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Oil Addiction

Pipelines are Slowly Making the Strait of Hormuz Less Relevant

July 20th 2012

Oil Pipes2

One hundred years ago this week, five Italian torpedo boats conducted a raid in the Straits of Dardanelles, a long, narrow body of water connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara -- then the world's most important shipping passage. It was the height of the Italo-Turkish War, a precursor to World War I, and the Young Turks in Constantinople responded by playing their trump card: They closed the strait to international shipping intermittently for a few weeks by deploying their warships. But instead of aiding the war effort -- the Turks eventually lost control of their Libyan provinces -- the closure had disastrous consequences for the Ottoman Empire.

At the time, the Russians sent 90 percent of their grain exports through the Turkish Straits out into the Mediterranean. Closure of the Dardanelles thus meant that millions of tons of grain were spoiled, bringing ruin to Russia's agricultural economy and reducing its export revenues for the year by 30 percent. The lesson for Tsar Nicholas II: never allow a foreign power to hold the key to your prosperity. From that point onward, Russia's foreign policy in the lead-up to World War I was laser-focused on one objective: accelerating the demise of the Ottoman Empire and inheriting control over Constantinople and the Straits. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

After the Damascus Assassinations: A New Phase for U.S. Syria Policy

July 19th 2012

President Bashir al-Assad of Syria

The apparent assassination of top military officials in Syria marks a new and possibly decisive phase in the civil war between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the broad, loosely coordinated, but clearly potent opposition. For the United States, this turn of events should shift the policy discussion from a UN debate over renewal of the ineffectual Annan peacekeeping mission to ways of exploiting the disarray, namely by pressing Assad to leave power while avoiding outcomes such as chaos, ethnic bloodbath, or jihadist takeover.

With at least three of the eight targeted military leaders apparently dead, the Damascus bombing will almost certainly be a major blow to the regime’s ability to conduct its war against the Syrian people. The impact will be felt both operationally and psychologically, with the potential for cascading problems in conducting military actions across the country.

The surviving leadership will have to rebuild a command structure in an environment where increasing numbers of military officers and civilian supporters are likely to see the assassinations as the writing on the wall for the regime and begin to seek alternatives for their own survival. Depending on whether the regime is able to steady itself quickly, the incident could also provide an opportunity for opposition forces to press ahead with creating safe zones in various parts of the country, or even to take decisive action against Assad. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Will the Rebels Win Syria’s Civil War and What That Means

July 18th 2012

Free Syrian Army

The tide seems to be turning in Syria. While the civil war is far from over, the regime is clearly weakening; the rebels are expanding their operations and effectiveness. There have also been more high-level defections. What does this mean and why is this happening There are three main factors that are making a rebel victory seem more likely.

First, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with Turkey’s facilitation and U.S. coordination, are sending arms to the opposition.

Second, the regime has been rushing the same trusted units around the country to put down upsurges and these forces are getting tired and stretched thin.

Third, President Bashar al-Assad really has nothing to offer the opposition. He won’t leave and he can’t share power. His strategy of brutal suppression and large-scale killing can neither make the opposition surrender nor wipe it out. Even if he kills civilians and demonstrators, the rebel military forces can pull back to attack another day. Even though the fighting may go on for months, then, it is time to start assessing what outcomes might look like. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Inside Iran: War by Other Means

July 17th 2012

Iran's Revolutionary Guard

Iran announced in July that it is set to transfer responsibility for part of its oil sales to three newly established private consortiums. This move is intended to counter an EU ban on importation, shipping and purchase of Iranian oil, which went into effect on July 1.

The ban is the latest element in the sanctions program intended to force Iran to abandon its push for a nuclear weapons capability. It looks set to cost Tehran a decline in revenue from oil exports of billions of dollars per month. The EU move came together with tightened US penalties on countries that do business with Iran’s Central Bank.

The announcement by Iranian Oil Exporters’ head Hassan Khosrojerdi regarding the establishment of private consortiums to circumvent the sanctions, meanwhile, is the newest example of the creative campaign being waged by Iran to reduce the impact of international moves.

This campaign is being coordinated by the increasingly powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which controls the commanding heights of the Iranian energy industry. Read more ..


Palestine History on Edge

The Battle over Silwan's Fabricatied Palestinian History

July 16th 2012

Silwan

On August 26, 2010, a violent clash broke out between Jewish and Arab residents of Silwan, a predominantly Muslim village outside the southern end of the walled Old City of Jerusalem. The name derives from the biblical "Shiloah" and its subsequently Graecized "Siloam."

On the face of it, the sparring that erupted over a gate built illegally by Arab residents may seem like a miniature version of the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over who controls the Holy Land. But reducing the struggle to a mere real estate dispute misses a critical point in understanding the persistence of the larger conflict. For the battle of Silwan is a microcosm of a larger fight, one in which one side, the Palestinian, seeks to erase the existence of the other—not merely through traditional armed conflict but also by rewriting history.

Erasing the Past

The tactic of denying a Jewish past to sites and holy places in the Land of Israel is of relatively recent vintage in the Arab-Israeli conflict but one that has increased dramatically in the past few years. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Labor Dept. Assembling Expert Team On Mine Dust Enforcement

July 16th 2012

Miners

Federal regulators are assembling a team of lawyers and other experts to consider how to bolster coal mine dust enforcement given systemic weaknesses revealed by an investigation into the resurgence of black lung, according to an internal Labor Department communication.

