News for October 31, 2008
Hate Crime Laws: The Criminalization of Christianity Coral Ridge Ministries (Video at link)
Syria reportedly boosts troop deployment near Lebanese border
The Jerusalem Post
(October 31, 2008) - Syria has boosted its
troop deployment near the Lebanese border up to the Beka valley region,
the Lebanese As-Safir newspaper said Friday. Some 3,000 heavily armed troops
were reportedly deployed in the area. A Lebanese army official was quoted
as saying that Syria was deploying its troops along the border with eastern
Lebanon "like it did in September on the northern border." However,
he said the increased troop presence was aimed at stopping smuggling and
apprehending fugitives along the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Libya offers to host Russian military base Breitbart (October 31, 2008) - Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who visits Moscow Friday for the first time since 1985, will offer to host a Russian naval base in his north African country, a Russian newspaper reported. "Libya is ready to host a Russian naval military base," the Kommersant reported, citing a source close to the preparations for Kadhafi's first visit here since the days of the Soviet Union.
The base could be located at the port of Benghazi, the source said. "The Russian military presence will be a guarantee of non-aggression against Libya from the United States, which is not in a hurry to embrace Kadhafi despite gestures of reconciliation," the newspaper said.
Kadhafi is scheduled to visit Russia from Friday to Sunday. Relations between Russia and Libya, a former pariah state that has pushed to get back into the international fold in recent years, showed signs of significant warming this year after a long chill. Earlier this month, a Russian warship docked in Tripoli as part of a global show of force that is to include joint naval exercises between Russia and Venezuela in the Caribbean in November.
In April, during a visit to Tripoli by then-president Vladimir Putin,
Moscow agreed to cancel billions of dollars of Libyan Soviet-era debt in
exchange for multi-billion-dollar contracts with Russian companies. During
his visit, Russian gas giant Gazprom signed a cooperation agreement with
Libya's national energy company while Russia's rail monopoly signed a 2.2-billion-euro
contract to build a railway line in Libya. During the Cold War, Libya bought
many of its weapons from Moscow.
Iranian Nuke Scientist: Weekend Quake was a Nuclear Test Israel National News (October 30, 2008) - A weekend 5.0 Richter earthquake in Iran was actually a nuclear bomb test, says an Iranian nuclear scientist claiming to be working on the project. The report is an Israel Insider exclusive. This past Saturday night, southern Iran experienced what was reported as a significant earthquake - a seismic event measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale. Its epicenter was just north of the strategic Straits of Hormuz, which separates Iran from Abu Dhabi and Oman and which is the gateway to the Persian Gulf.
The report quotes an Iranian nuclear scientist who claims to be working in uranium enrichment for the project, and who said that the "quake" was actually an underground nuclear bomb test. Israel Insider adds that the test/quake was actually the second in a series. Nine days ago, a 4.8 Richter scale event occurred, with its epicenter only five kilometers away from the weekend tremor.
The Israel Insider source reports that two nuclear rockets are currently ready - and are intended for use against Israel in the coming months. If the report is correct, it would belie previous speculation that Iran would not begin nuclear testing until it had more nuclear-bomb production capability.
The geographical location of the test has several advantages. It is exposed to significant seismic activity, which could serve to mask nuclear tests; it is believed to be close to Iran's nuclear development facility; delivery and transport of material and personnel can be effected easily through the Hormuz Strait; and Iranian enemies would hesitate to bomb the area because that would threaten the flow of a substantial percentage of the world's oil.
Solana’s speech to Institute for Security Studies Consilium Europa (October 30, 2008) - Dear friends, Let me start our "tour d'horizon" with the financial crisis. It has been the emblematic event of 2008, putting all else into the background. It is worth analysing, especially for its consequences for foreign policy. Allow me to make some observations:
First, the diagnosis. This crisis has confirmed that globalisation remains the dominant force shaping our world. This really is a global crisis. It has spread at incredible speed. Functionally, from sub-prime mortgages to credit markets to the real economy. And geographically from the US to Europe to emerging markets. Not everyone is affected equally; but no one is immune.
In its wake, the balance between markets, states and individuals will have to be adjusted. But globalisation itself - that is the global spread of goods, people, ideas and technology - will not stop. The crisis has highlighted globalisation's central dilemma. Today's big problems are global in nature. But the main resources and legitimacy are located at the national level. In a way, European integration is an attempt to resolve this core dilemma.
Regarding, the policy response, the crisis has demonstrated - once more - the need for stronger global institutions. With goodwill and creativity a lot can and has been achieved. Through ad-hoc crisis management among political leaders, central bankers and others. But if we are honest we must admit that the existing architecture is not up to the task - neither in Europe, nor globally.
I have been convinced, for some time, and I have underlined that in different fora, that the current international system is inadequate. Now the case for deep reform has become overwhelming. This must start with the international financial institutions. But we need to go further.
From the UN and the G8 to the regimes and institutions dealing with the big issues of our time: nonproliferation, energy and climate change, migration. Hopefully, the obvious need to deepen cooperation in the area of finance will act as a catalyst for these necessary wider reforms.
In any case, this effort cannot be handed by the US plus Europe alone.
Even the talk of us "leading" is misleading. Apart from changing
formats, the mindset needs changing too. We better not see this as the Western
powers inviting the others for coffee after our discussions. We need all
relevant players "present at the creation" of the new system,
to use Acheson's famous phrase. And we need to be ready to engage them seriously.
Hailstorm sparks 'absolute chaos' BBC News (October 30, 2008) - East Devon and parts of Cornwall have been hit by serious flooding after a night of storms, including severe rain and heavy hail. Devon and Somerset fire service described the situation in the Ottery St Mary area as "absolute chaos". Police said that a pregnant woman, who had gone into labour, had to be rescued from a car and about 25 people have been rescued from their homes. An evacuation centre has been set up at the hospital in Ottery St Mary.
