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Palestine on Edge

Hamas Planning Overthrow of Fatah on West Bank

December 23rd 2012

Hamas protester

The terror group Hamas is plotting a Gaza-style takeover of the West Bank, the Sunday Times reports. The Iranian-backed terror group is planning a putsch much like the one that brought it to power in the Gaza Strip in 2007. In that conflict, which lasted just eight days, Hamas fighters soundly defeated the Fatah security services aligned with Mahmoud Abbas.

This time, both Israel and Fatah are preparing for any attempt by Hamas to seize the West Bank's military and political institutions. The Times of Israel, quoting the Sunday Times, reports: "Jerusalem fears that a Hamas takeover of the West Bank would give Iran, which is allied with the group, a foothold on the border of Israel’s heartland, the report said. Reportedly, Iran is the driving force behind Hamas’s push to control the West Bank. A source close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the paper that the prime minister is maneuvering to halt Iran and Hamas from gaining dominion of the territory. "[Netanyahu] understands the geopolitical changes in the Middle East. No way would [he] give up an inch of the West Bank — he is convinced that the intelligence assessment about a [Hamas] takeover is solid,” the source said. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Tracking the History of HIV

December 23rd 2012

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may have affected humans for much longer than is currently believed. Alfred Roca, an assistant professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, thinks that the genomes of an isolated West African human population provide important clues about how the disease has evolved.

HIV is thought to have originated from chimpanzees in central Africa that were infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), a retrovirus. "If you look at the diversity present across SIV in chimpanzees, it suggests that they have had it for tens of thousands of years," Roca said.

HIV-1 Type M, which accounts for 90 percent of human infections, is believed to have crossed the species barrier into human populations between 1884 and 1924. Roca said that it may have crossed much earlier and many times, selecting for genetic resistance in isolated rural populations while remaining undetected. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Big Business Sides with Iran in Face of Nuclear Threat

December 22nd 2012

Iran centrifuges


Broken Government

Looking Ahead to 2013 Primaries, GOP Representatives Abandon 'Plan B'

December 22nd 2012

John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner

Many House Republicans refused to vote for Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) Plan B bill because they were “gun shy” about drawing primary challengers in the 2014, according to several lawmakers.

A number of members involved in the intense whipping operation that took place over the past two days tsaid that entrenched no votes were more concerned with perception than principle. “I think that there were members that are so gun shy about primaries that they weren't willing to take a risk ... some members told me that it was just too hard to explain how it wasn't a tax increase,” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said shortly following Thursday night’s abrupt conference meeting where Boehner told his colleagues they wouldn’t vote on the bill. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Palestinians Threaten Multilateral "War" Against Israel

December 21st 2012

IDF Soldiers

Following a day of blustering threats from the Palestinian Authority, Israel's foreign ministry responded in kind, calling "The 'new rules' the Palestinians are talking about... no different than the old rules that have always resulted in conflict, hatred, violence and their defeat."

The P.A. threatened on Thursday to do everything from seek sanctions against Israel to fomenting violence on the ground in the West Bank, claiming that their rise to non-member state status at the U.N. had changed the rules of their conflict with Israel.

According to YNet, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor hit back hard on Friday, saying that: The Palestinians' tragedy is that instead of dedicating efforts to building themselves, they are focusing on trying to harm Israel. Instead of building their future they are immersed in attempts to ruin ours. This strategy has led to nothing but failure after failure for them. They continue digging in their heels out of some delusional, suicidal power drunkenness. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Proof of Obama's Policy of Making Syria into an Anti-Western and Anti-Semitic Islamist State

December 20th 2012

Syrian Jihadis

In his article “The Revolt of Islam in Syria” (Jerusalem Post, December 12), Jonathan Spyer — senior fellow at the GLORIA Center — points out compelling information about the new Western-backed leadership in Syria.

The bottom line: if this is Syria’s new government, then Syria now has an Islamist regime.

This is happening with the knowledge and collaboration of the Obama administration and a number of European governments. It is a catastrophe, and one that’s taking place due to the deliberate decisions of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders. Even if one rationalizes the Islamist takeover in Egypt as due to internal events, this one is U.S.-made. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Crisis Evolves From Arab Spring to a War between Sunnis and Shiites

December 19th 2012


In Syria, what began as an Arab Spring, eager for greater dignity, work and freedom, has slipped out of hand to become a regional and international conflict in which Saudi Arabia and Qatar are fighting against Iran , Turkey and Israel against Syria, Russia and China against the United States and Europe.

