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Operation Pillar of Defense

Iron Dome’s Battlefield Successes Point to Greater American Involvement

November 20th 2012

Iron Dome

The performance of the revolutionary Iron Dome system in the ongoing defense of Israel from Hamas rocket attacks, dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, has been so extraordinary as to be considered by all but the most hardline critics to have proven the efficacy of missile defense. By November 20, six days since Hamas dramatically increased the volume of rocket fire against Israel, 340 intercepts had been made, with the Iron Dome system achieving a greater than 80 percent success rate. For Israel, this capability not only saves lives but also provides the government with precious time to contemplate a response to each attack.

Iron Dome’s proven effectiveness has greatly increased expectations that it will be a popular product on the world market and has drawn considerable attention to possible co-production in the United States.

Developed by the Israeli firms Elta, mPrest Systems, and Rafael, the relatively low-cost Iron Dome system (estimated to be $85,000 per Tamir interceptor missile and $20 million per battery), enjoyed an unprecedentedly rapid development cycle going from drawing board to operational system in five years. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Trying to De-Polarize Congress

November 20th 2012

Capitol Senate

Congressional polarization has steadily increased over the last twenty-five years, according to research by political scientists Howard Rosenthal and Keith Poole. Their analysis indicates that the U.S. House and Senate are more polarized today than at any other time since the end of Reconstruction. The 2012 election continued this trend.

Polarization matters because starker differences between the parties normally make problem solving more difficult. Party leaders become increasingly beholden to the collective will of more extreme caucuses and less able to compromise and build consensus for balanced legislation. “Everybody is afraid to give an inch,” according to Ohio representative Steven C. LaTourette.

There are a variety of explanations for rising polarization; a commonly cited one is gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is drawing political boundaries to secure an advantage, and it has a long and ignominious history. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Hamas’ Tactic: Require Israel to Cause Civilian Casualties

November 19th 2012

Gaza baby death

As the rockets continue to fall in Israel and Gaza, it is important to understand Hamas’s tactic and how the international community and the media are encouraging it.  Hamas’s tactic is as simple as it is criminal and brutal. Its leaders know that by repeatedly firing rockets at Israeli civilian areas, they will give Israel no choice but to respond.  Israel’s response will target the rockets and those sending them. In order to maximize their own civilian casualties, and thereby earn the sympathy of the international community and media, Hamas leaders deliberately fire their rockets from densely populated civilian areas. The Hamas fighters hide in underground bunkers but Hamas refuses to provide any shelter for its own civilians, who they use as “human shields.” This unlawful tactic puts Israel to a tragic choice: simply allow Hamas rockets to continue to target Israeli cities and towns; or respond to the rockets, with inevitable civilian casualties among the Palestinian “human shields.” Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Major Fight Looms Over Defense Spending

November 19th 2012

Missiles on jet

President Obama and Congress now have just over seven weeks to reach an agreement on the federal budget that would avert a round of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts in defense and social programs that members of both parties have depicted as draconian.

Jan. 1 is the deadline set by the so-called “sequestration” law of 2010 that imposes substantial cuts automatically – over a ten-year period – if the government fails to whack away at the federal deficit. Front and center in the punishment will be the Defense Department, which accounts for a fifth of all federal spending and about a half of so-called “discretionary” funds, or those that lawmakers review and approve annually.

Fifty program areas at the Pentagon would collectively take a roughly $500 billion hit, which seems like a lot but would actually be less than ten percent of the $5.8 trillion that the Obama administration wants the Pentagon to spend from 2013 to 2021. Military leaders have complained fiercely, partly because the Obama administration last year chose to halt a planned 16 percent increase in defense spending, keeping the military’s budget essentially level after a decade of steep growth. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Israel: Then and Now

November 19th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

Four years ago on Nov. 4, while Americans were going to the polls to elect a new president, Israeli infantry, tanks and bulldozers entered the Gaza Strip to dismantle an extensive tunnel network used by Hamas to smuggle in weapons. An already tenuous truce mediated by the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak had been broken. Hamas responded with a barrage of mortar and rocket fire lasting several weeks, and on Dec. 27, 2008, Israel began Operation Cast Lead. The military campaign began with seven days of heavy air strikes on Gaza, followed by a 15-day ground incursion.