A police spokesman said: "There have been a series of weather-related road collisions. "This included a road accident near Honiton with a female giving birth who had to be transported by ambulance to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital." He said "many" vehicles, including a 38ft-long (11.6m) lorry, had been trapped in flood water. Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said 25 people had been rescued from flooded homes in Ottery St Mary and Feniton. Susanne Reed, from the fire control centre, said it was the worst flooding she had seen in 25 years. "It has been absolute chaos, it started just after midnight when we were out rescuing people stuck in their cars in flood water.
The town had been preparing for a carnival this weekend, ahead of its
annual Tar Barrel Rolling festival on 5 November. Devon and Cornwall police
warned motorists that roads in the area were "treacherous" and
a number of routes had been closed because of flooding or ice. In Boscastle
in Cornwall six premises were flooded overnight because of a blocked storm
drain. Heavy rainfall has also led to problems with surface water on Cornwall's
roads. The Environment Agency has flood warnings in place on the Rivers
Otter, Axe, Clyst, Coly, Culm, Isle and Yarty in Devon.
A Real Election Choice On The United Nations Forbes (October 30, 2008) - When Barack Obama said he'd like to "spread the wealth around," he was widely understood to be talking about redistributing income within the U.S. But there's another arena in which Obama fans are waiting impatiently for the promised wealth-spreading--the United Nations.
Officially, under its 1945 charter, the U.N. is a neutral body that takes no sides in U.S. politics. But a recent story in the Washington Post, headlined "At the U.N., Many Hope for an Obama Win," reports the same drumbeat I've been hearing from the U.N.'s New York headquarters. There's little love lost there for John McCain, who replies to the U.N.'s chronic scandals and tyrant-friendly tilt by proposing some competition, via a League of Democracies.
Obama, by contrast, promises to give the U.N. a bigger role in U.S. foreign policy and many more American tax dollars than the $5 billion or more per year that currently accounts for roughly one-quarter of the total U.N. budget--already the biggest share by far among the U.N.'s 192 member states.
A disturbing caveat here is that the total annual U.N. budget is something of a mystery even to the U.N., which produced an estimate two years ago of $20 billion. That has since grown, but the U.N. either won't or can't say by how much.
Cocooned in diplomatic immunities, and spent across borders, the U.N. budget is multilayered, secretively administered, erratically audited and often filtered through multiple U.N. agencies that charge fees to each other. These days, in the name of "public-private partnerships," it is also opaquely intertwined with assorted private foundations and corporations worldwide.
The danger here is not only graft and waste but the ease with which the U.N. collective, with its majority of nonfree member states, lends itself to support for dictatorships, money laundering and questionable transfers of technology and goods to rogue regimes (all of which emerged in investigations into both the U.N.'s 1996-2003 Oil-for-Food program in Iraq, and its more recent Cash-for-Kim scandal in North Korea).
Obama has yet to put forward a viable plan for holding the U.N. accountable. But he's already promising to embrace a massive U.N. program called the Millennium Development Goals, saying "When I'm president, they will be America's goals." This U.N. program in effect sets U.N.-approved central planning targets for poor countries and urges developed countries to pay for it by handing over 0.7% of gross national product--in effect, a direct tax levied by the U.N.
Obama is promising upfront that by 2012 he'd be tossing at least $50 billion a year into this pit. If, as president, he signs onto the full U.N. program, the tab for American taxpayers over the next four years could total well over $300 billion.
With the pale exception of Japan (the number two financial donor after the U.S.), America has been the only U.N. member state to even try to impose serious oversight on the U.N. Almost the entire U.S. effort came from a now-departed team brought to the U.S. mission in 2005 by former Ambassador John Bolton, and a few Republican members of Congress, chiefly Sen. Norm Coleman and the late Rep. Henry Hyde. Coleman, a former prosecutor who put himself on the line to uncover U.N.-related nests of money laundering, graft and abuse, is now running for re-election in Minnesota--where he might lose his seat to comedian Al Franken.
U.N. reforms proclaimed with fanfare in recent years have fizzled. A policy of financial disclosure by top U.N. officials, promised by Kofi Annan, has turned out to require no public disclosure whatsoever. A system-wide audit promised by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in early 2007 was scaled back within the week to a tardy and off-site audit of a portion of the U.N.'s operations in North Korea.
A special task force set up almost three years ago to investigate U.N. procurement activities has identified at least 20 major cases of fraud, kickbacks and malfeasance tainting a total of more than $630 million worth of contracts. But this probe is due to be shut down by the end of this year, leaving behind at least 150 unfinished investigations.
Given the current U.N. scene, it's not just Joe the Plumber who comes
to mind. American taxpayers might want to recall the fate of Boxer the horse,
in George Orwell's Animal Farm, whose mantra as he slaved in the name of
the collective good was "I must work harder"--right up until he
was carted away to the glue factory.
Snow blankets London for Global Warming debate The Register (October 29, 2008) - Snow fell as the House of Commons debated Global Warming yesterday - the first October fall in the metropolis since 1922. The Mother of Parliaments was discussing the Mother of All Bills for the last time, in a marathon six hour session. In order to combat a projected two degree centigrade rise in global temperature, the Climate Change Bill pledges the UK to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The bill was receiving a third reading, which means both the last chance for both democratic scrutiny and consent.
The bill creates an enormous bureaucratic apparatus for monitoring and reporting, which was expanded at the last minute. Amendments by the Government threw emissions from shipping and aviation into the monitoring program, and also included a revision of the Companies Act (c. 46) "requiring the directors’ report of a company to contain such information as may be specified in the regulations about emissions of greenhouse gases from activities for which the company is responsible" by 2012.
Recently the American media has begun to notice the odd incongruity of saturation media coverage here which insists that global warming is both man-made and urgent, and a British public which increasingly doubts either to be true. 60 per cent of the British population now doubt the influence of humans on climate change, and more people than not think Global Warming won't be as bad "as people say". Both figures are higher than a year ago - and the poll was taken before the non-summer of 2008, and the (latest) credit crisis.
