again, the outcome is predictable. In the aftermath of this trip Bush and Condi Rice will pressure Israel to move ahead on the Road Map despite their reservations and despite the lack of follow-up on the part of the Palestinians especially on security issues and the lack of Palestinian control over their terrorists.

I hope the President has made some other resolutions for this New Year. Maybe those will last a little longer than his Middle East resolve.

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RE-GIFTING TO GAZA

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 25, 2007

Column:

In an ideal world, the city of Sderot would have remained a small, sleepy Israeli city. In a world in which Qassam rockets are hurled almost daily into Israel by hostile neighbors, the city of Sderot has gained prominence.

Since the beginning of the Second Intifada, since October 2000, Sderot has been under siege from rocket attacks launched from Gaza. Sderot, you see, abuts Gaza. It is the easiest place inside Israel for rockets to land.

The word “sderot” translates to mean boulevards. The place called Sderot, a poor under-developed area that covers 5,000 dunam (about 1,200 acres) of land in the southern district of Israel, was declared a city in 1996. Just for the sake of comparison, the Four Seasons Hotel in Disney World covers 900 acres. The Israeli census of 2004 reported that 20,000 people lived in Sderot. That number still remains constant. It’s not that the folks of Sderot enjoy the daily bombardment, it’s that they have no place else to go.

Until now Israeli leaders – both military and political – have been incapable of stopping the gifts from the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip. In principle, of course Israelis are incensed and outraged by the almost daily bombardment of rocket attacks by terrorists from Gaza onto their soil. In practice, they have grown to become laissez faire. Nobody much cares about the people of Sderot. The 20,000 inhabitants of Sderot are an immigrant mix – mostly former Soviet immigrants living alongside the families of poor immigrants from North Africa living alongside a sizable Ethiopian community.

The good news is that finally, Israel has come up with a solution, a plan, a way to re-gift to Gaza. The other news is that the plan will not be operable for two years.

On Sunday the Israeli Security Cabinet, the inner Cabinet within the Cabinet dubbed the Kitchen Cabinet during the tenure of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, agreed to fund “Iron Dome” a $200 million project which will help protect Israeli cities from rocket attack.

In proposing the Iron Dome project Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was careful to speak of the two year time delay. Barak also explained that Iron Dome is one part of a larger defense strategy for Israel. In essence, Barak was saying that Iron Dome which will be used to defend Sderot more than any other city is being pursued only because it is part of the larger package – not because the people of Sderot need it so badly. What Barak omitted was the simple fact that after all the time and all the money, it is unlikely that Iron Dome will even be a useful defense weapon against rockets aimed from Gaza into Sderot.

Iron Dome, like all related defense weaponry, operates successfully only with minimum height and distance requirements. Because Qassam are low flying rockets, the likelihood of success in firing back at Qassams is hard to guarantee.

The system works like this: After a rocket is shot computer generated radar and laser identify its origin and trajectory. The computer figures out where the rocket is going to hit and plots the exact path of the rocket. The computer then shoots off another, much faster, missile to destroy the incoming enemy rocket. The more distance the rocket needs to travel and the higher the rocket shoots, the easier the calculation. The objective is to explode the rocket over enemy territory and not over your own land so that you reduce the number of your own potential injuries due to falling debris.

Using this technology Israel can and should be able to dispatch missiles to destroy not only the rocket launchers but also the terrorists launching their rockets into most parts of the country. Any type of defense against Qassams is difficult. The problem with the newest Qassam rockets, the rockets now being fired into Israel, is that they have a range of 10 kilometers, that is only 6.2 miles – they do not have a very high arc and they are very small targets to hit.

It sounds good at the press conference, and it is important for Israelis to know that their defense establishment is actively pursing a large, encompassing security plan, but the people of Sderot will not be much better off two years from now than they were six years ago or than they are today.

My suggestion? Hit the terrorists today. The Iron Dome and the $200 million and the two years are a long way away.

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EATING LATKES AT THE WHITE HOUSE

By Micah Halpern

Monday December 17, 2007

Column:

I ate latkes under the watchful gaze of President Abraham Lincoln. I could have chosen sushi, or gravlax, or glatt kosher roast beef or even lamb chops, but latkes, for me, was the appropriate choice. The latkes were more than delicious, they were symbolic.

Eating latkes, in the White House, as a guest of President George and First Lady Laura Bush, at their Chanukah party, symbolized for me the Jewish coming of age in America. On Monday, December 10th, the sixth day of Chanukah, the eve of the seventh Chanukah candle to be lit, the president of the United States of America, the most powerful man in all the world, chose to devote a large part of his day and evening honoring and celebrating with American Jews.

Think about it.

Think about how blessed the Jews of America are to live in a country that allows them to thrive and appreciates their contribution. Think about how lucky the Jews of America are to live in a country that so cherishes their participation. Think about how a community of immigrants that, like Horatio Alger, came to these shores and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, has become a part of society and yet retained individual and communal identities as Jews. Think about a world leader who spent the majority of his day focusing on Judaism and issues of religious freedom. Think about the hours George and Laura Bush spent standing in a receiving line, meeting and greeting Jewish guests from around the country, shaking hands, being photographed, exchanging pleasantries.

Was it a waste of the president’s time? A colossal waste of taxpayer money? A political statement? Not at all. It was a statement of purpose. It was a defining example of how the Jewish people now freely roam – literally and figuratively – halls of power in the United States. On that day there was nothing more important on the agenda of the president of the United States than to celebrate Judaism in the White House with American Jews.

Now think about other democracies around the world.

Think about the United Kingdom where terrible racism is eroding the fabric the monarchy tried so hard to knit together. Think about France where immigrant communities from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are greeted with hatred and disdain. Think about Germany where anyone from Turkey or North Africa is shunned. Think about Japan where a Koreans who came between 1910 and 1915 can never become citizens. And these countries call themselves democracies.

There is no historical precedent to match the position of Jews in America today. Yes, in various societies, in various historical periods Jews have reached positions of prominence, but never en masse, only as isolated instances. In Egypt in Babylonia in Greece and in Rome, in Poland in Germany in Russia, there were examples of Jews who rose to power and entered the halls of power – but not like America.

As I wandered from the Map Room to the China Room, as I rubbed shoulders with other guests spanning the entire spectrum of Judaism, as I shared a small portion of Torah with a Lubavitch rabbi and joined in a debate over the state of world terror today and as I exchanged thoughts with the President of the United States about our need to seek out and destroy those thugs seeking to destroy us I was reminded of other ways in which the United States has reached out to embrace Jews and other immigrant societies. I was reminded of the famous quote inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The famous quote from Leviticus 25:10 reads: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” The experience made me feel grateful but also greatly humbled.

The White House Chanukah party was not about politics, everyone knows that the Jewish community leans overwhelming democratic. The White House Chanukah party was about the success of America as much as it was about the success of the Jewish community.

I was honored to be invited, I was proud to participate.

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Two Palestines

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday December 12, 2007

Column:

Headline news on the wire services this week: Israel is moving ahead on the path towards peace with the Palestinians.

That same day, another headline: Israel is invading Gaza with armor and airplane cover.

One country, two entirely different headlines defining the Israeli attitude towards the Palestinians. It’s not that Israel is suffering from a split personality. It is that the Palestinians are coming to terms with the reality of a split population and a split nation.

The concept of a split population in a split nation was difficult for the Palestinians to accept. It has taken a very long time and cost too many lost lives but Palestinian leadership is now ready to accept the facts on the ground and able to move ahead with plans for a dis-unified but workable Palestine. It is a concept that is difficult for the West to comprehend, difficult to come to terms with, difficult to embrace. It is a concept that Israeli political and military leadership can work with and live with, perhaps, the only way for Israel and any Palestinians to live side by side in peace and harmony.

A split Palestine is a significant move towards a straight forward system within the Palestinian Authority. Fatah is Fatah and Hamas is Hamas – separate, disparate entities. From now on, when we speak of the PA, of the Palestinian Authority, we need to realize that we are speaking only of Fatah and Fatah rule of the West Bank. When we speak of Gaza we speak of Hamas and Hamas rule of that area, the land wrested away from Fatah through guns and bloodshed.

Gaza is, quite simply, a mess. It is a mess that was created by Hamas and can only be cleaned up by Hamas. Hamas controls Gaza and even though a significant segment of local Gazans are displeased with Hamas rule they are stuck with it. Fatah will not step back into the area, will not come to the rescue of the people who live in Gaza or attempt to come to their rescue. It is not in the best interests of Fatah, not in the best interests of the rest of the Palestinians, not on the agenda of Palestinian i.e. Fatah leadership.

Gaza is geographically, politically and emotionally separated from the West Bank.

Hamas is not willing to cede control of Gaza. Hamas has created an enclave that is separate and independent from the rest of the Palestinian people, an enclave that is and neither under the influence nor the rule of mainstream Palestinian leadership. Palestinian leadership under Abbas wants nothing to do with Hamas in Gaza. The ugly ousting of Fatah from Gaza this summer served to exacerbate an already strained and artificial relationship.

Abbas and Fatah will return to Gaza only after they are recognized as the legitimate leaders of the Palestinian people. Hamas will do everything possible to prevent that from happening. The people of Gaza now stand alone. No help is coming their way from Abbas and, more crucially, no help will be sent to them by the West.

Hamas is a terrorist organization and that fact is now clear to everyone, everyone including the leadership of Fatah.

In the discussions which led up to the Annapolis Summit, when the Palestinians and the Israelis were hammering out a joint document, a few words were scribbled on the bottom of an Israeli working copy. The words were: what about Gaza? The Palestinians never addressed the question. It was no longer their domain, no longer their responsibility.

Fatah is interested in creating a working relationship with Israel. Hamas is not. Hamas wants to shoot Kassam rockets into Israeli cities and towns on a daily basis. And that is why Island launched an armored incursion with air cover into Gaza. To attack the launch sites, to manage a quick fix to a deadly problem with an in-and-out raid. Not to eliminate the long term problem, simply to temporarily close down the short term problem. To put Hamas on edge. To force Hams to consider the ramifications of shooting at Israel.

And that is why Israeli leadership and Fatah leadership are working towards fulfilling the commitment they both made in Annapolis and working towards implementing the Road Map. But here too there are issues. This past week Israel starting construction in parts of Jerusalem the Palestinians lay claim to. It was a real monkey wrench thrown into the negotiations. US Secretary of State Condi Rice was livid. UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon was furious. But Israel did what it thought it must do.

In order for Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to keep his coalition together, he must make it very clear to Israelis and to those parties in his coalition to the right of center that Israel will maintain Jewish Jerusalem and most certainly, retain custody and control of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Jewish Jerusalem includes the communities that are growing around the city, like the community of Har Homa where the building is taking place. Building in Har Homa is the kind of international flack that Olmert can handle without even flinching – with the exception of the extreme right parties, Olmert has almost complete support for the action.

The Israeli prime minister will persistently and proudly continue to build and announce that he is building. But as part of his plan he will also insist that eventually, those Arab neighborhoods that surround Jerusalem will eventually compose part of the Palestinian area and become part of the Palestinian capital. The split that divides the Palestinian people is Palestinian induced, it will not be Israeli produced.

Palestinian politics are complicated. So are Israeli politics.

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IT WAS ONLY A PRE-GAME SHOW

By Micah Halpern

Monday December 3, 2007

Column:

Uriah P. Levy, a fifth generation American, left home at the age of ten to become a cabin boy on American ships. Ten years later he was fighting in the War of 1812 as a member of the United States Navy. Levy would eventually attain the rank of Commodore, the highest rank attainable in the US Navy at the period in history, equivalent to the rank of Admiral in today’s Navy.

To the distinction of Commodore, add another distinction. Uriah P. Levy was the first Jewish American to reach the rank of Commodore. The road to leadership was not smooth for Levy. He also had the distinction of being court-martialed six times, more than any other sailor in US military history. He received a total of three presidential pardons from United States presidents Monroe and Taft. Owing to his vast personal experience, President Abraham Lincoln personally appointed Levy to head the court martial board of the United States Navy.

Uriah Levy is responsible for abolishing the act of corporal punishment known as flogging in the United States Navy. He is also the man who purchased and refurbished the famed landmark Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, a man whom Levy admired for his strong belief in freedom of religion.

Uriah Phillips Levy was a man with a vision. He was a man with perspective. He suffered greatly because he was a Jew in a non-Jewish world, but he persisted and he prevailed. And because of Levy’s suffering it is much easier to be a Jew in today’s United States Armed Services. The newly-designed Jewish chapel at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland is named in memory of Uriah P. Levy.

The Levy Chapel is a magnificent structure. I had the opportunity to visit the Chapel during one of many breaks in the proceedings during the Peace Summit known as the Annapolis Conference. Hundreds of journalists from around the world attended the Conference, many of them Jewish, many of them Israeli. Tens of diplomats, career and political appointees, attended the Conference. The Chapel was open and visitors were welcome. I was the only man to walk through the large glass doors, to open the ark, to pay tribute to my religion and to a man who fought a valiant battle to maintain his religion.

I was also the only man to enter the Muslim prayer room, an interfaith room that has no markings or art work, a comfortable environment for prayer and introspection outfitted with six prayer rugs spread out on the floor in order to accommodate the many Muslim diplomats and journalists in attendance at the Annapolis Conference.

Middle East Peace Summits are usually hotbeds of tension and unrest, negotiators engaged in diplomatic combat, journalists struggling for exclusive interviews and looking for news leaks. What will Israel’s Arab counterpart demand? What will Israel abandon, give up, negotiate out? Will the United States save Israel or sell Israel out? Annapolis, in contrast, was easygoing and actually quite fun. I felt less tension and less pressure than at any previous Summit I have attended.

The stakes were minimal, the negotiations non-existent, the outcome pre-determined. Tensions are still to come, when the real negotiating begins, when real details are brought to the table, when the parties are no longer in the glare of newspaper headlines and television lights. Annapolis was the pre-game show.

The Conference was a huge success for the United States, for the moment. It was a blatant American-orchestrated affront to Iran and to the extremists in the Muslim and Arab world. The United States successfully coerced a large group of countries, including many Arab and Muslim countries, in a way that has never been done before. The United States succeeded in an unstated but implicitly understood goal of creating a behind-closed-doors groundswell of concern over Iran and Muslim Fundamentalist extremism.

The Israeli/Palestinian peace issue was just an excuse manufactured in order to deal with much larger and more significant regional and global objectives. The principles knew that going in. The Israeli team assured me that there was no pressure put on them about anything. No new commitments were made. Instead, a previous commitment, to move forward with the Road Map, was re-affirmed.

For the involved parties, the Annapolis Conference was all show. The substance was obvious only in the well-intended preparations made by the Annapolis Naval Academy itself. Like the open and welcoming chapel and the properly laid out prayer room. And like the fact that along with Navy trinkets, cold drinks and candy bars, the concession sold kosher brown bag lunches properly sealed and prominently stamped with the symbol of a reliable rabbinic authority. For $6 Jews, Muslims and even gentiles were able to buy kosher corned beef and turkey sandwiches.

What a shock that would have been to Uriah P. Levy.

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ANNAPOLIS: IT WAS ALL ABOUT RECOGNITION

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 28, 2007

Column:

Cogito Ergo Sum. I think therefore I am.

It is the simple reality of recognition. From the point of view of the United States and Israel it was the driving force behind the Annapolis Conference.

Countries, much like people, crave recognition. Even high-powered people. Even powerful countries. The United States convened the Annapolis Conference not to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but to gain recognition and acceptance by the very countries that had refused to acknowledge the greatness of the greatest country in the world. The United States wanted, needed, craved, recognition by Arab and Muslim countries. And the United States succeeded.

At the Annapolis Conference the United States changed long-held policy. When it comes to the Middle East the United States is no longer a defender of Israel, the United States is now diplomatically and officially an even handed deal maker.

This change is significant. It made all the difference in the world to the Arab and Muslim nations attending the Conference, it was why these countries attended the Conference. Yes, Arab and Muslim countries will always believe that the United States is a protector of Israel, but along with that belief comes a new view that the US will, when necessary, abandon a friend i.e. Israel for the greater good. It is a concept that Arab countries will applaud, but never adhere to themselves.

Arab and Muslim countries came to Washington and then to Annapolis in order to recognize the Palestinians. Amongst themselves, the Arab/Muslim world has no significant interest in the Palestinians or in Palestinians statehood. It is not high up on the general priority list. But amongst strangers, the outside world, the United States of America, they had to band together in recognition of brethren.

Arab and Muslim nations needed to cross the world and come to Annapolis solely to bolster Palestinian credibility in the international arena. Along the way, they paid tribute and respect to the United States by offering recognition to an outsider, non Arab/Muslim country, showing interest in the Palestinians. As for the Palestinians, they are too insecure and too insignificant to advance on a peace initiative without the supervision and approval of mainstream leadership.

Without that recognition, Palestinians cease to exist. Lucky for them, one of the holiest sites in the Muslim world, al Aqsa, adorns the city of Jerusalem. It is because of al Aqsa, because the Palestinians are the gate keepers of al Aqsa, that the Muslim world takes interest in and partial responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians.

The most obvious Muslim Arab country not in attendance in Annapolis, not even invited to Annapolis, is Iran. The Annapolis Conference was a direct assault against Iran. One of the foremost goals of Iranian leadership is to drive a wedge between every Muslim and Arab nation and the United States and to build bridges between Muslims world over to unite against both the US and Israel.

The Annapolis Conference was a major setback for the Iranian agenda. Future US success with the Arab and Muslim world vis a vis Iran is not immediately quantifiable, but for the moment, the success was significant. Iran was not only not recognized, it was dissed. Iran was not only not recognized, it was minimized. Iran was not only not recognized, it was neglected.

Because of the US Sponsored Annapolis Conference Israel, a country that craves recognition from the Arab and Muslim world received de facto recognition from the Arab and Muslim world. That so many Arab countries sat together in a room with Israel discussing Israel and the Palestinians, discussing rapprochement, discussing borders and discussing the future means, de facto, that they recognize the very existence of the Jewish state in the Middle East.

Syria attended the Conference specifically to make certain that such policy not apply, it was a condition for Syrian attendance. They wanted to make certain that their issue, the Golan Heights, be dealt with. But what they really wanted was to make certain that the recognition of Israel not be discussed.

In the end, Israel was recognized, but Israeli recognition came with a price. Recognition is all that the Arab and Muslim world can give Israel. The United States gave Israel friendship and support. That friendship can no longer be taken for granted, the United States has new friends to play with.

Friends come and friends go. And in Annapolis Israel was sent up the Severn River without a paddle.

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ANNAPOLIS: SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 21, 2007

Column:

The whole Annapolis Conference scene is getting way out of hand. This is not, as the saying goes, brain surgery. It is diplomacy. And the men and women arranging, re-arranging, negotiating, not negotiating, grandstanding, foot stomping and name calling are all supposed to be diplomats. Not just diplomats, seasoned diplomats.

So what’s the problem? Emotion has gotten in the way of sound diplomatic reasoning. Hopes have replaced reality. Expectations have exceeded the norm.

So who’s to blame for the problem? All three parties are to blame. The United States for setting out goals which are doomed to fail. The Palestinians for not taking any of this seriously enough to actually make either commitments or concessions. Israel for going along with this charade in the first place.

So why not just fix the problem? Because none of the parties will own up to the problem. Because each of the three principle parties has a private agenda and neither the United States nor the Palestinians nor Israel are willing to share that agenda with the others. Each country is guided by an unwritten, unarticulated and unannounced agenda. Until those agenda are given voice and shared there will be no progress between Palestinian and Israelis. Until a focused, agreed upon objective is put forth there will be no significant change in the in the status quo. No progress will be made, not in Annapolis, not in Jerusalem, not anywhere.

Let’s begin with the United States, the host nation, the Conference sponsor. There has been a lot of talk about the need to create a Bush legacy, about the need to save face in the context of a failed Iraqi policy. If only that were so, if only that was the motivation behind the Annapolis Conference, expectations would have been lowered and goals might be realized. But all that has little to do with this Conference.

The most essential reason for the Annapolis Conference is the rebirth of the United States secretary of state. At long last, Condoleezza Rice is beginning to understand the region. She sees changes. She infers from those changes that this is the moment for greater change. She allows herself to believe that the time has come to create a solution to the years old and dragging on Israeli/Palestinian conflict. She thinks that she has regional support for the cause. She is wrong and with that as her goal she has set herself up to fail.

In an interesting aside, however, the Annapolis Conference will bring success of another type to the United States. More than the Israeli/Palestinian issue, the United States is concerned, nay worried, one might even say obsessive about the question of Iran.

In Annapolis the United States will be host to about forty other nations, many of them member nations of the Arab and Muslim world. This Conference will prove to the Iranians that the enemy United States can hold sway over those nations that Iran depends on most. That is success. Peace between the Palestinians and Israel will take longer to achieve.

Now let’s look at Israel. The Israelis are in a very different situation. The Israelis are principle players at this Conference, but they are guests, not hosts, in Annapolis. They have nearly no leverage and almost no power. All the Israelis really want is peace, but this time around, Israel is not willing to give too much away in order to obtain that peace.

Israel has learned a lesson from previous peace summits and conferences. The more Israel gives away, the less Israel gets in return. Experience has taught Israeli leadership that their gestures have been in vain. Yes, they have won approbation from various other countries, but they have come not one bit closer to peace with the Palestinians. Israel is looking for a gentleman’s agreement right now. A firm hand shake and the deal is closed. Peace for the sake of peace.

So why is Israel attending the Annapolis Conference when none of that is about to happen? Because Israel has no choice. When the United States extends an invitation, you respond and you respond positively.

Now let’s look at the Palestinians. The Palestinians are in a win-win or loose-loose situation. The choice is theirs but they have not yet figured out how to play their own game. The Palestinians want everything and they have nothing to give in order to get it. They are making more and more demands and living up to fewer and fewer commitments.

So why are the Palestinians attending the Annapolis Conference? Not because they have to, because they want to. The Palestinians are hoping to take advantage of the other nations present at the Conference and enlist them in the effort to pressure the United States and Israel to make even more concessions. In short, the Palestinians want to take advantage of the situation to satisfy their own goal. And their goal is not peace.

The single, unanimously accepted, document that could bring the parties together – the document that the United States was hoping to produce in Annapolis, is not about to happen. The ultimate, unrealistic, hope. The ultimate failure. Are there any bright spots for Annapolis? I checked the weather forecast. They are not predicting snow.

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ANNAPOLIS, BEWARE

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday November 13, 2007

Column:

Downtown Annapolis is quaint, quiet and picturesque. The town square is host to a child friendly statue of Alex Haley, reminiscent of Central Park’s Alice In Wonderland and Albert Einstein relaxing in Washington, D.C. The streets are lined with taffy and ice cream parlors, hat stores and souvenir shops. Boats dock in the harbor. The statehouse sits on a manicured lawn and cannons used long ago dot the landscape. The naval academy rests in the background. Annapolis is as charming as it is historic.

In a few days, charm will all but disappear in Annapolis, Maryland. History of another kind will be made. Annapolis, a former capitol of the United States, will join the growing list of venues chosen by the United States to host Middle East Peace Summits. And the hope that this Summit fares better than previous Summits is quickly diminishing.

If the United States is to be accused of anything, it is for trying and trying hard. If Israel is to be accused of anything it is for bungling small issues and turning them into international incidents. If the Palestinians are to be accused of anything it is for just not getting it, not getting it at all.

Invitations to the last major world event of calendar year 2007 haven’t even gone out and the squabbling and the quibbling and the insults have turned vicious.

On Saturday the Palestinians called US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to complain. The complaint was that Israel had reneged on a deal, that Israel was no longer planning to participate in the high level trilateral meetings that had been agreed upon earlier in the week. Complaining to the United States is a little obvious and smacks of grandstanding since the three countries involved in the “tri” lateral talks were the Palestinians, Israel and the United States and the US would know what was happening, but I take the complaint as a good, even positive sign.

This early tattling is actually an indicator that the Palestinians are really planning to attend, despite the protestations we have heard and will probably continue to hear. It indicates that the Palestinians have accepted the United States as mediator. It indicates that the Palestinians are searching for tools to be used in the negotiating process. In order for there to be any modicum of success at Annapolis, both the Palestinians and Israelis must feel that they can complain to the host, even about minutia, especially early in the process, in order to keep the process going. And it means that both sides can expect the United States to keep the other honest, to live up to their respective ends of the deal.

I hope that the Secretary of State took the Palestinian complaint seriously, not in content, but in style. The most glaring explanation for past failed agreements between Palestinians and Israelis traces directly back to failed follow-through. There has never been an authoritative, outside party forcing the parties to adhere to agreed upon principles. Maybe Annapolis can change that. Maybe that is how the Annapolis Summit will make history. But first, the sides have to get there.

On Sunday Israel committed what is referred to in the Middle East in Arabic as a major “fashla” – a big, awful, mistake. We would use the acronym SNAFU. For reasons still unknown a senior Palestinian negotiator, on his way to sit down at a negotiating table, was denied entry into Israel. That should never have happened. What should have been a simple border crossing turned into a door slammed shut.

The United States and Israel have secured a very important Annapolis pre-requisite from the Palestinians that they will work on their Security front. The Palestinians are negligent and too lax when it comes to matters of security and now, in this important instance, Israel can be accused of misplaced, too stringent security.

Security lies at the heart of the matter. If Palestinians actually take charge and attempt to bring some safety and security to their own areas the door to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians allowing for a Palestinian state will automatically open. The United States will make certain of that. I am careful to use the words “attempt” and “some” here. No country can expect 100% success, but 100% effort can certainly be expected. But this is not new. And yet, today’s Palestinian leaders, the men who hold the key to this door, are unwilling and unable to insert the key into the lock and swing open the door.

We know that Hamas has no problem activating their armed militia to attack Palestinians. Why is it so difficult for Abbas to control his security forces? On the third anniversary of Arafat’s demise a mausoleum was erected in Ramallah. In attendance were Abbas and other Fatah leaders. At the site, in front of witnesses, only days ago, these Fatah members swore to continue the vision Arafat set forth for the Palestinian people, for his people. Have Abbas and company forgotten the Arafat legacy so quickly? Arafat had no problem using brute force, at whim, to squelch his opponents. Arafat realized that he would get more by saying yes than by saying maybe. Abbas is a leader, unlike Arafat, who refuses to clamp down internally and then blames outside forces for his problems.

The United States is still trying. Egypt is trying. Egypt gets it and Egypt has convinced Saudi Arabia of the importance of Annapolis for the sake of the Palestinians. Syria is seriously considering coming, but nor for the sake of the Palestinians, for their own sake. Syria will attend only if the Golan Heights are under discussion. Israel says no way. The United States says please come.

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TO BE OR NOT TO BE? THE ANNAPOLIS CONFERENCE

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 7, 2007

Column:

The Annapolis Conference will take place. I say this despite the numerous rumors flying around on both sides of the Atlantic about the future of the Palestinian/Israeli Washington hosted forum for negotiations and meeting. The Annapolis Conference will not be cancelled. Actually the invitations will go out next Friday.

I speak with confidence on this issue for one simple reason. The invitation to appear in Annapolis was proffered by the president of the United States of America, and like it or not, like him or not, he is still one of the most powerful people in this world. When the President of the United States extends an invitation it is a command performance, and protocol demands that one always RSVP in the affirmative.

Certainly, there are reasons not to pack up, travel thousands of miles and arrive in Annapolis, Maryland. But they are just excuses, tools used by both sides to ratchet up the pressure on the other side. They are vehicles for leaders to prove to constituents that they are working on their behalf, protecting their interests, dealing from a position of strength. They are negotiating tricks, media manipulation techniques, intentional distortions of the vox populi in order to raise the level of expectation for this Conference so high that negotiator participants can then say things like, “my people will never go for that” or “I can’t sell that back home.”

Over the past few weeks, in fact, ever since the Conference was first announced and was scheduled to take place right now, in mid November, both the Palestinians and the Israelis have threatened to pull out. Israelis have said that weapons continue to be smuggled into Gaza from Egypt which is a clear signal that neither Palestinians nor Egyptians have any real interest in a true and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians are saying that if there is no real, significant, tangible outcome from the Annapolis Conference the result will be another uncontrolled and uncontrollable Intifada, that the streets will be filled with riots and disorder, that chaos will rule. The Palestinians are placing responsibility for the outcome of this Conference squarely on the Israelis. It is up to Israel to cede to Palestinian demands. It is up to the United States to see to it that Israel cedes to Palestinian demands.

Or else.

Palestinian leadership has begun to present several Annapolis Conference ultimatums. A senior Palestinian official has said that no Conference is better than failure. He continued by saying “however if we do participate, we expect the US and the Quartet to pressure Israel heavily, so as not to allow the Summit to hurt Abbas’ image or become a weapon in the Palestinian opposition’s hands.” And then he added “if the Conference fails, this would be the last nail in the coffin of negotiations. The public’s faith in the diplomatic process is nonexistent as it is, and any failure in the summit would turn the process into a corpse.”

Those are serious threats.

US chief diplomat Condi Rice has made numerous trips over the last month to the region for the express purpose of lowering these all or nothing expectations and asking Palestinian leadership to stop this do or die rhetoric. Apparently, these efforts by the secretary of state fell on seriously self-interested and deaf ears. The statements made by leading Palestinians merely serve to highlight how ginormous the gap is between the way Palestinians view the purpose and focus of the Annapolis Conference and the way the United States and Israelis see this Conference.

For the United States and Israel Annapolis is a starting point not an end point. For the Palestinians and their allies, it is everything. It is such an important part of the process for Israel that both the Israeli prime minister and the Israeli minister of defense have expressed the hope that Syria, a sworn enemy of Israel, will attend and participate. Why? Not to talk about the Golan Heights, but to discuss the Palestinians. Israel believes that Syria is part of the region and therefore, for that reason alone, the Syrians should have a role in how the future of the Palestinians plays out.

Obviously, the United States wants to claim success in the Middle East to counter the prolonged quagmire of Iraq.

Obviously, the United States feels that a special relationship has developed with both sides, with both Israel and with the Palestinians, and the United States wants to enable both countries in cobbling out an agreement.

Obviously, there are only thirteen and a half months left in the Bush presidency and George Bush and his government are searching for accomplishment on the Middle East front.

The reality, however, is that in the Middle East one step forward and two steps back has become the rule. And that is why, while I believe that the Annapolis Conference will obviously take place, I am not at all confident of the outcome.

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A NUCLEAR CHAIN REACTION

By Micah Halpern

Thursday November 1, 2007

Column:

Think of it as a chain reaction, a deadly chain reaction, a nuclear chain reaction.