By the end of the campaign, nearly 1,000 poorly guided shorter-range rockets and mortar shells hit southern Israel, reaching as far as Beersheba and Yavne. Several senior Hamas commanders and hundreds of militants were killed in the fighting. Israel Defense Forces figures showed that 10 IDF soldiers died (four from friendly fire), three Israeli civilians died from Palestinian rocket fire and 1,166 Palestinians were killed -- 709 of them combatants. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Obama's Support For Israel Has Been Surprisingly Strong During Current Conflict

November 19th 2012

Obama and Israel

Even U.S. President Barack Obama's strongest critics would have to admit that he has proved remarkably supportive of Israel over the past week of conflict. Certainly, there have been a few signs of the old tension between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The initial call to Obama when the military action began was reportedly made by President Shimon Peres rather than Netanyahu; and on Sunday, Obama made a statement to the effect that he would prefer Israel refrain from a ground operation against Hamas. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Hezbollah Remains Wary amid Israeli Operations in Gaza

November 18th 2012

Hezbollah

While Hamas is preparing for an Israeli ground assault into Gaza, Hezbollah's movements on Israel's northern frontier bear close watching. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Nov. 17 called on the Muslim world to retaliate against Israeli actions in Gaza. Naturally, many are looking in the direction of Lebanon, where Hezbollah, Iran's most capable militant proxy, could open a second front against Israel.

Though Iran would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate the spectrum of its militant proxy strength, especially after supplying Hamas with the long-range Fajr-5 rockets that have been targeting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Hezbollah will likely be extremely cautious in deciding whether to participate in this war. The group's fate is linked to that of the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad; should Syria fracture along sectarian lines, Lebanon is likely to descend into civil war, and Hezbollah will have to conserve its strength and resources for a battle at home against its sectarian rivals. Indeed, Hezbollah has already been preparing for such a scenario by seizing control of villages along the Orontes River Basin in order to maintain connectivity with Syria's Alawite community. Read more ..


The Petraeus Scandal

Five Questions After Petraeus Hearings

November 18th 2012

Petraeus-Kelly

The testimony this week of former CIA director David Petraeus left a number of unanswered questions about his resignation and the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Petraeus was grilled by lawmakers behind closed doors on Friday, one week after he resigned as the nation’s top spy over an extra-martial affair he conducted with the author Paula Broadwell.

Lawmakers pressed Petraeus for more information about the Sept. 11 attack in Libya, which the Obama administration initially blamed on an anti-Islam movie before later labeling it terrorist attack. Officials say the early account reflected the intelligence that officials were given by the CIA and other agencies. Democrats and Republicans remained at odds over the Obama administration’s characterization of the attack after being brief by Petraeus, sparking a new round of questions about who in the administration knew what, and when. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Success

The Gaza Invasion: Will It Destroy Israel's Relationship with Egypt?

November 17th 2012

Soldiers-vehicles

The fact that Israel endured over 800 rocket attacks from Gaza in the past year before commencing yesterday's military operation against Hamas suggests that Jerusalem hoped to avoid the current flare-up. Among other concerns, the Israeli government knew that another Gaza war would ignite the neighboring Egyptian "street," and since Egypt's post-revolutionary government would have to be more responsive to popular sentiments, a downgrade in Israeli-Egyptian relations would be likely. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood -- Hamas' Egyptian cousin -- as Egypt's new ruling party exacerbated those qualms, given the Brotherhood's longtime opposition to the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and refusal to acknowledge Israel's rightful existence. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Egypt's Role in the Israel-Gaza Conflict

November 17th 2012

Israel Egypt Rafah border crossing and flags

The conflict in Gaza comes at an interesting time in Egyptian-Israeli relations. Cairo recently saw the Muslim Brotherhood candidate assume the Egyptian presidency, while in the past two years Israel has approved two Egyptian military increases "in the Sinai Peninsula above levels set in the Camp David Accords. The disposition of the forces in Sinai coupled with the presence of the U.N.-mandated Multinational Force and Observers mean at present, Egyptian forces do not pose a significant threat to Israel. How Egypt will respond to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip remains to be seen, but should the Morsi government or Egypt's military decide to support Gaza, such support would likely consist of turning a blind eye toward militant activities and smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt is one of Israel's most powerful neighbors. Initially hostile to Israel, the two countries have been at peace for nearly 40 years. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt established guidelines for what Egypt could do in the Sinai Peninsula in a bid to keep the peace. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defence

Israeli Incursion into Gaza is a Game-Changer

November 16th 2012

Hellicopter & troops

The recent flare up of violence between Israel and the Hamas, dubbed Operation Pillars of Defense by the Israelis, has highlighted three specific game changes from wars past. The first is that there is no longer any part of Israel that is guaranteed to be immune from war. The second is that what happens in Israel now affects Jewish communities around the world. The third is that Israel’s peace with Egypt has been stripped down to the bare minimum. All three of these changes have been long in the making, and have now been cemented.