The effort, involving officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and other offices within the Labor Department, includes discussion of how regulators might be more aggressive in filing civil and criminal cases against mining companies that violate dust standards, the communication says. Investigation have documented a recent increase in cases of deadly coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung. It highlighted rampant cheating on dust sampling by coal companies, rules riddled with loopholes and weak enforcement. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Can It Get Worse in Syria? It Is

July 16th 2012

Assad Poster on Fire

Syria's descent into ever-greater violence steepened this week. Driven by the regime's desperate attempt to stay in power, an already ugly conflict took an ominous turn with the reported movement of chemical munitions and what appears to be the worst massacre of civilians yet.

Chemical Weapons Movement

Although details are lacking on the news that the regime is moving some of its chemical weapons (CW), the development signals that something important may have changed in Syria. The regime's CW infrastructure has been well established for years, and sudden movement within it suggests a major decision may be in the making. After all, the very act of moving them puts them at risk. The opposition Free Syrian Army has been widely attacking the road system, including military convoys—if CW transports come under attack, the weapons could be damaged, chemical agents could be released, or munitions could fall into the hands of FSA elements.

The regime's decision could be based on one of several factors. If the munitions are being concentrated at a smaller number of secure facilities, that would suggest the regime is worried about losing control of its CW as a result of combat or defections. It would also be another indication that the regime's position is deteriorating. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran’s Central Demand in Negotiations

July 15th 2012

Mahmoud Reza Khavari

The main theme raised by Iranian negotiators during the talks with the P5+1 in Moscow last month was their claim that they have a legal right to enrich uranium under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. David Ignatius, The Washington Post’s commentator for Middle Eastern affairs, obtained a copy of the Power Point that the Iranians used in the negotiations and he noticed that this argument appeared in the first third of the 48 page Iranian document. Ignatius understood through his contacts that for the Iranians any diplomatic compromise must include the West conceding to this Iranian demand.

Do the Iranians have any basis for making this argument? According to The New York Times, the P5+1 have responded to the Iranian legal claim by saying that the NPT makes no explicit reference to a “right to enrich” uranium. A senior U.S. official said that the West was not willing to recognize such a right either. True, Article IV of the NPT acknowledges the “right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes…” But the U.S. has been reluctant to interpret this clause to justify the spread of enrichment facilities around the world. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Congressmen Unmoved By Russian Visit To Protest Magnitsky Bill

July 14th 2012

US Capital Day

Congressmen appear to be unmoved following the visit of a Russian delegation to Washington this week aimed at protesting pending U.S. sanctions over the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Describing the Russian initiative as "too late," the congressmen said that they expected the legislation to be signed into law. The move would deny visas to dozens of Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky's death and also freeze their assets.

Senator Roger Wicker (Republican-Mississippi) is a member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, where the Magnitsky legislation was first initiated. "The reports about this tragedy are not isolated," he said. "There have been two independent reports inside Russia that indicated this was a violation of Mr. Magnitsky's rights and an abusive process. "So it's going to be very difficult, I think, for one packet of information provided by a group of Russian [lawmakers] to overcome the huge body of information." Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Is Mahmoud Abbas Facing a Revolution?

July 13th 2012

Mahmoud Abbas at parliament

In one of the lesser-reported stories from the Middle East, Palestinians are out in the streets ostensibly to protest the Palestinian Authority's plan to meet with Israeli Minister Shaul Mofaz. However, Palestinian complaints are primarily focused on the PA's increasingly authoritarian crackdown on internal Palestinian dissent, specifically on the internet and by journalists. Even the website Electronic Intifada (not typically a source of criticism of the PA) reported that police brutality began before the demonstration started.

Across the Arab world, corrupt security services and police have amassed power, money, and influence; the Palestinian Security Forces (PSF) under the dictatorship of Mahmoud Abbas is no different (Abbas has unilaterally extended his term in office since 2009.) A few months ago, an Arab poll listed the top concern of young Palestinians as PA corruption, rather like the original complaints of revolutionalry Arabs in Tunisia and Egypt. Palestinian bloggers and journalists have been reflecting unhappiness among the people for some time, and PA authorities have predictably responded with force. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Don't Ask Egyptians about What is Going On in Egypt

July 13th 2012

Egyptian bannerman

One of the more charming aspects of post-Mubarak Egypt is the frequency with which political debate erupts spontaneously between ordinary pedestrians, who are then quickly surrounded by dozens of on-listeners eager to hear competing points and, more often than not, interject their own. These deliberative blobs are the best indication that Egypt's suddenly competitive political life is trickling down to the masses. But if you listen to the substance of the debates, you'll discover that Egyptians are -- quite understandably -- disoriented by the rapidity and ambiguity of the latest political developments.