Iranian nuclear proliferation sends ripples around the world and chills down my spine. Iran just won’t stop. And there is no country in the world today that is both willing to intervene and capable of making Iran stop. Those countries willing to intervene, the United States, Great Britain and France, are all ignored. Iran just laughs. Those countries capable of making Iran stop, Russia and China, are instead aiding and abetting. Rather than asking Iran to slow down Russia and China, the only countries with power over Iran, are – either actively or benignly – helping Iran pursue the goal of nuclear proliferation.

I understand why Iran so wants nuclear energy. Iran wants to rule the world and this is one very significant step in the process. I understand why Russia and China are helping Iran. It works for them. For Russia, it is the ability to make money by selling product and technology. For China it is the satisfaction of knowing that the United States and all Western allies are spinning wheels and getting absolutely nowhere.

Even the Arab world is up-in-arms over Iran. The Arab world is divided, us against them, Shiites versus Sunnis, Shiite Iran versus Sunni everyone else. The Arab world is thinking: if Shiite Iran can become nuclear, so can we. Not only can we, but we must. The Sunni world must be at least as nuclear-ly capable as Iran. Or more so. If they can develop nuclear energy so can we. If they can take the next step and develop atomic weapons, so must we. And we must do it first and do it better.

So Sunni countries are developing nuclear facilities, it is the newest Sunni trend in the Middle East. The Egyptian daily al Ahram has revealed that Egypt has begun planning and developing the first of eight nuclear plants. The Egyptians anticipate that the entire endeavor will take eight years. Egypt already has one nuclear reactor, but it is very old and has been cited by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and needs to either be shut down or totally revamped. Egypt is reacting to Iran’s nuclear reactor.

The list goes on. Jordan has announced the desire to develop nuclear energy. Saudi Arabia is investigating the development of nuclear energy. And intelligence sources and the IAEA have confirmed that Syria has been developing a small 27 kilowatt reactor. Development began in 2001 and continued until only recently. It is all in reaction to Iran’s nuclear development.

Iran has stated very clearly that one of their goals is to use their own nuclear know-how to help other countries develop nuclear power. By other countries, they mean other countries friendly to Iran, they certainly have no intention of helping the West. Iran intends to cheaply export the process of nuclear capability to friends and neighbors. Iran wants every nation to be able to exercise the right to nuclear energy.

That explains why Russia is so in favor of nuclear growth within Iran. Russia views Iran as the perfect client. Russia exports all the nuclear goods that are necessary for Iran and all other interested parties to become nuclear players. Russia exports the product, provides the technology and co-ordinates the training in one package deal.

China just refuses to get involved. When China does express any interest in Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capability, it is to side with Iran. China sees the entire situation as the perfect jab at the United States and at Western interests – and that makes China very happy. As the largest consumer of oil in the world, China does not want to disturb the flow of oil that reaches her shores via Iran. For now, China can chuckle about the diplomatic tug-of-war being waged between Iran and the West, but eventually, that will change and eventually, China will be forced to intercede.

Nuclear technology in the hands of pseudo-responsible and totally irresponsible nations increases tensions in the region. And increased tensions lead to instability. And instability leads to an increase in the price of oil. And that is what China does not want. When you add to that the possibility of Middle East dictators and monarchs being overthrow, much as it happened in the Soviet Union, China has cause for eventual worry.

After the fall of the Soviet Union nuclear technology fell into the hands of corrupt money making business people and from there made its way into the open market. The United States spent enormous amounts of both energy and money running after illicit nuclear technology on the black market – doing everything possible to prevent nuclear technology from falling into the hands of terrorists and rogue nations. The precedent has been set. The similarities between the Soviet approach to nuclear proliferation and the Iranian approach are glaring.

China is the only country that can break the chain. Iran understands that. China is an impartial force. China is not in the pocket of the United States and the United States has virtually no influence over China. Russia will do anything for money and Russia’s current position is dependent upon the amount of pressure that the United States applies. China does not have that dependency. China does not have that pressure.

China does things when China wants to do things, China moves according to an internal Chinese timetable. Israel’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni just returned from a trip to China. Livni reported that she saw no sign of a change in China’s attitude toward Iran’s nuclear development and no move towards expanding sanctions against Iran. Right now China does not want to stop Iran, but soon it will have to.

We must be vigilant. We must be patient. We must wait for China. As scary as that appears, it is the only way to stop the chain of nuclear proliferation instigated by Iran.

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THE SCHOOL OF EXTREME HATRED

By Micah Halpern

Thursday October 25, 2007

Column:

Every child in this world should be entitled to an education. In the United States, every child is.

In the United States the question is not: whom should we educate. The question is rather: how should we educate.

In Fairfax, VA, a stone’s throw away from Washington D.C., the freedom capitol of the world, there exists a school that has chosen to teach hatred – pure, evil, hatred. And that hatred is directed at you and me.

One thousand students, spread over two campuses, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, are enrolled in a Saudi sponsored school in Fairfax County. The school adheres to the educational model followed in Saudi Arabia. And even though some modifications have been made to the curriculum this is a school that preaches and teaches hatred of Jews, Christian and all Muslim non-believers.

Only fifteen miles away from the White House, the Washington Monument and the Capitol Rotunda there is an educational facility sponsored and funded by the Saudi government. Only minutes away from the Smithsonian Institute is an educational facility under the direction and influence of the Wahabi sect of Sunni Muslim.

The Wahabi sect should be familiar to all Americans. Products of the Wahabi educational experience have made their mark on our country. Wahabi is an extremist Muslim sect. Fifteen of the nineteen 9-11 hijacker terrorists were products of a Wahabi education. Ahmad Amar abu Ali, the man who in 2005 was arrested for and convicted of planning to assassinate President George Bush was not only a product of Wahabi schooling, he was class valedictorian in the Fairfax school. Abu Ali’s plan was part of an al Qaeda plot, he joined al Qaeda while a university student in Saudi Arabia.

The School is called The Islamic Saudi Academy. Defenders of the Academy claim that only about 28% of the student body is Saudi, but make no mistake about it, those 28% along with the remaining 72% are all getting a true Saudi/Wahabi education. This is definitely a Saudi school. The chairman of the school board is Turki Fasial al Saud, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States. Despite the alterations made to the school curriculum, the school’s website still emphasizes the fact that, in general, The Islamic Saudi Academy located in Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the proud 50 states, still follows the curriculum of the Saudi ministry of education.

We all know that there are religious schools in this country. We know that there are private, special interest schools in this country. The problem with The Islamic Saudi Academy is that it takes educational preaching and moralizing to the extreme. Students are not taught simply to hate non-believers, they are taught extreme hatred. The hatred the students are exposed to goes beyond the typical hatred that Muslims in other schools are taught for Jews and Christians. At The Islamic Saudi Academy students are taught that Jews came from apes and that Christians came from swine. They are taught that once upon a time Jews were believers, but now they do not believe.

Trust and friendship are concepts that occupy a large chunk of the curriculum. By twisting truth and narrowly defining friendship pathways to hatred are opened for the students.

The school teaches:
That trusted friends can only be Muslim.
That even family members, if they are non-believers, have nothing in common with you and should be abandoned or ignored.
That people further away from you geographically and culturally are truly closer to you than the family you live with if your family does not believe.
That one should never establish a close and trusted friendship with a non-Muslim.

Ninth and twelfth grade curricula heavily emphasize the concept of Jihad, of holy war, and the obligation to fight and destroy the enemy and the non-Muslim. There are no grey areas in Saudi schools, it is all black and white and it is all reinforced in classroom assignments, papers and homework.

To those who claim that The Islamic Saudi Academy is an example of freedom of religion and freedom of speech and that it is our responsibility to protect those freedoms even if we do not agree with their content I say – wrong.

Education is mandated by the federal government and the federal government delegates the states and the states empower the counties and school districts to provide education. There are standards – even for private schools. No court should permit a school whose curriculum flies in the face of the very premise of freedom to continue to teach those lessons. The teaching of extreme hatred cannot be allowed to continue in our country, not even in a school sponsored by a foreign government, not even in a school sponsored by private funds. Even if the Saudis pull back to avoid a public black eye and private people pick up the financial slack this school should not be allowed to remain open as long as the present curriculum is in use.

Education should open doors, not slam them in someone else’s face.

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A WIN – WIN – WIN FOR RUSSIA

By Micah Halpern

Thursday October 18, 2007

Column:

President Vladimir Putin of Russia was in Iran. The ostensible reason for this meeting cum summit between Russia and Iran was to make an attempt at ratcheting down rapidly rising Western tension over Iran’s nuclear aspirations and nuclear development. At least, that’s the way the meeting was presented before Putin’s arrival in Teheran.

Once the Russian leader was actually in Iran, meeting with Iranian leaders and making public statements, a different agenda emerged. It immediately became evident that both the Russians and the Iranians were pleased with the way in which their relationship is progressing and the deals they are making. Watch out world. When Russia and Iran pose for the camera and smile it is a signal for the rest of us to worry.

In an interview with Iranian national television Putin declared that Russia would stand by its commitment to Iran and complete construction on the Iranian nuclear reactor at Busher. Putin explained away the many delays and work stoppages on the construction project by saying the obstacles were the result only of “legal and technological problems” and of faulty equipment provided to the Iranians by Germany.

And in an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency Iranian leader Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying: “Iran is ready to cooperate with Russia in building the second and third units at Busher.”

What Putin and Ahmadinejad are really saying is that political pressure, meaning pressure applied on Russia by the United States to halt construction of the plant, had no effect whatsoever. No effect on Russia and no effect on Iran. It is as if they are saying “Ha, ha, America and your Western allies, so there. We will continue to do what we want, however we want to do it.”

That wasn’t enough. Russia and Iran felt the need to publicly ridicule the United States even more. Putin also met with The Supreme Leader of Iran the Ayatollah Khamenei. That meeting, too, was successful. And in the course of their meeting, as was publicly recorded, the Ayatollah told Putin that “the interest of Russia lies in a powerful and influential Iran.” And then the Ayatollah continued to underscore that Iran rejects anyone who stands up to them. Once again, anyone, in this case, refers expressly to the United States.

So far, in this visit, there was a promise to work on a nuclear plant, a not-so-veiled threat against the United States. Then came a move to dramatically improve Iran’s conventional, military weaponry.

The Russian daily Kommersant, an economic paper akin to the Wall Street Journal, carried a story saying that before leaving Teheran Putin would close on a $150 million deal for Iran to buy fifty RD-33 turbo-thrust engines from the Russians.

Certainly, the Russian-made engines would be a significant upgrade to Iran’s fighter jet situation as it now exists. But right now, that’s not the point. Iran now uses a fighter jet called the Azarakhsh. The Azarakhsh, which translates to mean “lightening” in Persian, is totally Iranian-made and designed. Having a Russian-made engine will be a huge improvement. The Iranians created this aircraft in 1997 by reverse engineering the US F-4, F-5 and F-14 fighter jets. One of Iran’s biggest gripes is that they cannot get spare parts for the US airplanes because the US will not sell spare parts to Iran. Continuing to use their own plane and equipping it with an engine from Russia is an end around the real problem.

Russia makes believe that they are cognizant of the dangers they are sponsoring by sprucing up Iran’s military machine, but they are empty words. Russia claims that they demand that papers be signed pledging that the weapons will not be used as offense but only as defensive tools and that they not be used as weapons of terror. But look who is signing. Syria signed a Russian document and then turned around and sent the weapons off to Hezbollah.

Russia has not surprised anyone during this meeting. Russia is an Iranian advocate. Putin made that very clear only last week in a meeting with French President Sarkozy. The French and Russian leaders had a public disagreement over Iran’s intentions and objectives. Putin came to the defense of Iran saying, in essence, that we do not know Iran’s objectives and until we know that Iran aspires to develop nuclear weapons we cannot assume that they will.

For Russia it is a win-win-win situation.
Win # 1: Russia is a sponsor of the Iranian nuclear plants.
Win # 2: Russia has very little it can export other than technology and weapons and for those items, Iran is the perfect client. Iran has the money and Iran has the need.
Win # 3: Russia does not care about anything other than Russia’s own bottom line.

For Russia, winning is what it’s all about.

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THE BIG LIE, 34 YEARS LATER

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday October 10, 2007

Column:

Not many countries celebrate defeat. Syria does. Not many countries want to be reminded of grossly embarrassing encounters.

Syria is celebrating Israel’s victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It’s a celebration with a twist. While the rest of the world records Israel’s October 1973 victory over Syria and Egypt, Syrian historians, Syria’s military and most importantly Syria’s president Bashar Assad tell another story. The Syrians have re-written history. And in their version, Syria emerged victorious against the enemy Israel.

Delusional is the word that comes to mind. But for Syria, properly placed myths and choreographed delusions are often a very effective propaganda tool.

Israelis commemorated Yom Kippur in synagogues across the country. This past Saturday, over the border in Damascus, Syrian crowds cheered and waved flags in parades sponsored by the government in celebration of their great victory against the Israelis in the Yom Kippur War. In Arabic the celebration is called Harb October or Harb Tishrin. Harb means battle, October is October and Tishrin is the name of the Arabic month during which the war was waged. Sometimes, it is simply called the ’73 War.

There is no historical doubt that Syria, as a country and Assad, as president, are totally re-writing history. Yes, for the first few hours of the ’73 War it appeared that Israel was caught with their fatigues down – but within 48 hours Israel had repelled both the Syrian and the Egyptian armies and Israeli soldiers were on their way to Cairo and Damascus.

By the time the armistice was signed at the end of October Israelis were only miles away from the Syrian and Egyptian capitals.

Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, was fond of saying – in the most profound of ways – that the big lie actually works. He believed that as a rule, people are gullible. That if a lie is repeated often enough and with enough conviction, especially if it is voiced by those believed to have authority the people will believe the lie. Syrian leaders and Egyptian leaders are proof that Goebbels was not telling a lie. Both Syria and Egypt have actually erected monuments commemorating victory over Israel in October, 1973.

Bashar Assad is not the inventor of The Big Lie of ’73. His father was. As the situation began to change, as it became more obvious to Syria’s leaders that they were losing ground, Hafez Assad made the decision to prevent the Arab press from covering the war. Arab reports of the war from day one and day two are accurate and historical – the Arabs were winning. Arab reports beginning day 3 of the Yom Kippur war are pure fiction. There is no mention of the fact that the Israelis had taken the advantage, no mention that by the conclusion of the war Israel had defeated the Arab armies of Syria, Egypt and Iraq. There was no mention because the media was given no access, they were fed information and the information they were fed was false.

Syrian and Egyptian leaders had to lie. Their lives and kingdoms are not built on reality, their lives and kingdoms are built on Arab pride. If the people knew that their armies lost a war to Israel they would have been shamed. Blame would have fallen on the shoulders of their leaders. Control would be lost. Countries would be destabilized. And heads, quite literally, would roll.

Time marches on, but Syrian politics remains unchanged. Here we are, 34 years later, and Bashar Assad is still pumping up Syrians. He is saying that we did it in ’73 and we can do it in ’07. He is saying that we the Syrians can still defeat Israel. As proof, he is using another piece of altered history. He is citing the Lebanese war with Israel that took place this past summer. He is recalling the message that rang clear throughout the Muslim world that Israel can be hurt badly, that Israel can be defeated.

Bashar Assad knows the truth about the Yom Kippur War of ’73. He understands the realities of today. He is conveying a warped reality to his people for a purpose. Assad is laying the groundwork for a Syrian offensive against Israel.

The Saturday editorial in Al Tishrin, a Syrian government-sponsored daily, named after the Syrian victory in the October War reads: “there will be no real resurrection for the Arabs unless they recapture the glorious spirit of October, which demonstrated our people’s courage and willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice. Our brave leaders went on to secure the Arab victory and on the 34th anniversary of this glorious Arab war we must pay homage to our deceased leader Hafez al-Assad … what the Arabs need now is not to pine for October’s war but to regain its political, military and financial principles.”

Glory? Victory? Principles? The Syrians lost!

But the lies work!

The lies, the delusions and the conspiracies now emanating from Damascus and Cairo are dangerous, explosive, motivational tools. Assad and Mubarak are preparing for war against Israel. In the Arab world leaders do not create illusions and tell lies in order to bring about peace. Sadly, it is always about war.

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LIES, LIES AND MORE LIES

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday October 3, 2007

Column:

If you are going to tell a lie, it had better be convincing.

If you are going to tell a big lie, it had better be very convincing.

If you are going to tell a bunch of lies, they had better be consistent.

Syria has been lying about the events of September 6th, the day of the pre-dawn Israeli aerial raid into Syria ever since September 6th. Lying, lying again and then lying a third time. Yes attack, no attack, yes attack. This is how it all breaks down:

Lie # 1: Syria claims to have shot at Israeli aircraft forcing Israeli fighter jets to back down and return home fearing for their lives.

Lie # 2: Syria claims that no Israeli attack took place at all.

Lie # 3: Syria claims that there was an Israeli attack but insists that the strike was against nothing but empty buildings.

The claim that Syria sent Israel back home defeated and cowering, Lie # 1, sounded so preposterous that analysts immediately began to question the entire story. Lo and behold they discovered that not only did Israel not run away, but there was no anti-aircraft activity in the area at all. Analysts determined that there was, however, evidence that Israeli rockets had been shot and had landed in Syrian territory. Ejected fuel tanks from Israeli fighters were discovered in nearby Turkey.

No surprise, the Syrians had lied.

If you are Syria and you have been caught in a lie and if the people you have been lying about, i.e. your enemy Israel are remaining uncharacteristically quiet and restrained about the entire incident you are left with but one recourse. Lie again.

And that is how Lie # 2, the claim that there was never any attack at all, came into being. By this time, the Arabic press had run with the story and American media had picked it up, but that made to difference to the Syrians. It was time to spin another story. Syria and friends decided to change the venue.
Instead of talking about an aerial attack Syria mounted a media attack against Israel and the United States. Syrian leaders began pushing the idea that no Israeli attack took place at all, that is was all fabricated, a myth. Ignoring the fact that they were the ones who first let out the story, Syrian voices shouted that these deliberately propagated myths were proof of the true intentions of Israel and the US in the Middle East region. They said that Israel and the United States have only one interest – continuing war, not peace. They said, and they are still saying, that the US sponsored and proposed Middle East peace conference scheduled for November in Annapolis, Maryland is no more than a tool to help the United States and Israel.

The Arab League collaborated with Syria, supporting the new party line by issuing statements about how the attack on Syria never happened, that it was all an Israeli fiction. An Arab league spokesman was even quoted in a-Sharq al-Awsat, a London Arabic newspaper, saying “These are just fantasies and part of the wartime psychology being waged in the Middle East. Talk of Israel violating Syria’s airspace is all mean(t) to rehabilitate Israel’s deterrence after the war in Lebanon.” As if that was not enough, the Syrians brought forth people living in the area of the supposed attack, had them interviewed in the Arabic press and had them saying that they never saw any planes, heard any missiles or witnessed any explosions.

But that wasn’t enough. On Monday night, October 1st, Lie # 3 was born.

Syrian President Bashar Assad in an interview, in English, with the BBC, acknowledged the Israeli attack but insisted that the strike was against empty buildings. He said that the attack showed Israel’s “visceral antipathy towards peace.”

The plan worked. Someone took note.

The spin in the Arab world influenced Israel. On Tuesday, October 2nd, Israel lifted the ban the military censor had put on the events of September 6th. Official Israelis, not just Bibi Netanyahu, were ready to talk about the raid. Netanyahu had grabbed local headlines claiming he was a major part of the decision to strike Syria and he was the only one who actually acknowledged the Israeli raid, but his statements were seen by Israelis for exactly what they were political grandstanding, an opportunity to grab voters. What Bibi said meant nothing – now it was official.

The military censor permitted the release of a single line officially confirming that Israel struck Syria. That was all, they gave no other official details. Under different circumstances one line would be a tease, it would open the flood gates and leaks would come pouring in. Not this time, not yet.

Over the next few weeks far more material will be released about the events of September 6th. They have to, or Syria will have the upper hand in the aerial raid propaganda war. Neither the United States nor Israel wants that to happen. The Syrians know their audience. They are playing to an audience that believes them and distrusts Israel. It is an audience that truly believes that the United States and Israel conspire to trick and exploit the Arab world. It is a world that can never be convinced that it is Syria behind the trickery and that the US and Israel are trying to create some kind of rapprochement. The true story line is difficult to sell in the Middle East.

If you are going to tell a lie, hope it doesn’t backfire.

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HE CAME TO DISSEMINATE EVIL

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 26, 2007

Column:

Busy Americans need to move on, to change topics of discussions, to always get fresh material. “Been there, done that” is almost a mantra. But sometimes, some events are so important that we do ourselves a disservice not to keep them at the forefront of our minds and in our conversations for a little while longer than usual.

Like the visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to our fair and free country.

Ostensibly, Ahmadinejad came to deliver a speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations. Along the way he detoured and delivered a speech at Columbia University. He made some pit stops and granted a few much coveted interviews to the media. Ostensibly. The United Nations was his entree. Columbia University was his silver platter.

In truth, Ahmadinejad came with one agenda item, he came to disseminate evil. And his mission was successful.

To look at the visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from a Western perspective, which we do so naturally, is to misunderstand what this Iranian leader is all about. To understand Ahmadinejad at all, we must view the world from his own perspective. Only then do we have a chance at understanding the impact Ahmadinejad made and the results he has garnered.

American students might have been in his audience at Columbia, but they were not the audience to which he was preaching. Western heads of state and diplomats might have looked up and listened and listened and listened while he stood at the UN podium and delivered his message, but Ahmadinejad himself was looking way beyond this international forum. Ahmadinejad was focused on the Muslim world and the Muslim world exclusively.

Today’s leader of Iran was emulating a long history of Muslim leaders, men who extended their hands to the citizens in the lands of their enemies. Ahmadinejad was trying to show the entire Muslim world that he can stand in the heart of the largest, most cultured city of the enemy and speak his mind. His mind. There is nothing PC about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In the Muslim world this visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the United States during the month of September in the year 2007 will be considered one of Islam’s greatest victories, a historical pinnacle. The Muslim world has already begun talking and writing about this precise slice of history.

Ahmadinejad wanted to go to ground zero for the same reason he elected to make this pilgrimage to the city of his enemy. He was hoping to make a statement to the Muslim world and to Europe. He was saying that he feels for the American people but rejects United States leadership and policy – especially US policy in the Middle East.

From the perspective of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Israel and the United States are the reasons that there is terror. If you removed the interfering nuisances called the United States and Israel from the Middle East, terror would go away. That was, by the way, the motivation behind the Holocaust Denial conference that Ahmadinejad hosted in Teheran. This Iranian leader wants to change the narrative of the Holocaust. The entire Arab and Persian Middle East believes that Israel exists because of the Holocaust, that if there was no Holocaust then there would be no historical or ethical reason for Israel to exist.

From the perspective of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad there is no reason for the United States to be the most powerful country in the world. That right, in his gestalt, belongs to Iran. Ahmadinejad does not, he cannot, understand why it is the agenda set by the United States that runs the world. He does not understand why America is permitted to interfere in the sovereign decisions of other countries. Unfortunately, he is not alone. The message that Ahmadinejad is sending out to the Muslim world has the attention of other American-hating countries. The message resounds very loudly and very clearly for other American-hating leaders. That explains the intellectual nexus between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Why can’t we develop nuclear energy, asks Ahmadinejad. And he answers, it is our right! How will the US provide us with the fuel we need, he asks, when they do not even provide us with parts for old, out-dated airplanes.

We permitted Ahmadinejad to enter the United States. And Ahmadinejad used his visit as a fulcrum to mobilize anti-US venom and build Iranian reputability across the world. By simple virtue of speaking his mind to listening audiences in the hostile environment called the City of New York, by making remarks that were broadcast worldwide, Ahmadinejad realized goals he could never have realized from Iran or anywhere in the Middle East. We allowed this Iranian dictator his pulpit, we built the soap box for him.

Won’t we ever learn?

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OVER THE SKIES OF SYRIA

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday September 18, 2007
Column:

What really happened on September 6th, hours before daylight, when Israeli planes flew over Turkish airspace and crossed into Syria? The question is being asked almost obsessively by members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities, by military analysts and political analysts, by friends and foes of Israel, by those people concerned with the happenings in the Middle East.

Everyone, it seems, is voicing an opinion. And then, as new details emerge, voicing another opinion, another take on the situation. Admittedly, I am as guilty as others. Everyone has something to say, everyone except Israel.

Israel has been uncharacteristically silent on this question. The country famous for military censored, politically sensitive and top secret information leaks has installed a double deep lock on the details of this foray over hostile skies. Not a word has been spoken, no explanation or analysis has found its way into print – nada, nothing, “gornisht.”

So what do I think really happened and why do I think it happened? I can make only one definitive statement about the entire situation, the rest is all speculation – educated, insightful speculation.

The only absolute conclusion I have reached given the available information and sketchy intel and taking into accounts the reports that have so far been received, is to say that I feel confident that whatever Syria has said is totally unreliable. To that I would add that the comments of North Korea have been obvious obfuscations. That leaves us with a big problem. With two such unreliable parties as principle players in this situation, with the third party keeping completely mum, how can I piece together what really happened?

My analysis is also based on past experience, patterns of behavior and instinct. What probably happened is that North Korea and Syria thought it would be a good idea to amass nuclear warheads and hold them as a surprise weapon against Israel. North Korea has the weapons and Syria wants them. Both countries are pariah nations and they are co-joined in their antipathy to the West, principally the United States which, by extension, means Israel.

Intelligence from Turkey as well as from several non-official Israeli sources shows that this was more than a plan. Syria was actually in receipt of the weapons. In fact, a Kuwaiti newspaper asserts that Turkey officially pointed out to Israel the location of the warheads.

Missiles were sent to Syria by way of several ships flying North Korean flags. The vessels made their way first to Port Said, Egypt and then to Syria. Once they were in Syria the materials were unloaded and transported to the mountain region. That is where Israeli planes found and destroyed them.

Ronen Solomon, an Israeli researcher who watches the movement of ships using local port information and websites for tracking, has been quoted as saying that the ships arrived in Syria on September 3rd which would put the drop three days before the air strike. The cargo was listed as cement. The flags were North Korean.

If you were to search the Syrian website listing the arrivals of these ships right now, you would find no entry on North Korean ships delivering cement. The file has not been deleted, it has been white washed. The entry now lists the arrival of a ship bearing “no flag.” That is not only an untruth, it is against international law. All ships must fly under a country flag and no ship is permitted entry into a port unless it has been registered with a country.

One Israeli pilot has been quoted as saying neither he nor his colleagues in the sky knew the details of the plan until they were airborne. That makes sense given the propensity for leaks in Israel. I have also heard that a special, extremely high flying scouting plane was also sent up along with the fighter planes. As many as eight planes were involved in the operation.

The most astounding piece of information to emerge about Israel’s handling of this top secret operation is the report that Israeli ground troops were sent into the region days before the pre dawn flight gathering intelligence and specifying and confirming the projected targets. It seems that the ground soldiers literally used lasers to pinpoint the targets on the ground as markers for the pilots. Then the pilots went home and never said a word.

More than taking out missiles that were clearly aimed at them, the Israelis were sending a message. It was a message to the entire region, including Iran. And the message has been received loud and clear, probably because it was conveyed with accuracy and precision but probably also because it came without spin, without excuse, without cover-up or disingenuous apology.

Do not amass nuclear weapons that are intended for use against Israel.

And that’s my take on the events of September 6th, 2007 over the skies of Syria.

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TERROR IS EVIL, WE ARE GOOD

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 12, 2007

Column:

Osama bin Laden remembers. And so should we.

In our hearts, in our souls and in our collective conscience the terror and the tragedy of that day in 2001 should be ever present and palpable.

It is human nature to forget. It is natural to slightly alter history and put a more palatable flavor on distasteful and despicable events. It is easier to say September 11th is behind us, to believe that we made it through another day and another year, than to be forever reminded of the horror that is now simply termed 9-11.

But 9-11 is not behind us. It looms ahead. To think, to act or to react otherwise is to paint a large neon target on our Western backs and place an arrow that says “aim right here.” Avoidance of conflict will not win the war against terror. 9-11 is one of those events in recent history that we must remember in all of its hideous horror, sparing no detail, sugar coating no wound, eliminating no graphic, gory fact.

We must gird ourselves from an inclination to forget and that is hard to do in a world that lives for tomorrow. For the most part, Americans are a very forward thinking and optimistic people and looking to the future is indeed admirable. But thinking only of the future without remembering the past is too easy. We must always remember from whence we came, and only five short years ago we came from the dust and the rubble that were once hearts that beat and spirits that loved and buildings that truly housed the center of the world.

The force of our memories will in the end protect us. Fighting the war on terror takes money – for weapons, for technology, for preparedness. We need to allot the proper resources and assume behaviors that will put us in a defensive mode. Defense does not mean sitting back and watching and waiting, it is not an arm chair sport. Defense against terror is an active pursuit. And in order to be active billions of dollars must be allocated and in order to have that money we must bear down on our elected officials to allot the money and to dedicate themselves to creating real, workable, sound plans that will keep us, their constituents, Americans, safe. If we guard our psychological selves against those memories, if we forget the details of 9-11 we will never have the drive and commitment necessary to force the commitments of others.

We need to monitor the terrorists and search them out. We need to capture the terrorists before they attack us. We need to target them and destroy them before they destroy us. We are already the targets of terrorists, their plans are already under way.

To use the argument that there has not been an attack since 9-11, to say that anti-terror allocations are too high is to invite another disaster into our midst. Complacency is not in order when it comes to terror. We must be actively out there pursuing evil. In the eyes of terrorists even a failed attempt at capturing operatives, at closing down a cell, at stopping an operation or shutting down a funding organization is a sign that we are aggressively in the game of pursuit. When we relax, that’s when we become easy targets.

9-11 taught us that our enemies are ruthless and dedicated. They are in this quest to destroy the West, freedom and democracy until the end, they are planning for the long run. Osama bin Laden chose to release his latest video the week before September 11th in order to keep the memory of al Qaeda’s power fresh and alive. It was a reminder to his people, his followers, his adherents of al Qaeda’s strength and capabilities.

For bin Laden 9-11 is a graphic demonstration of the vulnerability of the world’s greatest country and of the greatest city in that country. His video release let his people know that he is still a player. He was telling them that the West is still afraid of him and of his message. He was saying that his message has the power to strike fear.

Of all the many and vitally important reasons to rewind and replay in our minds and remember the day September 11, 2001 the most important is to give honor to those who were so brutally murdered. The victims of 9-11 were chosen because of what they represent, what we all represent – freedom and prosperity, hope and happiness. The victims represented America.