Israel’s lack of strategic depth has never been a secret – without the West Bank, it is a mere nine miles wide at its narrowest point. Yet for much of its history, the majority of Israel’s population remained shielded from wars because the Jewish state quickly took the fight to its enemies and pushed the battlefield away from its population centers. That veracity first showed signs of wear back in the 1991 Gulf War, when over 40 Iraqi scud missiles were fired at Israel, and namely the Tel Aviv area known as Gush Dan, forcing millions of its citizens to hunker down in sealed rooms and don gas masks. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Egypt, Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula

November 16th 2012

IDF Soldiers

The conflict in Gaza comes at an interesting time in Egyptian-Israeli relations. Cairo recently saw the Muslim Brotherhood candidate assume the Egyptian presidency, while in the past two years Israel has approved two Egyptian military increases "in the Sinai Peninsula above levels set in the Camp David Accords. The disposition of the forces in Sinai coupled with the presence of the U.N.-mandated Multinational Force and Observers mean at present, Egyptian forces do not pose a significant threat to Israel. How Egypt will respond to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip remains to be seen, but should the Morsi government or Egypt's military decide to support Gaza, such support would likely consist of turning a blind eye toward militant activities and smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt is one of Israel's most powerful neighbors. Initially hostile to Israel, the two countries have been at peace for nearly 40 years. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt established guidelines for what Egypt could do in the Sinai Peninsula in a bid to keep the peace. Strategically, the peace agreement made the peninsula a buffer between Israel and Egypt. It permitted only enough forces in Sinai to enforce security. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

The Battle for the Soul of Shi'ism

November 16th 2012

Khameni and Khomeini

It has been noted that, “By and large, the intellectual landscape of present-day Twelver Shi’ism is much more polymorphic than at any time in the past.” The level of political involvement exerted by Shi’i clerics has been a hotly debated topic since the establishment of the sect. Yet after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the generally demure and apolitical nature of Shi’i Islam, especially at its higher levels, was forever altered, resulting in a new and more politicized facet of Shi’i Islam. For the Shi’i establishment, Khomeini’s new ideology was and is an extremely radical split.

Contemporarily, a broad generalization could be made saying, on one side, there are those following “Quietist” traditionalism, a principle of abstention from involvement in politics. On the other end of the divide are clerics who feel they should take a more active role in politics. However, the situation inside Shi’i clerical circles is far more complicated than a black vs. white, politicized vs. unpoliticized conflict. As Denis McEoin correctly assessed, “Religious movements commonly embrace mutually contradictory attitudes, and attempts to classify them along the lines of simple dichotomies (such as ‘activist’ or ‘quietist’) are seldom very successful.” Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

Considerations for an Israeli Ground Offensive on Gaza

November 15th 2012

Israeli tank and crew

The Israeli air force continues to bombard targets within the Gaza Strip, but thus far ground forces have not yet begun an incursion into the territory. Whether the current air campaign escalates to a ground assault will largely depend on the mission that the Israeli military is trying to accomplish.

Israel Defense Forces' official statements have emphasized that the goal is the severe degradation of Gaza militants' ability to launch rocket strikes, particularly the new Fajr-5 rockets that are purportedly capable of striking Tel Aviv.

Halting rocket attacks was also the mission during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's most recent large-scale military operation involving Gaza, which took place in late 2008 and early 2009 and consisted of an air campaign similar to the current one followed by a ground invasion. Examining how Operation Cast Lead developed could provide useful context for how an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza could unfold. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Prospects Improve for US Immigration Reform

November 15th 2012

US-Mexico Border

If elections are meant as an articulation of national will, then last week’s vote appears to have sent a message on the need for immigration reform - specifically what should be done about the estimated 12 million foreign nationals residing in the United States who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas.