Thus, on the morning after President Mohamed Morsi reinstated Egypt's parliament, thereby bucking the military junta that dissolved it last month on the basis of a court order that invalidated last winter's legislative elections (see why people are confused?), Cairo's sidewalk speakers struggled for context. "The decision is like when Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal," said one man at the center of the fray, viewing Morsi's initiative as an act of strength. But not everyone was convinced. "This decision was made as if he was buying a kilo of dates," yelled another over the debate's din. "He made it too easily." Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt's Real Ruler: Mohamed Tantawi

July 13th 2012

Mohammed Morsi
Mohamed Morsi

What does it mean that Mohamed Morsi is president of Egypt? Speaking for the American consensus, Bret Stephens recently argued in the Wall Street Journal against the consolation that the Muslim Brotherhood's victory "is merely symbolic, since the army still has the guns." He concluded that "Egypt is lost." We shall argue to the contrary: the election was not just symbolic but illusory, and Egypt's future remains very much in play. Morsi is not the most powerful politician in Egypt or the commander in chief. Arguably, he does not even run the Muslim Brotherhood. His job is undefined. The military could brush him aside. For the first time since 1954, Egypt's president is a secondary figure, assigned the functionary role long associated with its prime ministers.

Mohamed Tantawi is the real ruler of Egypt. Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Field Marshall, and Minister of Defense, he serves not only as the commander in chief but also as effective head of all three Egypt's governmental branches. Tantawi is an autocrat with near-absolute powers. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Obama Expected to Sign Global Gun Control Treaty

July 12th 2012

Obama and Flag

While most of the news outlets in the United States have engulfed Americans in news coverage regarding the economy and the 2012 presidential elections, little if any news coverage exists about major actions being considered by President Barack Obama and progressive lawmakers, including the signing of a United Nations gun control treaty on July 27, according to Dick Morris, a former Bill Clinton political advisor.

Apparently the United States will sign-on to an International Gun Control Plan pushed by the United Nations that's already received the blessings of Secretary Hillary Clinton, according to the State Department.

Secretary Clinton has been pushing for the United States to become a party to a global gun control treaty since she began heading the State Department. And President Obama appears to be overly sympathetic to such an international power-grab, according to gun rights groups, according to gun rights activists such as John Snyder and Larry Pratt. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

The Growing Power of Hamas’s Gaza Leadership

July 12th 2012

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal

The upheavals in a number of Arab countries that began in the spring of 2011 have presented the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement with both dilemmas and opportunities. On the one hand, Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and various branches of this trans-national movement have emerged as winners as a result of the upheavals. In Egypt, Tunisia, and in a more complex way also in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood has vastly increased its power and influence as a result of the decline and/or collapse of the secular, nationalist military regimes in those countries. Most importantly, in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood now dominates the parliament, and is contending for the presidency.

For Hamas, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is of central significance. Since July 2007, Hamas has maintained exclusive control over the Gaza Strip area, which borders Egyptian-controlled Sinai. The prospect of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt is thus of strategic importance for the movement. Yet the Arab upheavals have also presented a challenge to Hamas. In the mid-1990s, the movement began building a close alliance with Iran and its so-called “resistance axis,” which includes the Shi’i Hizballah organization and the Asad regime in Syria. Hamas’s overall leadership was based in Damascus. The Gaza enclave, meanwhile, was heavily dependent on Iranian arms and money. Read more ..


Justice on Edge

Restorative Justice Techniques Enter Education Mainstream

July 11th 2012

Clenched Fists

Jacob Mathis was a classic underachiever and troubled child.

The 15-year-old’s grade point average was just 0.77 and by his own accord, he had “extreme anger problems” stemming from his relationship with his stepdad. His emotional turmoil often spilled over into school and affected his conduct in the classroom. After an incident in which he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats, he was sentenced to probation.

Mathis’ life changed for the better after his probation officer recommended he enroll in a summer program at East Oakland teen and young adult center Youth Uprising — it utilized restorative justice, a community-focused, therapeutic process that addresses youth violence by helping perpetrators understand the roots of their anger and grasp how they have done others harm.

Restorative justice attempts to break the cycle of violence by addressing the underlying cause — often, a traumatic experience, such as physical or verbal abuse or witnessing a violent crime — and acknowledging the emotional impact of such trauma on young people. Through active communication, young people in restorative justice programs have been able to overcome their violent impulses.

By participating in Youth Uprising’s programs, Mathis said, “I learned how to sit down and talk to people about my issues. Now, it’s all good.” Mathis said he’s even applied the restorative justice principles he’s learned to his own family dynamics. It’s allowed him to break a cycle of acting out and blaming others that could have easily led to jail. His grade point average is now up to 3.27 and not only has he not re-offended, but he now envisions going to college and studying marine biology at the University of Florida. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria's Kurds in Play as Turkey Ponders Options

July 10th 2012

Turkish Military

The startling news about Syria's downing of a Turkish aircraft last Friday has overshadowed the reality of a larger, longer-term pattern of Syrian-supported lethal attacks against Turkey: the rising number of assaults inside Turkish territory by the militant nationalist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime supports the PKK, which the United States officially considers a terrorist organization, both directly and indirectly through its Syrian Kurdish affiliate, the PYD. In recent weeks, skirmishes between Turkish troops and PKK irregulars inside Turkey have greatly intensified, taking dozens of lives on both sides. And armed confrontations inside Syria between the PYD and local Kurdish groups opposed to Assad's regime have also accelerated sharply. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Considering a Sunni Regime in Fractious Syria

July 9th 2012

Bashar al Assad Stop Killing

Last week's publicized defection of the Tlass family marked a potential turning point for Syria's al Assad regime.