At first efforts were concentrated on the demand for greater dignity, but after receiving only violence as a response from the government, the Spring has become a well armed rebellion. Many army officers have defected and organized an armed response. Now both sides are fighting with weapons.

A conflict within Islam

Syria, unlike Egypt, is a multicultural and multiethnic country: there are Druze, Christians (9%), Kurds (7%), Sunni (70%), and other small groups, and this country, so far, is dominated by the Alawite (12-13%).

All this leads the Syrian tensions to a regional conflict. The fear, for Sunnis and the majority of Arab countries, is that Syria, religiously tied to Iran, could become increasingly instrumental to the spread of Shiism.

It must be said that Iran's enemies, rather than Israel, are Sunnis. On the other hand, the fear of Islam is the fear of Shiism, which is advancing in every Islamic country. Last week, in Cairo (Egypt), I came across a group of Shiite Muslims for the first time in more than a millennium, who were promoting their religion there. They were stopped by Sunni leaders. I have heard that the same phenomenon is occurring in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and in many African countries. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage in Libya

Libya Shuts Certain Border Sections

December 18th 2012

Libya protesters

Libya's struggling government on Sunday ordered the nation's southern borders to be closed and ordered the military to create restricted areas in several regions. The reason given for these closures was the enormous influx of illegal immigrants and contraband. The nations singled out were Chad, Niger, Sudan and Algeria, all countries with active Islamic terrorist organizations, according to the Israeli source, a member of the law enforcement and intelligence community. While the nation struggles to create a secular democracy, Libya's southern regions are plagued with rampant lawlessness and violence ever since its dictator Moamar Khadhafi's regime was toppled and he was executed by an angry mob last year.

Some nations within the European Union have volunteered to train the Libyan military and police in border security measures and combating the trafficking of weapons and drugs across Libya's borders. The parliamentary decree said the southern regions of Ghadames, Ghat, Obari, Al-Shati, Sebha, Murzuq and Kufra would be military zones subject to martial law. Read more ..

Global Migration

The World Comes to Grips with the Phenomenon of Unceasing Migration

December 18th 2012

Latino immigration rally

On December 18, the United Nations and countries around the world mark International Migrants Day, an event established a dozen years ago to acknowledge the contributions made by economic migrants. People have always been on the move in search of a better life. Today, it’s estimated that more than 200 million people worldwide are working in foreign lands, hoping for a future they couldn’t find at home. And the numbers are growing each year. Experts who study this mass migration are working to convince governments that, given the right policies, they have much to gain – whether they are the country migrants are leaving or the one that is their destination.

But there are still societal roadblocks fueled by false assumptions about migrants that prevent the free flow of international migration. Among them are persistent beliefs that migrants are a burden on host nations, even dangerous. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Transition towards Democracy in North Africa

December 17th 2012

African ancestry

Egypt’s transition is turbulent, to say the least. The upcoming constitutional referendum is becoming more fraught by the day. Because most of the country’s judges are refusing to supervise the referendum, it is now scheduled to take place on two different dates: December 15 and December 22. Egypt’s main opposition coalition, after considerable indecision, has decided to participate in the referendum—trying to vote it down rather than boycotting it—but says it will not participate without sufficient oversight, monitoring, and security.

All of this is taking place against a backdrop of increasing economic instability and uncertainty: this week, President Morsi announced tax increases stipulated by the IMF, only to rescind them hours later. Egypt also delayed its loan from the IMF in order to better explain required austerity measures to the population.

How are its North African neighbors, Tunisia and Libya, faring in their transitions? Read more ..

China Rising

Beijing Testing Tokyo

December 16th 2012

Senkaku Islands

Early this morning, East China Sea time, China sent a small reconnaissance plane into Japanese airspace over the Senkaku Islands. Too small to register on Japan’s air defense radar, but large enough to make a point, this propeller jet assigned to the Chinese Marine Surveillance Agency was perfectly timed to take advantage of the distraction of North Korea’s missile launch.

China and Japan have been drawing lines in the waters around the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands for the Chinese) almost daily since the Japanese government under Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda purchased these islands from a private owner on September 11. China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, has consistently argued that Japan escalated the bilateral dispute over these small uninhabited islands by “nationalizing” them. China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi took his case to the United Nations, where he derided the Japanese government for challenging the post-WWII settlement in Asia. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria Rises to Top-20 of Money Laundering Nations

December 16th 2012

Nigeria Oil

A new study by the US-based research and advocacy organisation, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), has placed Nigeria in the 7th position out of the 20 biggest exporters of illicit financial flows over a decade, with cumulative figure of US$129 billion and an average of US$12.9 billion. BusinessDay reports that the organisation also revealed that among the 20 top exporters of illegal capital in 2010, Nigeria occupied the same position with US$19.66 billion.