We remember 9-11 and the 9-11 victims because we are humane and the loss of innocent human life is a tragedy. Our enemies remember 9-11 because of the glory that it brings to them. Terror is evil. We are good. In order to defeat evil terrorists we must act and by our actions protect our lives, our liberties, our freedoms.

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INTO THE MIND OF IRAN

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday September 5, 2007

Column:

Ahmadinejad has it all figured out. He is convinced that all attempts by the United States to curb, slow or halt nuclear development in Iran will fail. In the world according to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran will win the nuclear and psychological, the conventional and chemical, wars being waged against the United States and the West.

He has the proof. Ahmadinejad proves his thesis through, he says, the math he learned as a student and his deep faith in Allah.

In his own, albeit translated, words, The Ahmadinejad Thesis goes like this:
“In some discussions I told them ‘I am an engineer and I am examining the issue. They do not dare wage war against us and I base this on a double proof…
I am a master in calculation and tabulation … I draw up tables for hours, I write out different hypotheses.'”

In short, says the Iranian leader. “I reject. I reason. I reason with planning and I make a conclusion. They cannot make problems for Iran.”

What do we learn from this erudite explanation of Iran’s vision for the future by this esteemed thinker? We learn how the leader of Iran makes decisions. First, he makes graphs. Then, he considers various options. And finally, after weighing his findings, he makes decisions.

Ahmadinejad, the son of a blacksmith, earned a Ph.D. in Traffic and Transport Engineering from Tehran’s University of Science and Technology. While it is admirable that this former engineering student is applying his science to confront the impending threat hovering above and around his country, he has advisors expressly chosen to ponder those issues. As president, his plate is pretty full. As president, he should be listening to the many great minds of Iran, weigh their insights, calculations and conclusions, and then make informed decisions about the future of Iran. But that is not how Ahmadinejad works.

Several days ago the president appointed his old friend General Mohammed Ali Jefari to be the new head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Several days after the official announcement of the appointment the Iranians expanded Jefari’s official bio to include one interesting new tidbit. Jefari, we now know, was one of the student kidnappers who held the United States Embassy hostage for 444 days in 1979.

Iranians think differently than we do. Ahmadinejad in particular is a leader like no other in the world today. He is a wacko but he is a predictable wacko. To understand Ahmadinejad we have to get into his head, and in revising the resume of the new leader of the thug squad known as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard he has invited us in for another glimpse. What do we learn from this new information? The Iranian is trying to intimidate us. President Bush has just called the Guard a band of terrorists. Ahmadinejad is telling us what kind of terrorists they really are.

General Rahim Yahya Safavi, the former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, is now a personal adviser to the president of Iran’s boss, to The Supreme Leader The Ayatollah Khameini. Safavi has confirmed that Iran does not believe that either the United States or the West can significantly threaten Iran. He gave three reasons why:

One, they have no idea how strong Iran is and cannot anticipate the extent of Iran’s response and most of all, Iran knows where all 200,000 allied soldiers are encamped.

Two, they have no way of measuring whether or not Iran has the strength, power and will to attack Israel.

Three, they area fearful that Iran will sabotage the entire flow of oil and block the Straits of Hermuz

What do we learn from this critical analysis of the facts on the ground and the plans for the future? We learn that this is how Iran thinks and plans. We learn how Iran thinks the United States and the West thinks.

Completely inadvertently, we have been given a valuable gift by the leadership of Iran. They have given us the gift of thought, of Iranian thought and that my friends, is an invaluable lesson. We have gotten into the collective mind of Iranian leadership. And now, armed with that knowledge it is up to us to circumvent future tragedy and destruction brought upon the world by the Iranian nation. It is up to us to convince them otherwise.

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Ahmadinejad, the Puppet Scarecrow of Iran

By Micah Halpern

August 28, 2007

Column:

You can call him a puppet, you can call him a scarecrow. Just don’t call Iranian President Ahmadinejad a leader. A leader, by definition, is a policy maker. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by definition, is a policy implementer. He is the front man for the true rulers of Iran, The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the ruling Religious Council. They decree, he makes sure it happens.

The choice of Ahmadinejad as the supreme representative of his country’s religious leadership was brilliant, the man is a public relations dream. He has charisma, even charm. He is an anti-intellectual intellectual. He is comfortable in front of the masses and he wears those classic-cut double knit leisure suits. In a religious theocracy like Iran “president” is simply a title given to the agent of the religious leadership, no more and no less. He must be a true believer in the religious mission, as Ahmadinejad is, but he is chosen not for his leadership ability, but quite the opposite, for his penchant for bureaucracy and his ability to put a public face on oftentimes unpopular policy and dictates.

Like a puppet, his strings are pulled and his movements are choreographed from high on up. Yes, the president sits on The Supreme Council but there is no doubt that every decision taken by that Council is informed and directed by The Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. President Ahmadinejad’s only independent role is to convey the message that he has been assigned.

Like a scarecrow, he is in place to intimidate Iranians and to frighten the West. The West sees Ahmadinejad as the symbol of a religiously run nation. He presents the image of one who will do anything for the sake of his religious belief. That includes engaging in even the most self destructive of national behaviors, like nuclear proliferation and the demolition of eternal enemy Israel, threats that if ever implemented will certainly force retaliation upon the people of Iran. Ahmadinejad persists with the rhetoric, for his rulers as for him, it is all a question of honor.

The reality is that Ahmadinejad is a unique blend, he is part puppet and part scarecrow. And sometimes, even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad forgets his place in the hierarchy of Iranian rule. Sometimes, Iran’s president oversteps the bounds of his mandate. Ahmadinejad has been called on the proverbial carpet several times this year by The Supreme Leader. In January, for example, remarks made by the president asserting that Iran would be engaging in short range missile tests incensed the United States and needed mollification. On these occasions Khamenei is compelled to take the unusual step of publicly clarifying the missed message delivered by his over zealous president. He reminds Ahmadinejad of his true place in Iranian society, reminds him that he is a blacksmith, a working class member of society, not a policy maker and certainly not a religious leader, he is their hired thug.

Iran’s biggest fear right now is that pressure from the United States will stimulate a revolution – a people’s revolution – from within. That fear is so palpable that once again Khamenei himself has stepped into the public limelight, addressing the people of Iran, ranting and raving against the United States. That fear is so great that this time he is not speaking in place of Ahmadinejad, but alongside him. The Supreme Leader does not trust the puppet to appropriately address this grave new challenge to Iran, does not trust the scarecrow to adequately insinuate the message of fear.

Iran has always held the advantage in psychological warfare. Ahmadinejad would utter outrageous declarations expressly to intimidate his local and international audience and force them to be on the defensive. Now the United States has categorized the Iranian Republic Guard as a terrorist organization and Iranian leadership is ranting and raving as a means of damage control. Ironically, the United States had no inkling that they were pushing such a strong emotional button when the policy decision was made to criticize the Guard.

Until now, the people of Iran assumed that the horror of the Iranian Republic Guard was a safe, dirty little secret. They knew that they lived in fear of and were completely terrorized by their leaders, their police and army but they didn’t know that anyone else knew. Now the Iranian people, the street, have a question. “Our religious leadership knew that we were being terrorized and they sponsored it. The United States knows that we are being terrorized and they are speaking out to stop it. Who is the real savior and who is the real Satan?”

Ahmadinejad is facing one of the biggest challenges of his career. If Iranian leadership fails to ward off an insurrection by the people, rest assured that they, themselves, will not accept the blame. The puppet will have his strings cut off, the scarecrow will be beheaded.

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MISSING IN IRAN

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 22, 2007

Column:

Bob Levinson worked for the FBI and before that for the DEA. He retired from these “companies” about ten years ago and like many former agents, went into the private sector. According to his resume Bob Levinson had “extensive international experience and has focused on criminal activities, business intelligence projects, asset location and recoveries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Russia and Europe.”

Bob Levinson was last heard from on March 8th. He was last seen on an Iranian island called Kish, a resort that caters to a Muslim and European clientele. Unlike the rest of Iran, Kish is a commercially-oriented area where even United States residents – who can enter Iran proper only after undergoing scrutiny and obtaining a special visa and travel papers – are permitted entry without special visas.

Former agents often do private work after retirement. They gain employment as contractors for the government or for companies in the private sector interested in their contacts and talents. As the saying goes, once a spy always a spy. Levinson, it seems, was not working on a covert operation. He was working for a film company and he was in Kish gathering information and meeting contacts.

Almost five months later and there has been no word from Levinson or about Levinson. Relations between the United States and Iran being what they are there is no direct line of communication between the State Department and the powers that be in Iran. Diplomatic ties were severed in 1979 when the Iranians took the United States embassy in Teheran hostage. The United States is at a loss, their access to information is through back channels. Mrs. Levinson, Christine, is trying on her own, through the media, to gather any information that she can on the condition of her husband of thirty-three years.

Christine has made an appeal on the Voice of Peace broadcast into Iran. She has been interviewed by CNN. There have also even been Persian language programs discussing the disappearance of her husband. She is making a direct appeal for help and information via radio.

About two to three US citizens disappear each year in Iran. Sometimes, there is a happy ending, often there is not. One glimmer of hope for finding Bob Levinson comes in the form of the return of another US hostage. The director of the Middle East division of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, an Iranian American who was held hostage since May was just released. The terms of her release involved the exchange of a very large sum of money – but she is free.

To date, the only information about the disappearance of Bob Levinson has come from a rather unsavory character who claims to have been with Bob, at his hotel, immediately before the disappearance. This witness is rather suspect himself. In 1980 he fled to revolutionary Iran for refuge after admitting to assassinating an Iranian diplomat, a member of the Shah of Iran’s coterie, in Washington D.C. He says that Levinson was interested in investigating cigarette smuggling. He says the Iranian secret police detained Levinson in the hotel and took his passport.

That’s it. No more.

There is a lesson to be learned in all of this. Anyone going to Iran is putting themselves at risk. Iran is not a friend of the United States. Neither business initiatives nor humanitarian missions will cut through the hatred. No place in Iran is safe for Americans, not even islands that do not require special entry permits. To think otherwise is not to understand Iran.

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BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 15, 2007

Column:

New York was on high alert. Traffic was a mess. Trucks and vans were scrutinized. Bridges, tunnels and highways were moving along at a steady crawl. One of the most fast paced and vibrant cities in the whole wide world was forced to move slowly, deliberately and cautiously.

And then it was over.

And now we must ask – what was that all about? What really is the purpose of putting a city, a population, a nation on high alert? One would think that between the Office of Homeland Security, local police and law enforcement, informants and counter terrorism wonks, the “people in the know” would know how to tell which threats are real and credible and which are hype and improbable.

Well, they do know.

Counter terrorism is an art, it is also a science, and it is also a precise, exacting military-like series of maneuvers. And elevated alerts are an important tool in the arsenal of the counter terrorist. What happened in New York on that specific Saturday was an exercise well worth the time, effort, discipline and the discomfort of the citizens and visitors who happened to have been in town on that warm summer morning.

Elevated alerts are rushed into action following a credible threat emanating from credible Intel. The goal is to prevent a terrorist attack from happening. That goal is realized in a variety of ways.

Realization # 1: the capture of the terrorist or terrorists.

Realization # 2: obstructing the movement and the activities of the terrorist/s.

Realization # 3: psyching out the terrorist attacker/s.

A terror attack is like a jigsaw puzzle. It requires many pieces and all the pieces must interlock properly or it will not succeed. Take away one piece and an entire operation is either aborted – or doomed to fail.

With elevated alerts comes heightened security. And one of the best ways to achieve heightened security is through the use of roadblocks. Roadblocks are an attempt to prevent one or more pieces of the terrorist puzzle from coming into the arena. Roadblocks are used to force the planners to halt their operation.

Heightened or elevated alerts send out messages. The message to the public is that we are on top of things, we are not letting terrorist sneak in or slide by, we are maintaining a serious defense system. More important is the message that is sent out to terrorists. An alert says “we know something, we have information.” And then it is up to the terrorist/s to determine just what and how much really is known – about their plan, about their players, about their general operation. The message is used to instill the fear of failure, the fear of being caught, in the terrorist operative/s.

An alert – like the one in New York – is better than an exercise. No drill can adequately reproduce the intensity or the urgency of the real thing, the real danger, the real and imminent threat. No drill will ever point out the weaknesses in the system, the gaps in the lines of defense, the flaws in the lines of communication that become evident in a real alert. A real elevated alert shows where the system needs to be bolstered and where it is strong and stable.

There is no shortage of terrorist threats. Most of them are not significant enough to bottle up the cultural and financial epicenter of the United States. And yet, it just happened. And yet, no terrorist plot was uncovered – or was it?

The source of the intel, a web site, was credible enough to warrant an elevated alert. In today’s online world the web is another essential tool in the counter terrorism arsenal. It provides much information, it also provides much dis-information. The problem with certain web sites, like this web site, is that they have no edit function – information comes in, is re-formatted and is sent right out. Finding the truth is left to the counter terrorism experts.

The alert was real. The threat may have been. New York’s August Elevated Alert was more about ironing out the kinks in the defense system than it was about a real radioactive dirty bomb threat. The lessons learned will be put to good use. Better safe than sorry, I always say.

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NOT NOW, NOT YET

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 8, 2007

Column:

The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own.

But not now, not yet.

Why? Because the Palestinians have not yet adequately proven themselves ready for total self-government. At least, not democratic self-government.

The Palestinians have been in control of their own destiny for a significant chunk of time. And each time they are faced with a pivotal challenge, they fail to rise up to that challenge. And each failure is then blamed on Israel.

The election of Hamas to power, for example, was a challenge to the concept of democracy. And the result was a miserable failure of democracy and a return to anarchy. The decision to arrest terrorists is another example of a challenge the Palestinians faced and failed. The result was the decision not to make arrests by circumventing the issue and calling the gun-toting, saber rattling, Qassam throwing brigades not terrorists, but resistance fighters. Everyone speaks of normalization, but these actions should never be termed normal. These actions are an ab-normalization of the situation and they are an abomination.

Before they can become a democratic state, the Palestinians must be ready, willing and most crucially, able, to make changes in attitudes and in behaviors. Democracy is more than a system of self-government. Democracy is about respect. Respect for law and for laws. Respect for religious and cultural minorities. Respect for education.

Neither Palestinian leadership nor the Palestinian people have grasped the true essence of democracy. They have no understanding of the concept of freedom. They do not yet understand that democracy and freedom are co-joined, that democracy without freedom is dictatorship, that freedom without democracy is anarchy.

Striving for democracy is an admirable goal. Freedom is an inalienable right. But they come with a price – responsibility. Until Palestinian leadership is willing to accept that responsibility, the people will continue to live under an umbrella of violence, poverty and uncertainty.

Building a democracy is an investment in time and good will. Commit to the concept honestly and the entire free world will be at your side. But play games with democracy and you will be devoured by the forces of terror and tyranny.

This is a pivotal time in Palestinian history. George Bush, the leader of the most powerful democracy in the world has joined with Israeli leader Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in attempting to move ahead with the “Two-State Solution” the “Road Map” calling for Israel and the Palestinians to live side-by-side that was devised by the group of democratic countries known as the Quartet. Is it ultimately the best solution? No, but it is the best solution for now. One must crawl before walking and walk before running. It is a means to the end, not the end for the Palestinian people.

But even the “Two-State Solution” seems remote right now. In conversations with Olmert, discussions suggesting the exchange of pre’67 lands for post ’67 lands – a condition until now considered a deal breaker for the Palestinians – Abbas proclaimed that the could not be held responsible for security in the West Bank. But being held responsible is what it’s all about. And it appears that the Amnesty Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, calling for 178 terrorists to hand over their weapons to the Palestinian Authority and sign a pledge to no longer engage in terrorist activities in return for which they will not be targeted by Israel was one big farce. Few weapons have been handed over, fewer pledges have been signed.

Running to democracy can be a big mistake. The move must be slow, slow and steady, much like the famous tortoise who ended up winning that race. Right now, the Palestinians are barely even crawling. One day, I hope, they will be truly ready to herald democracy and achieve statehood. But not now, not yet. And that’s disappointing.

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WHERE “RESISTANCE” IS CODE FOR “TERROR”

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 31, 2007

Column:

Electioneering by way of assassination.

It’s happening. And I’m not talking about character assassination -this is the real thing. And it’s happening in the Palestinian Authority. It’s the way Hamas takes care of business, even that most democratic of all businesses, the business of elections.

Hamas leadership has put out a “hit” on Fatah leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Faayad. The “hit” was issued in the form of a public announcement. Hamas is accusing Faayad of letting down the Palestinian people. They are claiming that Faayad is not true to the Palestinian cause. They maintain that he is not the appropriate man to lead the Palestinians.

The question begs asking: Why make a public statement? Hamas has never had any trouble assassinating people, why not just do it and then gloat about it in true Hamas fashion?

The answer is: elections.

Hamas knows that they have lost favor with the Palestinian people. They know that elections are looming and that if elections were to be held now, they would be the ones taking the hit and their popularity with the voters would drop to about only 12% – 14%. A voter return that low would mean that Hamas would lose all political power and be sent back to the margins, to the fringes of Palestinian society. It would mean political death for Hamas. It would mean back to courting the public with soup kitchens and health care and child care and hoping that those ploys would one day work again as they did three and four and five years ago, before humanitarian issues were replaced with guns, gangs and street fights.

Now Hamas has about three to four months to prepare for elections. And their chosen method of electioneering appears to be to sway voters their way by way of the death threat. To the Western mind this seems absurd, preposterous, counter productive and just plain illegal. To the Palestinian mind it makes perfect sense.

The world of Palestinian politics is divided into two camps – forever divided because they will never agree on anything relating to the future direction of Palestinian society. There is a political-national camp and there is an Islamic camp. Hamas already has the Islamic camp, but it is not a large enough voting bloc to sway let alone win an election, so now they must go after the political-national camp.

As prime minister, Salam Faayad is the supposed leader of the political-national camp, Hamas is trying to sway the voters to their own ranks by undermining Faayad’s dedication to the people and more important, his commitment to the Palestinian cause.

The Hamas “hit” announced that the government of Salam Faayad is predicated on a platform that does not include the “resistance.” The “hit” proclaims that Faayad has capitulated to the demands of the United States and of Israel to recognize Israel and to reject “resistance.”

In Palestinian-speak, that is heretical.

In Palestinian-speak “resistance” is the codeword for “terror”.

Hamas is saying that Fatah are traitors to the political-nationalist cause created by Yasser Arafat. They are saying that they, Hamas, carry on the real legacy of the Palestinian people because it is they, Hamas, who embrace “resistance” and it is they who do not recognize Israel and do not bow down to Israel and the United States of America.

Hamas knows what they are doing. They know that the inclusion of the Arabic word for “resistance” was the cause of major debate during the creation of their short-lived unity government with Fatah and they know that inclusion of the term is a deal breaker for continued support from the United States. Hamas is banking on the fact that even if this “hit” does not literally kill Faayad, it will kill his political career and bring about the political downfall of Fatah.

Faayad knows that too. So to save face and to gain back potential swing voters and supporters he took the opportunity of being at an Arab League meeting in Cairo to hold a press conference and issue his own announcement. Of course we embrace “resistance” he said, even if it is not specifically mentioned in the platform – “resistance” is such an obvious fundamental principle for all Palestinians who live under occupation that it need not be in the platform, it goes without saying.

Now Faayad is caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place. By placating his own Palestinian supporters he is seriously at risk of alienating his financial and diplomatic supporters. The United States and Israel remember well the lessons learned under Arafat and they will in no way be caught in the web of double messaging again. Yasser Arafat was a master when it came to making pronouncements, in English, to the West and then recanting those pronouncements, in Arabic, for the Palestinian people. The United States and Israel are asking, nay demanding, that now Palestinian leadership be upright and straightforward and talk about Israel as a peace partner. And they want the people to be educated to that end.

Hamas is trying to win an election. What is this world coming to?

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THE TRAP OF TARGETISM

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 25, 2007

Column:

Al Qaeda is alive and well and thriving on the internet. In fact, the latest message to the world sent by al Qaeda came not from Osama bin Laden and not from his right arm Ayman Zawahiri. It came not via the video and audio tapes we have become familiar with and come to expect and accept as valid.

It was sent through one of the many of websites under al Qaeda auspices, it came from the North African branch of al Qaeda. Experience should tell us that we do not have to verify the authenticity of the site to determine the seriousness of the message. All we need to know is whether the message is both appropriate and reasonable.

And this message is serious. The site posted a threat aimed at non-believing countries accompanied by a series of warnings aimed at non-believing Muslims.

The threat:
“The Mujahadin (Holy Fighters), thanks to Allah, have managed to reorganize their ranks and set forth their plans, and they are preparing many hidden surprises for the enemies of Allah in the countries of the Islamic Maghreb, (North Africa) which will come in an escalating sequence.”

The warning:
“We call upon all our Muslim brothers to stay away from the centers of the infidels and official apostates, as well as security (gatherings) of army and police … The Mujahadin are determined to target their quarters, centers and barracks with all available means of detonation, bombing and demolition.”
The site explained that earlier intended attacks against military targets had been cancelled “only due to the presence of Muslims.”

The importance of this message, in addition to alerting the world to the reality that there is an organized, vital arm of al Qaeda in North Africa, is the clear and undeniable intention of al Qaeda to strike out not only at the West, but also at local targets.

Al Qaeda is giving fair warning to friends who do not tow the line. Al Qaeda is prioritizing a list of objectives. Al Qaeda is letting it be known that, right now, local intimidation is an even higher priority than attacks on Western targets.

The Muslim world gets it, but do we? That is the question we must ask ourselves.

If al Qaeda now intends to set their sights on local targets, should the West breath a sigh of relief? Does this mean that we are off the terrorist hook, at least for a little while?

Absolutely not.

The West has fallen victim to what I have termed “targetism”.

Our fear of terror – righteous as it is – has clouded our ability to analyze and understand the underlying facts of terror. We think of ourselves as the targets of terror, and any attack that does not target us, we think of as marginal and significantly less important. And that is wrong thinking. And it is dangerous thinking. It is targetism thinking.

Targetism thinking does not permit us the ability to learn from the experiences of others, it does not let us see that other targets of terror were chosen by the same enemy for the same reasons that we are chosen and targeted.

Because the Western mind has succumbed to targetism we do not realize that al Qaeda terrorist attacks against the Algerian army or the streets of downtown Marrakech in Morocco are just the same as attacks against American army bases on foreign soil and the streets of New York and Washington. Victims of targetism do not recognize that members of the Saudi royal family and Red Cross office in Iraq are targets for the same reason that citizens of the West are targets.

For al Qaeda, we are all one. Targetism obscures the fact that al Qaeda prioritizes operations according to access and ease. The easier to reach a target, the more likely it will be hit. But al Qaeda is not lazy and will take the time and make the effort to infiltrate and penetrate other targets until they, too, are easy. And that’s where the West in general and the United States in particular come in.

Al Qaeda wants to attack the West, but al Qaeda also wants to destroy those Arab countries and communities that embrace Western culture and ideas. Al Qaeda wants to paralyze Western leadership, but al Qaeda also wants to hurt Arab leadership that is not really Islamic.

Al Qaeda wants us all to believe in their beliefs, and if we don’t, slowly and methodically, al Qaeda will try to eliminate us all. Al Qaeda will continue to send their messages through the air waves and on the internet. They will continue to remind us that we are all in their cross hairs. But as long as we do not allow ourselves to become our own worst enemies by falling into the trap of targetism we have a chance at beating our real enemies.

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IN DEFENSE OF POPE BENEDICT

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 17, 2007

Column:

Full disclosure:
I like Pope Benedict XVI.
I think Pope Benedict has a clearly articulated vision and direction for the Church. I think Pope Benedict understands the threat radical Islam poses to the world.
I think Pope Benedict is sincere in his appreciation and respect for Jews.

And I do not understand the big fuss circulating around the position Pope Benedict XVI has taken on reinstituting the Tridetine Mass, the mass that is known in certain circles as “the mass that prays to convert the Jews.” I have studied the mass in Latin and I have studied the mass in English, I have examined versions of the mass pre 1965 and version post 1965. I have looked at its history and its role in Catholic ritual. I do not understand the hoopla.

You cannot be more catholic than the Pope – nobody can argue with that. And anybody who does not realize that a significant part of Christian doctrine, in general and Catholic doctrine, in particular is that the Jews are unfulfilled specifically because Judaism does not recognize Jesus as The Savior has no understanding of Christianity. There is no arguing that point. Even in interfaith dialogues and discussions it is a given – a point on which everyone chooses to agree to disagree for the sake of moving on and engaging in other dialogues and discussions.

The Tridentine Mass – when it is celebrated at all – is said once a year, on Good Friday morning. The original mass contained the word “perfidis” which, in the Latin of Catholic doctrine translated to mean “faithless.” That was changed in 1960 when Pope John XXII made the decision to remove the religiously charged word. It is important to know that there are also other meanings for “perfidis” – deceitful, dishonest and untrustworthy – all Catholic concepts describing the characteristics of non-believers. So while the pre-1960 version of The Mass read: “Let us pray also for the ‘perfidis’ (faithless) Jews,” the post-1960 version which actually took hold only post-1965 read: “Let us pray for the Jewish people. Lift the veil from the eyes of the Jews and end the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ.” Change does not happen either quickly or arbitrarily within the Catholic Church.

The final, post-Second Vatican Council version of the Tridentine Mass has come to be know in the press as the prayer or mass for the conversion of the Jews. It reads something like this: “Lift the veil covering the hearts of Jews so that they may recognize Jesus Christ our Lord.” “Let us pray for the Jews, that the face of the Lord our God may shine on them so that they too recognize the redeemer of all, Jesus Christ, our Lord.” And The Mass continues: “Listen to your church so that those who were once your chosen people may reach the fulfillment of redemption.”

For many years the Tridentine Mass has rarely been celebrated. Now, Pope Benedict XVI is calling upon the Church to reinstitute the Mass. And now, voices within the Catholic world as well as Jewish world are rising up in alarm, in anger, in confusion.

But why? Why should anyone – Catholic or Jew – be upset by the Tridentine Mass?

As for Catholics, only a Pope or Vatican Council can authorize change in Church doctrine. No one else, no outsider, should even try. It will never happen. Catholics are free to disagree, and when someone disagrees too much with the Church and with so much of the Church, they end up leaving the Church. One is free to disagree. And when you disagree too much with the Church you end up leaving the Church.

As for Jews, how narrow minded it is to be upset when the Pope, the supreme Catholic leader, chooses to reinstitute a prayer that clearly articulates, in as religiously polite as manner as is possible, just what the Catholic Church fundamentally believes to be truth.

In chapter 40 of Isaiah, the prophet describes non-believers as those who pray to emptiness and nothingness and to a god that cannot redeem them. Those words were originally incorporated into the famous Jewish prayer called “Aleinu”, recited at the end of daily and holiday services. In the Middle Ages Christian censors removed the phrase from all European Jewish prayer books on the grounds that it was considered offensive.

The Middle Ages are long gone. Let us all move on. Together.

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SALAM FAYAD, HE’S THE MAN

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 10, 2007

Column:

Salam Fayad, he’s the man. If he can’t do it no one can.

It sounds like a summer camp time cheer, but really, it is a rally for Palestinians and for the Palestinian Authority. In the course of the past two weeks Palestinian leadership has taken positive and very significant steps in the direction of law, order, stability, accountability and eventual statehood.

Most importantly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has appointed Salam Fayad to the position of interim prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. The name Salam Fayad is not yet recognized by Western masses, but it is not only recognized but also respected in international, diplomatic circles. For Palestinians, this man is a hero – not for his military prowess but for his keen economic sense, for his conscience, for his ability to change the lives of average Palestinians in a positive way. Fayad is one of the few men of power in Palestinian political life to have bucked the system and been invited back to do it again.

Salam Fayad spent most of his career in the World Bank in Washington, D.C. He is a player with a long history of interaction with the West. He understands the game of diplomacy and is well versed in the dynamics of bureaucracy. Fayad knows how the United States goes about the business of getting things done. He knows how to talk to the West. And he understands how to erect an infrastructure for a real democracy.

Salam Fayad is a man with a vision for the Palestinian people.

Yasser Arafat, the first and greatest of all Palestinian leaders, was notorious for pleading for monetary aid for his beleaguered people, receiving international aid and then hiding it away under mattresses and in secret bank accounts. When really forced to share the money for items like salaries and running his government Arafat would divvy up cash, personally place designated amounts in envelopes and dispatch underlings to distribute the payments.

Fayad served as finance minister under Yasser Arafat. One of his greatest accomplishments was establishing bank accounts for employees of the Palestinian Authority – for people like police and teachers and sewage workers, and for instituting direct deposit payments into those bank accounts. He did it under Arafat’s watchful, if not approving, eye. Fayad created a paper trail, he inserted the notion of accountability into the PA finance ministry. Until then, under Arafat, there was no recourse, no such thing as redress of grievances, and certainly, there was no way to collect taxes on payroll.

Salam Fayad is a man of principles.

One of the first things tasks Fayad has undertaken as prime minister is the implementation of a law, dictated by presidential order, outlawing guns and explosives. According to this new law the only people permitted weapons are to be members of the established PA police forces. That means no militias. That means no gangs.

The law is a direct attack against the two populations to most threaten and tear apart the fabric of Palestinian life. The law is directed at Hamas in Gaza and at rival local gangs roaming through and ravaging the West Bank.

Hamas claims they do not know about this new law. And the leaders of the largest gangs in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jenin say that the new law has nothing to do with them. Critics of the new law claim that it was explicitly formulated in order to destroy Hamas and to placate the United States and other Western countries.

Everyone might be correct, but that is beside the point. What is most important is that for the first time in a very long time a Palestinian leader is attempting to restore law. For the first time in a very long time a Palestinian leader is attempting to create a central authority with a forward direction.

Salam Fayad is a man with backbone.

Still in his first days in his new position Fayad has already met with about 800 Palestinian preachers, including some who outwardly support Hamas. The purpose of these meetings is to tell the clergy, in no uncertain terms, that incitement will no longer be condoned or permitted in the Palestinian Authority.

It is a recognized reality that much of the hatred and the violence that is tearing apart the Palestinians and much of the general Arab world begins in mosques. Fayad knows that, the preachers certainly know that, you and I know that. In his own forceful yet diplomatic words, Fayad said: “We will collect weapons and replace them with pens and books.” … “The phenomenon of militants is very dangerous and we want to stop it in all forms.” … “We will not allow them (mosques) to be turned into places of incitement and intimidation.” … “It is the responsibility of men of religion to present religion as a way of tolerance and not as a cover for bloodshed.”