No, Americans did not vote directly on immigration reform, and the topic was barely mentioned on the campaign trail by President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. But the Republican Party clearly suffered at the ballot box as a result of its resistance to immigration reform.

During the presidential primaries, several Republican contenders took a hard line on the matter, blasting any measure that would provide a path to legal status as an amnesty for law breakers. Romney advocated a strategy of making life in America so difficult for illegals that they would opt to leave the country, or "self-deport." Read more ..


The Petraeus Scandel

CIA Covert Operations Compromised by Petraeus Indescretion

November 14th 2012

Petraeus-Paula

Breaking news stories on Tuesday and Wednesday focused on the misuse of former-director of the CIA Gen. David Petraeus’ email accounts, his mistress, Paula Broadwell, and her alleged possession of classified documents on her computer, which she may have stolen from her lover, and Broadwell's threatening emails to a third person.

Such serious security-related problems plaguing the director of the super-secret CIA is most troubling since he has complete access to information about covert operations, in addition to top secret intelligence, claim members of intelligence and counterterrorism organizations.

According to sources, the Obama Administration believes that covert action must be consistent with specific U.S. foreign policy objectives in a targeted area. Covert actions should be undertaken only where there is a compelling reason why U.S. involvement cannot be disclosed. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Palestinians Seek to Isolate Israel at the United Nations

November 14th 2012

Mahmoud Abbas at parliament
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

If the Palestinians succeed in their bid for statehood at the United Nations later this month, they will use their new status to sue the Jewish state in international courts and seize air space for military activity.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will pursue a statehood bid at the world body despite opposition from the United States and Israel. The Palestinians are seeking observer status as a nation, something the U.N.'s General Assembly can grant with a simple majority vote.

According to observers, Abbas and the Palestinians have already secured that majority. However, the reaction to their new statehood status will be onerous. The U.S. could cut up to $500 million in annual aid and the State of Israel has said it may withhold millions of dollars in tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

U.S. Foreign Policy: Room to Regroup

November 13th 2012

Obama State dept

President Barack Obama has won re-election. However, in addition to all of the constraints on him that I discussed last week, he won the election with almost half the people voting against him. His win in the Electoral College was substantial -- and that's the win that really matters -- but the popular vote determines how he governs, and he will govern with one more constraint added to the others. The question is whether this weakens him or provides an opportunity. That is not determined by his policies but by the strategic situation, which, in my view, gives the United States some much-needed breathing room.

The Structure of the International System
At the moment, the international system is built on three pillars: the United States, Europe and China. Europe, if it were united, would be very roughly the same size as the United States in terms of economy, population and potential military power. China is about a third the size of the other two economically, but it has been the growth engine of the world, making it more significant than size would indicate. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Why Did Al-Qaeda Target Ambassador Stevens?

November 12th 2012

Amb Chris Stevens

Most of the questions related to the Benghazi debacle are about the mechanics, both offensive and defensive. What did the White House know and when? What assets were available to the military? Did someone order a stand down, and if so, who? Why was "the video" blamed long after the administration knew the truth — and didn't the administration know the truth from the beginning? If it didn't, why didn't it?

All reasonable questions, but a generally unasked one deserves attention: "Why did al-Qaeda want to kill Ambassador Chris Stevens?"

The ambassador had good relations with some of the most extreme Libyan militias, including those with al-Qaeda ties. Did he upset them with something he did, or didn't do? Was the White House fully apprised of his connections and dealings with the militias? Was he killed because of something the administration told him to start doing or to stop doing. There are things we know and things upon which we must speculate, including the entry of surface-to-air missiles to the Levant. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

IEA Report Supports Obama Energy Policies

November 12th 2012

Keystone Pipeline

President Obama's top campaign consultant said an energy report released Monday that projects the U.S. as the world’s biggest oil producer by 2020 shows the president's policies are working.

The International Energy Agency's voluminous report on worldwide energy markets noted that the “Energy renaissance in the United States is redrawing the global energy map.”