The GFI report, which is coming barely one week after Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index placed Nigeria 135th out of 176th corrupt countries, covered 2001 to 2010.

The report, co-authored by GFI Lead Economist Dev Kar and GFI Economist Sarah Freitas, is the first by GFI to incorporate a new, more conservative estimate of illicit financial flows, facilitating comparisons with previous estimates from GFI updates, identifies crime, corruption and tax evasion at near historic highs. It estimates that nearly US$6 trillion were stolen from poor countries within the decade and US$859 billion in 2010 alone.

The report fingered China as leading the pack with US$274 billion average (US$2.74 trillion cumulative); followed by Mexico with US$47.6 billion average (US$476 billion cum.); Malaysia, US$28.5 billion average ($285 billion cum.); Saudi Arabia US$21.0 billion average (US$210 billion cum.); Russia US$15.2 billion average (US$152 billion cum.); and Philippines US$13.8 billion avg. (US$138 billion cum.). Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Scrutiny of Health Records Tightened

December 15th 2012


Federal officials, in an apparent effort to clamp down on Medicare fraud and abuse, are tightening scrutiny of the  growing numbers of doctors who rely on electronic medical records to bill for their services.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has directed its auditors to look more closely to make sure the systems are properly documenting the services being paid for by the government. The new policy, announced in November, went into effect earlier this week. At issue is the impact electronic medical records can have on billing for doctor visits. Doctors must choose one of five escalating payment levels, known as “Evaluation and Management” codes that best reflect the amount of time spent with a patient as well as the complexity of the care.

Medical groups argue that computers make it easier for them to document all of the work they do, which leads to higher codes and fees. But officials worry that the software also can be manipulated to inflate bills — a practice known as “upcoding.” Read more ..

Broken Labor

ALEC's Decades of 'Right-to-Work' Effort Pay Off in Michigan

December 14th 2012

Click to select Image

Amid protests by labor unions, and objections from the state’s congressional delegation and even the president, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed a “right-to-work” bill into law Tuesday, drawn word-for-word from a 32-year-old “model bill” pushed by a corporate-funded, conservative think tank.

The legislation deals a severe blow to organized labor in a state that has the fifth-highest union density in the country, and it marks the revival of an effort long promoted by the influential American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that has seen its share of controversy recently.

Since 1973, ALEC has hosted corporate-sponsored meetings where state legislators and lobbyists meet behind closed doors to write and vote on model legislation. In a 1992 annual report, the free-market think tank boasted that it “provides the private sector an unparalleled opportunity” to influence state legislation. One of its first priorities was passage of “right-to-work” laws, which now exist in 24 states. The 16 states with the lowest union density in the country have right-to-work laws, mostly in the American South and West, while the 13 states with the highest union density do not, until this week. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

The Gaza Operation and its Effects on Iran

December 13th 2012

Hamas demo

How effectively Israel's recent Gaza operation will deter Palestinian rocket fire remains to be seen. Israelis are skeptical: One poll found that a whopping 88 percent think the truce will not last long. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't sound too confident: Visiting an airbase shortly after the cease-fire took effect, he warned pilots they should already start preparing for the next campaign.

Regardless of what happens in Gaza, however, Operation Pillar of Defense clearly enhanced Israel's deterrence against a much more important enemy - Iran. The operation demonstrated two important things, neither of which was self-evident beforehand. One is that even in the post-Arab Spring world, Israel can conduct military operations without igniting its southern front or shattering its peace with Egypt. The other is that for all the disagreements between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama on other issues, America's traditional support for Israel's right to defend itself takes precedence. Read more ..

The World on Edge

Global Power Will Shift by 2030

December 13th 2012

F-22s at Sunset

The U.S. intelligence community has confirmed in a new report that global power in the future will not be marked by the deployment of large military force or arsenals of nuclear weapons, two measures of American power that still have a large following in Washington.

In a new report entitled “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds”, the National Intelligence Council said global power in that year will be reflected instead by a mix of factors, including the state of technology, health, education, and governance as well as GDP (the size of the national economy), population size, and military spending.