The Tlass family formed the main pillar of Sunni support for the minority Alawite regime. The patriarch of the family, former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, had a strategic, brotherly bond with late Syrian President Hafez al Assad. The two military men served as members of the ruling Baath Party in Cairo from 1958 to 1961 when Syria and Egypt existed under the Nasserite vision of the United Arab Republic. The failure of that project brought them back home, where together they helped bring the Baath Party to power in 1963 and sustained a violent period of coups, purges and countercoups through the 1960s.

With Tlass standing quietly by his side, Hafez mounted a bloodless coup and appointed Tlass as his defense minister in 1970. Since then, Tlass has been the symbol of Syria's old guard regime. Without Tlass' godfather-like backing, it is questionable whether Bashar al Assad, then a political novice, would have been able to consolidate his grip over the regime in 2000 when his father passed away. Through the Tlass family's extensive military and business connections, the Sunni-Alawite bond endured for decades at the highest echelons of the regime. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Economic Sanctions Against Iran are a Mere Side-Show

July 8th 2012

Ahmadinejad hipster
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Over the past week, the latest phase of U.S.-led sanctions against Iran has dominated the media. For months, the United States has pressured countries to curtail their imports of Iranian crude oil and is now threatening to penalize banks that participate in oil deals with Iran. In keeping with the U.S. sanctions campaign, the European Union on July 1 implemented an oil embargo against Iran. The bloc already has begun banning European countries from reinsuring tankers carrying Iranian oil.

On the surface, the sanctions appear tantamount to the United States and its allies serving an economic death sentence to the Iranian regime. Indeed, sanctions lobbyists and journalists have painted a dire picture of hyperinflation and plummeting oil revenues. They argue that sanctions are depriving Tehran of resources that otherwise would be allocated to Iran's nuclear weapons program. This narrative also tells of the Iranian regime's fear of economically frustrated youths daring to revive the Green Movement to pressure the regime at its weakest point. Read more ..


Inside Kurdistan

The Arab Spring and the Kurds

July 7th 2012

Ciwan and son, Syrian Kurdish refugees

The Kurds, an Iranian ethno-linguistic group, living in the area where the borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria converge, are the largest ethnic group without a state. Since the Justice and Development Party (JDP) or Adalet ve Kalk?nma Partisi (AKP) came to power in 2002, Turkey has embraced a “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy approach. This has coincided with a shift from confrontation to collaboration among Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq on the Kurdish issue. Yet the Arab Spring and the ensuing developments in the region have led to a deterioration in Turkey’s relations with Syria and Iran, bringing the validity of Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy into question.

Turkey’s increasing pressure on the Syrian regime, its decision to host a NATO missile defense system, and Turkey’s “rising-star” status in the region have led to competition between Iran and Turkey and an exacerbation of both Turkish-Iranian and Turkish-Syrian relations. In addition, Turkish military intervention in northern Iraq in response to intensified PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) attacks since August to November 2011 have strained Turkish-Iraqi relations, since such attacks could potentially be perceived as a threat to Iraqi territorial integrity. Read more ..


Inside Russia

The Putin Visit in Retrospect

July 6th 2012

Isi Leibler

The recent visit to Israel by Russian President Putin represents yet another example of the extraordinary and unpredictable events continuously impacting on Israel and the Jewish people.

Putin’s presence in the Jewish state revived memories of my involvement in the Soviet Jewry struggle, which was the central focus of my public life for many years. Recruited as a young man by Shaul Avigur, the Israeli Prime Minister’s coordinator of the Soviet Jewry campaign, I was engaged in activities ranging from persuading the Australian government to become the first country in the world to raise the plight of Soviet Jewry at the UN to writing a book based on Soviet sources exposing state-sponsored anti-Semitism which led to divisions amongst Western communists.

The climax of my involvement was during 1978 to 1980 – when my company was designated to handle travel arrangements for the Australian team at the Moscow Olympics, thus obliging the Soviets to provide me with entry visas – until then denied. Thanks to the personal interventions of the Australian Prime Minister, in between official Soviet meetings, I was ferried in embassy cars to the homes of the key Jewish dissidents and refuseniks and engaged them in regular intensive discussions. This terminated abruptly when Australia joined the Olympic boycott. I was arrested and charged with espionage for liaising with refuseniks who allegedly “had access to state security secrets”. I was ultimately expelled and threatened with imprisonment should I ever set foot again on Soviet soil.

Yet in 1987, seven years later, I was invited by the KGB-controlled Moscow Arkhipova Synagogue, to be their guest over Rosh Hashanah and permitted to give Zionist addresses in my faltering Yiddish from the pulpit.

This subsequently led to the establishment of the first Jewish cultural center since the revolution named after Solomon Mykhoels, the renowned Yiddish poet murdered by Stalin in 1948, and the first Hebrew song festivals in municipal theaters in both Moscow and Leningrad. The sight of theaters, packed with of Jews of all ages, tears streaming down their eyes as they heard Yaffa Yarkoni and Dudu Fisher singing Israeli songs remains permanently seared into my memory. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt’s Islamist Future

July 6th 2012

Mohamed Morsi - Vivat Rex

The election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s president temporarily puts to rest the debate about whether the nation will be secular or Islamist.