And then, once again breaking with tradition, Salam Fayad met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to discuss numerous issues – most importantly a quid pro quo, a way to get Israel to ease the road blocks. And on that same day he met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. And he will have other meetings. Bottom line, Salam Fayad is a bureaucrat and bureaucrats have meetings, and meetings are an essential tool in breaking logjams.

Vision and principles and backbone are not common attributes in Palestinian society. Vision and principles and backbone are extremely rare in liberal Muslim leaders.

Salam Fayad has plans for the Palestinian people, he has thought seriously about the future of the Palestinian Authority. We know what he intends to do, the real question is whether he has the ability to actually follow through and achieve his vision. It will take a long time to transform Palestinian society, it will take a long time to remove the Palestinian people from the nightmare they have been living and realize the dream of the new interim Palestinian prime minister.

If anyone can do it, Salam Fayad can.

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THESE GUYS WERE NO MOHAMED ATTA

By Micah Halpern

Monday July 2, 2007

Column:

The terrorists who perpetrated the attacks in London and Glasgow were midgets compared to Mohamed Atta and his 9-11 plotters. And we should thank God for that.

Mohammed Atta performed his duty as a true disciple of al Qaeda. He was true not only to the spirit of the cause, but to the letter of the cause. Like Atta, these homegrown terrorists pledged allegiance to al Qaeda and dedicated themselves to the ultimate mission and to the cause of the Islamic revolution and of terror. Like Atta, these terrorists were in pursuit of Jihad, they wanted to destroy the enemies of Islam, they wanted to destroy the West.

Unlike Atta these terrorists did not do their homework. And that is why, from start to finish, their missions were – there is no better or polite way to describe it – botched.

The London and Glasgow terrorists undertook jobs for which they were unprepared and untrained. They lacked sophistication and savvy. They were amateurs, and for that the Western world should be grateful. These terrorists could not even read and follow directions.

Al Qaeda makes it simple. Al Qaeda makes it seem like following the dots. On al Qaeda websites and in an al Qaeda CD pack are point by point directions on perpetrating an attack. On assembling a car bomb. On preparing an explosive belt. On detonating a bomb. The directions are clearly posted. The directions are posted by al Qaeda on their Arab language websites. Point by point, item by item.

It is not rocket science, it is like following a tried and true recipe.

One of the most important items on the al Qaeda list for a successful terrorist attack is to park the vehicle legally. Two Mercedes cars were used in the attempted bombing of London. Both vehicles attracted the attention of authorities because they were not properly, legally, parked. We can laugh about it now, but one of the vehicles had even been towed away.

Once the vehicle is legally parked, if the intent is to perpetrate a “non-martyr attack” as these men intended, al Qaeda instructions say to walk away calmly, slowly, nonchalantly, not to arouse any interest or suspicion. But first, follow the instructions and properly attach the detonator, in this case the cell phone device. These guys could not even do that. Not only were they amateur and inept, they were undisciplined. The phone did not go off. One of the terrorists got into an accident and fled the scene.

The three Glasgow terrorists were equally unprepared for their attack. They could not manage to get the Jeep 4×4 through the glass door. They could not ignite themselves and they could not properly and effectively set off the explosives. As a result, one terrorist was killed by accident in the accident and the fire they succeeded in igniting, another was burned and hospitalized and the third was simply arrested, unharmed and healthy. Only five people in the Glasgow airport required medical treatment and that was for were light injuries and shock. That hardly makes for a successful terrorist attack.

Every so often we read and hear news reports of premature suicide car bombings. The public gets the impression that the bombings were premature, that there were malfunctions, that the bombs went off before arriving at their intended destinations. Actually, those bombs went off just as planned. Just as planned by the handlers of the terrorist martyrs, that is. Not as planned by the naïve and now dead perpetrators of the attacks.

Handlers would set the explosives to ignite early, before the drivers chickened out or flubbed their missions. Handlers turned their recruits into unknowing suicide bombers. According to the master plan, even if the terrorists were blown up in the middle of nowhere, a point was still being made. It was still a horrifically threatening and intimidating act of terror.

The al Qaeda play book suggests that ideal targets are theaters, stadiums and large celebrations. It recommends placing explosives in specific locations including and especially at exits. It tells the reader/future potential terrorist to go on practice runs and scope target sites to best understand how to avoid being checked. It warns never to speed. Never to arouse suspicion.

But driving a car laden with explosives and nails into a crowded mass of innocent people takes real training and some serious nerves. Parking that car and walking away, acting as if nothing is about to happen so as not to attract attention in a busy area takes good acting skills. Walking nonchalantly into a crowded and public space in which you are not welcome is not a simple thing to do. Not very many people can pull it off successfully. So the handlers just help the plan along.

But al Qaeda knows what it is doing. The al Qaeda website uses information that was gleaned from Iraq, a place where al Qaeda has a lot of experience. Al Qaeda commanders in Iraq wanted to help others, to give them the benefit of their knowledge and their expertise. But you can never replace experience. And experience, not intention, is what was missing in London and in Glasgow. Don’t forget that it is also easier to find legal parking in downtown Baghdad than in downtown London.

The frightening reality is that had these terrorists gotten it right there would have been countless injuries and hundreds of deaths. Thank God these terrorists were inept – but we cannot rely on ineptitude for too much longer.

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HAMAS: WHAT IT IS, WHAT IT IS NOT

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday June 27, 2007

Column:

Hamas may have won an election, but HAMAS IS NOT a political party.
Political parties, by necessity, engage in give and take, in compromise. Hamas will not compromise.
What is Hamas? HAMAS IS a purely ideological, religious extremist, terrorist organization.

Hamas may have won a civil war in Gaza, but HAMAS IS NOT a great military force.
What is Hamas? HAMAS IS the larger lout with more weapon-toting fighters.

HAMAS IS an organization that knows how to prioritize.
Priority number one is to destroy Israel.
Priority number two is to create an Islamic state in Gaza.

HAMAS IS a very successful organization with very well defined vision and behavioral objectives and a mission statement that has been transmitted loud and clear, across the board, to both friends and foes.
Objective number one is for women to dress modestly
Objective number two is for Christians to remain closed off behind their walls.

HAMAS IS NOT suited for leadership.
Here is a case in point:
Several weeks ago, when Hamas and Fatah were united in government and Hamas was the majority party, a deal was signed with a British energy company to engage in offshore drilling on the Mediterranean coast of Gaza. This week Hamas announced that they are walking away from the deal. Hamas will not challenge Fatah for the gas drilling rights or revenues.

Fatah can have it all – all the profits, all future investments.
What does this prove? It proves that HAMAS DOES NOT care about enterprise, Hamas cares about ideology.
It proves that HAMAS DOES NOT want to get involved in the nitty gritty of leadership.

The decision sounds ridiculous and in another world, it would be. But decision making and problem solving and political analysis Hamas-style is nothing like Western-thinking-style. In the world of Hamas it makes perfect sense. No matter that Hamas now owns 100% of Gaza and the Mediterranean coast and Fatah owns O%, booted out, evicted, told never to return except under direct Hamas rule. Fatah gets it all.

Why does Hamas not grab it all? Why doesn’t Hamas make the logical leap and accept the drilling revenues and use it to fund their own religious extremism? Why? The answer is that it does not fit comfortably into the religious ideology of Hamas. The answer is that HAMAS DOES NOT care that this deal could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Religious ideologues are lining up behind Hamas.
Ahmadinejad of Iran has just come out and called Arab leaders traitors because they embrace Western and Zionist agendas rather than supporting Hamas against Zionists and the West. “You want to placate them?” asks Ahmadinejad, meaning Zionists and the West, “try placating Allah.”
Ayman Zawahiri, better known as the number two man to al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden and an Egyptian physician turned terrorist leader is calling for Muslims around the world to unite behind Hamas.

Al Qaeda wants Hamas to win. Al Qaeda wants to topple non-Islamic regimes and replace them with Islamic governments. There is a nexus between Hamas and al Qaeda. Al Qaeda loves Hamas, they are truly of one mind. Just read the al Qaeda web site and you will see it. Listen to what Zawahiri has to say and you will understand.

“Taking over power is not a goal but a means to implement God’s word on earth.”
“Provide them (Hamas) with money, do your best to get it there, break the siege imposed on them by Crusaders and Arab leader traitors.”
“Facilitate weapons smuggling from neighboring countries.”
“We can support them (Hamas) by targeting the Crusader and Zionist interest wherever we can.”
And this last quote:
“Unite with mujahedeen (fighters) in Palestine, with all mujahedeen in the world, in the face of the upcoming attack where Egyptians and Saudis are expected to play part of it.”
It is very important to note here that Zawahiri, and by extension Hamas, lumps Egyptians and Saudis with Zionists and the West – they are all the enemy.

Hamas should never have been allowed to run for election, but they did.
Once they won Fatah should have crushed them, but Fatah could not.

HAMAS IS a very successful organization that is now successfully tearing apart the rest of the Arab world.
And you know what, HAMAS IS NOT the least bit concerned.

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UNDERSTANDING THE PALESTINIANS

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday June 19, 2007

Column:

When the Arab world blames Israel for the unrest and violence in the Palestinian Authority I understand what is happening. But when Western media blames Israel – there is no way to explain except to say that the West has no understanding of the situation.

It’s scary. The fighting between Hamas and Fatah is certainly scary. And so is the media coverage.

Blazing headlines often exaggerate, and when they exaggerate they mislead, and that is what is now happening with Middle East coverage. The Middle East is not burning, as many headline writers would have us believe. Parts of the Middle East are on fire, more correctly, are being fired upon. Yes, there is fighting going on. Yes, Muslims are killing Muslims. Yes, there are conflicts in Gaza, in Lebanon and in Iraq. But these conflicts are not connected, not inter-connected, not intra-connected.

Each of the conflicts is local. One has nothing to do with the other. And none have been brought on by Israel. None.

Respected and dare I say nefarious commentators, correspondents, hosts and talking heads have perverted the reality that is the Middle East. Some have actually, publicly, using their forum as if it were a bullhorn, blamed Israel for the current conflict in Gaza. In words and through inference the hypothesis that if only Israel had stopped building settlements then this conflict between the Palestinians would never have happened is laid before their audiences. The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, they are all guilty. One paper actually suggested that Israel get out of Gaza. Another ran a picture of Mahmoud Abbas and called him the Prime Minister of Israel. When media leaders are so misinformed, what hope can there be for the masses relying on them for their own information?

Anyone actually analyzing the situation, anyone thinking about what is going can come to only one conclusion. Arabs are killing Arabs and the conflict in Gaza – just like the conflicts in Lebanon and in Iraq – has absolutely nothing to do with Israel or with Israelis.

Analysis and thoughtful insight, however, is not what I expect from interested parties, i.e. the vast majority of the Arab world. That bias is obvious. That hatred flows as freely as mother’s milk. That media manipulation is fodder for the Arab masses.

Al Khabar, the Algerian paper, just ran a cartoon depicting a Jew rubbing his hands together with glee as Palestinians fight. And the Jew declares: “May God give them health because this is real Palestinian diversity.” How do I know that the Arab cartoonist has depicted a Jew? I know from the dress and the facial features.

Ar Raya, the Qatar paper, has a cartoon of a winners podium. An ultra-orthodox Jew stands in the center on the highest tier and on either side of him are knocked-out Hamas and Fatah characters in the number two and three places. In Qatar they actually believe in the Jewish Conspiracy Theory. In Qatar they still believe in the Protocols of Zion. But I expect more of Western media.

But why should I expect more from the Western media than I receive from Western policy makers. Sometimes, diplomatic absurdity rivals cartoon commentary.

Now that Hamas successfully launched the coup that ousted Fatah, now that Hamas has taken over Gaza, the United States has begun to change its foreign policy stance vis a vis the Palestinians. In a quirk of diplomatic relations, the defeated Fatah party is being rewarded for its inaction and for its glaring and blatant loss to Islamic radicals.

The United States is removing the embargo against aid to the Palestinian Authority. They are removing it because Abbas, the Palestinian president and the head of Fatah, has finally and officially withdrawn from the Palestinian Unity Government with Hamas. It was not a huge effort on the part of Abbas. Last week he actually held a meeting to discuss whether or not Fatah should remain in the government. Outside, guns were roaring and men were dying, inside there was a discussion around the table. The reality of the situation, the absurdity of the suggestion, was obvious to everyone -to everyone except Abbas.

Fatah was trounced by Hamas. Fatah lost control of an entire, crucially important, area. And now Fatah is to be rewarded. The United States is, in my opinion, making a premature decision here. Not that the Palestinian people do not desperately need aid – they do. But can Abbas deliver even aid to his people – that is the question.

Throwing support behind Fatah before Fatah decides to fight Hamas is throwing good money after bad. It is unwise, it is a foolish a waste. Not as much of a waste as the European Union’s promise to continue to pay Hamas salaries or as much of a waste as the decision by Saudi Arabia to continue to support Hamas charities to the tune of a hundred million dollars, but never-the-less an unnecessary waste.

The truth is out. United States policy wonks do not adequately understand the conflict between Palestinians – and I understand that. The culture, the political climate, the hatred are all foreign, literally and figuratively, to the American mind. But US policy people should at least protect US interests.

The United States is also suggesting that Abbas and by extension his Fatah party partner with Israel in pursuit of peace. On paper, the decision sounds reasonable. But once again the same problem arises. Can Abbas deliver on anything, anything at all, to which he agrees?

It is abundantly clear that Abbas cannot deliver Gaza. Major sections of the West Bank are not under his control. Fatah will be an asset for the United States and an ally for Israel only – only, if Fatah takes decisive action and then, only if they are successful. Fatah must continue the fight against Hamas. Now. If not, the fate of Gaza will become the future of the West Bank.

Hamas is more motivated and better trained than Fatah. But for now Fatah has more weapons and better quality weapons than Hamas. Today Fatah has more manpower, more fighters, than Hamas. The Fatah advantage will only last for a short period.

Unrest and violence in the Palestinian Authority will continue. It will continue in order to ensure the Palestinian people a future. Not because Israel has caused it to continue. Not because war makes good headlines. It will continue because it must.

And this time, when we read all about it, when we see the pictures and look at the cartoon depictions, hopefully, we will understand – truly understand, the situation.

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THE SLOW PALESTINIAN WAR OF ATTRITION

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday June 13, 2007

Column:

The past few days have been particularly costly for the Palestinians. Dozens of Fatah members and an equal number of Hamas followers have been killed and dozens upon dozens have been wounded. Leaders from both sides in this struggle among brothers have been targeted. They are fighting not only for their cause, they are fighting for their lives.

The Palestinians are caught up in an ugly, bloody, deadly civil war.

Civil wars do not begin suddenly and they do not end with the cessation of overt hostilities. Modern day civil wars do not begin when one day, one side launches an all out war against the other side. Civil wars are not camp time color wars. In recent history the initial phases of civil wars have been marked by tensions and skirmishes, hostilities brewing and bubbling below the surface. The idea is to cause the other side pain and suffering but not so much so that they will feel the need for reprisal. The objective is not to escalate the tension, so they brew and bubble until they can no longer be kept in check – and then they boil over.

In a civil war neither the fighters nor the organizers nor the leaders are concerned with the effect that a long protracted conflict will have on the masses. They don’t care about the effect it will have on their economy and markets. They don’t care about the greater good of their society. They care only about wreaking havoc on the other side, the enemy. Civil war is the most costly and most destructive kind of war. It is a war of atrophy. Civil wars are known as the slow wars of attrition.

For sixteen months I have been observing Fatah and Hamas, watching closely as tensions escalated. For sixteen months I have been predicting this civil war. It came about as the natural, inevitable, next step as Hamas ascended to political power. Gone were the soup kitchens that fed hungry Palestinians. The doors were closed on the school programs that educated Palestinian youth. The money was needed elsewhere. The money was needed for guns.

In any civil war, and the Palestinian civil war will be no exception, victory is hollow. Civil wars and their tensions linger for decades even after they are resolved. Palestinians are used to infighting, they have a long history of internal fighting. But it was always kept under wraps and under control by Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian bully. Arafat pounded his people into submission, he unified them by way of an oppressive regime. Arafat prevented any alternative voice or power from emerging. And with Arafat’s death came a dearth in Palestinian leadership.

Fatah and Hamas cannot maintain this war indefinitely. Both sides are equally brutal, ruthless and violent. Neither side has enough manpower, money or munitions. There are several factors that will cause the outward violence to come to a trickle if not a complete stop.

Public disgust and rejection will be a deciding factor.

Right now Hamas is quickly losing the public relations battle, but they do not recognize that reality. Right now Hamas has no time or patience or concern for public opinion and polls. It is a mistake on their part, perhaps a fatal mistake.

Numbers count in determining the victor.
Victory can be predicted based on the number of weapons and the number of supporters who gather in the streets with their guns held high to rally in support of their side. The quality or the age of the weapons is almost irrelevant.

Successful strikes at high level targets will point to a winner.
Whichever side succeeds in killing more high level military leaders will win. Hitting military leaders will cripple the other side not only psychologically but also tactically.

In recent battles Hamas used rockets to attack the house of a Fatah military leader in Gaza killing him and his brother. Fatah retaliated by kidnapping and murdering a Hamas leader and dumping his body outside the offices of Palestinian TV. The Fatah compound of Abbas in Gaza was hit with rockets and a Hamas TV station was taken over by Fatah. This war is escalating.

A cease fire will never last. Only a knock out or a massacre will change the situation. It is only a matter of time before there is a massacre or before one of the highest level leaders is assassinated – or both. In this environment, in this culture and in this kind of war, both are inevitabilities.

In the end Hamas will win. Or Fatah will win. In the end it makes no difference. The Palestinian people will have been decimated, raped by their own leaders.

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TERRORIST WANNABES

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday June 5, 2007

Column:

Headlines blazed and radio and television buzzed with the news. Federal agents had located and captured – busted, a terrorist ring. Wasn’t it only yesterday that another group of local terrorists had been captured? This time the target was JFK airport in New York, the airport named after the beloved president and world famous figure, the leader who was himself a victim of homegrown terror. This time the venue of choice was the jet fuel pipes that run underground in the heavily trafficked airport.

We were told that had they been successful, Guyanese born and naturalized citizen ring leader Russell Defreitas and his religious Muslim gang would have caused more damage than 9-11. In fact, that is not the case at all. The greatest damage would have come not to individuals and not to the infrastructure but to that great giant called the airline industry. The damage to people and property itself would have been minimal – it was the intention that was grand. These men hoped for an act of destruction so great that it would actually minimize the devastation and dwarf the trauma of 9-11.

The fact that their plan was unworkable in no way diminishes the magnitude or importance of the situation. The United States and the Western world continue to be at risk – from within, by our own.

These Muslim terrorists wanted to make a statement. They wanted to make the United States and by extension the entire Western world and Israel hurt. They wanted to make us quake with fear. According to the indictment, these plotters wanted to “cause greater destruction than in the Sept. 11 attacks” because they “wanted to do something to get those bastards.” They mean us.

It requires only a cursory look to determine that the plan was more a wish list than a death sentence for thousands of innocent world travelers. Experts with knowledge about pipelines and fuel have said it would be impossible to cause the kind of explosion that would result in any damage to the line or, more importantly, to anything or anyone above ground. That’s what the experts say and these men, while dedicated to their hateful cause, are anything but experts.

Russell Defreitas, sixty-three years old and now retired, used to work at JFK airport and knew it like the back of his hand. The problem for Russell and his plan is that he stopped working at the airport in 1995, long before the airport security system was overhauled, tightened and improved as a direct result of 9-11. Yes, he was spotted on surveillance missions and taking photographs around the airport four times in the past year and yes, he claims to have learned bomb-making in his native Guyana, but neither he nor his cohorts ever built a bomb. They never bought bomb materials. They never even trained as terrorists, never read the al Qaeda textbook or viewed the video.

Defreitas, Kareem Ibrahim, Abdul Kadir and Abdel Nur desperately wanted to hurt America. Luckily for us, they seem pitifully incapable of actually doing America harm. They had no contingency plans and no alternatives. They were not even fluent in the basic operations of the new fuel system and its security and capabilities at the airport. They had an idea but there was no real operational plan. And the plan that they did have seemed poorly conceived and it is most doubtful that it would have worked even with the opportunity to put it into action.

They are guilty of conspiracy to perpetrate an act of terror. They were plotting and the group leader even confessed to an informant that he feared that the FBI was on to them. And because of very important and remarkably effective investigative work on the part of the federal authorities, especially the Joint Terrorism Task Force, they were caught and now they deserve to be punished.

And they are not alone.

A bungling, sixty-three year old former baggage handler is not the true profile of a homegrown terrorist. The probable and highly effective terrorists of tomorrow will be engineering and computer science students in their late 20’s and early 30’s. They will be men and women with real training and true discipline. They will be people with access to highly secured computer sites and with the ability to get both virtual and real clearance to those sites.

Homegrown terrorists and terrorist wannabes – in the United States and in all other Western countries – are an increasing breed. The West needs to keep up the pressure. The West needs to unmask these perpetrators of evil and uncover and dismantle these plots. It’s not easy – it’s necessity.

THE SHAME OF SDEROT

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday May 29, 2007

Column:

Israeli leadership has finally reached a breaking point.

Israeli masses have finally reached a breaking point.

It has taken too long – much, much too long but finally, Israel has realized that the daily bombardment of the citizens of Sderot, aka the Neglected City of the Negev, is not the status quo.

Israel has finally come to realize that it is neither natural nor acceptable for Qassam rockets to fall on the streets of Sderot – first frightening, then injuring and now killing the citizens of this impoverished city. For years, literally years, Qassams fell, citizens ran for shelter, damage was assessed and life went on. But then the bombing intensified, citizens attempted to run not into shelters but out of the city, the damage was no longer limited to property and life could not go on. And that is when it all clicked. That is when the reality of the lives of the citizens of Sderot smacked the rest of Israel in the face.

And then Hamas declared victory over Israel.

Proudly, loudly, Hamas laughed at Israel. Hamas described the ease with which they were able to loft rockets into a significant Israeli city. At will. With impunity.
And Israel realized that Hamas was correct. Until pushed to the edge, Israel empowered Hamas. Until pushed to the edge, Israel ignored, demeaned and derided Sderot.

How could it happen? Not how could Hamas attack an Israeli city. But how and why did greater Israel allow itself to not only accept but also embrace through neglect the fact that one of their cities would be under regular attack by the enemy, by tens of rockets every day. The answer brings shame upon the people of Israel.

In the eyes of most of Israel, the city of Sderot, the hometown even of the Israeli defense minister, was irrelevant.

Another reality brought forth by the bombardment of Sderot is that until now, right now, the masses of Israel saw Sderot and the inhabitants of Sderot as less than second class citizens. They were citizens no one cared much about. They were poor. They were immigrant. They are North Africans or they are from the former Soviet Republics. They do not matter.

The masses of Israel thought of the people of Sderot as expendable. Not even worth the effort or the loss of time.

And certainly not worth the lives of the soldiers who would be sacrificed if Israel entered Gaza in order to change the status quo and make life more bearable in Sderot by stopping the rockets.

And so Israel waited, hoping it would all go away. But rather than go away, the situation intensified. And now, when Israel can do nothing other than enter into Gaza the lives of those soldiers – just like the lives of the residents of Sderot, are at even greater risk.

Yuval Diskin, director of Israel’s Shin Bet, the Internal Security Administration, briefed the Israeli Cabinet on the situation awaiting the Israeli army as they now enter Gaza on their quest to put a stop to the Qassams. “They’ll be waiting for us with explosive tunnels, snipers, road bombs and anything else they can think of …” the director said.

But go in they must. According to my own analysis the only way Israel can put an end to this situation is by thinking short term and acting short term.

Short term for the army means in and out. It means target, attack, return home. The only way to stop the bombing is to use an integrated system. Israel must hit Hamas from the air and from the ground. Israel must use Special Ops forces going in and coming out. Israel must be fast. Israel must send in surgical teams to find, hit and capture targets. It is the only way to save the citizens of Sderot. It is the only way to incapacitate Hamas.

Israel must make it clear to Hamas that they are now in charge. That Israel will continue to assault from land and from air until Hamas-lobbed rockets stop falling through the sky and landing inside Israel.

According to Diskin the plan is working. Over the past few days Hamas has begun to be hurt badly by Israeli forces. But Hamas is not an easy enemy to defeat. Hamas is still not on the verge of collapse. The Palestinian people have no faith in Hamas and the Israelis are attacking inside Gaza but Hamas fighters remain highly motivated and well armed. Knocking out Qassam storage, transport and construction facilities will certainly set Hamas back.

Short term for Sderot means looking at the situation week by week. Was this week quieter than last week? How do you measure? Determine if more adults returned home this week than last week. See if more children came home. Check the offices of trauma specialists to determine if they are feeling a dip in volume and intensity.

And then Israel can think about long term solutions. And then Israel and Israelis can put the shame of Sderot to rest.

THE ENEMIES OF STABILITY

By Micah Halpern

Monday May 21, 2007

Column:

For a long time the international community has thought of Lebanon as a wash out, a puppet state, a sorry, unfortunate mess. It’s time to take a new look at this small, Arab, Middle-Eastern country. The eyes of the Western world should begin focusing on Lebanon.

The Lebanese Army is now engaged in a serious fight with a new enemy, Fatah al Islam. This group, led by a Palestinian named Shahr al Abassi, came into existence only last year as a break-off from a Syrian-backed Sunni fighting group. Fatah al Islam is composed of Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian fighters. Lebanon’s new nemesis was created in the image of al Qaeda, espousing al Qaeda beliefs and pursuing al Qaeda goals.

Fatah al Islam is probably – nay, almost certainly, sponsored by Syria. The ultimate mission of this group is to bring disorder and unrest to Lebanon. The short term goal is to act as a distraction thereby preventing any investigation into the assassination of beloved, anti-Syrian, independent, Lebanese leader Harriri – believed by the Lebanese and the free world to have been brutally murdered by the Syrians.

The fighting is fierce. In one day of battle the death tally was nineteen for Fatah al Islam, thirteen for the Lebanese army, six civilians caught in the crossfire and sixty civilians wounded. This particular battle took place in a refugee camp just outside of Tripoli. Fatah al Islam claims that their group is being targeted unjustifiably by the Lebanese army and that there will be just payment in return for the attacks against them. Turns out that in this case members of the group had robbed a bank and all the army was doing was doing their job and attempting to arrest the culprits.

The emergence of Fatah al Islam in Lebanon and the response of the Lebanese army to fight Fatah al Islam offer us several important insights into the new workings within Lebanon and the new reality of al Qaeda terrorists.

Al Qaeda is in Lebanon.
Al Qaeda today is not the al Qaeda the Western world was first introduced to, an al Qaeda headed by a very active Osama bin Laden. Today, al Qaeda is a very loosely linked structure. New al Qaeda groups all agree with the principles of al Qaeda – they are tutored through the al Qaeda-terrorist-DVD box set, they tune in to al Qaeda websites and receive spiritual support from the network that al Qaeda established and continues to develop. But this new generation of al Qaeda-ists has never been to an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. This new generation is locally trained and sponsored. This is the fresh, new face of al Qaeda, this is al Qaeda as we are seeing it emerge in Lebanon.

The Lebanese Army is at last making a stand for honor, country and control.
The future might be changing for the people of Lebanon. Lebanon has been a country hesitant to act on its own behalf, frustrated and impotent in the face of stronger military and governmental elements. Now, thanks to the support and encouragement of the Germans and the Italians, the Lebanese are actually starting to police Lebanon. The Lebanese are beginning to put an end to the days when Hezbollah and other outside and terrorist groups simply ran roughshod over their country. The border with Syria is still not totally sealed, but Germany and Lebanon are endeavoring to work out a system that will better secure the border. The proof is that the Lebanese army has actually confiscated convoys of weapons – not enough and not all, but more than they ever did before. And, not at all surprisingly, Hezbollah has demanded that their weapons be returned.

Terrorists are actually thieves and thugs.
It is essential to see terrorists for what they truly are – all around bad guys. Terrorists don’t only kidnap and bomb, terrorists murder for the thrill of it, they rape because they feel like it, they rob banks. Terrorists use their guns to terrorize locals – in Lebanon and every place else they can be found. Terrorists are not freedom fighters, they are thugs with weapons creating their own wild, wild, West. They use fear and intimidation to get what they want. And what they want is often religious submission, but it is also material goods and cold, hard cash. In this case, in this Lebanese refugee camp, the terrorists truly showed their hand.

Sunni/Shiite conflicts are well-documented but there are also Sunni/Sunni conflicts.
Intra-Sunni conflicts are not about religious orientation and dominance. Intra-Sunni conflicts are about law and order, about politics and power. Fatah al Islam does not want law and order, Fatah al Islam refuses to accept the power of elected politics. Fatah al Islam refuses to accept that the people of Lebanon have spoken and they want law and order and they want an investigation into the Harriri assassination. Fatah al Islam wants and respects only what Fatah al Islam wants.

Syria is still the power and influence behind much of what happens in Lebanon.
And not for the better. The reality is that the Syrian flag waves behind almost all illegal activity and every group within Lebanon that challenges the authority of Lebanon. Fatah al Islam is not the lone exception. Almost every single act of violence within Lebanon is Syrian – sponsored – almost every act. Syria would like nothing more than to destabilize Lebanon and step back into power. Right now that is not happening, but nor for lack of trying on their part.

The enemies of stability are the friends of terror. Lebanon has chosen to fight those enemies. Lebanon needs the support of strong, freedom-loving, friends.

Terror: New Lessons Learned

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday May 15, 2007

Column:

The arrest and capture of the terrorist cell in New Jersey was a shock to many people. More significantly, it was a learning experience for most of America.

Most Americans were taken by surprise. A terrorist cell blithely operating in Southern New Jersey, only a stone’s throw away from the great New York City and even closer to Philadelphia, was inconceivable, unfathomable and very, very scary.
Lesson # 1: There are American-Muslim extremists who want to destroy democracy and everything democratic values stand for.

And they were shocked by the realization that not all Muslim terrorists hail from the Middle East, that in fact some of the men arrested in New Jersey were European.
Lesson # 2: Muslim terrorists really do come in all shapes, sizes, colors and sexes and it is a serious and potentially dangerous mistake to assume that one region produces all terrorists.

And then they were struck by a combination of outrage and disbelief to learn that these people, undeniable terrorists, were only charged with the crime of conspiracy to murder United States servicemen.
Lesson # 3: The United States legal system is not set-up to handle acts of terror, still not, still not over five years since 9-11-2001.

Western countries in general, the United States very specifically, are nearly powerless to defend themselves against terror because laws are not yet properly in place to adequately deal with terrorists.