David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior adviser, cited the report in a tweet that praised the president’s energy stance. “All-of-the-above strategy moves America closer to energy independence,” Axelrod tweeted Monday. Republicans have pilloried Obama on energy policy. They say the president has restricted oil-and-gas development on federal lands while favoring green energy subsidies for technology that Republicans contend is uncompetitive and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Behind The Lines: The Sunni-Shi’a Arc of Conflict

November 11th 2012

Bahrain enraged protesters

Bahrain this week accused the Lebanese Hezbollah group of responsibility for a series of bombings in the Bahraini capital Manama.

The five bomb blasts, in the Adliya and Gudaybiya districts of the city, came amid renewed protests by members of the island’s 70 percent Shi’a majority against the Sunni Khalifa monarchy. Two Asian cleaning workers were killed.

Information Minister Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab issued the accusation against Hezbollah. She said that the terrorists were operating according to principles set by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and further accused the Iranian media of inciting against the monarchy. The minister did not offer any concrete evidence to back up her accusation of Hezbollah’s involvement. Official Bahraini claims of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of the island are nothing new. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Petraeus Resignation Won't Interfere with Benghazi Probe

November 10th 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #1

In response to the surprise announcement on Friday that Gen. David Petraeus officially resigned from his position as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, many observers wondered if he would still participate in the House and Senate probes into the tragic Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attack.

The popular military leader shocked many when he revealed he had an extramarital affair with West Point graduate and author Paula Broadwell, who had written a book about Gen. Petraeus' service in Afghanistan. There are some within the intelligence community, the military and law enforcement assigned to counterterrorism units who accused Petraeus of failing to respond decisively to calls for assistance from CIA operatives posted in Libya amid the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Petraeus Admits Affair, Resigns from CIA Amid Questions About Timing

November 9th 2012

Petraeus

At the height of several investigations into the events of Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, Gen. David Petraeus, the Director of Central Intelligence, announced he tendered his resignation to President Barack Obama on Friday.

The former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan claimed the reason for his quitting is a secret extra-marital affair, but he didn't name the person with whom he shared an illicit relationship. However, some observers are suspicious of the timing of his resignation.

"Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation," Petraeus said in a prepared statement. Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

Bad Day for Super Donors

November 9th 2012

Money can't buy happiness, nor can it buy an election, apparently.

The top donors to super PACs in 2012 did not fare well — casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the No. 1 super PAC contributor with more than $53 million in giving, backed eight losers at this writing.

Adelson was top backer of the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future super PAC, with $20 million in donations. Romney lost to President Barack Obama. In addition, Adelson's contributions to super PACs backing U.S. Senate candidates in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey were also for naught. He was not the only conservative billionaire who had a bad night.

Contran Corp. CEO Harold Simmons, (No. 2), homebuilder Bob Perry (No. 3) and TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, (No.4), also bet on Romney. Collectively, the trio gave $13.4 million to Restore Our Future, and Ricketts’ super PAC, Ending Spending Action Fund, spent an additional $9.9 million helping Romney’s failed bid.

The super donor winner of the night was Newsweb Corp. CEO Fred Eychaner (No. 5). Eychaner gave $3.5 million to pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action through the most recent filing period, which ended Oct. 17, according to Federal Election Commission records. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

After Obama Wins Second Term, Debate Shifts to Future of U.S.-Israel Relationship

November 8th 2012

Obama and Israel

Capping a race that on a national level was largely defined by the economy but in the Jewish community turned into an extended debate over which candidate would steer the best course for the U.S.-Israel relationship, President Barack Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney to earn a second term.

Obama won 69 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a CNN exit poll, representing a nine-point drop from the 78 percent he garnered in 2008 exit polls.

National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) President and CEO David A. Harris, speaking exclusively with JNS.org after major television networks called the race for Obama on Tuesday night, said he “and the clear majority of American Jews” are “reassured by having President Obama in office for another four years.” Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

Obama Wins Election but not a Mandate

November 7th 2012

Obama victory

Barack Hussein Obama, the first Kenyan-American to occupy the presidency, was re-elected on November 6 followed one of the most divisive campaigns in history and virtual deluge of advertising. Republican Mitt Romney lost Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin: essential battleground states where the two presidential contenders had spent much of their time and effort. Obama also won a narrow margin in Florida as Election Night drew to a close. The incumbent president won at least 303 electoral votes in the contest, as opposed to 270 for Romney.