And by 2030, countries in Asia will have surpassed the United States in many of these power metrics, meaning that “the ‘unipolar moment’ is over and Pax Americana – the era of American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945 – is fast winding down,” the report said. “There will not be any hegemonic power” in 18 years but instead a collection of “networks and coalitions” in which Asian nations and rising economic powers such as India, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa and Turkey will take part. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Banking without Borders with Terrorists as Major Clients

December 12th 2012


In the past three months, two London-based banks – HSBC and Standard Chartered – have been accused by the US government of serving as a gateway for Iran into the international financial market. Both financial institutions have come under scrutiny from United States (US) regulators, who have made it clear that banks doing business in the US must cut their ties with illicit Iranian entities or risk losing access to the US market.

On 17 July 2012, the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued a 335-page report (in addition to several hundred pages of supporting evidence, including bank records and internal emails) accusing HSBC of exposing the US financial system to a range of money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorist financing risks due to its poor anti-money-laundering (AML) controls. Read more ..

Egypt’s Second Revolution

A Turning Point in Egypt: On the Speed—Not the Direction—of the Islamist Transformation

December 11th 2012

Mohamed Morsi - Vivat Rex

A critical moment has arrived for Egypt. But what does it mean? President Morsi has rescinded much of his decree claiming total power, but he could accomplish much the same thing after the constitution is confirmed, and perhaps if he forces the reinstatement of the elected parliament whose election was declared invalid by a court. At any rate, Morsi’s concession has not quieted the demonstrations—another sign that concessions in the Middle East don’t bring agreements—and so this crisis is not going away.

There are three broad possibilities for Egypt. Either the regime will fall, the opposition will be repressed, or there will be an increasingly violent civil war.

The regime will not fall due to these demonstrations alone. Remember what happened to the Mubarak regime—it fell for the following reasons:
• The army would not defend it.
• The army then overthrew it.
• The Muslim Brotherhood-led opposition would not compromise.
• The West would not support the regime. Read more ..

Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Both Obama and Republican Debt Solutions Risk U.S. Credit Downgrade

December 11th 2012

Cliff Face West Wales

Deficit-reduction proposals from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama fall short of clearly stabilizing the debt, according to budget experts, putting the U.S. credit rating at risk of a downgrade. Under both proposals, U.S. debt would continue to grow as a percentage of gross domestic product, unless the economy grows at a rapid pace, according to experts who have studied the proposals.

While some suggest new talks between Obama and Boehner suggest a deal is in reach, they have doubts it will be big enough to meaningfully reduce deficits — or satisfy credit rating agencies. “More is going to have to be done. I’m actually getting a bit more optimistic that a fiscal-cliff deal will get done, but at the same time I’m less optimistic that a ‘grand bargain’ will be achieved,” Bob Bixby of the Concord Coalition said. “The real issue is where everything ends up as a percentage of GDP.”

Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s have taken a cautious approach in public comments on talks between congressional Republicans and the White House. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Israel's Periphery and its Geopolitical Dilemma

December 11th 2012

Israel border crossing Eilat

The state of Israel has a basic, inescapable geopolitical dilemma: Its national security requirements outstrip its military capabilities, making it dependent on an outside power. Not only must that power have significant military capabilities but it also must have enough common ground with Israel to align its foreign policy toward the Arab world with that of Israel's. These are rather heavy requirements for such a small nation.

Security, in the Israeli sense, is thus often characterized in terms of survival. And for Israel to survive, it needs just the right blend of geopolitical circumstance, complex diplomatic arrangements and military preparedness to respond to potential threats nearby. Over the past 33 years, a sense of complacency settled over Israel and gave rise to various theories that it could finally overcome its dependency on outside powers. But a familiar sense of unease crept back into the Israeli psyche before any of those arguments could take root. A survey of the Israeli periphery in Egypt, Syria and Jordan explains why. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

The Changing Landscape of US-Mexico Security Cooperation

December 10th 2012

President Enrique Pena Nieto

U.S.-Mexico security cooperation, led by the Merida Initiative, is vital and must continue. But with Enrique Peña Nieto's inauguration, Mexico's political landscape is now changing, and the United States must adjust its strategy and support accordingly. Building on the lessons of the past five years, the United States should work with Mexico to implement the nonmilitary programs envisioned in the current Merida framework, in particular supporting and prioritizing Mexico's ongoing judicial reform, training police officers at the state and local levels, modernizing the U.S.-Mexico border, and investing in local community and youth-oriented programs.