The United States still looks at terror like any other crime and that is a serious mistake. And because the United States looks at terror like any other crime it makes it almost impossible to crack down on terrorists. And because it is almost impossible to crack down on terrorists the rate of convictions for terrorists in the United States is abysmally low and punishments for the handful of terrorists actually convicted in the US rarely go over five years incarceration.
Lesson # 4: The United States must lower the bar in order to appropriately convict terrorists of the crimes they are perpetrating.

I’m not advocating an eye for an eye, I am saying to US lawmakers create a RICO act for terror.

I’m saying allow for easier convictions and relax the standards on collecting information.

I’m saying that these six men have been charged with crimes that do not carry much jail time and I am saying that America will once again be astounded when the case comes to trial because these six men will probably not serve any time at all even if they are convicted.

The key informant in this case was actually the leader of the group. He is the person who clearly admits to having experience in weapons, the person teaching the other terrorists to be terrorists. He is the person with the plan and most importantly, he is the person that everyone else wants to please. That, fellow Americans, is entrapment.

Entrapment is best defined as being induced or persuaded by law enforcement officers or their agents to commit a crime that one had no previous intent to commit. If the leader was the informant, and every indication so far leads us to assume that he was, the Federal government will have a very difficult time convicting any of these men of anything, certainly of anything substantial.

These men were out to destroy our democracy. Our democracy, in its present legal state, might set them free.
Lesson # 5: Sometimes, even the best of democracies must be modified to meet changing world events.

THE GREAT DISCONNECT

By Micah Halpern

Monday, April 30, 2007

Column:

The Far East and the Middle East.

Two ends of the earth, disconnected from each other culturally, religiously, philosophically, no similarity at all in language, tradition or style. And yet, there is a major connect between the two in two significant arenas.

Diplomacy and big business.

When it comes to the fine arts of diplomatic nuance and big business, the Far East and the Middle East are both significantly misunderstood by the United States of America. And that is no small matter.

In the mid ’80’s I read an essay penned by a Harvard sociologist about how difficult it is to understand the Japanese. It seems that the Japanese have so very many different ways of saying the word “yes” that they even often say “yes” when what they really mean to say is a resounding “no.” Anyone not intimately connected with Japan would have to be confused. Imagine someone who “merely” spoke the language. Better yet, imagine someone who did not at all speak the language and was totally reliant on an interpreter for dialogue and information flow.

When it comes to business, commercial, diplomatic and cultural exchanges in the Far East and in many parts of the Middle East, the United States is plagued by the inability to fully absorb both the spoken and the unspoken context of their interactions. Not only governmental agencies, but also private companies doing business are at risk.

Much literature has been written to aid business people who embark on trade ventures in the Far East. The idea is to help these entrepreneurs overcome the problem of miscommunication in societies where simple language is simply not enough to totally understand a situation. In Japanese, for example, often the most salient or significant point in a discussion is left off the end of the sentence. The Japanese often leave off the detail or the reasons or even sometimes the point of disagreement. They are not trying to play outsiders as fools, it is rather a part of the culture of Japanese dialogue. One could – and people often have, left meetings assuming that both parties were in total harmony to later find out that the meeting had been totally ineffectual, that there were no points of agreement, that in fact the two were at odds with one another.

It happens with people who know the language and it happens with people who act as translators, too. During the deficit negotiations between the United States and Japan the US negotiators constantly complained of never understanding what Japan meant by saying “yes.” When a translator is giving only the official translation of the spoken word negotiators are rendered ignorant of the true nature of their own interaction. They are presented with only a partial picture of a situation that is replete with crucial unspoken dialogue. And that happens when everyone is in a room together, looking at each other, trying as best as one can to size up the situation. Reading an officially translated document or transcript of a meeting provides even less information when dealing with certain cultures.

It is difficult in Japan and it is just as difficult in the Middle East. There are Arabs and there are Persians and there are Shiites and Sunnis and Alawites, all with their own nuanced cultural behaviors and language.

In Arabic as well as in Persian traditions, like in the Far East, the concept of hospitality is a primary value. Being rude or mean or dirty is frowned upon. Being rude often means expressing opposition to another’s concept or business plan. It is just not done in formal settings, it is not expressed in formal language. Unless they are accompanied by or represented by native speakers, Americans are at a disadvantage when engaged in dialogues that contain double, triple and quadruple messages.

In the greater Arab world, secularists are discounted by the masses. In order to reach the masses, the language of choice has become a language steeped in religious terminology. Persian, as an example, is a culture and a language teeming with apocalyptic terms and symbols. That does not mean that Iran does not want to destroy Israel and the West – it does. But it also means that this use of language is part of their everyday dialogue and has been since they split off from mainstream Islam and is not only notched up for our benefit. There’s more. The Shiite army is called the Mahdi Army. Mahdi is the Shiite messiah.

Negotiating foreign policy under these circumstances is daunting, to say the least. It is virtually impossible to communicate any point in most Arabic languages without invoking the name of Allah or using other religiously infused language. Uninformed, culturally ignorant, foreign United States representatives face challenges that are totally unaware of. Our society cannot and does relate to that language.

The result is a huge synapse. The result is the belief by the United States that promises are being broken, when in fact, those promises were never made. The result is ill will and animosity.

Neither the Far East nor the Middle East will change their ways. The only power capable of change is the United States. If anything is to change the United States must understand and learn more.

A CALCULUS: WILL ISRAEL STRIKE IRAN?

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday April 24, 2007

Column:

For many countries, the threat of nuclear annihilation is a theoretical issue. For Israel, the threat of nuclear attack is real, palpable, a true possibility. Of all the countries plotting the demise of the Jewish State the country that is planning to use nuclear power as the weapon of choice is, of course, Iran. Which leads to an all-important, non-theoretical, set of questions.

Will Israel strike Iran?

Israel would prefer that Iran be struck – by some other power and rendered weak by another nation. For Israel it would be best if the United States and a coalition of the West emasculated and neutered Iran of nuclear capabilities. Should that not occur, then yes, I believe that Israel will, under certain circumstances strike Iran.

Under what circumstances will Israel strike Iran?

Israel’s agenda is first and foremost the safety of Israeli citizens and the sovereignty of the country of Israel. Next on the agenda comes the stability of the Middle East region. Israel is not alone in worrying about the region, the United States certainly shares those concerns and has made stability within the region a priority. But not with the same intensity. Not with the same immediacy. The United States is buffered by distance and size – Israel has neither.

Israel will strike Iran when one of three things happen:
#1: When the United States sees eye to eye with Israel on an assessment of the nuclear danger Iran poses.
#2: When Israel is faced with the imminent threat of a missile attack.
#3: After a nuclear attack on Israel by Iran.

How will Israel strike Iran?

When the United States agrees 100% completely with Israel’s risk assessment, or if Israel has knowledge of an imminent attack from Iran, Israel will strike preemptively.

A preemptive strike by Israel against Iran would mean a three-pronged attack. Land. Air. Sea. Civilian casualties are an unfortunate casualty of war, but in this case, Israel would have the ability to keep them to a minimum. The model for this attack is taken from Israel’s own handbook – the 1982 bomb attack on the Iraqi nuclear power plant. This time, however, the attack would be far more complicated and far more sophisticated. This time, the attack would be a simultaneous, multi-geographical strike at the heart of Iran’s nuclear program. The objective would be to knock out as many known and potential nuclear targets as possible. In order to be successful, the attack must render Iran’s entire nuclear operation inoperative.

The result would be a decade’s long setback in Iran’s nuclear growth. The result would be a strong Israel thrust into a defensive posture and set to repel counter attacks from Iran and from Iran’s Israel-hating cohorts and associates. The result would be an audible sigh of relief from the vast majority of the Muslim world cowered into paying lip service to the forces of power ruling Iran.

How will Israel strike back at Iran?

With their permission and more importantly without their permission and because of their opposition it is immensely important for us, the West, to keep careful and accurate tabs on Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Eyes opened and wandering, ears and listening devices to the ground and operatives bringing back intelligence that is accurate and trusted.

It now seems that Iran is not as far along their nuclear path than as we originally thought. Technically, Iran’s development of a nuclear missile as well as other top shelf nuclear weapons has not been completed. Iran does not now possess the ability to direct a full scale nuclear device at Israel. That does not eliminate the threat of a nuclear attack against Israel, it alters the threat.

It means that Israel now has to worry about an attack carried out by a dirty bomb. Carried out is a literal, not a figurative, term. The dirty bomb would reach Israel in one of two ways. It would be trucked out and delivered by a live walking, talking and probably disguised person to one of the most populated cities in Israel. Or it would arrive by ship, off the coast or into the port of one the most populated cities in Israel. The idea is to annihilate as large a population as possible.

What amount of force will Israel use to strike Iran?

I have thought long and hard about this.

Israel can go one of two ways. The first way is to consider any nuclear attack as a threshold issue that breaks the glass ceiling. That means that any use of any nuclear force against Israel or Israelis will be responded to with great force in order to make certain it does not ever happen again. Not by Iran. Not by anyone. The second way for Israel to respond to an Iranian nuclear attack against Israeli cities and civilians is to use the calculus of numbers, a hard, cold calculation based on the numbers of lives lost.

According to my best analysis, Israel’s calculus will be as follows:

If the number of Israelis killed by a nuclear device tops 10,000 Israel will launch a significant counterattack against Iran. A significant attack would mean liquidating an entire Iranian city or two or three – depending on how far above 10,000 the actual tally went. Totally razing that city or cities to the ground.

If the number of Israelis killed by a nuclear device hovers between 1,000-3,000, Israel will have a much more measured response. That measured response will be the targeting of Iranian leadership and Iran’s nuclear bases. Targets would include the air-force and other positions within the defense establishment. Targets would include political leadership and religious leadership.

According to my best analysis Israel is even now, when the threat is real but not imminent, leaning towards the glass ceiling approach. And when the glass ceiling is broken the rules are blown sky high.

MAKING DEALS WITH THE DEVIL

By Micah Halpern

Monday April 16, 2007

Column:

How far would you go to save your child?

What rules would you break? What deals with the devil would a parent broker in order to save the life of their child?

What happens when the “parent” is a country? What about when the “child” is Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in June of 2006 while on-duty on the Israeli side of the Gaza border, the soldier still being held hostage somewhere in Hamasland?

Israel is now faced with making one of the most emotionally-laden decisions in the country’s history. Israel is now faced with making one of the most politically-laden decisions in the country’s history. Israel is now faced with making one of the most historically-laden decisions in the country’s history. And it is all the same decision.

Hamas is promising to release the Israeli soldier to Israel if Israel releases a long list of Palestinians now serving time in Israeli prisons. If it were a mathematical decision, the equation would be simple. One man for many men. If only it were that simple. The many men Hamas is asking for, nay demanding, are terrorists – men captured by Israeli soldiers, tried in Israeli courts and convicted by Israeli judges for committing acts of terror.

For years, the mantra of Israeli governments – left, right and center – has been: we will not negotiate with terrorists, we will not release terrorists with blood on their hands.

For years, Israeli parents have sent off their prized possessions, their sons and now their daughters to proudly serve in the Israeli Defense Forces with the knowledge that their military will never leave an Israeli soldier behind, that their military will do everything possible to seek the return of their child, that there will always be a grave at which to mourn.

The exceptions to that rule have been few, mostly because the whereabouts of the soldiers are not known, because no government or terrorist group has offered to broker a deal on their behalf. The most notable exception is Ron Arad, left behind and captured by the enemy during the tenure of Yitzhak Rabin, not as prime minister but as military chief of staff. Associates close to Rabin have said that he lamented and regretted the decision not to do everything in the IDF’s power to get back their soldier. We will never know for sure, Rabin was felled by another type of terrorist, an Israeli who now sits in prison with no hope of release. And Ron Arad has become an Israeli icon.

Israel is not Great Britain. Tony Blair made his decision and now his sailors and marines are back home. He said that his country has a policy of not dealing with terrorists and then sent his Consul General in Jerusalem to meet with Hamas Prime Minister Hanniyeh to try to secure the release of the captives. And then he said to heck with policy and pressure and met the demands of the captors. But again, Israel is not Great Britain.

So far, Israel has not negotiated with terrorist groups and Israel has not met with terrorists. They get their soldiers back through third party negotiators. The Hamas list has come to Israel through Egypt. The very existence of the list proves that there has been significant progress in the negotiations, hopefully, there will be continued progress. It is a slow process.

The standout name on the list is Marwan Barghoutti, head of the Al Aqsa brigade. Barghoutti, even while sitting in an Israeli prison, is the most popular person in the entire Palestinian Authority. When Yasser Arafat was alive, he was the second most popular person. And boy, oh boy, does Barghoutti have blood on his hands.

The price that Israel is being asked to pay in order to bring back one son to his parents, in order to return one soldier to his nation is astronomically high. Before Barghoutti can be freed, before he is released from Israelis prison, he must be given a presidential pardon – that means publicly, legally decreeing that the murders Marwan Barghoutti committed were not really murders.

Releasing the terrorists on the Hamas list means releasing the murderers of those people directly responsible for the deaths of the sons and daughters, the mothers and fathers, the grandmothers and grandfathers, the teachers and doctors and friends and playmates of other Israelis. It means releasing the people responsible for crippling, maiming, paralyzing, scarring, destroying the lives and taking away the livelihoods of other Israelis. It means disregarding the acts of heroism performed by member of Israel’s armed forces and the loss of life sustained by Israel’s armed forces in tracking and capturing those terrorists. It means reneging on a promise made to all Israelis.

And it means invalidating the judicial system that put these people in prison.

We now live in an era of kidnapping. Survival skills and rules have not yet been codified.

THIS POPE UNDERSTANDS

By Micah Halpern

Monday April 9, 2007

Column:

It has been confirmed by the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on behalf of the fifteen British sailors and marines taken captive by Iran. Writing this letter to Iran’s Muslim leader was a very bold move on the part of the world’s leading Catholic.

Evil incarnate is the way the Muslim world views the Catholic Pope. The Muslim world in general and Iran specifically have deemed the Pope the most dangerous leader on our planet. The Western world pales in comparison. The United States is a mere trifling annoyance. Israel is a speck on the Muslim hatred meter when compared to the Catholic Pope.

The Pope is a threat to Islam.

Unlike other Western leaders who, according to present day Muslim theological thought, might be misled by Western ideas and thoughts and whose followers are secular, the Pope is the leader of the behaviors and attitudes of nearly a billion and a half religious people across the globe. The Pope’s people are fervent in their belief and their belief and their teachings are very different from Muslim belief and teachings. Muslim fear of and hatred for Catholicism is not new. In Muslim historical memory the horrors of the Crusades are still palpable. The indignity thrust upon Islam when Christians arrived at their doorstep in order to convert them and rule over them and dictate to them and control their holy sites still reverberates throughout the Muslim world.

Given all that Islamic emotional and historical baggage the question begs asking: Would a missive by the Pope have any impact on The Supreme Leader? The answer is, it doesn’t matter. This letter was not about Muslim attitudes. This letter was not about the Catholic Church in general. This letter was specifically about the mindset and the insight of Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict wrote this letter not to defend the honor of the Church, after all, there are only 4.2 million Catholics in England as compared to about 24 million Protestants. Pope Benedict penned this letter to put forth and articulate a humanitarian objective. Note that the letter was sent not to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It was sent directly to the Ayatollah Khamenei. Ahmadinejad might be the public presenter, the face of Iran to the outside world, but inside Iran, he is second fiddle. The Ayatollah is just as his title describes, the Ayatollah is absolute supreme leader. Whatever the Ayatollah wants, happens. Whatever the Ayatollah decrees, is implemented. As much policy freedom as we are now seeing from Ahmadinejad, his personal survival depends on doing just as he is told.

This Pope understands Iran. This Pope understands the dangers of Islam. This Pope knows radical Islam to be one of the greatest threats to Europe Catholicism and to the Western World. This Pope knows that a cultural and religious battle pitting Islam on one side and the rest of the world on the other is brewing.

This Pope understands that at stake is the world as we know it. The Ayatollah Khamenei knows this, too.

The Ayatollah Khamenei is determined to be at the forefront of the world’s conversion to his brand of Islam. The Ayatollah Khamenei knows that the only leader who has a chance at stopping the wave Muslim influence around the world is the Pope. The Ayatollah Khamenei is planning a reverse Crusades.

Both leaders are reading the numbers. Khamenei represents a population of seventy to seventy-five million Iranian believers and followers. He dreams of representing the entire Muslim world, 1.5 billion Muslims strong. He knows that his chances of actually leading the Muslim world are small now, he understands that the masses are so involved in their daily survival that they are not psyched for a massive religious conflict. But he is laying the foundation.

Laying the foundation includes Iran’s Holocaust denial. It includes Iran’s resistance to play by the rules on matters of nuclear development. And laying the foundation is why the British sailors and marines were captured. And laying the foundation is why they were later released. The Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khamenei was paid his due respect by the great Great Britain. He received the apology he craved, the apology he felt he deserves, the apology that was heard around the Muslim world.

The actions of the Ayatollah Khamenei are calculated by their ability to showcase Iran’s honor. Khamenei’s ploys, his actions, his decisions, even his bluster are calculated to showcase Iran’s place of honor among Muslim nations. It is the eyes of his fellow Muslims that he is watching, it is the hearts of Islam that he is seeking.

Pope Benedict XVI put aside his bigger battle to try to solve the little issue. The message that the Pope put forth to the supreme leader of Iran was simple: if you are really interested in the message of God, if you are really interested in relieving pain and suffering, you will release your captives.

This time, the Pope called the Ayatollah’s bluff.

DIPLOMACY, ARAB STYLE

By Micah Halpern

Monday April 2, 2007

Column:

Diplomacy is an art.

Diplomacy is often embroiled in a conflict of cultures.

Diplomacy is always punctuated with dramatic disagreements.

It is through the tortuous byways and entanglements and unspoken rules of diplomatic etiquette that regional and international differences are resolved and historic compromises emerge. In the end, the parties are equally disappointed, frustrated and satisfied. In the end, diplomacy works.

Everyone in international affairs knows these fundamentals of diplomacy. And that is exactly why the current on-the-table version of the Saudi Peace Plan so greatly surprises me. Why exactly?

Because the Saudi Peace Plan is being pitched as a turn-key program. Because with this Saudi Peace Plan it is all or nothing, take it or leave it. Since when is a diplomatic situation ever all or nothing? The entire point of diplomacy is compromise in order to achieve a mutually beneficial situation, a situation Game Theorists call “win – win.”

Obviously, Israel has some serious problems with the proposal. The Right of Return and the absolutism of the return to pre-1967 borders are sore, sticking points. And despite that, Israel has said that they are willing to discuss the proposal because for Israel the idea of actually sitting down with other countries in the region and discussing the future and their joint fates is nothing less than compelling. Even if the parties disagree. Even if the parties walk out doors and slam their fists and threaten to end the talks. For Israel, formally, officially talking to countries in the region other than the few they already have ties with is about as good as it gets.

Israel is looking to expand its diplomatic circle. Israel is not looking for friends. Israel is looking for non-enemies. Israel is looking for diplomatic cohorts.

If Israel can speak to even one new country, that would be a tremendous step forward. Not only for Israel, for both those countries. For the Arab world it would be an opportunity to see that Israelis do not really have those proverbial horns, it would be an opportunity to realize that Israel is more than merely a dread, de facto reality.

It would, but it never will.

The Saudi Peace Plan is ultimately not about diplomacy. Ultimately, the Saudi Peace Plan is about cultural identity. The all-or-nothing -plan and the manner in which it has been presented is the give away. The Saudi Peace Plan is an unworkable and unrealistic proposal not because of content but because of presentation.

Don’t believe me, listen to what the Saudis themselves are saying. The Saudi foreign minister has clearly framed his country’s intentions and objectives and motives. Not accepting The Plan, he said, is tantamount to asking for war. He said: “That if Israel refuses, that means it does not want peace and it places everything back into the hands of fate. They will be putting their future not in the hands of peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war.”

Powerful. Very powerful wordage. So why is it that according to Saudi thinking the only alternative to total acceptance of The Plan is war, the exact total opposite of The Plan. What about working out differences? Ironing out specifics? Mutual dialogue for the sake of pounding out a better proposal for all the parties? The Saudis have come so far in even proposing this plan, why are they sabotaging it from the outset?

Here’s why.

The Saudi Peace Plan promises total normalization with all Arab countries. Saudi Arabia can’t guarantee that. Saudi Arabia doesn’t speak for all Arab countries. The Arabs cannot actually guarantee their end of the bargain. So instead of attempting to influence naysayer colleague countries, they set the bar so high that Israel will never accept the proposal.

The most recent Arab meeting to discuss The Plan had almost 100% Arab attendance. Everyone came, even the foreign minister of Iran. The only significant group missing was al Qaeda. And everyone decided to endorse The Plan. And everyone knew that Israel never could and never would.

Here’s an interesting footnote to the meeting. Before the meeting the Iranian foreign minister held a joint meeting with Hamas’ Palestinian Prime Minster Haniyeh and Fatah’s Palestinian President Abbas.

Talk about being in cahoots. Talk about diplomacy, Arab Style.

I’M CONFUSED

By Micah Halpern

Monday March 26, 2007

Column:

I’m a bit confused.

And if I’m a bit confused then it is no wonder that the Arab world is confused. Palestinian leaders are totally confused. And Israel? Israel is just plain perplexed. No one is at all bemused.

Who can understand United States foreign policy when it is replete with mixed messages and convoluted communication?

Secretary of State Condi Rice just finished a set of meetings in the Middle East region with Palestinians and with Israelis. After her meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and the person responsible for creating a unity government with Hamas, Rice held a press conference. At the press conference the secretary of state, the highest ranking American diplomat, admitted that the United States of America will work towards a two-state solution and, she added, the United States will “work on Israel.” The secretary of state said that the US is trying to create an independent and separate track of negotiations for a Palestinian state despite the new unity government led by Hamas.

The message delivered by Secretary of State Rice is simple and clear. So why the confusion?

The United States has said, sworn, affirmed and pledged not to meet with Hamas or any Hamas affiliates. And then the United States turns around and meets with Abbas and others in the Hamas Unity Government. And then the United States promises to do the utmost to help out that government create their ultimate goal, an independent state.

There’s more. Israel has said that the Israeli government will not meet with anyone who meets with Hamas. Israel is saying, in other words, that it is now impossible to make a distinction between the groups, impossible to split up Hamas and Fatah. Israel is saying that once Fatah joined Hamas, Fatah became like Hamas. Fatah now has the Hamas “cooties.”

Surprisingly, United Nations Secretary General Ban in an awkward nod to Israel would not meet with Hamas. But he did meet with Fatah members of the Hamas government. Personally, that is just what I would expect from the United Nation’s top man.

Now it gets even more complicated and confusing.

The entire Arab world plus every member nation of the United Nations and all of Israel knows that the United States is Israel’s strongest supporter. So just why is Israel’s big brother making these pledges to the Palestinians and to the rest of the Arab world? Why?

The United States is being inconsistent and when that happens, everyone suffers, everyone gets hurt. Israel gets hurt because the United States is publicly, diplomatically, openly showing that the two nations no longer stand shoulder to shoulder on the question of Hamas. The Palestinians get hurt because they cannot possibly decipher what the United States really expects from them and that plays directly into the hands of the extremists i.e. Hamas. The Arab world gets hurt because double messages are doubly hard to read and the Arab world cannot possibly figure why the United States could care about the Palestinians when the Arab world could not care less.

Even the United States gets hurt. The United States is now perceived as flip-floppy and wobbly by a world that admires straight forward decisions and decisive action.

The Secretary of State is not to be blamed. In this instance, she really is only the messenger. This unfortunate change in policy comes directly from the White House. And this White House is not the first to fall victim to Hamas. The Clinton White House fell under the same spell. The belief that if you accommodate Palestinian leaders they will tame the terrorist leaders who will in turn exchange their suicide bombs for negotiating tables is naive, Pollyanna-ish and mistaken.

History is our witness. It all began with Yasser Arafat. Arafat claimed that with the right amount of money he could handle the terrorist problem. So the United States gave him money, suitcases and suitcases full of money. The more money the United States threw at Arafat, the richer he became. And the terrorist problem remained the same. And Arafat received more money.

The United States has made a mistake. The United States has double-crossed Israel.

ASSAD’S SMOKE AND MIRRORS MESSAGE

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Column:

Bashar Assad, president of Syria, is the strong silent type. So when the young leader of one of the most diabolical of all Arab nations consents to an interview in a foreign Arabic newspaper, I pay attention.

The dictator of Syria just granted an interview to al Jazira, the largest Saudi newspaper – not to be confused with al Jazeera the TV station and website which broadcasts from Qatar. In the course of his interview Assad offered his impressions and lent his interpretation on a variety of hot topics including maneuverings within the region, the potential for peace between his nation and Israel and his take on the United States of America.

If this interview is to be believed, I would have to say that the man is a pessimist. Assad had no positive anything to say at all about anybody. But that’s just the point. Assad was giving a personal interview, but there was nothing personal about it. He was not speaking from his heart, he was speaking to the hearts of everyone who cares about what the ruler of Syria has to say.

An interview with Bashar Assad is not really about his true assessment. An interview with Bashar Assad is about what he wants people to believe. Dictators like Assad and his father before him use the media to create smoke and mirrors, to create illusions, to provide a safety net. And dictators like Assad use the media to confound and confuse us.

The best and most convincing way to tell an untruth is to include some truth in the story. The more longwinded the plea, the less I am convinced of the sincerity of the pleader. So, too, with Arab leaders who grant interviews to foreign media outlets.

On the subject of Israel Assad’s little bit of truth was his confirmation that over the past few months there have been a series of European, Arab and even American intermediaries who have tried to work their own magic at brokering an exchange of ideas between Syria and Israel – a move which is still many giant steps away from the ultimate goal of bringing the Syrians and Israelis to a negotiating table.

He called the intermediaries “informal contacts.” He said, “[s]enior personalities came to Syria, Americans and Europeans. Maybe they were Arabs who live in the West and hold dual citizenship. We cannot tell who is an Arab and who is a foreigner in any case, these personalities came to us and said that it is necessary to move the peace process between us and Israel forward.” He added, and this is important, “These delegations heard our opinions and passed them on to Israel, while other people went to Israel and then came to Syria with Israeli opinions.”

From there Assad went on to proclaim that “the current government in Israel is the weakest in Israel’s history” and that he expects no change on the negotiation front for at least two years. Well, that part was not only a lie – excuse me, an untruth, but also a dangerous statement to make.

Israel is not at its weakest point in history. If Israel were at its weakest point in history Syria would be on the attack. If Assad really considered Israel to be weak he would be taking back the Golan Heights that his father lost in an embarrassing defeat to Israel in 1967, right now. But he isn’t. Because it’s not.

Israel’s militarily preparedness is on the rise. Assad is confusing popular political support with military prowess, confusing vox populi with military readiness and capability in order to make his point. He wants to present a powerless Israel to the public even though he knows that the opposite is true. He wants to rally the Arab world. If Israel is weak the Arab world is strong. By presenting an Israel that is faltering Assad is waving the banner of an Arab world that is strong, steadfast and secure. Smoke and mirrors.

In some way, despite his determination to create illusions, Assad cannot be faulted for this deception. How can a dictator be expected to understand the workings of a democracy? No doubt popular support for Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has fallen, but his position within the Knesset is still very strong and I do not foresee new elections until at least October or November and maybe not even then. And even if there were to be a democratic shift and change in leadership in Israel it would not signal weakness. Because Israel is not a dictatorship but a democracy dissent and public debate are part of the process. And because Israel is a democracy the military does not shift with each change of government.

Assad’s statement suggesting that there are no changes on the negotiation front is another of his smoke and mirrors ploys. The very fact that there have been multiple envoys and mediators going back and forth and back again between Israel and Syria over the past few months – which he so readily admits – is in and of itself an indicator of progress. And Assad actually said he is sending his “opinions” to Israel. His opinions, that’s big news.

And the Syrian expatriate whom Assad so casually refers to by saying that maybe there are Arabs who live in the West and hold dual citizenship but it is difficult to tell who is an Arab and who is a foreigner, is a very successful American named Suliemen doing a very heroic balancing act. Suliemen has met with Israel’s former Foreign Ministry director general Dr. Alon Liel and has just completed a visit to Israel where he was a guest in the Knesset.

Things are happening, dialogue is underway, not-so-secret mediators shuttling between the countries and clandestine meetings will continue. The ultimate objective may be peace but first and most important are the channels of communication. Syria and Israel have no other alternative than to ultimately talk to each other. They share a water system and they share a border. Israel knows that, Assad knows that.

The Middle East is a volatile region. It is an area where rhetoric reigns. As long as the players recognize the truth in untruths a balance is maintained. Unfortunately, that seesaw balance sometimes shifts. And smoke dissipates. And mirrors crack.

IRAN AND RUSSIA: THE GAMES THEY PLAY

By Micah Halpern

Sunday March 11, 2007

Column:

Aesop told a fable about a fox and crow. The crow, a rather ugly crow, held a piece of cheese in its mouth. The fox, a rather wily fox, wanted that cheese. The fox had a plan. He flattered the crow, describing the beautiful voice it had. Flattered, the crow opened its mouth to sing, the cheese fell out, the fox ate the cheese, the crow was left with false flattery and an empty belly. The moral: Never trust a fox.

The Iranians have defaulted on their payments to the Russians. The Russians have stopped construction on the Iranian nuclear plant in Busher. Who’s the winner and who is the loser in this scenario – think like a fox, not like a crow.

Iran cut a deal with the Russians to pay a monthly payment of 25 million dollars in order to build them a nuclear power plant. The last payment was made in January, as of February the Iranians had not paid so on February 17th, the Russians halted their work. Now there are re-negotiations going on for late payments and penalties.

Did the Iranians run out of money? Of course not. Did the Iranians change their minds? No. This is all part of a game plan – a diabolical game plan hatched by Iran to take advantage of Russian know-how and then, when they had enough, when they had learned enough, to dump them.

Are the Russians being taken advantage of? Sure they are, but no more so than the advantage they were taking of the Iranians. The Russians had a game plan, a master game plan, too.

Iran and Russia are playing mind games with each other and by extension with the entire international community.

The Russians know that their country does not have many products enticing enough to export – but they do have weapons and technology. And weapons and technology are not only enticing, they provide a lucrative profit. Sure, some of the weapons are rusty and some of the technology is outdated, but there is always a market even for that. The Russians have always felt that they were the masters of Iran’s nuclear development projects. The Iranians paid the bills for services rendered and services delivered, but Russia was in control. Russia controlled the time line.

The Russians are beginning to feel the pressure of the international community. Their response was to slow down the workings of Atomstroiexport, the company that is building the Iranian nuclear plant. Not stopping, just slowing down, missing deadlines, dragging out the process, readjusting commitments, adding other features and claiming that there are more complications than originally planned. It is a typical stalling technique used by the Russians in order to draw out more time, gain more revenue or transform a one-time project into a never ending project.