Egypt is an Islamist state.

Not only does a member of the Muslim Brotherhood hold the nation’s highest post, nearly 75 percent of the legislature’s seats are held by Brotherhood members or by their harder-line Salafi cousins—or at least they were held by the Islamists before the dissolution of the People’s Assembly by the ruling military council last month. Though headlines will remain focused on the struggle for supremacy between the Islamists and the military, the more important political battle in Cairo will be over what kind of Islamic state Egypt will become. Within this new competitive theocracy, many of the differences are in degree and not in kind. Both the Salafis and the Brotherhood, for example, support the imposition of the hudud: the Islamic prescription to cut off hands of recidivist thieves. The disagreement is over how soon the penalty should be imposed. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

What if Syrian President Bashar al Assad Really Goes?

July 5th 2012

President Bashr el Assad of syria

What if Syrian President Bashar al Assad really goes? There is an assumption in the West that the way to win a strategic victory over Iran and improve the human rights situation inside Syria is to remove the Syrian leader. It is true that Iran's prospects of keeping Syria as its own Mediterranean outpost are probably linked with the survivability of al Assad's regime. But his removal might well hasten the slide into chaos within Syria and in adjacent Lebanon, rather than slow it. Al Assad's departure could even ignite a disintegration of the Syrian power structure into various gangs and militias.

After all, we are talking less of the removal of one man than of the end of a 42-year dynasty. The president's father, Hafez al Assad, came to power in 1970 after 21 changes of government -- mostly through coups -- in Syria's first 24 years of independence. Moreover, the new Syrian state held free and fair elections in 1947, 1949 and 1954 that all broke down according to tribal, regional and sectarian interests. Read more ..


Inside Russia

The Putin Visit In Retrospect

July 5th 2012

Isi Leibler headshot

The recent visit to Israel by Russian President Putin represents yet another example of the extraordinary and unpredictable events continuously impacting on Israel and the Jewish people.

Putin’s presence in the Jewish state revived memories of my involvement in the Soviet Jewry struggle, which was the central focus of my public life for many years. Recruited as a young man by Shaul Avigur, the Israeli Prime Minister’s coordinator of the Soviet Jewry campaign, I was engaged in activities ranging from persuading the Australian government to become the first country in the world to raise the plight of Soviet Jewry at the UN to writing a book based on Soviet sources exposing state-sponsored anti-Semitism which led to divisions amongst Western communists.

The climax of my involvement was during 1978 to 1980 – when my company was designated to handle travel arrangements for the Australian team at the Moscow Olympics, thus obliging the Soviets to provide me with entry visas – until then denied.

Thanks to the personal interventions of the Australian Prime Minister, in between official Soviet meetings, I was ferried in embassy cars to the homes of the key Jewish dissidents and refuseniks and engaged them in regular intensive discussions. This terminated abruptly when Australia joined the Olympic boycott. I was arrested and charged with espionage for liaising with refuseniks who allegedly “had access to state security secrets”. I was ultimately expelled and threatened with imprisonment should I ever set foot again on Soviet soil.

Yet in 1987, seven years later, I was invited by the KGB-controlled Moscow Arkhipova Synagogue, to be their guest over Rosh Hashanah and permitted to give Zionist addresses in my faltering Yiddish from the pulpit.

This subsequently led to the establishment of the first Jewish cultural center since the revolution named after Solomon Mykhoels, the renowned Soviet Jewish actor and the artistic director murdered by Stalin in 1948, and the first Hebrew song festivals in municipal theaters in both Moscow and Leningrad. The sight of theaters, packed with of Jews of all ages, tears streaming down their eyes as they heard Yaffa Yarkoni and Dudu Fisher singing Israeli songs remains permanently seared into my memory. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Is Mitt Romney Going to Go the Way of Thomas Dewey in '48?

July 4th 2012

mitt romney

Mitt Romney’s reluctance to take stands on controversial issues was particularly notable in a recent interview with Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. On several occasions the Schieffer asked whether Romney intended to overturn Barack Obama’s new immigration policy, which allows some young illegal immigrants to stay in the United States. Each time Romney refused to answer Schieffer’s question.

Romney's evasiveness echoes that of the Republican nominee in 1948, Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey avoided taking stands in 1948 because he thought firm commitments were unnecessary. Public disapproval of Democratic president Harry S. Truman seemed likely to propel Dewey to the White House. Mitt Romney is noncommittal for precisely the same reason. Romney is aware that many Americans blame President Obama for their economic difficulties. Hoping to stoke that discontent, Romney’s speeches and television ads claim the president’s policies have failed. Yet Romney does not offer many details about how he plans to fix the economy.

Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran Confident As Sanctions Tighten

July 2nd 2012

Iranian Qiam missile launch

Iran sees itself in a strong position relative to the West and therefore believes it has little reason to be forthcoming in nuclear negotiations.