The Merida Initiative After Five Years

The Merida Initiative was launched in 2007 under the George W. Bush administration, which promised $1.4 billion over three years to "support Mexico's law enforcement in the fight against organized crime." Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Claim Assad has Already Used Chemical Weapons

December 10th 2012

Syrian Chemical Weapons

Syrian rebels uploaded a video to YouTube on Saturday which they claim shows victims of a chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime, the Times of Israel reports. The use of chemical weapons has not been confirmed, but Syria has long been known to harbor an arsenal of such weapons, and rumors have been flying that Assad might well employ them should his situation prove desperate. Recent weeks have seen major gains by the rebel forces, which have succeeded in unifying their various factions and undertaking attacks within the capital of Damascus. Many observers believe the Assad regime's days are numbered.

At the same time, however, the United States and Israel, as well as other nations, have made it clear that they will not tolerate the deployment of chemical weapons by Syria. The U.S. has hinted at possible military intervention in order to prevent it. Read more ..

The Gender Edge

Diversifying Global Supply Chains

December 9th 2012

Working Women

Women-owned businesses represent 32 to 39 percent of all private businesses worldwide, but reportedly receive less than one percent of procurement from both corporations and governments. (I say reportedly, because these numbers are very hard to verify. Still, even if the statistic is off by a factor of ten, women-owned businesses are still hugely underrepresented.)

As societies around the world struggle with ways to expand women’s economic opportunities, better integrating women-owned businesses into global supply chains clearly holds enormous potential. This is a topic I’ve explored previously, and was able to delve into it more deeply at a meeting yesterday of CFR’s ExxonMobil Women and Development Roundtable Series.

Corporations are working in concert with governments and nonprofits to address issues of women’s empowerment for a variety of reasons: some are in search of improving their image or motivated by a sense of corporate social responsibility; increasingly, others recognize a business argument for embracing women’s economic empowerment. They understand that reaching out to women can make their labor forces more productive, improve the quality of their global supply chains, and expand their customer bases. As Astrid Pregel, an adviser to the Canadian government, argues, women owned-businesses should be supported and grown because they are the “greatest underutilized resource” when it comes to growing the global economy. Read more ..


Benghazi Terrorists Got Arms from Obama Administration

December 9th 2012


In spite of the threat of American weapons ending up in the hands of terrorist groups, President Barack Obama secretly approved an arms transfer to Libyan rebels through Qatar at the height of the rebellion against Moamar Khadhafi, a knowledgeable source noted on Friday. However, American counterterrorists are discovering that some of those U.S. weapons ended up in the hands of radical Islamists including associates of al-Qaeda, according to a law enforcement source who trained police in the Middle East.

Some Americans who are retired from the military, as well as intelligence and law enforcement agencies, believe there should be an investigation into possible connections between the weapons provided by the Qataris back then and the attack that killed an American ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Crunch Time For US Negotiators Working To Keep Internet Rules Out Of UN Treaty

December 8th 2012

Russian computer user

Delegates from the United States are running out of time to bury proposals that could have a major effect on the Internet as a United Nations treaty conference heads into its final week. The top item on the U.S.'s agenda is to confine the scope of the international treaty to telecommunications networks, so its regulations only apply to major operators like AT&T and Verizon. Members of the U.S. delegation, led by Ambassador Terry Kramer, are pushing back against proposals from Russia and other countries that want to include measures in the treaty that apply to the Internet.

But with just days until the conference wraps up on Dec. 14, the matter remains unresolved. "That's looking very much like one of the sticking points," said Sarah Parkes, a spokeswoman for the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is hosting the treaty conference in Dubai. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

The Intellectual Left of Latin America Faces the Gaza Crisis

December 7th 2012

Palestinian Arabs wearing Che Guevara shirts
Palestinian Arabs wearing Che Guevara shirts

The recent Gaza crisis, during which Israel responded with a limited military operation to stop Hamas missile attacks against Israeli populations, unleashed a number of reactions by intellectuals in Latin America.

Some of these reactions were expected but others raise serious concerns about the direction Latin America is taking in what is called “the battle of ideas”.

The reaction to the Gaza crisis by some intellectuals reflects the ideological power of the Bolivarian Revolution and the challenge this revolution will present for us in the future. This time we did not hear mere pacifist statements calling to stop the bloodshed. We heard a much more aggressive discourse that accused Israel of conducting genocide on the Palestinians; promoting expansionism; committing war crimes; and nothing short of serving the devil. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Kuwait Expulsion of Thousands of Palestinians

December 6th 2012

Palstinian refugee camp

Much has been made of the Palestinian exodus of 1948. Yet during their decades of dispersal, the Palestinians have experienced no less traumatic ordeals at the hands of their Arab brothers. As early as the mid-1950s, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Libya expelled striking Palestinian workers. In 1970, Jordan expelled some 20,000 Palestinians and demolished their camps; in 1994-95, Libya expelled tens of thousands of long-term Palestinian residents in response to the Oslo process; and after the 2003 Iraq war, some 21,000 Palestinians fled the country in response to a systematic terror and persecution campaign. As recently as 2007, Beirut effectively displaced 31,400 Palestinian refugees when the Lebanese army destroyed the Nahr el Bared refugee camp during fighting between the militant Fatal al-Islam group and the Lebanese army.