Voters were still waiting in line at the polls in the western states as raucous cheers of joy emerged from Obama’s campaigners at their headquarters in Chicago at 11:20 p.m. local time. As votes were still being tabulated, the victory was clear but not as comprehensive as Obama’s first election four years ago. Speaking to a wildly cheering crowd in Chicago, the president thanked his campaign team and assured his listeners that the course set by the Founding Fathers was still on the right track. “Tonight in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back,” adding “We know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.” Read more ..


China on Edge

The 18th Party Congress: A Setback for President Hu?

November 6th 2012

Chinese soldier at Tienamen Square

Two days after the U.S. presidential election, 2270 delegates will gather in Beijing for the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Congress. The meeting will not only select a new generation of leaders but will also endorse the Party’s new political agenda. After being hit by a slew of scandals, the Communist Party is doing all it can to make sure all “unstable elements” are nipped in the bud. Security is tight not just in Beijing but in other parts of China – I heard stories of the police stopping cars in a southern province to search for knives. When one of the drivers dared to ask why, he was simply told “shiba da” (18th Party Congress). The New York Times is still being blocked for publishing the Wen Jiabao story. Searching for information on any of the Chinese leaders (and their wives) from Google Hong Kong (the one functioning Google site on the mainland) would only lead to a result stating, “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage.” In addition, short messages sent via cell phones in China are being automatically blocked if it contains any names of the Chinese leaders. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

No Change in the Offing on Palestinian Position on the Right of Return

November 5th 2012

UNRWA Refugee Camp

Claims that Palestinian Authority chairman  has apparently relinquished the right of return are baseless in light of the clarifications provided by Abbas himself, in which he called the return a “sacred right” and affirmed his full commitment to the basic Palestinian positions. The interview by Abbas to Israel’s Channel 2 TV, broadcast on Nov. 2, 2012, stirred up a large-scale political storm both in Israel and the Palestinian arena with Abbas’ statements interpreted as a relinquishment of the right of return.

Abbas said in the interview that, as a native of the Israeli town of Safed, he desires to visit the town but not to live there. He further remarked that “for me, Palestine is the ’67 borders with East Jerusalem; I am a refugee, I live in Ramallah, the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, all the rest is Israel.”

The Israeli political leadership was in no hurry to lend credence to Abbas’ supposed readiness to give up the Palestinian demand for a return. Hamas, for its part, accused him of a treasonous violation of basic principles, with senior figures in the movement claiming he had in effect relinquished the right of return. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama and Romney Nearly Matched in Battleground States

November 5th 2012

Obama and Romney road show

The long, hard-fought campaign to be president of the United States for the next four years finally comes to an end with the two viable candidates visiting several states on November 5 for one last attempt to break what polls indicate is a nearly deadlocked race.

Only a handful of the country's 50 states are considered to be virtually tied, led by Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin, along with Virginia, Colorado and Iowa. The small state of New Hampshire joins those six as states where neither candidate is considered to have a clear lead ahead of the Tuesday Niovember 6 election. On November 5, incumbent President Barack Obama returns to Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio to hold political events, before heading to his hometown of Chicago, Illinois where he will be on election night. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Former Gov. Barbour Says Hurricane Sandy Broke Romney’s Momentum

November 4th 2012

Mitt Romney

Former Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) said Sunday that Hurricane Sandy stopped Mitt Romney’s momentum in the presidential race after the candidates temporarily left the trail and the media focused on the superstorm. “The hurricane is what broke Romney's momentum,” Barbour said on CNN’s “State of the Union.

“I don't think there's any question about it,” he added. “Any day that the news media is not talking about jobs and the economy, taxes and spending, deficit and debt, 'ObamaCare' and energy, is a good day for Barack Obama.” Other Republican lawmakers and pundits were less forceful in their assessments of Sandy’s impact on the presidential race, but several said it likely would have some impact.

President Obama has received a favorable reception from the public for his response to Sandy. Obama also received high praise from Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), a prominent Romney surrogate, for his handling of the storm, and the two toured the New Jersey coastline together on Wednesday. Former George W. Bush strategist Matthew Dowd said on ABC’s “This Week” that Christie’s embrace of Obama may have done more for the president than his response to the hurricane itself. Read more ..


Inside Israel

The Israeli R&D Model--Why it Works

November 4th 2012

Israel Airport

The innovations that will drive a knowledge-based economy and employ the next generation of high-skilled workers require a national commitment to research and development, and no nation has made this a higher priority than Israel. The country of 8 million invests more money in R&D per GDP than any other. And while the United States still leads the world in total R&D spending, it ranks ninth when economies are weighted.