Yet anyone looking for elected representatives to articulate these concerns will have been disappointed. Instead, representatives had a higher purpose - demonstrating their virtue. And for the first 90 minutes of the marathon debate, the new nobility outdid each other with calls for tougher pledges, or stricter monitoring. Gestures are easy, so no wonder MPs like making them so much. It was all deeply sanctimonious, but no one pointed out that Europe's appetite for setting targets that hurt the economy has evaporated in recent weeks - so it's a gesture few countries will feel compelled to imitate.
The US Senate has Senator James Inhofe, but in the Commons, there wasn't an out-and-out sceptic to be found. It was 90 minutes before anyone broke the liturgy of virtue. When Peter Lilley, in amazement, asked why there hadn't been a cost/benefit analysis made of such a major change in policy, he was told to shut up by the Deputy Speaker. (And even Lilley - one of only five out of 653 MPs to vote against the Climate Bill in its second reading - felt it necessary to pledge his allegiance to the Precautionary Principle.)
It fell to a paid-up member of Greenpeace, the Labour MP Rob Marris, to point out the Bill was a piece of political showboating that would fail. While professing himself a believer in the theory that human activity is primarily the cause of global warming, he left plenty of room for doubt - far more than most members. The legislation was doomed, Marris said. Marris had previously supported the 60 per cent target but thought that 80 per cent, once it included shipping and aviation, wouldn't work. We could have a higher target, or include shipping and aviation, but not both. He compared it to asking someone to run 100m in 14 seconds - which they might consider something to train for. Asking someone to run it in ten seconds just meant people would dismiss the target. "The public will ask 'why should we bother doing anything at all?'"
Out of bounds
The closest thing to a British Inhofe is Ulsterman Sammy Wilson, Democratic Unionist Party, who'd wanted a "reasoned debate" on global warming, rather than bullying, and recently called environmentalism a "hysterical psuedo-religion". Wilson described the Climate Bill as a disaster, but even colleagues who disagree with his views of environmentalism are wary of the latest amendments.
The Irish Republic is likely to reap big economic gains if it doesn't penalise its own transport sector as fiercely as the UK pledges to penalise its own in the bill. Most Ulster MPs were keenly aware of the costs, and how quickly the ports and airports could close, when a cheaper alternative lies a few miles away over the border. Tory barrister Christopher Chope professed himself baffled by the logic of including aviation and shipping. If transportation was made more expensive, how could there be more trade?
"As we destroy industry we'll be more dependent on shipping and
aviation for our imports!" he said. "When the history books come
to be written people will ask why were the only five MPs... who voted against
this ludicrous bill," he said. It would tie Britain up in knots for
years, all for a futile gesture, Chope thought. However, Tim Yeo, the perma-suntanned
Tory backbencher who wants us to carry carbon rationing cards, said it would "improve
Britain's competitiveness". He didn't say how.
Egyptian War Games Cause For Concern in Israel, Lawmaker Says CNS News (October 29, 2008) - Israel is upset over Egyptian military exercises in which the simulated “enemy” is Israel, and some are calling on the U.S. to reconsider its aid to Egypt because of it. Israel and Egypt – two U.S. regional allies – signed a U.S.-sponsored peace treaty in 1979 – Israel’s first with an Arab nation.
The Egyptian navy reportedly carried out the largest exercise in its history last week. Dubbed Victory 41, the military maneuvers marked the Egyptian sinking of the Israeli Naval vessel Eilat 41 years ago, in which 47 Israeli sailors were killed and 91 wounded. According to the daily Ha’aretz, Oct. 20 was set aside as a holiday marking the sinking of the Israeli vessel for the Egyptian naval forces. The paper also quoted the Egyptian Navy commander in chief Vice Admiral Mohad Mamish in an interview with the Arabic newspaper Al Ahram, saying that the Egyptian Naval vessels were outfitted with advanced missiles and the Navy had supply contracts with Germany, Russia and the U.S.
“Unfortunately now for more than 10 years most of the big [Egyptian] exercises are simulating war against Israel,” said Dr. Yuval Steinitz, member of the Israeli Knesset’s influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The first time was in 1996 when they imitated a war against “a little country that is bordering Egypt on the northeast,” Steinitz told CNSNews.com on Wednesday. Looking on the map, it’s clear who they were simulating the war against, he said. The only new thing this time is that it has been leaked to the press, said Steinitz.
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert telephoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to apologize for comments made by a right-wing Knesset member, who noted that Mubarak has never come on a state visit to Israel. Olmert told Mubarak that Israel considered him to be “a strategic partner and a close friend.”
But there are signs of other strains in relations. The Hebrew daily Maariv reported on Tuesday that on a recent trip to Egypt, the director of the military/political and policy bureau of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, told Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi that Israel was concerned about Egypt carrying out of Egyptian army exercises "that are directed against an Israeli threat and that relate to it [Israel] as an enemy.” (A translation was provided by the Independent Media Review and Analysis.)
Israel also is concerned that it has become the central focus for Egyptian officers in building their forces and by the lack of “any relations of any kind” between the Israeli and Egyptian armies, Gilad was quoted as saying. According to the paper, Tantawi said relations between the armies could improve in the future in tandem with progress in regional peace. He also said that security challenges obligate Egypt to build an effective deterrent force.
Steinitz said the military exercises, combined with massive Egyptian force building plus indoctrination of the military against Israel, was “something to be concerned about.” He also said that despite the peace agreement between the two countries, Egypt is anti-Israel in most international bodies and is also educating the public “for hatred and not for peace.”
Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that its analysts had found the Egyptian press to be “a leading propagator of anti-Semitic images” for many years and that that trend was now spreading to other newspapers in the region.
Egypt is considered one of America’s allies in the region and has been
a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It is currently mediating
reconciliation talks between the military Hamas group and the Fatah faction
of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. more...