As tighter U.S. and EU restrictions on Iran enter into force on June 28 and July 1, respectively, the Islamic Republic's leaders are sounding remarkably confident about the nuclear impasse. Tehran believes it is in a strong position relative to the West and therefore sees little reason to be forthcoming in negotiations. On the contrary, it still finds resistance to be useful in dealing with the P5+1 (i.e., the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany). On June 18, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated, "Victory is not possible without...taking risk. We stand [for our cause]...Our enemies...should know that obstinacy, arrogance, self-importance, and unreasonable expectations will not get them anywhere against the Iranian nation." The challenge for the United States and Europe is how to persuade Iranian leaders that they have exaggerated both their own strengths and the West's weaknesses. Read more ..


Broken Borders

States to Enforce Immigration Laws

June 28th 2012

US Border Patrol arrest

Despite Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's controversial immigration coupled with the Obama Justice Department's punitive action against Arizona law enforcement, other states with laws similar to Arizona's have announced they plan on enforcing their own laws against illegal aliens and companies that hire illegal aliens, said a source in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

The source -- himself a federal law enforcement official -- claims that at least five other states are planning to create legislation using Arizona's as a model. They will use the one provision upheld by the Justices that requires police officers to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when the officers reasonably suspect a person is in the United States illegally.

Thus far, only Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have had to face federal judges, lawsuits from immigrant rights organizations, and Attorney General Eric Holder's "attack dog," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads the civil rights section at the Justice Department, according to political consultant Mike Baker. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Realizing a Global Layered Missile Defense System

June 28th 2012

defense system

Russia is demanding the United States stop building missile defenses in Europe, just as it simultaneously assists Iran in building the very missiles that threaten NATO.

In language reminiscent of the Cold War, Russian President Vladimir Putin is once again urging Washington to "better not to do this." Russian Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov warned, "Taking into account a missile-defense system's destabilizing nature, that is, the creation of an illusion that a disarming strike can be launched with impunity, a decision on pre-emptive use of the attack weapons available will be made when the situation worsens." In short, Makarov has warned that if the United States builds missile defenses, Russia will threaten to attack. This despite serial attempts by Washington to "reset" relations between the two former Cold War adversaries. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Finding the Elusive Keys to Ending Pervasive Insurgencies

June 28th 2012

Al-Shahab in Somalia
Al Shahab terrorists in Somalia.

In recent weeks, insurgent forces in several countries have been forced to withdraw from territories they once held. Somalia's al Shabaab, which was pushed out of Mogadishu in October 2011, was ejected from Afmadow on May 30. The group now runs the risk of losing its hold once again on the port city of Kismayo, an important logistical and financial hub for al Shabaab.

In Syria, the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups were forced out of the city of Idlib and Homs' Baba Amr district in March. They also withdrew from Al-Haffah on June 13.

Meanwhile in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been forced to retreat from towns it took control of last year in southern Abyan province, including Jaar, Shaqra and Zinjibar. The organization controlled the area it seized from the government through its Ansar al-Sharia front organization. AQAP was able to capitalize on the infighting that began in Yemen in 2011 and successfully diverted the government's focus away from AQAP and other militant groups. But in February, the election of new Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi allowed the rift created by the infighting to be slowly healed. As a result, a combination of Yemeni soldiers and local tribesmen, backed by U.S. intelligence and fire support, have been able to push back AQAP and Ansar al-Sharia in recent weeks. Read more ..


Broken Government

Contribution Limits in States at Risk Thanks to Supreme Court

June 28th 2012

money changing hands

A campaign finance arms race is in danger of breaking out in Illinois and at least three other states as lawmakers use the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision as justification for raising or even eliminating campaign contribution limits.

In Illinois, for example, the legislature voted last month to repeal limits on corporate contributions to candidates when super PACs or individuals spend more than $250,000 on a state race or $100,000 on a local race. The move would balance spending between outside groups and candidates, say supporters. But it could also lead to far greater spending in elections, raising concerns about possible corruption, say critics.

Twenty-four states had bans in place against corporate or union spending on elections that were knocked down by Citizens United. Nineteen of the 24 states passed laws to require better disclosure.

The Illinois bill, introduced by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), expands an existing loophole in Illinois’s campaign finance law. In May, the bill passed the state House 30–26 and the Senate 63–55 with no Republican support and awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature or veto. Quinn signed campaign finance legislation into law in 2009 that limited contributions to elected officials to $5,000 from an individual, $10,000 from a business or labor group and $50,000 from a regulated political action committee. Read more ..


Iran’s Nukes

Iran Confident As Sanctions Tighten

June 28th 2012

Khameni and Khomeini

As tighter U.S. and EU restrictions on Iran enter into force on June 28 and July 1, respectively, the Islamic Republic's leaders are sounding remarkably confident about the nuclear impasse. Tehran believes it is in a strong position relative to the West and therefore sees little reason to be forthcoming in negotiations. On the contrary, it still finds resistance to be useful in dealing with the P5+1 (i.e., the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany). On June 18, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated, “Victory is not possible without … taking risk. We stand [for our cause] … Our enemies … should know that obstinacy, arrogance, self-importance, and unreasonable expectations will not get them anywhere against the Iranian nation.” The challenge for the United States and Europe is how to persuade Iranian leaders that they have exaggerated both their own strengths and the West's weaknesses.

Iran sees the West as preoccupied

Iranian leaders believe that Europe is completely preoccupied by an ongoing financial crisis that has proven its economic model to be a failure. They also see the United States as being focused on the presidential campaign and exhausted by two long, inconclusive wars in the region. In Tehran's eyes, both parties—especially the United States—want a deal with Iran more than Iran wants a deal with them. Read more ..