Israel has received no shortage of praise for its innovative culture in recent years, a success perhaps best articulated by former CFR fellow Daniel Senor in his book Start-Up Nation. In addition to the highest R&D to GDP, Israel also boasts the most start-up companies per capita, and the most scientists and technicians per capita, according to government figures. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Abbas Backtracks on 'Right of Return' Statements--Tells Al-Hayyat He Was Expressing Personal View

November 4th 2012

Mahmoud Abbas at parliament

Just two days after suggesting that he might give up on the so-called "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas backtracked Saturday, telling Al-Hayyat that he was only expressing his personal views.

As Ha'aretz reports: "What I said about Safed is my personal stance. It means nothing about giving up the right of return," he said. "No one would give up their right of return. But all those international formulas, especially that of 194, speak of a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee issue, and 'agreed-upon' means on the part of Israel."

On Thursday, Abbas told Israel's Channel 2 that he envisioned two states for two peoples. "Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders," he said, "with East Jerusalem as its capital." He insisted that he has no territorial demands on Israel beyond this, and that he believes the "West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts are Israel." Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran Sanctions Biting But Nuclear Program Progressing

November 4th 2012

Iranian Rial Close-Up

With the sanctions on Iran tightening in recent months, its leadership including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the heads of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been trying to project a business-as-usual atmosphere and underscore that the Iranian people are capable of coping with the “ineffective sanctions” as they have been doing successfully for more than thirty years of the revolution, during which they have stood firm against “the hostility of the United States and the West.” They reiterate that Iran’s nuclear program is only an excuse for imposing the sanctions, whereas the real reason is the West’s desire to contain Iran’s growing influence on the rapidly changing regional reality, especially in light of the Islamic Awakening (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), and to try and sway the results of Iran’s June 2013 elections.

In actuality, the harsher the sanctions – particularly their dramatic effect on Iran’s revenues from crude-oil exports, which are a crucial part of the revenues on which Iran’s national budget depends – the greater their impact on Iran’s economy and society. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria and the Next U.S. Administration

November 3rd 2012

Anti Assad insurgents

During a trip to Lebanon earlier this month, outspoken Druze leader Walid Jumblatt complained bitterly to me about the absence of a serious US policy that would end the senseless killing and destruction in Syria. Jumblatt was right. The Obama Administration's Syria policy since the beginning of the uprising has demonstrated a real lack of leadership and sense of urgency.

Even before the popular revolt, the Administration's policy of trying to diplomatically engage with the clearly irredeemable dictator was misguided. But over the last nineteen months, this early Administration misstep was compounded -- first by opposing the militarization of the intifada, then by focusing efforts on the hapless Syrian National Council, and later by outsourcing the lead on Syrian policy to the Turks, the French, and finally the United Nations. Read more ..


Israel and Gaza

Powder Keg in Gaza

November 2nd 2012

Hamas protester

The violent blows exchanged between Israel and armed Islamist groups in Gaza over the past few weeks mark a dangerous shift. The pattern of occasional clashes established after Israel's 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead has given way to protracted fire with very short lulls. Although neither Israel nor Hamas wants the situation to escalate into a major confrontation, things could ultimately get out of hand as jihadist groups step up their violent activities.

The primary engine behind this deterioration is the growth of armed jihadist groups in Gaza over the past few years. These groups, many consisting of former Hamas members, are ideologically and sometimes organizationally affiliated with al-Qaeda and do not feel bound by Hamas ceasefire rules regarding Israel. Rather, they closely cooperate with Sinai jihadists to plan and carry out terrorist attacks against Israel.

The main jihadist groups currently operating in Gaza are Jaish al-Islam, Jund Ansar Allah, al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, and Ansar al-Sunna; the latter two are also part of an umbrella framework called the "Shura Council of Jihad Fighters in Greater Jerusalem." Jaish al-Islam, led by Mumtaz Dughmush, participated in the 2006 abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, among other incidents. Read more ..