Mideast: Putting the 'Peace Puzzle' Together CBN News (October 28, 2008) - As U.S. presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama begin the last week of campaigning before next Tuesday's election, events shaping up in Israel, Syria and the Palestinian Authority will no doubt factor into the winning candidate's challenges in the White House.
Syrian officials continue to express their outrage over a U.S. military attack on Sunday, which killed eight people. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who accused America of "terrorist aggression," said his country has a right to respond in kind against the U.S. "The Americans did it in the daylight," Moallem said during a visit to London Monday. "This means it is not a mistake. Therefore, we are treating the matter as a crime and a terrorist act," he said.
While Syria claims the raid targeted civilians at a building construction site near the border with Iraq, the U.S. said the helicopter attack targeted the home of Abu Ghadiyah, the known head of a terrorist network funneling gunmen, weapons and cash across the border to bolster the insurgency against the Iraqi government. According to U.S. intelligence sources, Abu Ghadiyah is one of four senior al-Qaeda officials in Iraq who makes his home in Syria. The successful raid will have a "debilitating impact" on the terror group's smuggling network, one U.S. official said. It was the first U.S. military attack on Syrian soil since 2003, when U.S. troops invaded Iraq, evidence that the Syrian border remains a battleground. "We're taking matters into our own hands," one U.S. government official said, alluding to Syria turning a blind eye to terrorist activity.
Al-Qaeda is not the only Islamic terrorist group with ties to Syria. For years, Syria has facilitated Iranian weapons transfers to Lebanese-based Hezbollah terrorists across its border.
Syria's Ties with Hezbollah
On Sunday, Israeli Military Intelligence chief Major General Amos Yadlin briefed Cabinet ministers on Syria's ties with Hezbollah. "Assad currently trusts Hezbollah more than his own army," Yadlin said. "Hezbollah operatives are working from within Syria. The Syrians are loosing all restraints, Hezbollah access to almost all of their strategic capabilities," he said. "Currently, Assad is continuing to open up its warehouses to Hezbollah," Yadlin said, "turning into the arms granary" for the terror group.
According to Yadlin, Syria and Lebanon's recently renewed diplomatic ties are a cover up for a future takeover of the country. "Syria and Iran are buying the regime in Lebanon," he said. " are pouring substantial money into buying parliamentary representatives and into conducting dubious business deals," he said. "The Iranian offer to assist in the building of the Lebanese army is an and Hezbollah guise to take control of Lebanon," he said.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Meanwhile, despite Israeli President Shimon Peres' claim that Israel has never been closer to peace with its Arab neighbors, a look below the surface at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tells a different story. PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that Egyptian efforts to reconcile Fatah and Hamas are bearing fruit.
Abbas plans to travel to Saudi Arabia soon to relay his most recent discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Murbarak. "We have agreed with our Egyptian brothers on a program for national reconciliation," Abbas said. "Our brothers in Egypt will later publish the details. I want to stress that all the PLO factions have accepted the Egyptian program, which we fully support," he said.
Abbas also expressed pleasure with Peres' public support for the Saudi peace initiative, which he called an Islamic proposal - rather than an Arab proposal - because it is endorsed by so many Islamic countries. The plan calls for Israel to retreat to pre-1967 borders in exchange for "normalization" with Arab League member nations.
Hamas was less enthusiastic with Abbas's announcement. "President Abbas must reach an agreement with Hamas, not with the Egyptians," Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel said. "Egypt is not a party to the conflict but a mediator. Abbas's confrontation is with Hamas. If he wants to end the conflict, he must reach an agreement with Hamas," he said.
"We don't believe that Abbas will have the courage to talk with Hamas because of Israeli and American pressure," Bardaweel said. "He is also surrounded by some advisors who won't even permit him to mention the name Hamas. That's why he's talking about agreement with Egypt and not Hamas," he said.
Meanwhile, Hamas said Israel's going to early elections shows that the peace process has failed. "Now the Israelis will use the elections as an excuse not to make any concessions to Mahmoud Abbas," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. "They will claim they are too busy with the elections over the next few months." "This proves that Hamas was right when it said that the so-called peace process was a waste of time and that there's no point in negotiating with the occupation ," he said.
Despite claims by outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and others
of like ilk, a closer look at Syrian, Palestinian and Arab League member
nations shows that peace between Israel and her neighbors remains illusory.
With Iran arming Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria to the hilt, genuine peace is
far from reality on the ground.
Brussels renews attempt to seize control of telecoms EurActiv (October 28, 2008) - The European Commission has drafted a revised set of rules for the Internet and telecoms sector to be presented in November. Overruling a European Parliament vote earlier in September, Brussels is pushing for more European rather than national control over telecoms.
When EU telecoms ministers gather in Brussels on 27 November for their only meeting under the French Presidency this semester, they will find a revised proposal for the bloc's ongoing review of the "regulatory framework for electronic communications" on the table.
The revised proposal, seen by EurActiv, reintroduces a veto power for the Commission and establishes a new Office for European Telecoms Regulators (OETR), which will be heavily controlled by Brussels. With its new proposal, the EU executive wants to favour the emergence of new operators and ultimately force cuts in phone tariffs by further harmonising fragmented European telecoms markets.
On a collision course with Parliament and European capitals
However, it does so by ignoring a revision of the proposal voted upon by the Parliament earlier this year, which broadly reflected the views of national capitals (EurActiv 25/09/08). In a vote on 24 September, MEPs rejected the Commission's proposed European 'super authority', called EECMA, and replaced it with a kind of forum for national regulators (renamed BERT, see background).
But the EU executive is now rejecting those amendments, pushing instead for the introduction of a new authority, called OETR, which would be run by an "administrative board" composed of 12 members - half of which would be appointed by the Commission and the other half by governments. National authorities would be represented individually on a secondary board, which would have an advisory role to the governing board.