Brazil on Edge

Brazilian Environmental Policy: Talk or Action?

June 27th 2012

Brazil deforestation forest fire

After several years of deliberation amongst environmental organizations and agricultural lobbyists, on April 25 the Brazilian National Congress approved the new Forestry Code, sending it to President Dilma’s desk. Dilma has vetoed a number of the proposed law’s stipulations, including penalty-free infractions by landowners who avoid environmental registry. Approved in 1965, the existing Forestry Code seeks to preserve the environment by specifying the exact amount of land that can be deforested by farmers. Unfortunately, the proposed reforms will harm the Amazonian region by allowing farmers and settlers to cultivate land without requiring the proper environmental safeguards.

In the Amazon, issues of deforestation, agriculture, ranching, and energy collide with protection of the environment, and the Brazilian government has historically catered to demands of the agribusiness sector. Professor Ans Kolk from the Amsterdam Business School says that, in the 1970s when environmental debates were emerging, Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Putin's Visit to Israel seeks to Bolster Russia's Image as a Powerhouse

June 26th 2012

Putin in Israel

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Israel on June 25 for his first state visit since retaking the presidency. The visit was arranged in mid-May, and so at least part of the agenda was set, given events in Syria and Egypt. The interesting thing about Israel and Russia is that while they seem to be operating in the same areas of interest and their agendas seem disconnected, their interests are not always opposed. It is easy to identify places they both care about but more difficult to identify ways in which they connect. It is therefore difficult to identify the significance of the visit beyond that it happened.

An example is Azerbaijan. Russia is still a major weapons provider for Azerbaijan, but the Israelis are now selling it large amounts of weapons and appear to be using it as a base from which to observe and, according to rumors, possibly attack Iran. Russia, which supports Armenia, a country Azerbaijan fought a war with in the late 1980s and early 1990s and technically still is at war with, ought to oppose Israel's action, particularly since it threatens Iran, which Russia does not want attacked. At the same time, Russia doesn't feel threatened by Israeli involvement in Azerbaijan, and Israel doesn't really care about Armenia. Both are there, both are involved and both think Azerbaijan is important, yet each operates in ways that ought to conflict but don't.

The same is true in the more immediate case of Syria, where its downing of a Turkish plane has created an unexpected dynamic for this visit. To think about this we need to consider Russian and Israeli strategy and its odd lack of intersection in Syria. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Farmworkers Plagued by Pesticides, Red Tape

June 25th 2012

Afrikaner Farmer Piet Kemp

Laboring in the blackberry fields of central Arkansas, the 18-year-old Mexican immigrant suddenly turned ill. Her nose began to bleed, her skin developed a rash, and she vomited.

The doctor told her it was most likely flu or bacterial infection, but farmworker Tania Banda-Rodriguez suspected pesticides. Under federal law, growers must promptly report the chemicals they spray.

It took the worker, and a Tennessee legal services lawyer helping her, six months to learn precisely what chemical doused those blackberry fields. The company ignored her requests for the information. The Arkansas State Plant Board initially refused to provide records to her lawyer, saying it didn’t respond to out-of-state requests. An Arkansas inspector, dispatched after the complaint, didn’t initially discern what pesticides were used the day the worker became ill, records show. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Why Is Access To Syria's Port At Tartus So Important To Moscow?

June 23rd 2012

Black Sea fleet

More than its weapons sales to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia's greatest strategic and geopolitical interest in Syria is the use of a deep-water port at Tartus. How long has Moscow been using Syria's port at Tartus as a strategic naval base in the Mediterranean?

The Soviet Navy began using Syria's deep-water port at Tartus for submarines and surface vessels under a 1971 agreement with Damascus. The Soviet Union was Syria's main arms supplier and Tartus was used to receive Soviet weapons bought by Damascus.

The Soviet Fifth Mediterranean Squadron also used the docks at the base to load its own fuel and supplies. The Soviet Navy had similar support points in Egypt, but the Soviets evacuated the Egyptian bases in the late 1970s, sending ships and equipment to Tartus instead. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt Military’s Election Stance Could Aggravate Crisis

June 23rd 2012

Egyptian protest

A Washington-based scholar says Egypt could be plunged into crisis if the military council is seen as pressuring the election commission to declare former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq winner of the presidential run-off vote. “If the announcement is that Ahmed Shafiq has won, there could be chaos in Egypt. There would certainly be widespread rejection of the supposed outcome, and there would be continuing demonstrations, and in fact it would get quite ugly,” said Samer Shehata, Assistant Professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University.

“The majority of people who voted in the election run-off didn’t vote for either of the two candidates. They voted against them because of their polarizing attitude and background,” he said. Some analysts predict Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate Mohammed Morsi is likely to win the vote after collating unofficial results across the country.

Observers say over the last several weeks, establishment-backed Ahmed Shafiq appeared to have enjoyed better state media (radio, television, and internet) coverage ahead of the vote. But, according to Shehata, the media advantage does not seem to have significantly benefitted him. “The vote seems to be 900,000 plus in Mohammed Morsi’s favor, so that does not seem to have worked.” Read more ..