Colombia on Edge

Decades of Bloodshed on the Line as Colombia Opens Peace Talks with FARC Once Again

November 2nd 2012

FARC Terrorists
FARC Terrorist Army

The latest peace talks between the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (People’s Army, FARC-EP), a guerrilla movement, have been the center of attention in the Latin American media for weeks. Given the length of the conflict, Colombian nationals and the international observers in the region are anxious to approach and resolve some of the central issues that have perpetuated the violence plaguing the country. The General Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace, a six-page document issued by the Colombian government and FARC, contains basic rules and the topics that are scheduled to be discussed among the involved parties. According to this document, the matters that are subject to be examined are agrarian development policy, political participation, drug trafficking, the status of victims, and the end of the conflict itself. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Where Obama and Romney Stand on Key Foreign Policy Issues

November 2nd 2012

Obama-Romney

Here's a look at where President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney stand on key foreign policy issues:

Defense spending
President Obama, as a result of a 2011 deficit reduction agreement, could face an automatic federal budget cut of more than $100 billion at the end of the year if there is no compromise agreement with Republicans. The plan, known as sequestration, slows the rate of U.S. defense spending. During the foreign policy presidential debate, Obama said his military budget proposal would not be "reducing" spending but "maintaining" it. He accused Romney of proposing military spending that had not been sought by military leaders.

Romney wants to reverse what he calls "Obama-era defense cuts." The former Massachusetts governor said his goal would be to set core defense spending, which includes funds for military personnel operations, procurement and research and development, at a minimum of 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. During an October presidential debate, Romney defended his plans to build a larger military by cutting spending on government programs, including the president's health care plan which critics call "Obamacare." Read more ..


Gaza on Edge

The Meaning of the Emir's Gaza Visit

November 1st 2012

Emir Qatar Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani & Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh

The emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, last week became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control over the area in 2007. While al-Thani used the visit to promise $400 million in aid to Gaza for various building projects, the emir's trip was as much for his and Hamas's political gains as it was humanitarian causes.

For Qatar, which has long tried to play an influential role in issues pertaining to Palestinians and the wider region as a whole, embracing Hamas is seemingly part of a larger plan to undercut Shi'ite Iran's influence in the region in light of the changes caused by the Arab uprisings. From arming the rebels in Libya to possibly now doing the same for those in Syria, to showing an increased focus on Hamas, Qatar is working to strengthen parties and relations not in Iran's interest. Specifically, if Tehran loses Hamas, it loses its strategically placed ally sitting on the border with both Israel and Egypt. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Is Israeli Defense Minister Taking Softer Stand On Iran?

November 1st 2012

Ehud Barak

In a world that's used to hearing strong rhetoric from Israel regarding Iran's nuclear program, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's interviews this week with British media seemed discordant.

Speaking to Britain's "The Daily Telegraph," Barak said that Iran had used up to one-third of its enriched uranium to make fuel rods for a medical research reactor. And that by doing so, it had delayed "the moment of truth" when Iran will be able to develop nuclear weapons "by eight to 10 months."

Barak could only speculate on Tehran's motives for the move, saying that possibly the ruling ayatollahs wanted to reduce tensions over the issue until after the November 6 presidential election in the United States. Or perhaps, he said, Tehran was attempting to convince the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it's cooperating with demands regarding the program. Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes and points out that it -- unlike Israel -- has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iranian Money Laundering Network Running Through Vienna

November 1st 2012

Dollar to Rial Exchange

According to reports in the Austrian news magazine "Profil" and the British "Telegraph", the Iranian regime uses Austrian banks to launder money in order to circumvent the sanctions and to provide technology for its nuclear program. A representative of the Iranian Center for Innovation and Technology Cooperation (CITC) has been in Vienna as recently as September. CITC is closely related to the office of President Ahmadinejad and has been sanctioned by the US due to its direct involvement in Iran's nuclear and missile program.

STOP THE BOMB, a European coalition which works towards the enactment of economic and political sanctions against the Iranian Islamist regime, has criticized the lack of action by the Austrian authorities: "Apparently, the authorities knew about the years of excessive traveling of a representative of the CITC, without taking an interest," says Simone Dinah Hartmann, STB's spokesperson. "We demand that this case and the general involvement of Austrian banks be fully investigated and conclusions be drawn. The latest reports prove that only a solid EU travel ban for all representatives of the Iranian regime can prevent Iran from continuing to procure critical components for its nuclear program and laundering money in Europe", Hartmann added. Read more ..



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