With its revised proposal, the Commission is in fact broadly re-introducing its original plan. In the September vote, the Parliament scrapped the proposed administrative board, leaving all the power directly with national authorities. But the EU executive says it "cannot accept the deletion of the administrative board which ensures a community approach" to regulating the sector, according to the document obtained by EurActiv.
In addition, the Commission is awarding itself a veto right over measures adopted by national regulators, contradicting the Parliament. Indeed, one of the amendments introduced by MEPs last September said national measures should be checked by the EU executive, with national authorities ultimately maintaining control over decisions.
"The Commission cannot accept the wording of this element of the European Parliament proposed amendment, since it would allow (the Office) to usurp the [its] role as guardian of the Treaty," the EU executive said in its revised proposal.
In concessions made to Parliament and member states, the Commission accepted
the majority of MEPs' amendments on issues such as functional separation,
electronic data protection, copyrights and network security. But the changes
it reintroduced makes an agreement on the package at the November Telecoms
Council increasingly unlikely.
Jewish Temple Will "Complicate" Peace Deal - Moroccan King
Nasdaq (October 27,
2008) - King Mohammed VI of Morocco Monday urged Israel not to press
ahead with plans to build a Jewish temple in the Muslim area of east Jerusalem.
The King warned the building of a synagogue next to the Al-Aqsa mosque could
have "detrimental consequences" on Israel's peace talks with the
Palestinians. "What has been started in this district will certainly
complicate the peace deal and could have to detrimental consequences,"
he said in a statement aimed at Pope Benedict XVI and the U.N. Al-Aqsa mosque
- on Islam's third holiest site - has been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. The site saw the outbreak of the latest Palestinian uprising,
or intifada, in 2000. Jews believe the compound including the mosque was
the site of the Second Temple, Judaism's holiest site, which was destroyed
by the Romans in 70 AD. East Jerusalem is home to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Palestinians want the district as the capital of any future Palestinian
Sharia banking 'strengthening' Gulf Daily News (October 26, 2008) - The global financial crisis is an opportunity for Sharia-compliant Islamic banking to further its position internationally, bankers said at a forum in Saudi Arabia yesterday. Islamic banks have been barely bruised by the global credit crisis so far, although falling property and commodity prices and slowing economies are starting to affect the sector. But bankers at the forum, on how the world finance crisis could affect Islamic banking, saw the sector strengthening. "It is a must for Islamic finance to seize the opportunity that came with this global financial crisis," Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank's (IDB) president Ahmad Ali said at the discussion organised by IDB. "Global investment banks should be set up that realise the Islamic economy and offer the world a new vision and different way to manage assets, invest wealth and create products."
Islamic financing deals are backed by assets, commonly real estate and commodities, due to the Sharia requirement that transactions must involve real economic activity. There are more than 300 Islamic financial institutions worldwide and the sector is valued at about $1 trillion, just a fraction of the conventional global banking industry. The growth of Sharia banking has been fuelled by an increasing focus on Islamic values and cash from Middle East oil exporters hungry for assets that comply with Islamic principles. The falling oil price could affect that.
Saudi entrepreneur Saleh Kamel, who heads the General Council of Islamic
Banks, said the global crisis suggested Islam was the "third way"
after the failure of great ideologies. "Perhaps through this crisis,
that is a great evil for the world, God will lead us to the school of moderation,"
he said. "Communism has failed and capitalism failed, and only now
are they starting to admit this failure," he said.
Uses for $700B Bailout Money Keep Changing Fox News (October 26, 2008) - First, the $700 billion rescue for the economy was about buying devalued mortgage-backed securities from tottering banks to unclog frozen credit markets. Then it was about using $250 billion of it to buy stakes in banks. The idea was that banks would use the money to start making loans again.
But reports surfaced that bankers might instead use the money to buy other banks, pay dividends, give employees a raise and executives a bonus, or just sit on it. Insurance companies now want a piece; maybe automakers, too, even though Congress has approved $25 billion in low-interest loans for them. Three weeks after becoming law, and with the first dollar of the $700 billion yet to go out, officials are just beginning to talk about helping a few strapped homeowners keep the foreclosure wolf from the door.
As the crisis worsens, the government's reaction keeps changing. Lawmakers in both parties are starting to gripe that the bailout is turning out to be far different from what the Bush administration sold to Congress. In buying equity stakes in banks, the Treasury has "deviated significantly from its original course," says Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. "We need to examine closely the reason for this change," said Shelby, who opposed the bailout.
The centerpiece of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act is the "troubled asset relief program," or TARP for short. Critics note that tarps are used to cover things up. The money was to be devoted to buying "toxic" mortgage-backed securities whose value has fallen in lockstep with home prices. But once European governments said they were going into the banking business, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson followed suit and diverted $250 billion to buy stock in healthy banks to spur lending. Bank executives hinted they might instead use it for acquisitions. Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate banking committee, said this development was "beyond troubling."
Sure enough, a day after Dodd, D-Conn., made the comment, the government confirmed that PNC Financial Services Group Inc. was approved to receive $7.7 billion in return for company stock. At the same time, PNC said it was acquiring National City Corp. for $5.58 billion. "Although there will be some consolidation, that's not the driver behind this program," Paulson recently told PBS talk show host Charlie Rose. "The driver is to have our healthy banks be well-capitalized so that they can play the role they need to play for our country right now."
Other planned uses of the bailout money have lawmakers protesting, although it is only fair to note there is nothing in the law that they just wrote to prevent those uses. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. questioned allowing banks that accept bailout bucks to continue paying dividends on their common stock. "There are far better uses of taxpayer dollars than continuing dividend payments to shareholders," he said. Schumer, whose constituents include Wall Street bankers, said he also fears that they might stuff the money "under the proverbial mattress" rather than make loans.
Neel Kashkari, head of the Treasury's financial stability program, told Dodd's committee this past week that there are few strings attached to the capital-infusion program because too many rules would discourage financial institutions from participating.