The Iranians began to complain, but to no avail – so they did the next best thing. The Iranians chose to exercise their power as the client and to withhold payment. The situation started spiraling out of control.

The Iranians understood the Russian game plan and called their bluff. In order to make certain that they do not ever again fall prey to the whim and whimsy of the Russians, the Iranians have broken ground on another new nuclear power plant, this one built entirely, exclusively, completely by Iran. In all probability, to the chagrin and embarrassment of the Russians, this new plant will probably be completed – up and running, even before the Busher plant.

Iranians are very good at taking technology from the Russians and making it their own. They have done it with missiles and with rockets. They have done it with satellites. They have done it with cars and trucks and now they will do it with nuclear power plants. That means the Russians will have no input and no control. It means that the Russians will have lost their international trump card.

Russia always assumed that by building and then maintaining the Iranian nuclear plant they would automatically have first hand knowledge of everything nuclear within Iran. And they would get paid for it. There would be no need for intelligence and speculation. The Russians always believed that they could torpedo any Security Council decisions by comforting the Chinese with the words “we are there on the ground,” “we are monitoring the situation.” And actually, in the past Russian inspectors under the rubric of the United Nations were the only officials permitted access into Iran while all others were shunned.

Russia wants money. Iran wants a plant. Neither country is getting what they want. The world should be a better place. The international community should rejoice. Not so quickly …

There’s still that piece of cheese.

INSIDE THE HEAD OF ALI

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday March 6, 2007

Column:

Ali Reza Azkari has disappeared. Gone. Vanished. No sign, no trace. The last time Azkari was seen was in Istanbul, disembarking from a plane.

Who is Ali Reza Azkari? For those who know the languages of the Middle East it is obvious from his middle name, Reza, that Ali is Iranian. Those who follow Iranian political history will know that he was a former Iranian deputy defense minister. And for many years Ali Reza Azkari was the highest ranking Iranian intelligence officer in Lebanon.

February 7th is the last time Ali Reza Azkari was sighted. Iran has sent a team to Turkey to investigate the situation. Iran has asked Interpol to intercede and help find their man. Iran has asked local Turkish authorities for their eyes, ears and assistance. To date, there are no leads. Nothing, just dead ends.

The one thing Iran has not done is issue an official statement speaking of the disappearance of one of their top officials and most valued diplomats. Iran has not yet officially recognized the disappearance, the probable kidnapping, of a man who holds – in his head – the secrets of the nation of Iran.

Azkari’s plane originated in Damascus, Syria and touched down in Istanbul, Turkey. He was either grabbed from the airport or from his hotel. He was a former Iranian deputy defense minister. And for many years Ali Reza Azkari was the highest ranking Iranian intelligence officer in Lebanon.

Who would do such a thing? The Mossad.

I’ll tell you who else – the good ol’ red, white and blue CIA, in a plan coordinated with the Mossad. The CIA has a vast set of resources and a large operation working out of Istanbul. The Mossad has the language skills and the cultural ease and know-how necessary to do the job.

Ali Reza Azkari has first hand knowledge that is vital to Israel. Ron Arad, an Israeli navigator was shot down and taken captive over Lebanon in 1986 – precisely during the period when Azkari was Iran’s man in Lebanon. Arad, now an Israeli icon, is still missing – his fate and whereabouts completely unknown. If the Israelis have Azkari they have access to essential information about Arad, about where he, or his body, have been for the past twenty-one years, about why no group has ever cut a deal with Israel for his return. And there is more. If the Israelis have Azkari they have the intelligence they need about Iran’s nuclear threat and Iran’s real and actual interest and ability to strike at Israel.

If they have him and if they can break him.

Ali Reza Azkari holds a virtual gold mine of information for the United States. Azkari made decisions, implemented decisions and witnessed operations. Azkari was an Iranian player, a big time player. The intelligence and strategic material that Azkari has, the first-hand, hands-on, top secret and behind-closed-doors information that he was privy to is the intelligence that the United States needs in order to accurately and efficiently deal with Iran.

If they have him and if they can break him.

The disappearance of Ali Reza Azkari is Iran’s worst nightmare come to life. He is a living national resource. If Azkari is broken, if he talks, the United States and Israel will know the truth about Iran’s arsenal and Iran’s objectives. The United States and Israel will know the truth about the threats menacing them. They will know fact from fiction.

One of the most immediate and intimidating threats facing the United States and Israel and the European world is the threat of sleeper cells. Just recently the Telegraph of London published a report maintaining that if Iran were to be attacked Iran would retaliate by hitting United States and European interests throughout the Gulf. The report quoted a former Iranian diplomat as saying that Iran has trained great numbers of operatives who now have their missions and await the message to activate their plans. The same source also said that these sleeper operatives were recruiting other Shiites in their local environments.

If it’s true, it is scary, very scary. If it is true Azkari is the man who could identify the targets and identify the sleepers. Azkari has the information, he knows who is embedded and where and he knows how deep and organized each cell really is.

Ron Arad. The true Iranian nuclear threat. Sleeper cells. There is more. Ali Reza Azkari can shed light on Iran’s pursuit of Al Qaeda. He has insider information about the true extent and power of Hezbollah. He knows which countries are aiding Hezbollah, he knows how much comes from Syria and how much comes from Iran.

And he can unmask Russia, the country that has been playing both sides against the middle, the country that supplies Iran and Syria and sits back and watches while Iran and Syria turn around and hand over their Russian-gotten goods to Hezbollah. In the recent war between Hezbollah and Israel, the most dangerous weapons came directly from Syria having been imported from Russia. And Russia is the power building the nuclear power plants, supplying the technology and lending the support Iran needs to develop its own nuclear program.

Most important of all, Ali Reza Azkari can answer the big question: Is Iran as brave, tough, organized and advanced as we would believe. Or is Iran a modern day former Soviet Union – lots of bark and almost no bite, a big bluff, an emperor with no clothes. Is Iran as prepared for conflict and conquest as Iranian leadership would have us believe or is Iranian leadership more expert at propaganda than it is at military and nuclear preparedness.

The Unites States and Israel probably have Azkari. Now they need to get into his head.

THE VOICES OF NON-EXTREMIST ISLAM

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 28, 2007

Column:

I strongly believe that the only voices capable of challenging extremist Islam are the voices of non-extremist Islam.

I strongly believe that the only pressure extremist Islam will succumb to is pressure exerted by non-extremist Islam.

I strongly believe that the-non Muslim world must step back and gently encourage non-extremist Islam to stand up to their extremist Islamic brothers.

The overwhelming majority of the Muslim world is not extremist -neither is it moderate, it is mainstream, mainstream Islam. Until now, in modern history, mainstream Islam has remained a very silent majority. By virtue of their silence and inaction the majority Muslim world has allowed the extremist world to hijack Islam.

But now, stealthily, slowly, mainstream Islam and mainstream leaders within the Arab world are beginning to speak up, to stand up, to take a stance against extremist politics, rhetoric and actions. We are starting to see important, indigenous movement against Islamic extremists. We are witness to the first steps towards the redemption of Islam.

What do I mean? Here are several examples:

EGYPT recently convicted and sentenced a simple soldier to six months in prison for refusing to take up his post as a guard outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo. The incident has now been made public, covered in the Egyptian press.

At another time this request would have gone unchallenged. This time the guard was publicly charged and held up as an example. It is a significant step for Egypt, a country that as recently as a year and a half ago aired a multi-part modern Egyptian made-for-TV movie of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and aired one segment while United States President George Bush was in Egypt at a Summit.

More significant than the fact that the soldier was imprisoned is that the Egyptian press has now published the story. The press in Egypt is government controlled. Nothing makes it into the Egyptian press unless it fits into the larger political philosophical gestalt of the government.

In printing this story the government of Egypt is signaling the citizens of Egypt, alerting them to a new reality. Israel is an ally, not an enemy. Egypt is a member of the greater international community, Egypt is adapting to the attitudes of that international community, the government of Egypt is striving to better the future of Egypt’s citizens. And – Egypt is not afraid to make a public statement and take a public stance contrary to the basic belief system of extremist Islam.

MUSLIM FOREIGN MINISTERS convened a meeting in Pakistan. Two foreign ministers were glaringly off the list of invitees. The foreign minister of Iran and the foreign minister of Syria were dissed, specifically not invited to meet with their colleagues.

At the meeting the attending foreign ministers clearly articulated a new political stance. They demanded that the Hamas-led Palestinian government honor international demands regarding Israel. They demanded that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist, that they fight terror and that they respect previous treaties with Israel. This meeting of Muslim foreign ministers was a precursor to the upcoming meeting of the Organization of Muslim Countries. The foreign ministers of non-extremist Islamic nations showed that they were not afraid to make a public statement and take a public stance contrary to the basic belief system of extremist Islam.

THE ARAB QUARTET is emerging and it is a strong and unified voice and active player in the Islamic world. Egypt, Saudi Arabia Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are the four most significant Arab players in the Middle East. This new Arab Quartet has announced that the Palestinians must recognize Israel, that recognition of Israel is crucial to future stability in the region.

This is one of the first times in modern Middle East history that major Muslim and Arab leadership has publicly, in the international arena, sided against other Arabs and other Muslims. This is one of the first times that major Muslim and Arab leadership has sided with the West, with the United States and with Israel, over other Arabs and Muslims.

Arab Quartet leadership has no fear of being labeled collaborators, of being called anti-Muslim or anti Arab. They know that they are doing the right thing. The challenge before these leaders now is to convince their respective masses to think and act the right way. They need to convince their masses to accept Israel’s right to exist not because the United States and the West demand them to do so but because Israel is a fact on the ground and that fact must be dealt with in a serious, realistic, forward-thinking way. They need to convince their masses that it is okay to disagree with extremist Islam.

It is ironic that while neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Arab Emirates have official relations with Israel they are imploring Hamas to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel. These are leaders who are not afraid to make a public statement and to take a public stance contrary to the basic belief system of extremist Islam.

KING ABDULLAH OF JORDAN was just interviewed on Israeli news, on Israel’s Channel 2. In an interview intended for the Israeli public the King of Jordan spoke about how important it is for Hamas to accept the terms of the international community. The King of Jordan was not afraid to make a public statement and take a public stance contrary to the basic belief system of extremist Islam.

What does all this mean? What can be learned from these examples?

It means that finally, mainstream leaders of non-extremist Islamic countries are acknowledging the double standard under which the Arab world has been functioning. Pay respect to the Western world in order to obtain economic aid, disregard the West on issues of world politics.

Let us not be fooled. These leaders are standing up not for a philosophical, democratic reason. They are standing up for a practical, self-serving, self-motivated reason. But they are standing up and they are speaking out. These leaders know that their society is a risk from within by homegrown extremists. They know that their countries gain strength and courage from extremists across the Arab and Muslim world. They know that the influences of extremist Islam will eat them up alive – personally and culturally. They know that the time has come to put extremist Islam down.

And they are not afraid.

THE CHALLENGE OVER HISTORY

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday February 20, 2007

Column:

Who owns history?

The day that question is resolved is the day that – one way or another – the red hot tensions between Islam and Israel will be resolved.

If you own the history, you own the land.

If you own the land, you have rights over the property.

If you have rights over the property, you get to make the rules.

And right now the land in debate is the Temple Mount. And right now both Muslims and Jews claim the history. And ownership is fundamental.

The most striking difference between the arguments set forth by the Jews/Israelis and the Muslims/Palestinians is that, from the very outset, Jews have never denied that Muslims have history atop the Temple Mount. They certainly do have history, say the Jews, but our history pre-dates Muslim history. The Muslim’s, at this stage in the argument, have adopted the stance that Jewish history does not exist, that Jewish history on the Temple Mount is a fiction. Period, end.

That is dangerous. It is also silly.

Sheik Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, is the most virulent public advocate of the Jews-have-no-history theory. The Sheikh asserts that Jews have no connection to either the Wall or to the mountain above the Wall. The Palestinian Sheik is not the only person espousing these ideas. We hear it coming from Iran and from Muslim clerics scattered around the world and even in the United Kingdom.

How could anyone rationally theorize away the Jewish presence in Jerusalem? Anyone, least of all a Muslim? Muslim history itself is replete with stories of Jewish Jerusalem. The answer is simple – there is nothing rational about this debate over the Temple Mount, it is all raw Muslim emotion.

A quick, cursory look at the Koran immediately refutes the Muslim argument. Islam recognizes that Abraham had two sons. From one son, named Ishmael, came forth the nation of Islam. From the other son, named Isaac, came forth the Jewish nation. The Koran goes on to describe the Temple of Solomon never disputing or refuting the truth of Solomon’s lineage – Solomon, King of the Jews. And further, the Temple of Herod which is the expanded version of the Second Temple is mentioned as part of Islamic tradition. Within ancient Islamic history it is clear that the building atop the mountain was where the Temple once stood.

It is the modernists who are having a problem. It is several prominent and outspoken modern Muslim leaders who want to rip out the roots not just of Jewish history, but more significantly and more appallingly, of their own Muslim history. A history that clearly documents Islam as an outgrowth of Judaism.

Salah says that anyone “who says that the Jews or the Israeli establishment has any right to al Aqsa, even to just one stone-this is an abominable attack, a falsehood, completely baseless.” Salah says that any person, “Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims who accept this, is a traitor to Allah and his Prophet.”

Sheik Raed Salah has chosen his words carefully. Calling another Muslim a traitor is one of the worst curses a leader can invoke in his sermons.

So where does the Western Wall come from? Salah has an interesting answer. He says that the Western Wall “is part of the western tower of Al Aqsa, which the Israeli establishment fallaciously and sneakily calls the Wailing Wall.” One part of his statement is definitely correct. Fallaciously. Salah’s interpretation, his fabrication, his rationalization, his historic grasp of ancient architecture, is totally fallacious.

There was no western tower of the al Aqsa Mosque. And even if there were, the Western Wall would have had nothing to do with it. Most telling, however, is Salah’s inclusion of the words “the Wailing Wall.” Israelis have never referred to the Western Wall as the Wailing Wall, to them it is either the full name Western Wall or, simply, the Wall, the Kotel in Hebrew.

Israelis and Jews worldwide reject the notion of a “wailing wall.” The concept of a wailing wall is a Christian – not a Jewish – notion and it is a very fatalistic look at a holy site in Judaism. Referencing the Wall as wailing would infer that Jews would gather at the site to bemoan the atrocities that had befallen them, to cry over their history, to hang their collective heads over the destruction of the Temple at the only remnant of the Temple. The truth is completely to the contrary. The Jewish historical conscience regards the second temple period as a pinnacle of Jewish history and the Wall as a symbol of Israel’s return to great historical grandeur.

Rewriting history is very dangerous. And deracinating the Jews from Jerusalem is part of a larger more nefarious plan.

If Jewish history is eliminated, the Jewish claim to Jerusalem is irrelevant.

If the Jews have no history and the Jews have no claim, they have made no contribution.

If the Jews have no history, no claim, no contribution, then they have played no role.

If the Jews have no history, no claim, have made no contribution and have played no role, they can be eliminated.

The current conflagration in the tensions between Israel and her neighbors is about more than ownership of the Temple Mount. It is a challenge over history. It is a struggle of life over death.

MYTH, CONSPIRACY, HOAX

By Micah Halpern

Monday February 12, 2007

Column:

On the one hand – there is reality. On the other hand – there are myths. In the Muslim Middle East it is hard to tell which is which. Myths, in the right hands, can have a powerful effect on the people. Reality, truths, is more easily sloughed off.

Often, myths beget conspiracies, conspiracies beget hoaxes. Right now, today, a hoax is brewing in the Muslim world.

Muslim leaders and their disciples, the Arab press, have several pet myths, stories that they perpetuate and perpetuate and perpetuate. One myth tells of the dangerous encroaching West out to destroy the entire Arab world. Another tells of dangerous Israel, a threat to the very foundation of Islam. Most modern Muslim myths center about the intent of the rest of the world, the non-Arab world, to annihilate the entire Muslim Arab world.

Often, hoaxes beget violence. Often, hoaxes get out of control and the result is mayhem – political and physical mayhem. Right now, today, we are on the verge of mayhem. Right now, because of the myths perpetrated by Muslim leaders, Muslim religious adherents are on the verge of rioting and rioting in the Muslim Middle East leads to deaths.

The hoax that is now fueling the fire of the Muslim world centers on the ramp or bridge to the Mugrabi gate.

The rubble ramp was constructed by Israel in 1969 as an access approach for curious non-believers wanting to visit one of the sites holy to both Muslims and Jews. Composed of earth and stones, it was the passage way to the mount top. Once upon a time, the gate was at ground level. But after 1967, when control of the area was in Israeli hands, Israel lowered the ground to the level it had been at 2,000 years ago and new access to the gate was required. And so, voila, the ramp was built.

The ramp leads to the place Genesis 22 calls Moriah, it leads to the Temple Mount where the Temple of Solomon, the first Temple, once stood and where the remains of Herod’s Temple, the second Temple, still stand. Today, atop the Herod-made platform is the shrine of The Dome of the Rock and the al Aqsa Mosque. The ramp sits above the Western Wall.

Lowering the ground and leaving the ramp allowed for an awesome view of the walls of the Temple that Herod built. The dimensions of the Temple were 250 yards wide by 500 yards long and as high as 11 stories. When the Israelis lowered the ground they created a large public forum exposing the Western Wall and showcasing a building that was constructed with stones weighing as much as 200 to 400 tons. Even average size stones used in the building weighed in at 70 tons and small stones are a mere 5 tons.

From 1969 until now the path to the Mugrabi gate had an earthen ramp sloping down from the gate creating an access to the al Aqsa mosque. The path is falling apart and the Israelis decided that repairs to the walkway are called for and so they consulted and coordinated with the Wafq, the Islamic Trust that is in charge of religious activities at the Temple Mount and even with Jordan. And now Muslim leaders are calling for their people to ready themselves for war in order to protect Muslim holy sites.

Muslim leaders have morphed the repair of a well-traveled walkway into an excuse to revive the myth of dangerous Israel threatening the very foundation of Islam – this time not just figuratively, but also literally.

Truth is, Israel is not even touching the outer walls of the Temple Mount let alone the mosque. Israel is simply building a more stable ascent to the Mugabri gate. Actually, nothing is simple when it comes to building or changing or leveling anything in the ancient city of Jerusalem. Even though revamping the ramp is not a conventional archeological dig, it is a salvage dig, all the earth that is moved must be sifted and photographed and documented. This ground has not been disturbed in 2000 years. And while the intention is not to dig and learn about the past but rather to improve the current above ground situation, standard rules of archaeological digs must be followed to make certain that nothing significant from the past is lost or destroyed.

But truth has very little to do with this. Myths and hoaxes are what the people believe. The myth surrounding the Mugrabi ramp will unite the Muslim world in anger against Israel. It is being used to foster hatred not to encourage hope.

This same myth turned hoax has been revived and resurrected several times in recent years. This is the myth of the tunnel wall excavations of September 1996 that sparked riots when the Muslim world falsely accused Israel of digging under the Temple Mount and eroding the foundation in order to find the secrets buried below. This is the myth of the 2000 Sharon visit to the top of the Temple Mount, the myth that ignited the second Palestinian Intifada with claims that the soon-to-be prime minister was on top of the Mount in order to stake Israel’s claim over the Mount when really the Intifada had been planned and the Sharon visit gave Muslim leadership the excuse they had been waiting for.

And this is the myth of the cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammed that appeared in the Northern European press and rocked the world. Muslim masses were fomented into anger and violence and riots by their leadership. Most of the people rioting had never seen the so-called sacrilegious depictions, many rioters were not even literate. Embassies were burnt, people trampled to death. Evidence of the hoax is that the caricatures appeared in the press on September 29 and Muslim news agencies did not send out the call for revenge until January.

Once a myth has been disseminated there is no taking it back, no changing it, no correcting it. No evidence to the contrary and no testimony will ever persuade a believer that he has been led astray. Refuting a myth heightens a sense of conspiracy which fuels the intensity of the hoax. And that is what keeps Muslim leaders in power.

MAKING LOVE NOT WAR, PALESTINIAN-STYLE

By Micah Halpern

Monday February 5, 2007

Column:

Everyone in the Arab world is calling for Fatah and Hamas to unite – to make love not war, Palestinian style.

The Jordanian foreign minister is bemoaning the fact that there is violence and internal fighting between Palestinians. The Arab League is lamenting the shame the Palestinians are bringing upon themselves by fighting amongst themselves when they could be uniting and fighting their common enemy, Israel. The powers that be in Egypt have called for the Palestinians to stop their feuding and begin work on solving the bigger problems that they confront.

But it will not happen, it cannot happen – at least, not now. There is no such thing as Palestinian unity. It is one of those huge myths like the myth of Arab unity, like the myth that all Jews are smart. And Arab leaders know that it is all a myth, but they are afraid to say so out loud, so they go through the motions. They push, they prod, they make proclamations – knowing that they are making empty gestures, that their words are spoken into the four winds.

Was Palestinian unity ever a reality? It was. But Arab unity died with Yasser Arafat. When Arafat was around he spoke for every Palestinian and intimidated, arrested or forced into poverty any Palestinian who dared to disagree. In their hearts, they might have disagreed with the first Palestinian leader, but no words were ever uttered, no actions ever carried out. If it wasn’t unity under Arafat, it was, at least, a single Palestinian voice. Tyrants can do that.

Even after the first Palestinian Authority elections, when Arafat was duly elected, he did not let the voice of Hamas emerge. Arafat kept Hamas in check, he kept Hamas compliant, he made them fearful of raising their voice. And fear, as Arafat knew, is a very powerful political tool. Abbas never learned that lesson in Palestinian leadership.

Mahmoud Abbas, heir to the kingdom of Palestine, purposely refused to mimic Arafat’s style of leadership, pointedly refusing to continue with some of Arafat’s tactics. Abbas refused to rule by force. And he refused to keep Hamas in check. He thought that by limiting Hamas he would be instigating a civil war between Palestinians. He calculated that by allowing Hamas not only free speech but also free reign he would be deemed an enlightened ruler and the Palestinian people would flourish. It was a major miscalculation. And in the next election Hamas was democratically placed in power and civil war ensued.

Power and politics, however, are not the only sparks that ignite the Palestinian civil war. Hamas and Fatah have locked horns over their respective visions for the future of the Palestinian people. Vision, more than power, fuels this war.

Hamas sees a world without Israel. Hamas believes that they can create that world. Fatah, in the person of Abbas, understands that Israel is here to stay – at least for the short term. And Abbas believes that before he can accomplish anything productive or positive for the Palestinian people he must recognize Israel, and recognize Israel openly and diplomatically. Arafat knew what Abbas has only lately come to understand.

The Palestinians are at an impasse. They continue to fight. The gulf that divides them continues to grow. The people continue to suffer. The Palestinian people are strangling themselves. And the groups most interested in solving the inner Palestinian conflict are not the Palestinian leadership. The groups most interested in solving the inner Palestinian conflict are Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Each country has much to lose as this discord continues and each has much to gain if calm should fall over the Palestinian Authority.

Egypt and Jordan are investing huge amounts of time, money and diplomacy trying to oust Hamas from the Palestinian Authority. They see Hamas as irresponsible. They see Hamas as a threat – to their own countries, to their individual rule, to the region. Egypt and Jordan, respectively, are fearful that Hamas extremism will spill over into their societies.

Egypt is a powder keg of insurrection, the lid being held tight by the sheer force of will of Hosni Mubarak, but ready to erupt at any point. Egypt must make certain that the Palestinians stay in Gaza, that they do not leave. That they do not cross over the border into Egypt.

Jordan is a country composed of a majority of Palestinians. There are more Palestinians in refuge camps in Jordan than there are in any other country. And those refugee camps are hotbeds of anti-Jordanian sentiment. The Jordanian Hashemite Monarchy is walking a very thin tightrope and needs to make certain that the extremism exhibited on the other side of the border does not seep into their soil.

Israel is hoping that Hamas will step aside, that Abbas will take over and that the Palestinians and Israeli can move ahead towards normalization – or some semblance of normalization.

Everyone is starting to ask for moderation. Moderation is a euphemism for ousting extremists. Finally, according to internal Palestinian surveys, average Palestinians are also asking for moderation. The average Palestinian citizen is asking for an end to their internal conflict and for a resolution of the conflict with Israel.

The people want it to happen, but I am not convinced that Palestinian leadership is capable of making it happen. I think, unfortunately, that things will have to get worse within the Palestinian Authority, before anyone is capable of making anything better. War, not love, will win out in the Palestinian Authority. At least, for now.

A FUTURE FOR SYRIA AND ISRAEL

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 30, 2007

Column:

At the beginning of this millennium, if you had asked me if I thought there was any chance of peace between Syria and Israel, I would have nodded wisely, stroked my chin and said “dream on.” But now, despite the denials and the hostilities there seems to be reason to hold out at least some hope of a formalized peace between these two apparent enemies.

Syria and Israel have collaborated on a non-paper. And that, although it is not supposed to be made public in the news, is good news.

A non-paper is a non-formal, non-binding, non-publicized document formulated in a non-threatening, non-intimidating way by non-official people representing real governments. A non-paper can, and often will, later serve as either a blueprint or starting point for a formal, binding, public document.

Countries have always engaged in secret talks – even countries that are sworn and avowed arch enemies. Even countries like Syria and Israel. The talks are usually stimulated by and even come with the blessings of the concerned governments. The talks are a way of testing the waters, of determining how far apart the two countries are on important make-or-break issues, a way of determining whether bridges can be built, on whether it is worth the investment of time and energy and international scrutiny – or not. And the document that is produced when the talks are successful – the non-paper – has no legal validity and has no value of a treaty, but is proof that there is a mutual desire to meet and to talk, it is the foundation for official, public negotiations.

In the case of Syria and Israel the informal, unofficial talks were conducted under the careful and quiet sponsorship of neutral Switzerland. The participants were representative though not representatives of the governments. Some of the proposals as put forth in writing are logical others are more fanciful, some are practical others quite frankly, are preposterous.

For example:
Article IV-8 in the non-paper states: The Parties will cooperate in fighting local and international terrorism of all kinds.
This is probably the most unrealistic statement of the entire document. How can Syria, one of the parties, fight terror when Syria unabashedly, unquestionably strongly and openly sponsors terror?

For example:
Article IV-9 in the non-paper states: The Parties will work together for a stable and safe Middle East, including the solution of regional problems related to the Palestinians, Lebanese, and Iran.
This is probably the second most unrealistic statement of the entire document. Syria views Lebanon as a province, not as a problem. Proof of that is the reality that here is no Syrian embassy in Beirut, there is no need for one – as far as Syria is concerned, the two countries are one and the same separated by an insignificant technicality called a border. Syria does not want a stable Lebanon and therefore, Syria will not work towards stabilizing Lebanon. Remember – this is important – just this past August Syria sponsored a war against Israel using Lebanon as a spring board.

This entire paragraph is predicated on the principle that the Syrians are willing to trade in a long, binding friendship with Lebanon and a strong friendship with Iran and comradely brotherhood with the Palestinians for Israel, the new friends on the block. I think not.

For example:
Article VI-1 in the non-paper states: In order to safeguard the water resources of the Jordan River basin, Syrian territory east of the mutually agreed border will be designated as a Park open to all and administered by Syria. The Park is to be established in the Golan Heights upon completion of the Israeli withdrawal and application of Syrian sovereignty in accordance with the treaty of peace.
I love it. Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights is a given if there is ever to be peace between Syria and Israel. The idea of a park is brilliant, even visionary – but impractical.

Here’s why:
Article VI-2 in the non-paper states: Park is open to tourism.
Park will be policed by Syrian park service personnel.
Park will be free of permanent residents except for conservation and law enforcement personnel.
No visa will be required for entry into park (from Israeli territory).
It is quite a leap of faith to believe that Syria will not militarize the Golan – park or no park. The time is not yet ready for Syrians and Israelis to share picnic tables, marvel at the beauty of wild flowers and hike peacefully through the Golan hills.

It is a start, a significant. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But sometime in the not too very distant future Syria and Israel will be openly, publicly, sharing a table and talking peace.

ONE IS AL QAEDA, THE OTHER IS IRAN

By Micah Halpern

Monday January 22, 2007

Column:

Did anyone happen to read the item in last week’s Pravda about Russia’s sale of a weapons system to Iran?

If you didn’t read Pravda, the largest Russian news agency, you would have missed the whole story. For some mysterious reason this huge transaction which will directly impact our lives was almost a non-event in the Western press.

Last week Russia delivered twenty-nine TOR-M1 weapons systems to Iran. Russia confirmed the transaction. And then Russia justified their action by way of a press conference that was immediately reported upon in Pravda. The whole deal net Russian nearly three- quarters of a billion dollars.

What were the Russians thinking? Is money all that important? And what was the United States State Department thinking? Why did they turn this major news blast into nothing more than a small blip on the news? All we got was a State Department spokesperson named Tom Casey making a clear statement explaining how the United States tried to convince Russia to cancel the sale but, alas, their protestations were to no avail.

The Russians understand the ramifications of their action. You can hear it in the way they justified the move. At the Moscow press conference Sergei Ivanov, the Russia Foreign Minister, explained it this way: “We have supplied modern anti-aircraft short-range missile systems under a contract.” And then he said: “Iran is not under any sanctions.” And then he said that Moscow had every intention of continuing “to develop military and technical cooperation with Tehran.”

Wow.

The Russian foreign minister neglected to say that there are international sanctions against Iran. And he neglected to point out that Russia voted for those sanctions.

Russia claims that their arms sale contract with Iran was signed in the year 2005 and that they are just living up to their obligations. Russia also claims that the TOR-M1 is a defensive system and therefore, threatens no one. Technically, the Russians are correct.

They are correct that the TOR-M1 is a defensive unit. It has a very short range and is there to knock out low flying planes and cruise missiles only as high as six miles in altitude. And when the Russians introduced this new state-of-the-art weapon in an arms show in 2005 the Iranians immediately made it clear that they wanted as many units as they could get. And now they’ve got them.

So – why would Iran want a defensive system like the TOR-M1? They would want it in case a cruise missile was aimed at them? And who would aim a cruise missile at Iran? Only the United States or Israel. And only as a last resort. And now the Iranians are prepared. For Iran, the cost in dollars is negligible. For the United States and Israel the practical implications are staggering.

Arming Iran with defensive weapons is almost like helping Iran with their nuclear development. Which brings us full circle back to Russia.

Russia has significant economic interests in Iran’s nuclear development and weapons procurement. The Russians are implementing not just this contract with Iran. The Russians continue to implement all of their signed contracts with Iran, including their contract for a light-water nuclear reactor in Bushehr.