The expulsion of Kuwait's Palestinians was precipitated by the endorsement of Iraq's brutal occupation of the emirate. Whether true or not, the Palestinians where viewed by Kuwait's rulers as "fifth colmnists" and forced to leave their decades-old homes. Read more ..

The Battle of Syria

Syria's Dictator Assad Circles the Wagons for a Last Stand

December 6th 2012


The battle for Damascus is raging with increasing intensity while rebels continue to make substantial advances in Syria's north and east. Every new air base, city or town that falls to the rebels further underlines that Bashar al Assad's writ over the country is shrinking. It is no longer possible to accurately depict al Assad as the ruler of Syria. At this point, he is merely the head of a large and powerful armed force, albeit one that still controls a significant portion of the country.

The nature of the conflict has changed significantly since it began nearly two years ago. The rebels initially operated with meager resources and equipment, but bolstered by defections, some outside support and their demographic advantage, they have managed to gain ground on what was previously a far superior enemy. Even the regime's qualitative superiority in equipment is fast eroding as the rebels start to frequently utilize main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, rocket and tube artillery and even man-portable air-defense systems captured from the regime's stockpiles. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria After Assa: Heading Toward a Hard Fall

December 5th 2012

al-Assad and Generals

Recent opposition military successes near Damascus, Aleppo, and Deir al-Zour make the eventual demise of Bashar al-Assad's regime increasingly likely. Although one cannot rule out a definitive end to the civil war -- one that leads to the creation of a "unified, democratic, pluralistic" Syria, as envisioned by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- the regime's departure is much more likely to herald a more chaotic and dangerous phase of the conflict.

To a certain extent, the nature of the transition will be influenced by how the Assad regime leaves the scene. If government forces retain their cohesion while being rolled back one village and urban neighborhood at a time, the opposition will have more time to set up rudimentary institutions of governance in liberated areas, and a less disruptive transition may be possible. Indeed, large swaths of the country have already fallen out of government control and are being administered by local ad hoc committees. Much will also depend on whether the regime fights on in Damascus, laying waste to the capital in the process, or withdraws to strongholds in its traditional Alawite heartland, the mountainous northwestern coastal region; -- the former scenario could hinder the development of a new central government for years to come. A sudden collapse by regime forces might presage an even more chaotic transition, as rival opposition forces rush to fill the vacuum. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

North Korea’s Satellite Launch: Pyongyang Style Theater or Prelude to Crisis?

December 5th 2012

North Korean launch

North Korea’s announcement of plans to pursue another satellite launch between December 10 and 22 may have been unwelcome, but it should not have been entirely unanticipated. North Korea defiantly stated that it would continue to test long-range multi-stage rockets on its April 17 response to a UN Security Council Presidential statement condemning North Korea’s failed April 12 launch. Another launch will likely have a disproportionate political impact since it comes prior to national elections scheduled in Japan on December 16 and in South Korea on December 19. Here’s a rundown of the challenges a North Korean satellite launch poses during this political transition period:

A North Korean satellite launch may influence South Korean voters in the December presidential election to base their vote more on national security credentials and North Korea policies of the respective candidates than might have otherwise been the case. Both the ruling party conservative candidate Park Geun-hye and the opposition party progressive candidate Moon Jae-in have leaned toward reengaging North Korea. However, Moon has advocated a transformational approach involving more aggressive economic and political deal-making with North Korea, whereas Park’s position remains more cautious and conditions-based, even while seeking to unstick the dialogue failures of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s policy. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt Inches Closer to Shariah Law

December 4th 2012

Egyptian hijabi

The Egyptian government will hold a referendum on the controversial draft of that nation's constitution on Dec. 15, 2012, President Mohamed Morsi announced on Sunday. In response, the State Department's Victoria Nuland, on Monday, decried tactics used by Morsi in the Egypt's constitution-writing process.