As the bank plan has become a priority, the effort to buy troubled assets has receded from the headlines. Potential conflicts of interest pose all kinds of problems in finding qualified companies to manage that program. "Firms with the relevant financial expertise may also hold assets that become eligible for sale into the TARP or represent clients who hold troubled assets," Kashkari said.
The challenge was made plain when the Treasury hired the Bank of New York Mellon Corp. as "custodian" of the troubled assets purchase program. The bank will conduct "reverse auctions" to buy the toxic securities on behalf of the Treasury. The lower the price they set, the better chance sellers have of getting rid of the devalued securities.
On the same day it hired Mellon, the Treasury also picked the company to receive a $3 billion investment as part of the capital-infusion program. The same bank hired to help manage part of the economic rescue plan became a beneficiary of it.
With the Nov. 4 election nearing, lawmakers decided it was important
to remind the government officials running the bailout program about parts
of the law aimed at helping distressed homeowners by offering federal guarantees
to mortgages renegotiated down to lower monthly payments. "The key
to our nation's economic recovery is the recovery of the housing market,"
Dodd said. "And the key to recovery of the housing market is reducing
foreclosures." Sheila Bair, who heads the Federal Deposit Insurance
Corp., responded that her agency is working "closely and creatively"
with Treasury officials to "realize the potential benefits of this
U.S. attacks inside Syria WorldNet Daily (October 26, 2008) - The U.S. Army today confirmed it carried out a raid inside a Syrian village near the Iraqi border, killing at least eight. Today's operation is the first in which American forces so openly attacked militants on Syrian soil, clearly broadening the scope of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq.
The U.S. has long accused Damascus of failing to stop insurgents from crossing from Syria into Iraq, where they purportedly attack coalition troops and return to safety zones inside Syria. An official Syrian spokesman confirmed earlier reports by the country's SANA state-run television, which reported U.S. helicopters were involved in an attack in Al-Sukkariya, some five miles from the Iraqi border.
Eyewitnesses told reporters they saw four helicopters hover overhead and then at least eight soldiers disembark, where they engaged a number of men at a civilian construction site. SANA reported: "Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 16:45 local time (13:45 GMT) on Sunday." It claimed "American soldiers" who had emerged from helicopters "attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths." "The helicopters then left Syrian territory towards Iraqi territory," reported SANA.
The reported incident took place near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which the U.S. has labeled as a major crossing point for insurgents, weapons and money. A U.S. official confirmed the attack targeted what he said were elements of arobust foreign fighter logistics network operating in Syria and that due to Syrian inaction the U.S. was now "taking matters into our own hands."
There have been unconfirmed reports in the past of U.S. forces operating along the Syrian-Iraqi boarder and even entering hundreds of feet into Syria in pursuit of insurgents, but today's reported operation would be the largest yet.
Israeli security officials said the Jewish state was not involved in the operation. They said it was likely the U.S. attacked insurgent or al-Qaida elements that ran inside Syria. They said the operation, if confirmed, likely was to send a signal to Damascus that it is not immune from retaliation if it continues to allow insurgents to utilize the country.
Already Syria has summoned the U.S. and Iraqi envoys to Damascus to protest
against what it called a U.S. military attack on its soil. According to
Syrian sources speaking to WND, Syria conveyed a message to the U.S. claiming
Syria does not support the insurgency and opposes any insurgent or al-Qaida
elements operating on Syrian soil. Syria told the U.S. they were not upset
America had attacked insurgents or al-Qaida elements, if indeed that was
the target, but that their protest was against the U.S. operating on Syrian
soil without prior permission.
Russia blasts off back to the future Scotland on Sunday (October 26, 2008) - As they tracked Russian military maneuvers last week, the US government's Kremlin-watchers might have been forgiven for wondering if they were seeing recycled newsreels. A huge exercise, Stability 2008, spread tens of thousands of troops, thousands of vehicles and scores of combat aircraft across nearly all 11 time zones of Russian territory in the largest war game since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was no specified enemy, but the Russian forces appeared to be enacting a nationwide effort to quell unrest along Russia's southern border – and to repulse a US-led attack by Nato forces, according to experts in Moscow and Washington.
In a grim finale, commanders launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles, the type that can carry multiple nuclear warheads. It was a clear signal of the drastic endgame the Kremlin might consider should its conventional forces not hold. One of the missiles flew more than 7,100 miles, allowing Russian officials to claim they had set a distance record.
If these images of Russian power projection appeared drawn from the dark decades of Dr Strangelove, the response from Washington was anything but. Defence secretary Robert Gates and admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, provided the same sanguine reply, echoed down through the ranks of government analysts who have spent years reading Russian military journals and scrutinising classified satellite photographs.
The Russian military fell to Third World standards from neglect and budget cuts in the turbulent years when Boris Yeltsin was president, they say. The new Kremlin leadership is working to create a force that can actually defend the nation's interests.
The military has embarked upon a programme to buy modern weapons, improve training and healthcare for troops, trim a bloated officer corps and create the first professional class of sergeant-level, small-unit leaders since the Second World War.
That is not to say that the US will stop judging Russian behaviour in light of what it considers a clumsy, ill-advised invasion of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Yet policymakers also say the Kremlin's efforts at military modernisation should not prevent co-operation on mutual concerns, including countering terrorism and halting nuclear proliferation.
Even a high-profile speech last month by President Dmitry Medvedev, ordering a military modernisation programme and the largest increases in defence spending since the death of the old USSR, was viewed in Washington as short on substance and designed more for a domestic political agenda. Medvedev declared that, by 2020, Russia would construct new types of warships and an unspecified air and space defence system. Military spending, he said, will leap 26% next year, bringing it to 1.3 trillion rubles (about £30bn), its highest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union – but still a fraction of US military spending.
American experts were unimpressed. "Russia is prone to make fairly grandiose announcements about its military," said a defence department official. "These programmes have long been in the works. They are not new plans."