In the midst of a major international crisis centering on Iran’s nuclear activity an Iranian nuclear facility is being built by a Western ally, by an ally the Western world assumes to be trying to stop the entire crisis from spinning out of control. The Russian response lacks basic moral foundation. The government of Russia has no collective conscience.

The major threat to the civilized world today is Muslim fundamentalism. That threat is manifest in two forms: One is al Qaeda. The other is Iran.

Arming Iran in any way – even “only” in a defensive way aids them in their efforts to try to unseat and destabilize Western democracy and to curtail basic human rights and values as we, in the West, understand them.

Would a Western country entertain selling a defensive weapon to Osama bin Laden? After all, bin Laden is a target and his al Qaeda organization is certainly threatened. A defensive system would only protect bin Laden and al Qaeda from a Western attack. Who else would want to attack them?

I quake in fear of the Russian response.

“24” AND COUNTING

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 16, 2007

Column:

What I wouldn’t give to have Jack Bauer’s cell phone.

You know, Jack Bauer, the ultimate uber-hero of Fox’s “24.” Jack Bauer, the man who season in and season out is tortured, almost terminated and emerges yet again, though not quite triumphantly, to save his country from terrorists and unscrupulous politicians determined to rob the worthy citizens of the United States of their freedom.

Is “24” great theatre? Frankly, I enjoy it. But “real” it is not. Take, for example, that cell phone. 24 hours a day of almost non-stop talk with no need to recharge. Downloads, aerials, satellite connections – forget the new Apple, Steve Jobs should have taken out the franchise on this model.

It’s fun, it’s nail biting television – it’s fiction. But in order for fiction to be accepted, to be even the least bit believable, it must be encased in fact.

Is it within the realm of possibility that a terrorist organization, whether al Qaeda or Hezbollah or the terrorist team on “24” put into play a set of attacks that would involve multiple, simultaneous, small explosions in cities across the United States? It sure is. Busses, metro trains and subways as well as theaters, shopping malls and sports arenas are high priority targets for terrorists. The writers for this series have learned their lessons well. Attacks of this sort have ripped through parts of Europe and plagued Israeli cities for many years. Add to that the fact that there truly is a significant threat of suitcase bombs infiltrating the United States. Score a point for “24.”

Do terrorists – from leaders like “24” ‘s Osama, to operatives like “24” ‘s Ahmed, ever really turn on one another, even sabotage one another? Thankfully, they do. And when terrorists do betray one another they usually do it through official channels and in exchange for large sums of money. What would make a successful terrorist do a 180? There are three reasons: money, safety (personal or family) and, on rare occasions, ideology. Score another point for “24.”

Would terrorists really demand the release of 110 fellow terrorists held prisoner? Probably not. They would probably demand more prisoners. As a matter of fact, Israel is dealing with that very issue right now. Score, again, for “24.”

Is modern gizmo technology truly the best way to track terrorists? Despite the great accomplishments and sophistication of computers and listening devices and motion sensors, despite the high tech gadgetry of the CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit) on “24” and of their military and of SWAT teams, the best way to find anything out is through a real source, a contact, a mole, a snitch. Any real counterterrorism unit would be lucky indeed to have an operative like Jack Bauer sitting in the inner sanctum of terrordom – even if he himself is being tortured – and learn the true secrets of the terrorist operation. If only the fictional president would have believed him! This time, they get only 1/2 a point – they had the operative but they didn’t trust him. But they get another point for their high tech operation.

Speaking of torture – that’s where fact falls away and fiction, pure fiction fits in. As much special effect make-up as was applied to the back and the hands of Jack Bauer, it just wasn’t enough. Perhaps the producers were being kind to their audience, perhaps they were being kind to their star. But those opening shots of a man who had been held captive and presumably, horrifically tortured for a 20 month period, just did not cut it.

Too few cuts, to be specific. Too little scar tissue. Too few broken, gnarled bones and almost no swollen joints. No hair loss. No unstable walk. No diminished hearing, or compromised vision. And what about when Jack was tortured, on camera, by Fayed the head terrorist himself? The cries of pain were close enough to real – but the recovery was just too quick to be believable, even in “24” TV time. And that face. Who would want to mar that face? Real terrorist captors, that’s who.

Are there lessons to be learned from “24”? Sure there are. People want to be entertained and terror – even horrific terror, is entertaining as long as it crosses the bounds of reality and enters the obvious world of fiction.

One more thing – casting directors, when the time comes to make movies of the 2008 election don’t overlook the actor who plays Walid, the love interest of the president’s sister Sandra, as Barack Obama. He’s a dead ringer.

THE KEY IS CHINA

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 10, 2007

Column:

Confucius said: If you know, to recognize that you know, If you don’t know, to realize that you don’t know: That is knowledge.

China is the key to solving most of the problems in the Middle East. Everyone seems to know that to be true, everyone that is, except the United States.

China is the only true check to the United States in world politics. Everyone is willing to accept that to be true, everyone that is, except the United States.

Open your eyes America.

Right now, the best way to diffuse the situation in Iran is for the United States to step aside allowing for China to step in and make a move. The Chinese love the United States as much as the United States loves China, but this is not about mutual admiration. This is about self-interest. And as much as the Chinese enjoy seeing Iran defy the United States, eventually, when the time is right, the Chinese will set down the law to the Iranians and Iran will listen.

In the meantime, Middle East leaders are courting China. Ali Larijani, the head of Iran’s nuclear development program who also happens to be the head of Iran’s national security, has just returned from a very successful trip to China. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is in the midst of an extended trip to China and he has already extended invitations to Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to be the guests of his country.

China is important. They have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. That means they have an automatic veto over all resolutions put before the Council. That’s impressive, but it is not the biggest reason for China’s importance. The better reason is that China is big. China is the most populated nation in the world. And the most populated nation in the world is the largest consumer of energy in the world and the largest consumer of energy in the world is the largest purchasers of energy. But the most important reason, the biggest reason, is that the Chinese have no natural energy sources.

China is oil starved. China has no energy and must import it all. And now China is buying up shipping lines and oil pipelines and ports all around the world. If it has to do with energy traffic, China is interested. Anything to help control at least a portion of China’s energy needs. Iran understands this and so does Israel. Iran knows that China needs Iranian oil. It needs about $100 billion of oil from Iran this coming year alone.

Certainly, there are mutualities of interest between China and the United States. Expanding markets. A stable world. But China is not ready to play by the rules of the United States and the United States is not ready to give China the leeway it needs to take over in Iran.

Eventually, China will play along. Because China knows that Iran is just too unstable and that it is just too dangerous to put nukes in the hands of a country that is so irresponsible and unpredictable. For now China gets a perverse thrill out of seeing the United States squirm. China enjoys seeing the United States suffer economically and diplomatically, laughed at by the Iranians as hundreds of billions of United States dollars are dumped in an effort to make Iran comply.

And the United States is having fun at the expense of China. This past year when the premier of China visited the United States as a special guest of Yale University he was invited to the White House but he did not rate an official state dinner. That was a terrible insult to China. And when the premier held a press conference a woman, a human rights activist, stood up shouted out and disrupted the media event. And oops, when the White House band gathered to play the Chinese national anthem they played the national anthem of Taiwan instead. Publicly, those were called mistakes in diplomatic protocol. Really, they were jabs at China for not yet helping out the American cause in Iran.

In the end China will squelch Iran’s free run. Iran is upsetting the rest of the Sunnis in the region, especially the oil barons and oil sheiks. Iranians are Shiites and they are Persians, the rest of the region is Arabs and most of the power in the region is help by Sunnis not Shiites. They are sworn enemies of each other. They make the United States and China look like friends who have had an argument.

Empowering Shiite Iran with nuclear energy, a weapon far more powerful than anything oil rich Sunni Saudi Arabia has, would fracture a very sensitive balance in the region. Sunni leaders would want nuclear power and nuclear weapons and that would all spiral into a Middle East nuclear race. That race would increase the cost of fuel. And that would make China very unhappy. And that is why China will one day – according to China’s own time schedule – step in and work with the United States and help stop the Iranians.

Confucius (Lunya 6-22) also said: Respect the gods and the devils but keep them at a distance.

SADDAM / EICHMANN

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 2, 2007

Column:

Forget about Saddam Hussein. Let’s talk about Adolf Eichmann.

Eichmann was a mass murderer. He never denied his acts of brutality, he gloated over his accomplishments. And he was brought to trial by the government of Israel. Justice in Jerusalem. The banality of evil. Why did Israel bother to engage in the long, drawn out, costly trial of “the man in the glass booth,” whom they knew was guilty? A man who because of his admission would be incarcerated for the crimes he had committed? Why?

Because Israel wanted the fact of the Holocaust officially and permanently recorded in history through a trial.

The Eichmann trial was far less about guilt and innocence than it was about recording into the annals of history the events of the Holocaust. Eichmann was a tool, he was placed on trial in order to serve the purpose of history and justice.

Because Israel did not want to allow for the opportunity of a madman to arise and claim, years later, that the Holocaust never happened, that these crimes were never perpetrated, that Eichmann was a savior, a martyr, a good guy not a mass murderer. The trial was there to prove that Adolf Eichmann was not merely a cog in a wheel, not just a part in a larger mechanism, not only a big player in a grander plan or a part of a heinous scheme.

Sound familiar? It should.

What happens during a trial? Events are read into historical record. Witnesses offer testimony while their memory is still fresh, while the pictures are still clearly defined in their minds, while the wounds still ache. Documents are produced and validated and offered into evidence. Then comes justice. Trials are not convened for the purpose of legitimizing revenge, trials are the instruments of justice.

In the democratic world we are in the business of justice not in the business of vengeance. Justice is slow, vengeance is quick.

Justice should never be rushed. Justice requires due process. Justice requires patience. Justice requires protocol. And then, when justice has been determined, then comes punishment. And for a mass murderer, for someone who has reached the heights of monstrous behavior, like Adolf Eichmann who transported the Jews of Europe to their death, execution is an appropriate form of punishment.

Execution – by bullet or by gallows or by bow and arrow or by birds pecking out the eyes – is the appropriate end for the person who has without conscience or second thought taken the lives of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people. In a civilized world, in a democratic society, execution is appropriate as a response to justice, not as a cathartic act of revenge. And until someone has been proven to be guilty of the death of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, execution is revenge, execution is vengeance, it is not justice.

The mantra of a democratic society should be justice. The mantra of a democratic society should not be vengeance. The actions of a democratic society should be just, the actions of a democratic society should not be predicated upon revenge.

When every single place where a massacre took place is recorded into history, accurate memory is preserved. When every single family that has been wronged is allowed to offer testimony, history has been recorded. When every single town that has been destroyed, decimated, obliterated, vanquished is named and described, legacy lives on. Every victim had a name, every victim was part of a family and every victim lived in a town. They deserve to be remembered.

History and justice. The two go hand in hand. To deny one is to diminish the other. History and justice. It is our responsibility to record, to pursue and to preserve. The rest is irrelevant.

Now back to Saddam Hussein. What a colossal mistake. What injustice.

ONE NATION, DIVISIBLE FOR ALL

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 26, 2006

Column:

When in Rome, do as the French do.

We all know that won’t work. So why is the president of the United States trying to impose an American-style democracy on the nation of Iraq?

When in the Arab world, think like an Arab, act like an Arab, play the game like an Arab would. Iraq has many strengths, underscore them. The region offers many natural resources, utilize them. Arab culture and customs are clearly defined, understand them. Use the history and the conflicts of the Arab world as a model to create a stable Iraq.

How do you solve the problem of Iraq? Not by trying to unify a nation that does not want to be unified. You solve the problem of Iraq by allowing the people of Iraq their individuality, by capitalizing on the hatred and division already within the country and by allowing Iraq to be divided – locally divided. By encouraging the various tribes that comprise Iraq to live in and rule their own local regions, by allowing them to create their own local governments. By emphasizing the differences, not by universalizing them. By creating one nation, under Allah, divisible for all.

The objective should not be unity. That will never succeed, it will instead promote further discord and further weakening of a very fragile national ego. A realistic objective is one that provides an infrastructure through which Iraqis can live peaceably side by side one another, not intermingled among each other. The goal of this Iraq is to have Iraqis live next to one another without murdering each other. Literally. Unification places power in the hands of the biggest and the strongest group. In this case, that would be Shiites and giving the Shiites ultimate power in Iraq would be a grave mistake. Literally. It would mean the systematic, cold-blooded massacre of Iraq’s Sunni population.

Right now, it’s one big jumbled mess of a country. The Kurds want independence. The Sunni population of Iraq feels disenfranchised. Once upon a time, even though a minority, the Sunnis ruled. Today they are an oppressed minority. Shiites are now attacking Sunnis because they can, because for years they were the victims and now they want their oppressors to suffer.

Revenge has a long history in the Arab world. Revenge is culturally accepted in the Arab world. Honor prevails. Honor killing is part of the culture. It is acceptable behavior, you kill for the honor of your family, for the sake of the tribe. The on-going, out-of-control killing on the streets of Iraq is motivated by honor and revenge.

Shiites are killing because they can. Because they are now in power and this is payback for decades of oppression. The Shiite mantra is we did not start this dispute, do not ask us to stop it. If Shiites are allowed to maintain ultimate control in Iraq the killing will continue. The only way to stop the killing is by separating the populations. Creating local governments in Iraq will save lives. Sunnis will never have as much power as they once had, but they will have control over their own lives, their own lands, their own property.

Call it power sharing, Iraqi-style. The only way to solve the problems in Iraq is to convince Sunnis and Sunni leaders that their only hope for power is through the control of their own areas. Maliki must be convinced of this also. No administration and no authority will be able to bribe them into submission. And then the Shiites must be told that they no longer have all of Iraq to rule, rape and ravage.

Sounds good on paper, but how do you actually make this happen? You make it happen by using the region’s natural resources – other Arab countries. Employ regional powers to help. This conflict is bigger than just Iraq. The fighting in Iraq extends to families and tribes throughout the Arab world. Local religious disputes link to larger, regional disputes. They stretch farther and sink deeper than parochial American interests can ever imagine. Use the festering animosity between Saudi Arabia and Iran to pressure the people of Iraq into a plan that will save them from self-destruction and provide them with a future.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are arch enemies. Iran is Shiite and Saudi Arabia is Sunni. Iran is Persian and Saudi Arabia is Arab. There is no way that Saudi Arabia will permit Iran to take over in Iraq through Shiite proxy. Iraq shares a 500 mile border with Saudi Arabia, that’s the distance from Boston to North Carolina, from New York City to the Florida state border. What happens in Iraq directly affects Saudi Arabia. The United States has no true clout in Iraq, the United States has a presence. Saudi Arabia and Iran have the clout.

Nothing happens quickly in the Middle East, that is another part of the culture. But change can be affected. Iraq can be saved from itself, but Iraq must want to be saved. Iraq must be convinced.

Do it right. Do not force Iraqis to unite, force Iraqis to take responsibility for their own lives.

I just need someone to listen.

WHERE UNITY MEANS COMPROMISE

By Micah Halpern

Monday December 18, 2006

Column:

The opening shots have been fired. The cannon has roared.

The civil war has begun. The Palestinian civil war. Hamas vs Fatah. Fatah vs Hamas. The Palestinian Authority is not Iraq. This is not only about respect. This civil war is about real power, it is about real leadership. This civil war is being fought by and for the Palestinian people.

The conflict was inevitable. Hamas was elected into power as a rejection of the Arafat legacy. The election of Hamas was a reaction to years of corruption and misdirected leadership. Palestinians were voting against cleptocracy when they voted for Hamas. They were desperate for direction, they were gullible, they were hurting.

Hamas cannot lead. They have no experience in leadership and none in bureaucracy. They are an ideological movement and ideological movements do not – cannot, compromise on beliefs. Hamas is now only a significant minority within the Palestinian people, a significant minority with a very significant voice and a very significant signature. They were elected. But that was a fluke. It was an aberration. That aberration must now be corrected. Hamas will not just walk away.

Now the Palestinian people deserve better. And they are rising up.

Some observers are saying that the Palestinians are getting whatever they deserve. They are saying that the Palestinians knowingly and willingly elected Hamas. Some people go so far as to say that this is the process of natural selection and we should just let the bad guys kill each other off, the more the better. People are asking why anyone should care about what happens when Palestinians kill Palestinians. Well, we should care. The collective Palestinian people took a gamble, they lost – they should not have to pay with their lives.

We must care. It is important to care. Not to care is to think and to act like Hamas and we are not Hamas. Hamas does not care about the greater Palestinian perspective, Hamas cares only about narrow Hamas objectives. We must see the greater picture. The greater picture requires ousting Hamas leadership with leadership that is sympathetic to the real needs of the Palestinian people, leadership that is responsive to the voice of the people. The Palestinians need leadership that understands power and compromise.

Hamas must be removed from power for two simple and intertwined reasons. First, Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Second, Hamas no longer represents the mainstream Palestinian point of view. Mainstream Palestinians want very much to move on, to change their lives and to improve their status. The Palestinians want to be earn a decent living. They want to provide for their families. None of these goals will ever be accomplished until the Palestinian people i.e. Palestinian leadership recognizes the State of Israel.

For months Abbas and his Fatah party spoke about a commitment to Palestinian unity. For months he tried to cobble together a unity government. When that failed he tried to create a technocratic government, a government run by a professional bureaucrat. That too failed. Abbas was trying to force something that did not, that could not exist. For the Palestinians unity means compromise. And neither party can compromise on the question of Israel. Abbas cannot compromise on the right of Israel to exist, he has committed too much time and energy courting the United States and the Europeans on this very issue. And Hamas cannot compromise on their declared intention to destroy Israel. For both these sides, for both these pillars of Palestinian leadership, Israel is the deal breaker.

So now, we wait.

According to polls conducted over the last few days 61% of Palestinian want new elections. And Fatah would win that election by a landslide. Over the past few days there have been assassination attempts on Hamas leaders. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, both targets of the attacks, slipped away alive. Significant government offices have been attacked and occupied by Fatah forces. There have been shootouts and kidnappings. Now, finally, Abbas has begun the process of calling for new elections. The most powerful move against Hamas was not military. It was democratic. But the bullets have already begun to fly.

In the end, democracy will win out for the Palestinian people. But we are not yet at the end. First comes civil war and the civil war is only beginning.

WITCH DOCTORS OF THE MIDDLE EAST

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday December 12, 2006

Column:

The wise men and woman of the Iraq Study Group have come forward with their recommendations. The findings of this group of erudite, experienced, senior thinkers, jurists, advisors and policy makers leaves me just plain dumbfounded.

I am reminded of a popular olde-English nursery rhyme.
Rub-a-dub-dub
Three men in a tub;
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker;
They all jumped out of a rotten potato,
Turn ’em out, knaves all three!

It perplexes me how ten serious American leaders signed off on this preposterous plan to solve the problem of Iraq. Where are they living? Better yet, what are they smoking? I am not in dispute with their assessment and neither will I paint a rosy picture of a very difficult reality. The situation certainly is rotten in the state of Iraq, but Jim, Lee, Sandra, Vernon – where did you come up with this prescription for remedying the situation.

How can you conclude that the ills of Iraq can be cured by the witch doctors of the Middle East?

Suggesting that the United States expand training teams from 2,000 – 3,000 personnel to 10,000 – 20,000 is a very good idea, even if it was a waste of time to form a committee to come up with that simple suggestion. As a matter of fact, most of the good suggestions and recommendations written up in the report have been around for some time.

But talking to Iran and talking to Syria. How can the United States talk to either Iran or Syria about anything, let alone about Iraq when both Iran and Syria are deeply committed to defeating the United States in Iraq? Iran and Syria are the major sponsors of the insurrection against the United States. These two rogue nations should be spoken to only on one of two conditions. Only after they give up their mission to vanquish the United States in Iraq or only after they are defeated in their mission by the United States.

Iran and Syria are a big part of the problem, they are not part of the solution. Those who say you make peace with your enemies not with your friends simply do not understand the situation. Iran and Syria have no intention of making peace. They have other intentions. They want to destabilize Iraq. Iran and Syria want to take advantage of the turmoil in Iraq to twist and turn the dagger in the back of the United States and to distort and destroy U.S. policy. And they want to use the situation in Iraq to further fuel the internal disputes between Muslims, specifically, between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

And what about this ridiculous notion that Israel is intertwined with the Iraqi conflict?

Come on committee, to suggest that if the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was resolved then the situation in Iraq would be easier to control is not only myopic, it is downright irresponsible. There are no dots to connect. This bi-partisan group of respected Americans has either sold out or bought into the conspiracy theory that purports that the problem in the Middle East is Israel.

The problem is not Israel, the problem is Iraq. Even if there were no Israel, Muslims would still be killing other Muslims.

The problem is Syria. Syria needs to butt out. Syria needs to be removed from the business of Lebanon and Syria needs to be kept out of Iraq. And the problem is Iran. Iran needs to be removed from the business of Lebanon and Iran needs to be kept out of Iraq. So if Syria should be kept out and Iran should be kept out, why does the eminent United States of America deserve to meddle in Iraqi affairs? Because the United States has no hidden agenda. The United States has nothing to gain and only the lives of too many military personnel to lose. Because the United States is fighting for freedom and democracy. And the people of Iraq deserve freedom and democracy.

By the way, Syria was very happy with the report. Of course Syria was happy. This report is the support Syria needs to pressure Israel to give them the Golan Heights. Syria may claim to help the United States in Iraq in exchange for the Golan but the reality is that Syria will not live up to the deal. To entertain the idea of trusting Syria is laughable and ludicrous.

You know who else was happy with the report? Jimmy Carter.

The Queen of Hearts,
She made some tarts,
All on a summer’s day;
The Knave of hearts,
He stole those tarts,
And took them clean away.
The King of Hearts
Called for the tarts,
And beat the knave full sore;
The Knave of hearts
Brought back the tarts,
And vowed he’d steal no more.

Enough said.

SNAP TO IT, IRAQ

By Micah Halpern

Monday December 4, 2006

Column:

Bottom line: The White House needs to move forward with their Iraq Policy. The White House needs to move forward quickly. The White House needs to be snappy. They need to say” Snap to it Iraq. This is what must be done and this is what will be done.

Otherwise, Iraq will languish in a state of semi-democratic-stupor. Otherwise, the people of Iraq will continue to suffer the misguided and self-interested rule of a leader who is out of his depth and not in control of his country.

The face-to-face meeting that took place between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Iraq has been analyzed, re-analyzed and over analyzed. In my estimation, it has also been mis-analyzed. Body language, eye contact, facial expressions, hugs and hand gestures – they are all beside the point. In my estimation, not only have the analysts missed the point of this meeting, but so did the White House.

This should not have been a meeting infused with innuendo and suggestion. It should not have only been a face-to-face meeting but also an in-your-face meeting. The United States should have been calling the shots and the Iraqis should now be snapping to.

But the Iraqis could not hear what the United States was saying because the United States did not do the proper homework. The United States misused language. Rather than inspiring and invigorating the Iraqi government, the United States turned the Iraqis off and the Iraqis tuned the United States out.

Bottom line: The United States messed up. The intention was well-placed and appropriate, the execution was way off the mark. The United States made two major mistakes.

Mistake # 1: The Middle East is a slow moving region. The president of the United States thought that he was moving with the Mid East flow by dealing calmly and warmly with the Iraqi. But calm and warm translates into meek in Maliki-speak. Decisive and snappy is understood by Maliki. Decisive and snappy is the style of despots and dictators. Maliki respects despots and dictators.

Mistake # 2: George Bush came to Iraq speaking of a “Partition Plan.” The plan, the idea, is actually very good. The choice of wording is abominable. As soon as the word “partition” fell from the lips of George Bush the conversation was over. Red flags were flying. Maliki never can and never will agree to a Partition Plan.

In the Middle East the word “partition” resonates with Western imperialism and Arab oppression. In the Middle East partition is synonymous with the Israeli Palestinian conflict and smacks of British Colonial influences. For Iraqis partition is the wrong word. The connotation is terrible, just terrible. What was the United States thinking?

Instead of “partition” the United States should be using the word “provinces.” In Iraq, provinces already exist. Iraqi provinces are actually tribally based and have a long history, predating 1922 and the modern state of Iraq. Even under Saddam the provinces were strong and well organized providing important local government services and functioning in an efficient – albeit biased and oppressive, way. And then Saddam pounded everyone into submission on a national level. Under Maliki revitalized and newly-empowered provinces could function as strong local governments.

If “provinces” did not sit well with the United States, if they wanted to introduce a new concept rather than rework an existing condition there is another neutral term that could be used. The United States could model a plan on the concept of the “canton.” It works for the Swiss and what country is more neutral than Switzerland?! Province, canton – terms that carry no emotional Arab baggage, plans that with only the slightest tweaking would be workable, manageable, doable.

Personally, of course, Maliki would have a problem with any plan that stripped him of power. The province concept neuters the prime minister. It takes away his strength and his prowess. No Middle East leader wants to be told or shown that he is too weak to control his people. The province system would by definition weaken the national system and empower local governments and police authority. Powerful provinces will wrestle power from Maliki and place it in the hands local leaders. In some provinces that means giving power to monitories like Kurds and Sunnis.

Moving to a weaker central government implies weakening Maliki politically. It will diminish Maliki and that is a situation he will not countenance. But it is the best plan for the people of Iraq. Maliki can handle a coup, he can handle being ousted in a new election. But he cannot allow himself to be removed by the very power that orchestrated his rise to power. That is too much to ask of the Middle Eastern male ego. It is the ultimate insult. It would be a sign of his failure and would necessitate his resignation. It would be humiliation on the national – and international, level.

At this stage Maliki is the democratically elected prime minister of Iraq but he is not acting in the best interests of Iraq. Like so many other politicians he is acting to preserve his role and his position and his constituency. That is not what Iraq needs right now.

Bottom line: If Maliki does not snap to, he must be forced out.

KNOW YOUR ENEMY

By Micah Halpern

Monday November 27, 2006

Column:

Over two hundred Shiites in Iraq are killed by Sunnis. The next day, Sunnis are doused with kerosene as they leave their mosque. Human, Sunni, torches. Burned alive. And Americans hold their heads in their hands and lament. A collective American voice wails: What have we done, what have we done to the people of Iraq?

The answer, America, is NOTHING!

There is no correlation between the presence of the United States of America in Iraq and Sunni/Shiite violence. Sunnis and Shiites – in Iraq and throughout the Muslim world – have been going at it for years. For hundreds and hundred of years. For centuries, for generations. Since just after the time of the prophet Mohammed.

The question we should be asking is not – what have we done. The question is – why are they doing this to one another.

Americans call it “sectarian violence.” Americans think that they are the cause, or at least, an exacerbating factor in the on-going ever-increasing violent relationship that exists between the Muslims of Iraq. Iraqis know otherwise. The Muslim Arab world knows otherwise. The only reason Americans know about the violence at all is because America is there. American media is there. And if and when the United States of America and all other Western nations leave Iraq, and when all Western media leaves Iraq, the violence will continue. It just won’t be on the front pages of Western newspapers. It won’t be the cover story of Western magazines. It won’t be the lead story on the evening news. But it will still go on.

The dispute between Sunnis and Shiites began with a discussion about the successor to Mohammed. Who would take over after the death of the prophet Mohammed? Who was the true successor? Sunnis said that Mohammed’s brightest disciple should be the rightful heir and inheritor of the Islamic mantle. Shiites said a relative would be the best heir, that Ali, the son-in-law of Mohammed, the husband of his daughter Fatimah, was the best person for the job and that every subsequent successor should be a blood relative. The Shiites won out.

From that day to this Shiites and Sunnis are separated not only in ideology, but also in tradition and law. Shiites became much more confined in their understanding of Muslim law and in the traditions of Islam. Sunnis became more liberal in law. Sunnis make up 90% of Islam while Shiites are a mere 10%. But they are a very loud, very local, very aggressive 10%. Sunnis have their extremists, too, but they are a very small minority within Sunni tradition.

There is more separating Sunnis and Shiites than uniting them. This is not about Protestants and Catholics. They are not co-religionists. The mind set of Sunnis and Shiites is beyond Western comprehension, sectarian violence is a new concept for us. Sunnis and Shiites are not united. They actually see one another as heretics. They each have more in common with Jews than they do with each other. And they will continue to murder one another for the foreseeable future. They are sworn enemies.

It is wrong to believe that had the United States and Western allies not invaded Iraq there would be no discord, no internal violence. Just wrong. This is not about American policy, it is not about the role of the United States in the region. This is about internal Muslim conflict. When Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq was alive, he killed far more Shiites than Westerners. Shiites were his enemy long before the United States made it to his hit list and they will remain on the Sunni hit list long after.

This is one problem that the West cannot resolve. The best the West can do is to prevent a wholesale massacre. Rather than throw up their arms in despair or bury their heads in guilt Americans can open their minds and learn more about Islam and Islamic societies. Sunnis, Shiites, they can both be friend or foe of the West.

The less we know about them, the less we understand about them, the less successful we will be in our fight against them. Know your enemy, it’s not just a platitude. It’s the only way to win the war.

THE NEW SYRIAN / IRAQI NEXUS

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 22, 2006

Column:

There is a new production playing out in the Middle East. I call it The New Syrian/Iraqi Nexus. It’s not a very good production, but it certainly bears watching. Here is a synopsis.

Act I:
Every month about one hundred terrorists sneak across the Syrian/Iraqi border into Iraq. Their mission is to destabilize Iraq, to attack Western targets in Iraq and to eliminate local Iraqis who participate with Westerners in the process of rebuilding Iraq. The success rate of these terrorist infiltrators is pretty high.

Could Syria stop these terrorists from using the border as a sieve through which they slip through so effortlessly? Of course. But rather than stop them, Syria encourages them. Syria gives a wink and a nod and when necessary, Syria gives a shove. Syria gets perverse pleasure out of seeing the United States and Iraqi backed allies squirm. Right now, Syria is smiling, Syria is pleased.

Act II:

Iraq’s leading comic was recently assassinated. The material for his act came from daily life, he told jokes about “the situation.” He had introduced a new comic genre to the Iraqi public, caustic Iraqi humor. He poked fun at the United States. He made fun of local corruption, of the police. He had audiences laughing at bureaucracy and at religious leaders. He was the hit of the Iraqi version of Comedy Central. And like on Comedy Central his audience was young. And his audience watched him more than they watched the news, and his audience got their information from him more than they got it from the news.

And in the now classic style of the faceless Iraqi assassination, he was gunned down in his car. He was a comedian. He wasn’t a politician, he wasn’t a leader, he was a comedian. Actors die a hundred deaths, but none of them are supposed to be fatal.