Egypt and Israel

The Egypt-Gaza Powder Keg

June 19th 2012

Hamas troops w/rocket

Recent developments on Israel's southern borders have illustrated the direct relationship between the changes sweeping Arab lands and mounting threats to Israel's national security. This past weekend, as Egyptians went to the polls, terrorists operating in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula fired two Grad rockets into southern Israel.

The projectiles landed in Uvda and Mitzpe Ramon, which are located north of the Red Sea tourist hub of Eilat. These are areas that had never seen terrorist rocket fire before.

Mitzpe Ramon is situated 14 kilometers north of the Egyptian border. According to Israel Police bomb squad officials, the rockets used in the attack have a maximum range of 22 kilometers, and Israeli security forces say that Sinai is filled with secret weapons caches containing many more rockets, RPGs, machine guns, and anti-tank missiles, as well as terror cells from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al Qaeda-affiliated groups ready to use them. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

U.S. Foreign Policy as Analyzed by Hollywood

June 17th 2012

quantum of solace

James Bond, the fictitious British spy created by Ian Fleming, has been the protagonist of more than 50 novels and more than 20 films since 1953, becoming a world-renowned icon in the process. The plot of Quantum of Solace (the 22nd film in the Bond series, released in 2008) revolves around Bond’s attempts to prevent a group of powerful individuals from orchestrating a military coup in Bolivia and, with the aid of a corrupt Bolivian army general, taking control of the country’s water sources.

While the movie received numerous reviews, it has not, to this point, been analyzed from an academic point of view. This is a mistake as the issue of control of water is certain to increase in importance in the near future. For Bolivia, and most other Latin American countries whose natural resources are increasingly vital sources of power, the message of Quantum of Solace is all too relevant.

Hollywood and International Relations

It has become fairly common for scholars to apply international relations theories to TV and film. In 2011, Foreign Policy published an article analyzing the television series Game of Thrones, based on the books written by George R.R. Martin, from the perspective of international relations theory. Dr. Kelly DeVries of Loyola University recently published another article comparing international affairs to Game of Thrones in Foreign Affairs. Over the years, the Bond stories have also been analyzed from an academic point of view. For example, in 2005 a group of academics published a book titled “Ian Fleming and James Bond: the Cultural Politics of 007.” Read more ..


The Euro Crisis

What Happens If Greece Quits The Euro?

June 17th 2012

Greek and Euro flags

On June 17 Greeks go to the polls in a general election that could determine whether the crisis-hit country remains in the 17-nation eurozone. What happens if Athens quits -- or is forced out of -- the single currency?

How important is the general election in Greece on June 17?

This is a repeat election after the May 6 vote resulted in no party having enough support to form a government. The leftist Syriza party, which is tied in the polls with the conservative New Democracy, has promised to tear up Greece's stringent 130 billion-euro ($164 billion) deal with the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) that is needed to avert a Greek default.

It's not clear if Greek parties will be able to put together a coalition government this time either. But if Syriza emerges as the clear victor, expect market turmoil -- central banks in some major economies have already announced they are ready to take steps to stabilize the markets if needed. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Israel Continues to Thwart Terror Attacks from PA-Controlled West Bank

June 13th 2012

IDF Soldiers

On May 10, the official Israel Defense Forces blog posted an article titled "The 2012 Terror Attacks Against Israel You Never Heard About." The title is somewhat misleading, since in fact, none of these attacks actually took place: They were thwarted by the IDF's unsung but daily counterterrorism operations in the West Bank.

While one or two items on the list seem questionable, most could undoubtedly have been deadly attacks. There are no innocent reasons for carting bombs around. On April 11, for instance, soldiers caught a Palestinian at a checkpoint near Nablus "carrying improvised explosive devices, three knives and 50 bullets." On April 21, two Palestinian teens were caught near Tapuach Junction with five pipe bombs, a gun and ammunition. On April 24, soldiers found four improvised bombs in the bags of two Palestinians crossing a checkpoint near Jericho. On April 28, two Palestinians were caught trying to smuggle four pipe bombs through yet another West Bank checkpoint. On May 7, soldiers caught a Palestinian teen with three pipe bombs near Tapuach Junction. On May 10, two other Palestinians were caught near Tapuach Junction "carrying 2 explosive devices and 3 prepped firebombs."
Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

The Arab Summer will only get Hotter following Egypt's Presidential Election

June 12th 2012

Egyptian candidates
Mohammed Morsi, Hamdeen Sabahy, Ahmed Shafiq (l-r).

On June 16-17 Egyptians will cast ballots in a runoff election that will decide between the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Mursi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who served under former president Hosni Mubarak.

The ballot has polarized the country, prompting calls for boycotting the vote, while at the same time, Judge Ahmed el-Zend, the head of the association of Egyptian Judges said that would abandon any neutrality in this runoff and play a political role in the ballot watching and counting in order to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from claiming unchallengeable power. “We won’t leave matters for those who can’t manage them…,” Judge Zend said.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the de facto ruler of Egypt, convened a meeting on June 11 with the military council to discuss procedures to secure the presidential runoff election to ward off potential politicizing at the polls. They discussed the procedures to ensure the success, fairness and transparency of the voting process. Read more ..



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