Even so, analysts of Russian military affairs acknowledge that a military
renaissance would allow the Moscow leadership to increase political pressure
on former Soviet republics, as well as former Warsaw Pact allies that embraced
Nato after the collapse of communism. "What the Russian leadership
has discovered is proof of an old maxim: that a foreign policy without a
credible military is no foreign policy," said Dale Herspring, a scholar
on Russian military affairs at Kansas State University. more...
At the U.N., Many Hope for an Obama Win The Washington Post (October 26, 2008) - There are no "Obama 2008" buttons, banners or T-shirts visible here at U.N. headquarters, but it might be difficult to find a sliver of territory in the United States more enthusiastic over the prospect of the Illinois senator winning the White House. An informal survey of more than two dozen U.N. staff members and foreign delegates showed that the overwhelming majority would prefer that Sen. Barack Obama win the presidency, saying they think that the Democrat would usher in a new agenda of multilateralism after an era marked by Republican disdain for the world body.
Obama supporters hail from Russia, Canada, France, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Indonesia and elsewhere. One American employee here seemed puzzled that he was being asked whether Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was even a consideration. "Obama was and is unstoppable," the official said. "Please, God, let him win," he added.
"It would be hard to find anybody, I think, at the U.N. who would not believe that Obama would be a considerable improvement over any other alternative," said William H. Luers, executive director of the United Nations Association. "It's been a bad eight years, and there is a lot of bad feeling over it."
Conservatives who are skeptical of the United Nations said they are not surprised by the political tilt. "The fact is that most conservatives, most Republicans don't worship at the altar in New York, and I think that aggravates them more than anything else," said John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "What they want is the bending of the knee, and they'll get it from an Obama administration."
The candidates have said little about their plans for the United Nations, but Obama has highlighted his desire to pursue diplomacy more assertively than the Bush administration, whereas McCain has called for the establishment of a league of democracies, which many here fear is code for sidelining the United Nations.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has avoided showing a public preference about the presidential campaign -- although he has hinted at a soft spot for Obama in private gatherings, according to U.N. officials. His top advisers say they think McCain and Obama would support many of Ban's priorities, including restraints on production of greenhouse gases that fuel climate change. "The secretary general and the Secretariat of the United Nations take no position on the U.S. election," said Ban's chief spokeswoman, Michele Montas. "The secretary general deeply respects the democratic process, and he looks forward to working with whomever the American people choose."
Many U.N. rank and file are less circumspect, saying they see in Obama's
multicultural background -- a Kenyan father, an Indonesian stepfather and
a mother and grandparents from Kansas -- a reflection of themselves. "We
do not consider him an African American," said Congo's U.N. ambassador,
Atoki Ileka. "We consider him an African." more...
Political alarms ring as panicked markets dive Reuters (October 25, 2008) - Asian and European leaders closed ranks on Saturday to try to bolster confidence among investors who fear that a global credit crunch has ushered in a deep and damaging world recession. The worst financial crisis in 80 years has forced countries to work together to find ways to help shore up a financial system crippled by banks fearful of lending to each other.
But with evidence mounting that Europe is already in recession, analysts fear that cooperation in shoring up banking systems could be threatened as governments begin to turn their attention to reviving domestic demand. "We must use every means to prevent the financial crisis impacting growth of the real economy," Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said at the end of a two-day summit of 43 Asian and European leaders in Beijing.
Governments have pledged around $4 trillion to support banks and restart money markets to try to stem the crisis and are considering tougher financial rules to guard against any repeat. Wen said countries needed to strike a balance between innovation and regulation and between savings and consumption. "We need financial innovation, but we need financial oversight even more," he said, adding that China's priority was to spur domestic demand to ensure the country maintained fairly fast, steady growth.
U.S. President George W. Bush, who will host a global summit on the financial crisis next month, said in a radio address on Saturday: "While the specific solutions pursued by every country may not be the same, agreeing on a common set of principles will be an essential step toward preventing similar crises in the future."
In the Gulf, finance ministers and central bank governors said at a meeting on coordinating policy that they would look at directing more government funds into banks and regional stock markets, Al-Arabiya television reported. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and four other Gulf states have so far adopted separate responses to ease the pressures of the liquidity crunch on their banking sectors. Qatar's finance minister, Youssef Kamal, said the crisis would give impetus to create regional monetary union and he was sure the measures taken to protect the economies were sufficient.
Any significant redirection of Gulf investment to domestic markets could
be a concern for banks and other firms in the West which have eyed the huge
sums in the region's state-run sovereign wealth funds as a potential source
of capital while European and U.S. credit and share markets are seized up.
But the scarcity of private sector capital is being felt in the Gulf. Officials
were set to discuss the risk of investments from countries hit by the crisis
being "liquidated." Saudi Arabian stocks plummeted 8.7 percent
on fears of an oil price fall and recession. more...
Newspaper shows Obama belonged to socialist party WorldNet Daily (October 24, 2008) - Evidence has emerged that Sen. Barack Obama belonged to a socialist political party that sought to elect members to public office with the aim of moving the Democratic Party far leftward to ultimately form a new political party with a socialist agenda. Several blogs, including Powerline, previously documented that while running for the Illinois state Senate in 1996 as a Democrat, Obama actively sought and received the endorsement of the socialist-oriented New Party, with some blogs claiming Obama was a member of the controversial party.
The New Party, formed by members of the Democratic Socialists for America and leaders of an offshoot of the Community Party USA, was an electoral alliance that worked alongside the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. The New Party's aim was to help elect politicians to office who espouse its policies. Among New Party members was linguist and radical activist Noam Chomsky.