Act III:

Walid Moallem, Syria’s Foreign Minister, just wrapped up a multi-day trip to Iraq. He came with a proposal. Two simple requests. Syria will work to seal the border with Iraq, if – if, Israel starts re-negotiating on the issue of the Golan Heights with the ultimate goal of an eventual withdrawal. A total eventual withdrawal. And Syria would like to see a timetable set for the U.S. withdrawal from the region.

After the United States withdraws from the region, Syria will back the United States, not just in Iraq, but also in Lebanon. Why? Because if the United States is no longer in Iraq, tensions will be reduced and there will be less violence in Iraq. And if the United States is no longer in the region, there would be less violence in the region. So says Syria.

My review:
Syria should know, since Syria backs, sponsors or initiates a good portion of the violence.

But here’s where the whole production falls apart. Syria is not dependable. Syria makes commitments, but does not live up to them. There is nothing to convince me that this time will be any different. Syria is talking about wanting calm in the region, but Syria’s actions tell me that Syria does not really want calm in the region.

Most of the killing in Iraq today is termed “sectarian violence.” It is a euphemism for Muslims killing Muslims. It has absolutely to do with either United States policy or presence in Iraq. Absolutely nothing.

And to date, on regional issues, Syria has bucked the system. Syria advocates disorder not order, Syria advocates violence not calm, Syria advocates assassinations not negotiations. During the last days of this summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah a meeting of the Arab League was convened in Cairo. Syria disagreed with the Arab League’s stance on Hezbollah and the war against Israel, so Syria boycotted the meeting. The meeting was dedicated to rebuilding Southern Lebanon and the League chastised Hezbollah for breaking the fragile status quo. And Syria disagreed. And Syria boycotted.

Syria is a real problem. But Iraq needs more allies in the region in order to stabilize internally. In the eyes of Iraq Syria is a strong potential ally. And that’s why the President of Iraq, Jalil Talibani, is visiting Iran and meeting with Ahmadinejad. Iraq is reaching out across the border asking a neighbor for help. Syria is not to be trusted. Iraq is desperate.

Iraq may indeed get support from Syria, but the price will be the destruction of Iraq’s new found democracy and Western orientation.

And with that, I say, The End.

VERY LITTLE CHANGE

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday November 14, 2006

Column:

Okay. So now that we know for sure that control of both the House and the Senate has returned to the Democrats the panic is beginning to set in.

Everyone wants to know: what effect will this mid-term election change have on Middle East policy? what changes can we expect vis a vis the United States and Israel? how will this impact on the fight against terror?

The short answer is very little, very little, very little.

I’ll explain. Iraq aside, U.S. policy in the Middle East is not a pendulum that swings from side to side. There are subtle changes and slow movement but nothing that would constitute seismic shifts in loyalty, policy or procedural guidelines. True enough, Congress sets an important tone on foreign affairs because Congress pays the bills and provides the aid. But the president, lame duck or not, still has two years left on his commitments. The president knows that this election was not won or lost for his party on the issue of Middle East policy.

I do not see any changes in Congress on that level. Congress, including the new faces in Congress, is not interested in changing their Middle East orientation. Even if they wanted to, these newly-elected mid-term rookies could never make it happen.

Next. Support for Israel is rock hard on the Hill and on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Period end. I do not see any change in tone. I do not envision any change in aid – moral or financial.

Moving right along. The fight against terror will not slow down. Neither will the push to have Iran slow down on their nuclear plans and programs. They are too important. Red, blue, chartreuse or fuchsia, everyone agrees that these are two very important wars we are waging and we cannot afford to lose even one battle.

Arabic press coverage and the media releases that the Muslim world is sending out would have you think that the entire United States was just turned upside down. We know better.

The Iranians have said that now there might be a chance to actually move ahead with discussions about their nuclear energy program. They said that there is less of a chance of conflict with the U.S. after the mid-term elections. We know better.

Syria is jumping with glee. They think that now there will be a smarter i.e. less involved U.S. policy in the Middle East. We know better.

Everyone in the Arab world is hoping for a new policy. But it won’t happen. Policy will continue to move along in much the same way it moved when the Republicans were in power. New faces, new representation, but much of the same policy.

That includes a very complicated relationship with Saudi Arabia. It means a very mixed relationship with Egypt. It means prodding Jordan. And it means whispering into the ears of moderate countries like Bahrain and Qatar and hoping that they will get off the fence and really recognize Israel.

On Iran there will be no change. Iran is a safe issue and all American support a tough attitude toward Iran’s nuclear policy.

Iraq is a short term issue and not a long term issue. But still, there will be no real change. I do not see even this new Congress advocating for a total pull out of Iraq. I see them making a big deal out of a small and prophylactic removal of troops. The United States cannot just pack up and leave and every responsible politician knows that. The impact of an abrupt U.S. departure from Iraq would result in a living nightmare with a ripple effect all through the Middle East.

The House and Senate have changed. But we will feel that change only on domestic issues.

IT’S NOT ABOUT SADDAM

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday November 8, 2006

Column:

Everyone is weighing in on the Saddam Hussein trial. Everyone. Everyone has something to say.

Voices in the Arab world are saying that Saddam Hussein’s trial is all about the United States’ mid-term elections. That the trial is another example of U.S. imperialism. They are saying that the United States has killed far more people than Saddam ever killed. Some voices are even turning the prosecutorial tables, calling for George Bush and his accomplices to be brought to trial, in Iraq, for the damage they have done the Iraqis. That’s what they had to say about the trial. And then came the verdict. Oy vey.

Those same voices from the Arab world heard the verdict and now they are waiting for the real explosion, the real eruption, the real backlash. They are angrier now than they were before. The ignominy of the trial, they feel, pales in contrast to the arrogance of the verdict. Who are they to sit in judgment of an Arab leader? These people see this verdict as the highest form of U.S. meddling into local affairs, affairs that are absolutely none of their business.

Then there is Europe. Europe is generally upset by the role the United States is playing in Middle East and this trial of Saddam Hussein only exacerbates an already bad situation. Europeans fear the repercussions of what they see as a faulty policy. What really disturbs Europe, what disturbs them more than anything else is the fact that Saddam Hussein is now on death row, that the punishment meted out to Saddam is death by hanging. The overwhelming policy of Europe and the overwhelming sentiment of Europeans pits them against the death penalty.

Like the Arab world, European leaders and European public opinion seems to be more up in arms about principles and punishment than they were about the trial.

They are missing the point, all of them.

The trial of Saddam Hussein is not about his punishment. It is certainly not about mid-term elections or U.S. imperialism or faulty United States foreign policy.

This trial and all future trials of Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi henchmen are about catharsis and justice.

This trial and all future trials are about taking responsibility for history and about assuming accountability for the future.

The trial of Saddam Hussein is best understood in the context of history. Taking Saddam’s life will not bring back any of the thousands upon thousands of men, women and children he butchered, bludgeoned and beheaded. That is why this trial and no trial that follows will ever be about revenge.

Public participation in the trial of Saddam Hussein, through the media coverage, allows Iraq as a society to begin to cope with the horrors of the past. The trial was broadcast specifically so that people could watch and hear. Could cry or clap or scream or punch their fists through walls or cower in corners, or wail or dance. This publicly transmitted trial allowed those victims of Saddam, victims who are still alive, to begin the personal process of recovery.

The new Iraq is confronting the old. The new Iraq is taking charge, setting the record straight. The new Iraq is meting out justice to those who perpetrated the injustice. And then the new Iraq will move forward with purpose and with pride.

Even if Saddam had never been captured, this trial should have taken place. Even if.

Think back to the Nuremberg Trials, the trials that took place in the aftermath of World War II. Certainly, there are differences between Saddam’s trial and the Nuremberg trials. Most notably, Nuremberg was an international tribunal. But the purpose of the trials was to have a legal historical record of the events and to attribute blame to people who were part of the process. Germany could be made accountable for the events that transpired in their country because of the Nuremberg Trials.

Think back to the Adolph Eichmann trial. The objective of Eichmann’s trial was to have an official protocol of the history of the events in which he participated, they are in the court record.

These atrocities perpetrated by Saddam Hussein are now and forever more on the record. And that is the real reasons for trials against the Butcher of Baghdad. Not about creating a good defense. Not about conviction. Not about his punishment. About creating a record.

The purpose in trying Saddam Hussein is to confront the past in order to allow for a future. A future without the persecution and injustice that marked Saddam’s rule.

Different societies deal differently with the fall of a tyrant. So the Kurds celebrated. The Shiites danced. The Sunnis promised revenge for Saddam. That’s okay, it is expected.

From this point on, I expect there to be more trials and more trials and more trials. Most will not be internationally covered. But they should be locally covered. Part of the transition towards empowerment for the people or Iraq is the recognition that the system works to protect them not to harm them.

When citizens feel safe about their present and confident that their children have a future they will take the initiative, stand up and do the right thing. It’s about moving on.

THE PIMP AND THE WHORE -RUSSIA AND IRAN

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday October 31, 2006

Column:

It’s time to wake up and smell the roses – before they are blown to smithereens.

Iran and Russia are in cahoots. Iran wants nuclear capability and Russia has the capability to make it happen. And unless they are stopped, it will happen. It is up to us. Neither of these countries has a global conscious. Neither country could care less.

Iran is whoring and Russia is her pimp. Ahmadinejad and Putin recently had a telephone conversation during which they discussed the Iranian nuclear program. At the end of the conversation Putin came to his conclusion.

Remember, Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, they have an automatic veto on all matters before the Security Council. What Russia says matters. A Russian spokesman released a statement saying that “Russia strongly favors further negotiations.” He said that the international community “should try to reduce tensions through talks.”

He forgot to add that while the international community reduces tensions through talks, Russia would be supplying Iran with all the materials, know-how and advisory personnel they want and need.

Remember, Russia is building two nuclear reactors in Iran. Russia is heavily invested in Iranian nuclear development. Russia provides much of the expertise and most of the raw materials that Iran will be using for the reactors.

Russia has been pimping for countries in want of nuclear development, technology and weapons for a while now, just as they have for conventional weapons. They have very little else to provide and almost nothing else to export. Weapons are the products they have and they sell to anyone willing to pay the price. A recent study showed that Russia is one of the largest, maybe even the single largest, provider of weapons to third world countries.

They sell old, outdated weapons. They sell rusty weapons. They sell forty year old rifles and ammo. They sell advisers. They also sell nuclear material to unscrupulous countries who aspire to nuclear capability.

Remember, Russia sold the weapons to Syria that Syria then went and supplied to Hezbollah to use against Israel. And then Putin side stepped responsibility by claiming that they had done their due diligence by having Syria sign a contract stipulating that the arms would not be used illegally by Hezbollah. The problem is that Russia sells to countries and to people who could not care less about what they sign let alone about where and on whom they intend to use their weapons.

That’s not Russia’s problem. It is our problem.

Even in a three day face-to-face sit down with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Putin refused to accept that a nuclear Iran might be a threat. All he could do was echo the Iranian claim that they want nuclear energy just for the sake of nuclear energy.

Putin is not a stupid man. He is certainly not naive. So why do Putin and the Russians continue to provide these resources to Iran and Syria and others?
Because it is business. Because business is business. Because it is one of the only businesses in which Russia can be competitive in the world export market. Because Iran wants and Russia can provide. And the name of the business is prostitution.

Remember, Russia is not alone in this. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed el Baradei, recently briefed the United Nations General Assembly. Speaking on the issue of Iran and nuclear capability the respected head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iranian goals “were still unclear.”

Maybe he doesn’t remember, but once a country has the ability to produce nuclear energy the next step is a very simple one.

And then there will be no flowers to push up on any of our graves.

ARAB UNITY UBER ALIS

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Column:

One of my biggest and most often repeated critiques of the Arab world is their own lack of critique, their own lack of self-criticism. One of the most significant weaknesses of Arab-leadership, Arab intelligentsia and the Arab masses has been that they have all, blindly and boldly, followed the move to extremism.

As fractured and as divided as they are internally, the Arab world has always determined to present a cohesive, united front to the rest of the world. Now, suddenly, we are beginning to see cracks in the facade of Arab harmony and unity. Distinct voices are being heard, publicly and in the press, speaking lovingly of their people but critical of the direction the Arab world has taken.

Muslim Fundamentalism is being chastised for turning the Arab world into a violent world. Muslim Fundamentalism is being blamed for altering the very fabric of Arab life and turning every facet of Arab life into an act of destruction.
Muslim Fundamentalists are being reminded that they are neither the ultimate nor the only decision making force when it comes to Arab lifestyle, Arab life or Arab diplomacy.

The fear of intimidation is gone. The fear of destroying the myth of Arab unity is vanishing. The fear of an Arab world bent only on violence and destruction has become too great to suppress. By embracing violence and by turning violence into their primary means of problem solving, both internally and in dealings with the outside world, the Arab world has severely diminished not only the way they are perceived by the outside world, but also the way in which they perceive themselves.

Hosni Mubarak the acknowledged big brother and political advisor to a large segment of the Arab world is the first Arab leader to acknowledge the flawed path Islam has taken and to speak out for change. Last week the president of Egypt delivered his message by means of the national Egyptian media. In a live television appearance Mubarak, a man who minces no words, said: “Shouldn’t we Muslims shoulder part of the responsibility of these wrong ideas about Islam? Have we fulfilled our duty in correcting the image of Islam and the Muslims? What did we do to face a terrorism that wears Islam’s cloak and targets the lives of the people.”

In essence, Mubarak was telling his fellow Muslim leaders as well as all believers that the future of the Arab world is in their own hands, that Arabs must play a major role in the way they themselves are perceived by the rest of the world, that they have done nothing to confront the murderers of innocent people, that they have instead supported terrorists by supporting Islamic radicals. Mubarak chose harsh words to clearly define an even harsher reality.

Even more revealing – and much more surprising than the critique leveled by Mubarak, is the very personal expression of concern and condemnation that came from Dr. Ghazi Hamad, one of the leading spokesmen of Hamas. Yes, Hamas.

In a very self critical column published in the Palestinian weekly al-Ayam. Hamad posed some very thoughtful and introspective questions reprimanding his own society. He takes them to task for embracing violence as a way of life, for allowing violent means to supplant any and all other forms of personal expression. Hamad asked: “Are we truly a violent society?” “Do we suffer from the chronic illness of violence?” “Have we become people who believe that all our problems can be resolved only through violence, with a bullet, a shell, a blatant leaflet and harsh words?”

Truly, this is one of the first times in a very long time that I am hearing material of this critical nature coming out of the Middle East. The best and only serious self-critique we have heard has, until now, come from ex-pat Muslims musing from the safety of the West, in interviews given to al-Hayat, the largest Arabic London-based newspaper, posturing on al Jazeera or even penning op-eds for The New York Times.

The Muslim world had fallen victim to its own violence. The radical Muslim world intended for violence to be a response to the non-Muslim world. And it was. But now that violence has spread and engulfs the world it was supposed to protect.
Muslim terror and violence will continue to haunt us in the West, but first it will haunt and destroy Arab culture and society. First it will cause the Arab world to implode and self-destruct.

The threat of Muslim violence to the Western world is real, but it is not existential. The true tragedy is that the Muslim world has attached so much value to the warped myth of Arab unity uber alis that is has empowered the myth to destroy the value of human life.

THE POWER TO CHANGE THE WORLD

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday October 17, 2006

Column:

Belgium. Indonesia. Italy. South Africa.

Four nations that have the power to change the world.

Whenever there is talk of the “changing of the guard” at the United Nations, the immediate response is to think about the position of Secretary General. And yes, Kofi Anan’s term has expired and yes, the new Secretary General designate is Ban from South Korea. But real power in the United Nations does not lie with the Secretary General, no matter how powerful a personality that person is.

Real power in the United Nations lies in the Security Council. And when the United Nations Security Council meets, there will be four new counties seated around the decision-making table. Belgium, Indonesia. Italy and South Africa are the new guys on the block, the four countries newly-elected by their nation peers to confront the issues confronting the world.

Becoming a member of the Security Council is no easy feat, just ask Venezuela. Before taking a seat at the Council table, a nation needs to have won the support of two-thirds of the one hundred and ninety-two members of the United Nations General Assembly. That translates into at least 126 votes per country. That translates into at least 126 allies per country. That translates into at least 126 votes of confidence from a cross-section of the nations of the world.

Belgium, Indonesia, Italy and South Africa made the cut. They will each be serving a two-year term. Venezuela, to the chagrin of Hugo Chavez who desperately wanted the power and distinction that comes with Security Council member status, did not. Venezuela tried hard, lobbied hard, played hard, but in the end, Venezuela lost big. Venezuela even called on Iran, an ally and supporter to lobby and campaign for them, but all to no avail. They lost so big that the South American country they lost to, Guatemala, did not make it either.

Venezuela’s defeat is significant not because of Venezuela itself, but because of the countries allied with Venezuela. The defeat of Venezuela dealt a serious blow to the non-aligned member countries of the group I call the We Hate America Club. Venezuela was representing the growing group of countries linked together because of their anti-United States, anti-West attitudes, a group lately gaining momentum in large part because of the bold and confrontational actions of Iran and North Korea.

The importance of the role, the power of the position that Belgium, Indonesia. Italy and South Africa now share is directly tied to the growth of the “anti” movement within the United Nations. And in a large segment of today’s world, the accepted norm for showing “anti” sentiment is the use of terror.

The big issue for the United Nations today and in the years to come is the issue of terror.

The big question concerning the free world now is: how will these four new members of the United Nations Security Council deal with the issue of world terror?

Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country in the world. Indonesia has been hit hard by Muslim terror. Indonesia is familiar, first hand, with the dangers and destructive power of terror. The Indonesian government is struggling hard to fight terror from within and is participating in international agencies fighting terror. There is one significant stumbling block to the full participation of Indonesia in the fight against terror. The reality is that as a representative Muslim country sitting in the Security Council, Indonesia may be forced to defend Muslim honor.

Belgium is becoming, more and more, a Muslim country. The Belgians have witnessed and done nothing to stave off or suppress a significant rise in anti-Semitism promulgated by Muslim terrorists. Belgium has become a center for many international terrorist organizations. Numerous terrorist activities have been planned behind closed Belgian doors. And yet, appallingly, there are fewer than ten people in the entire Belgium police force that speak Arabic. Belgium has no national taskforce focusing on terror, everything is local. The Belgian government has made the decision to ignore the obvious, pretending it is not happening to them on their soil. This practice, sticking their head in the sand, may also become Belgium’s policy on the Security Council. Belgium is sitting on a powder keg and it is about to explode.

Italy has had to deal with terror for many years. Recently, there has been a huge influx of Muslims to Italy. The Italians know the dangers of terror. They will probably become allied with the rest of the West on the issue of terror. Italy has already begun making strides in that direction and is slowly edging out the French in Lebanon. It is the Italians who have been pushing Hezbollah very hard to show signs of life from the two Israeli soldiers they have captured. Italy is a strong supporter of the fight against terror.

South Africa is still trying to define itself internationally. As much as South Africa wants to become a part of the West, the country still has strong affinity for those who were oppressed by the West. At this point, South Africa can swing either way. South Africa must be convinced to take the fight against terror seriously. Muslim Fundamentalism has already started to envelope Africa.

Four nations. Four votes. One very important issue.

GUTS, GUMPTION AND GALL

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday October 11, 2006

North Korea has just blasted the lid off of one of the world’s worst kept secrets.

The motivation behind North Korea’s decision to prove to the world that they have a nuclear program ready for testing is cause for deep concern. The ramifications of this act and the potential threat that North Korea now poses is significant. For some nations, however, the fact of North Korea’s nuclear potential is heralded as good news.

The bad guy nations are applauding the audacity and the prowess North Korea has displayed. They are basking in the glory of one of their own. They are whispering praises in the ears of North Korean leadership. They are lining up, putting in orders for nuclear bombs of their own. The major players on that list are silently cheering.

The good guys are out in full voice and they are condemning North Korea, a nation none of them has ever really trusted. The major players on that list are the United States, Great Britain, France, Iran.

Iran? Yes, Iran!

Iran has rejected North Korea’s nuclear tests. Iran has condemned the North Koreans for the nuclear experiment. Iran is siding with her own worst enemies on the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program. Iran does not in any way want North Korea to be positioned as a nation powerful enough to be a nuclear threat or rival. Putting it plainly, North Korea has ticked off Iran.

Analysts have looked at and dissected and read meaning into the developing relationship between Iran and North Korea. They have watched and evaluated as Iran cultivated diplomatic ties with North Korea over the past year. They have nodded their heads as Iran reached out to North Korea. And everyone, all the analysts and all the diplomats and all the experts came to the conclusion that Iran was interested in North Korea because North Korea was Iran’s link to a nuclear weapon. And you know what? They were all wrong.

Iran is not and never has been interested in North Korea’s nuclear development. And this nuclear test proves my point. That is not to say that the Iranians are not interested in developing nuclear potential. Of course they are, just not with North Korean material and technology. When it comes to nuclear capability, Iran can do much better than North Korea. When it comes to nuclear capability, Iran has Russia. Who could ask for anything more?

Iran has Russian-nuclear-know-how. Iran has access to far higher grade and far better nuclear systems through Russia than the North Koreans could ever hope to develop. The Russian program is heavily funded. It has logged decades of experimentation and conducted hundreds of comparisons with United States systems. The Russian program has failed and the Russian program has been rebuilt. The Russians have developed and tested and improved their nuclear systems. The Russian program is still not the world’s best, but it is far superior to North Korea’s system and even today far surpasses any program North Korea can develop over the next few decades. North Korea’s system is still in its gestation period. Iranians consider their own atomic program to be more sophisticated than North Korea’s program.

The major motivation that Iran had and still has for forging a relationship with North Korea is the strengthening of ties with a country as deeply motivated towards anti-United States sentiment as Iran is. That’s it, nothing more.

The North Korean nuclear test was a frightening reality for Iran. Iran sees North Korea as an irresponsible nation and a potential significant threat to the region and the world. Iran was not impressed by North Korea’s gall, gumption or guts. That is why Iran condemned the test.

Iran wants the United States ousted as the dominant world power. But they want it done under Iranian control. An irresponsible North Korea, a nuclear North Korea, threatens Iran’s plans. That explains why Iran wants to become nuclear. That explains why Iran condemned North Korea for being nuclear. That also explains why Iran is spending so much time cultivating relationships across the world. Iran is expanding its game of Us versus Them, Iran is drawing more players into its game of pitting those abused by America against America, and North Korea fits perfectly within the game. And when a party behaves irresponsibly Iran, the leader of the pack, must call that country into line.

Yes. the pot is definitely calling the kettle black – but only according to Western thinking, not according to Iranian thinking. North Korea is to Iran what Iran is to the Western world. If the West cannot understand where Iran sits on the issue of North Korea, and why, the West will never be able to outsmart, out play or out maneuver Iran. Like North Korea did.

Iran’s moves and motivations should never be a secret or a surprise to the West.

THE WINNER WITH THE BIGGEST GUN

By Micah Halpern

Wednesday October 4, 2006

Column:

The great thinker and philosopher Machiavelli asserted that politics is the art of compromise. The Palestinian people and their leaders have yet to take that lesson to heart.

The recent explosion in the streets of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian versus Palestinian, going at each other ruthlessly and violently, should not have taken anyone, let alone the Palestinians, by surprise. For months now I have been predicting this clash, Hamas vs Fatah, Fatah vs Hamas, innocents caught in the crossfire. For months I have been predicting that inner Palestinian violence was just a matter of time. And now the time has come.

This internal conflict is not about to dissipate. The warring factions will not run out of steam, or out of arms, they will not tire themselves out or let bygones be bygones. This state of conflict within the PA will continue until a true and viable victor is decided. There is no longer room for compromise in this situation. The Palestinian people will live peacefully among themselves, only when one faction emerges victorious.

The Palestinian people are paying a dear price for bad decision-making. They miscalculated when they overwhelmingly voted Hamas into power. Hamas was elected on an anti-corruption, anti-Arafat, i.e. anti-Fatah, platform. Embedded in that platform was the belief that Israel has no place on this earth, and while that theme is central to Hamas followers, it was only ancillary to the majority of those voters who put them in power.

Hamas was voted in because the people hoped to change the status quo. The people wanted their salaries paid, their street safe, they wanted to have food to feed their families. And today, with Hamas in place, what does the Palestinian Authority look like? Today, the people are not getting paid. There is starvation and there are strikes. Corruption and graft is worse than ever. Mafia and gangs roam the streets. Collection rackets are rampant. Palestinians watch TV and see Hamas attacking unarmed protesters and even funeral participants. Hamas never really understood why it was that they were elected and today, in hindsight it is easy for the Palestinian people to realize how myopic it was of them to put Hamas in power.

Simply asking the warring parties to stop warring is impossible. Asking them to sit down, set down arms and negotiate is counter-productive. A cease fire will only prolong the inevitable resumption of conflict. It will be a sanctioned “time out” that allows for one side in the conflict to re-arm and build up enough strength to attack the other.

According to Hamas, there are two factors responsible for this conflict. They are blameless, their own abuse of power and misunderstanding of the needs of the people does not enter into their own equation. Factor number one blames Fatah for insurrection and treason. Factor number two blames the United States for instigation and sponsorship.

If the Palestinian people were myopic, Hamas is blind, at least, legally blind. Hamas has fallen dramatically in the polls. After winning the election earlier this year and in the months following their victory, Hamas popularity rose to 66%. Two recent polls now have Hamas either losing to Fatah in another election or tying with Fatah. Not quite a resounding success story for either party, but it is all the Palestinian people have right now.

Hamas has failed as a government. They cannot and will not be successful political leaders because they have not and cannot make the transition from an ideological movement bent on the destruction of Israel to a political party that compromises. In essence, Hamas’ political weakness is their ideological strength.

As much as in their heart of hearts the Palestinian people would love to wake up one day and see that Israel has disappeared, they have come to the realization that Israel is there to stay at least in their own lifetimes and probably the lifetimes of their children. The average Palestinian has shelved his dream of the elimination of Israel. Hamas has not.

So if neither party is ready to lay down arms and if negotiations are a big bluff, how will this situation end? The United States will remain on the sidelines, smiling but uninvolved. Jordan and Egypt however, the two big brothers of the Arab Middle East, have not been standing idly by. Jordan and Egypt have each come to the conclusion that Hamas is a liability, that Hamas is a destabilizing factor for the entire region. They want Hamas out and they will help make it happen. Egypt and Jordan, Mubarak and Abdullah, have been pressuring Palestinian President Abbas, the head of Fatah, to oust Hamas. He can call for a referendum or he can oust Hamas in a more violent way, but they want Hamas finally, out of their way.

In the final analysis, the person with the biggest gun rules the Palestinian street.

MISSIONARIES AND MERCENARIES

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday September 26, 2006

Column:

The face of terror is changing. More precisely, the faces of terror are changing. And I mean that literally.

Changes happen quickly in the world of terror. So quickly, it is as if the tools of terror are actually morphing – one technique blends with the next and then the next and suddenly, we have a new threat. On 9-11 terrorists took to the skies, a short time later Richard Reid attempted to wear explosive laden sneakers onto a plane, a short time after that a plot was exposed that would have used liquids to explode airliners. One technique begets another.

Cavemen had their clubs. The Wild West had bows and arrows. The Civil War had rifles. Arabian marauders brandished daggers. Today’s bad guys have come a long way from their role models of old. Today’s terrorists are using the most sophisticated science and state-of-the-art technology on the market, or the black market. But they have not forsaken the lesson of old. Today’s terrorists are putting the knowledge they glean from high tech tools of terror to allow themselves to perfect and perform the low tech operations that keep their activities below the radar of detection.

Certainly, in order to fight terror and prevent terrorist attacks we must see the changes in terrorist technique and anticipate future tactics. We must know what they know and have their tools at our fingertips. That is possibly the most essential dimension in keeping our society safe from terror. But it is low tech opportunities that, right now, have me the most worried. It is the intel we are now receiving telling us that al Qaeda may be using non-Muslims and non-Arabs as recruits and terrorists-in-training.

These new terrorists may be believers, but they may also be guns for hire. They may be al Qaeda type missionaries or they may be modern-day mercenaries. They are the new faces of terror. They are the undetectable faces of terror. They are the blend right in faces of terror. Their faces are what have me worried.

Using locals is a brilliant move on the part of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups employing the same technique. It makes our work, the process of prevention and interception, that much harder. And when this tactic was used in the past, the results from the standpoint of the terrorist, were tremendous.

One of the most deadly terrorist attacks in Israel’s history took place in one of the most secure environments in the country – in the arrival terminal of the international airport. Not outside the terminal but inside, in a sterile totally secure zone – baggage claim. A group of Japanese terrorists opened fired and murdered numerous tourists coming to Israel for a holiday pilgrimage. The attack was allowed to happen because Japanese tourists in Israel were thought to be low risk. Because despite the common perception, most tourists arriving in Israel are not Jewish, they are Christians visiting the hold land. And so these assumedly innocent travelers were able to smuggle weapons into the terminal, open fire and perpetrate their crime.

Not too very long ago a famous Tel Aviv watering hole, Mike’s Bar, was blown up by British tourists of Pakistani decent. Yes, the British Pakistanis fit into a risk profile, but not a high risk profile. And with their legitimate, legally issued British passports this band of terrorists was able to zigzag back and forth between Tel Aviv and the West Bank Gaza with apparent ease. Until one day – boom.

The devastating and horrific bombings in London’s subway and the intercepted failed plan to replicate those bombings were carried out by British locals, not by foreign born terrorists. The terrorists now under arrest for planning to hijack and blow-up transatlantic flights en route from London to the United States were also locals.

The changing face of the terrorist is the greatest obstacle the West now faces in fighting terror. To break through and get back on the terror fighting track requires a new mind set, it requires an entirely different approach to security.

When the threat is purely external, defense and security people feel safer. Red tape and bureaucracy act as checks to prevent many of the wrong people from coming in, from invading. A series of checks and checkpoints are in place and act as a barrier even if that person has managed to enter. But when that person is one of us the rules have been changed. The stakes are higher, the risks are greater and the chances of discovery are much, much smaller.

When that face looks like our faces, we need to create a new and better mirror.

THE LIMITS OF FREE SPEECH

By Micah Halpern

Tuesday September 19, 2006

Column:

Freedom of speech is overrated.

Freedom of speech is especially overrated in the international diplomatic arena.

In reality, all countries are not equal. Every country does not have the right to say whatever, whenever, wherever. The simple fact of existence does not entitle a country to say what it wants. Neither does membership in the United Nations.

When a country’s mouthpiece, that country’s leader, steps verbally over the line of acceptability and civility, that leader should be reprimanded. In diplomatic circles, that country should be shunned. In economic spheres, that country should be isolated. In cultural exchanges that country should be excluded. And if the international community-at-large is t