However, the Obama White House and many lawmakers remained silent -- with the help of the U.S. news media -- regarding the reports that Egypt, much to the chagrin of U.S. liberals, is now on track to become an Islamic state, according to GOP lawmakers appearing on the Sunday news shows.

"While arguing for months that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate Islamic group, the latest news about Egypt's constitution removes the facade of religious moderation espoused by President Barack Obama and his minions," said a top counterterrorism official and expert on radical Islamic organizations. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

European Countries Summon Israeli Ambassadors After Development Announcement

December 4th 2012

Western/Wailing Wall

France, Sweden and the UK have all summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their countries to protest Israel’s recent announcement that it’s planning construction in the area near East Jerusalem known as E1. The countries downplayed speculation that they would recall their own ambassadors to Israel, with a French Foreign Ministry official telling Reuters, “There are other ways in which we can express our disapproval.”

“We don’t want to shift into sanctions mode,” French President Francois Hollande said at a news conference, according to Reuters. “We are more focused on convincing.”

“Any decision about any other measures the UK might take will depend on the outcome of our discussions with the Israeli government and with international partners including the US and European Union,” said Alistair Burt,
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Calderón Bids Farewell

December 3rd 2012

Felipe Calderon in 2009

Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s monumental six-year term will come to an end on November 30. His presidency was categorized by a crackdown on organized crime and a predictable surge of violence that at one time threatened Mexico’s internal security. During this time, Calderón’s hard-lined approach to organized crime sparked a backlash among the Mexican cartels resulting in as many as 60,000 drug-related deaths and often searing international criticism. On the other hand, he caused grave harm to the cartels operating within Mexico’s borders. If there is one lesson we can learn from the past, it is that political figures tend to be remembered more favorably after they are distantly gone. Therefore it might be prevalent to ask the question, how will Calderón’s legacy be remembered?

Calderón’s stepped up pursuit of Mexican drug cartels increased violence in a variety of ways. To combat the cartels’ hold on Mexico, Calderón deployed 50,000 military troops in an attempt to subdue the violence. However, this created an internal war that jeopardized the security of the Mexican people. Furthermore, Calderón can still be blamed for inadequatley addressing the ever-present theme of corruption within the Mexican government and security forces. Critics suggest this may have been a vital factor in the continuation of the drug cartels’ success.

Although, it would be far from just to conclude that Calderón’s pursuit of organized crime was entirely unsuccessful:

The drug war did have some successes, taking down many of the country’s biggest crime lords. With the death of Zetas boss Heriberto Lazcano in October, Calderón pointed out that the government had captured or killed 25 on a list of 37 cartel leaders which it published early in his term. Furthermore, during Calderón’s presidency the Mexican government has seized over 114 tons of cocaine, 11,000 tons of marijuana, 75 tons of methamphetamines, 100,000 drug-associated vehicles, and $1 billion USD in cash. These figures represent a cost to the cartels equaling at least $14.4 billion USD. The aforementioned increase in seizures represents an admirable attempt by the president to challenge a dangerous status quo that only worsened year after year. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Muslims Pressing for Blasphemy Laws in Europe

December 3rd 2012

Islam vs Rome

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a bloc of 57 Muslim countries, is pressuring Western countries into making it an international crime to criticize Islam or Mohammed—all on the name of "religious tolerance." Where does Europe stand?

The Dutch parliament has approved a motion to revoke a law that makes it a crime to insult God. Free speech activists say the move represents a significant victory at a time when Muslim groups are stepping up pressure on European governments to make it a crime to criticize of Islam or the prophet Mohammed.

Article 147 of the Dutch Penal Code was drafted in the 1930s and had not been used for half a century; leading legislators said there was no longer a need for it. The decision to abolish the law follows national elections in September 2012, in which two liberal parties (the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the Labour Party (PvdA) emerged victorious. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

The United Nations Does Not Create States

December 2nd 2012

Abbas UN statehood vote

The passage of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, also known as the Partition Plan, on Nov. 29, 1947, marked an enormous moral victory for the Jewish people in their effort to gain international recognition for their right to Jewish state. Five months later, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence, referring to the U.N. General Assembly’s partition resolution from Nov. 29.

But was it true that Israel owed its very existence to the U.N., as it became popularly perceived years later? According to a legal study commissioned in the late 1970s by the U.N. Secretariat’s Special Unit on Palestinian Rights, Resolution 181 was the “juridicial basis” of the State of Israel according to international law. This same line of argument was repeated just this week by an Israeli analyst in the opinion section of the New York Times, who wrote that the vote on Nov. 29 was the “legal basis for the establishment of the State of Israel.” Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

Deterrence and Nuclear Targeting in the 21st Century

December 2nd 2012

Bomb blast

News reports indicate the Obama Administration is seeking to further reduce the number of deployed warheads in the U.S. long-range nuclear force to between 300 and 1,100. In contrast, this analysis concludes that the appropriate number of operationally deployed warheads should range between 2,700 and 3,000.

The targeting policy recommended in this report responds to the multiplying strategic threats that the U.S. will likely face as result of the spread of ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction technologies. It reflects U.S. values and strengthens credibility of U.S. deterrence. The targeting policy and the targeting requirements that follow from that policy fundamentally drive the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Further, the analysis provides a general description of the targeting requirements that follow from this policy. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama's Latest Charm Offensive with CEOs Pays Some Dividends

November 30th 2012


President Obama is mounting his most concerted charm offensive yet toward the business community as he strives to build support for a debt deal and, more generally, assuage concerns that he is disdainful of corporate interests.

A meeting Wednesday with a group of leading CEOs at the White House was only one manifestation of an ongoing effort to ease the distrust that marked interactions between the administration and commerce during Obama’s first term.
There are some signs that the push is working, at least in terms of improving the mood music.

After the White House meeting, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson praised the White House as “resoundingly reasonable” in its approach to the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. The sentiment was particularly notable because Sorenson had donated to Mitt Romney’s campaign and to the Republican National Committee during this year’s election cycle. Joe Echevarria, the CEO of Deloitte, told reporters that Obama “clearly wanted to embrace business and all business leaders.” Read more ..

The Congo on Edge

The Geopolitical Quagmire of the Eastern Congo

November 30th 2012

Congolese child

The situation in the eastern Congo is no less obscure than before the regional leaders met for negotiations over the weekend. M23 stated they would leave the city of Goma, captured on November 20, by November 27. They are still there. Now they claim they will hold a handover ceremony and pull back to Rutshuru, their original stronghold, on Friday, November 30; but only so long as M23 troops remain at the Goma airport. And possibly, that their political wing remain in Goma itself.

Rwanda and Uganda continue to vehemently deny that they back the M23 rebel group. This line becomes thinner each time they use it. Kris Berwouts provides a succinct analysis of the recent Rwandan/Congolese relationship.

Another player in the arena however is the UN, who stood by after the Congo army fled and watched M23 rebels march into Goma. Many are asking why the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) doesn’t push the rebels out. After all, the Christian Science Monitor and the Economist estimate that M23 numbers in the range of only 1,000-1,500 while there are 19,000 UN troops supported by 3,800 civilian staff in Congo, including 6,700 troops in North Kivu, of which Goma is the capital. As the Economist says, “the UN…has once again been humiliated.” Read more ..

Gaza and Israel

Gaza is Not the Key, Philadelphi Is

November 29th 2012

Rafah crossing

The Second Hamas-Israel War, of November 10 to 21, inspired a mighty debate over rights and wrongs, with each side appealing to the large undecided bloc (19 percent of Americans according to CNN/ORC, 38 percent according to Rasmussen ). Is Israel a criminal state that has no right to exist, much less to deploy force? Or is it a modern liberal democracy with the rule of law that justifiably protects innocent civilians? Morality drives this debate.

To any sentient person, it is obvious that Israelis are 100 percent justified in protecting themselves from wanton attacks. A cartoon from the First Hamas-Israel War, of 2008 to 2009, symbolically showed a Palestinian terrorist shooting from behind a baby carriage at an Israeli soldier in front of a baby carriage.

The tougher question is how to prevent further Hamas-Israel wars. Some background: If Israelis are 100 percent justified in protecting themselves, their government also bears complete responsibility for creating this crisis. Specifically, it made two misguided unilateral withdrawals in 2005. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Beyond Gaza: The Foreign-Policy Implications of Morsi's Power Grab

November 28th 2012


Following Cairo's successful mediation of a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel last week, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi won high praise in Washington and abroad. Many interpreted Egypt's negotiations with Israel to conclude the Gaza crisis as a sign that Morsi -- despite his well-documented antipathy for Israel during his years as a Muslim Brotherhood leader -- would uphold the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. As one Obama administration official told the New York Times, "This was somebody focused on solving problems."

Yet on closer inspection, Morsi isn't nearly as focused on solving the Middle East's problems as Washington wants to believe. He has merely deferred pursuing the Muslim Brotherhood's hostile foreign policy agenda for now, focusing instead on consolidating his -- and the Brotherhood's -- political power domestically. Read more ..

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