Obama's campaign has responded to the allegations, denying the presidential candidate was ever a member of the New Party. But the New Zeal blog dug up print copies of the New Party News, the party's official newspaper, which show Obama posing with New Party leaders, list him as a New Party member and include quotes from him. The party's Spring 1996 newspaper boasted: "New Party members won three other primaries this Spring in Chicago: Barack Obama (State Senate), Michael Chandler (Democratic Party Committee) and Patricia Martin (Cook County Judiciary). The paper quoted Obama saying "these victories prove that small 'd' democracy can work." The newspaper lists other politicians it endorsed who were not members but specifies Obama as a New Party member.
New Ground, the newsletter of Chicago's Democratic Socialists for America, reported in its July/August 1996 edition that Obama attended a New Party membership meeting April 11, 1996, in which he expressed his gratitude for the group's support and "encouraged NPers (New Party members) to join in his task forces on Voter Education and Voter Registration."
Becoming a New Party member requires some effort on behalf of the politician. Candidates must be approved by the party's political committee and, once approved, must sign a contract mandating they will have a "visible and active relationship" with the party.
The New Party, established in 1992, took advantage of what was known as electoral "fusion," which enabled candidates to run on two tickets simultaneously, attracting voters from both parties. But the New Party went defunct in 1998, one year after fusion was halted by the Supreme Court.
Following the initial reports of Obama's purported membership in the New Party, Obama associate and former Chicago New Party activist Carl Davidson posted a statement on several blogs claiming his former party was not socialist, but he admitted it worked with ACORN. "[The New Party] was a pragmatic party of 'small d democracy' mainly promoting economic reforms like the living wage and testing the fusion tactic, common in many countries but only operational in New York in the U.S. The main trend within it was ACORN, an Alinskyist outfit, which is hardly Marxist," wrote Davidson.
But the socialist goals of the New Party were enumerated on its old website. Among the New Party's stated objectives were "full employment, a shorter work week, and a guaranteed minimum income for all adults; a universal 'social wage' to include such basic benefits as health care, child care, vacation time, and lifelong access to education and training; a systematic phase-in of comparable worth and like programs to ensure gender equity." The New Party stated it also sought "the democratization of our banking and financial system – including popular election of those charged with public stewardship of our banking system, worker-owner control over their pension assets, community-controlled alternative financial institutions."
Many of the New Party's founding members were Democratic Socialists for America leaders and members of Committees of Correspondence, a breakaway of the Communist Party USA. Obama attended several DSA events and meetings, including a DSA-sponsored town hall meeting Feb. 25, 1996, entitled "Employment and Survival in Urban America." He sought and received an endorsement from the DSA. According to DSA documents, the New Party worked with ACORN to promote its candidates. ACORN, convicted in massive, nationwide voter fraud cases, has been a point of controversy for Obama over the presidential candidate's ties to the group.
In 1995, the DSA's New Ground newsletter stated, "In Chicago, the
New Party's biggest asset and biggest liability is ACORN. "Like most
organizations, ACORN is a mixed bag. On one hand, in Chicago, ACORN is a
group that attempts to organize some of the most depressed communities in
the city. Chicago organizers for ACORN and organizers for SEIU Local 880
have been given modest monthly recruitment quotas for new New Party members.
On the other hand, like most groups that depend on canvassing for fundraising,
it's easy enough to find burned out and disgruntled former employees. And
ACORN has not had the reputation for being interested in coalition politics
– until recently and, happily, not just within the New Party."
EU's Solana targets deal with Syria next year AFP (October 23, 2008) - EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana held talks on Thursday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the Middle East peace process and regional issues, highlighting improved ties between them. Solana and Assad discussed bolstering links between Syria and the European Union and they agreed "to pursue consultations on regional and international issues," official news agency SANA said. "Syrian-European ties continue to make progress," Solana said, according to SANA. He voiced hope that both sides might next year sign an "association" agreement.
The EU has signed such a deal with other Mediterranean countries in a bid to pave the way for the creation of a free trade agreement in 2010. Solana said the EU "strongly supports" the Middle east peace process and is trying to play a constructive role," SANA reported. "The EU totally backs the indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel," he said. Since May, Syria has been engaged in indirect peace talks with Israel under Turkish mediation. SANA quoted Assad as saying Europe's "role in the peace process is important and essential. "Peace guarantees security and stability to the people of the region and this reflects positively on Europe and the world."
Solana's visit to Damascus is his first since March 2007, when his trip
signaled a resumption of EU contacts with Damascus frozen after the February
2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri. Anti-Syrian
Lebanese figures blamed Syria for the murder but Damascus has repeatedly
denied any involvement. In March 2007, Solana urged Syria, the former powerbroker
in Lebanon, to help ease a protracted crisis in Lebanon. His return to Damascus
comes after Syria and Lebanon formally established diplomatic ties on October
15, for the first time since independence 60 years ago. Speaking to reporters
after his talks with Assad, the EU diplomat praised the "importance
of developments which recently occurred in Lebanon," namely the setting
up of diplomatic ties between Beirut and Damascus, SANA reported.
Closer global integration needed: Blair Canada.com (October 22, 2008) - Any impulse to retreat from a globalized economic system would be exactly the wrong response to the current worldwide financial crisis, warns former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair. Blair - whose successor, Gordon Brown, is being hailed as the architect of a financial rescue plan largely copied in the U.S. and other industrial nations - told the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal that the crisis demonstrates the need for closer global integration, not less.
Those who would pull back from global trade and financial flows are taking the wrong lesson from the banking and credit tumult, Blair said, because globalization is "a fact, not driven by governments, but by people." The challenge facing governments is to make it work better, he said. Blair asked a rhetorical question: "Why is it that irresponsible lending in one area suddenly produces a convulsion in the world economy?" Because, he answered, all countries are now so closely linked that it isn't realistic to imagine withdrawing from the risks and benefits of globalization.
However, unlike some commentators who focus on the need for internationally co-ordinated regulatory constraints on business, Blair also pointed to the dangers of too much regulation. There must clearly be globally synchronized financial regulation "where there is systemic risk," Blair said, referring to the kinds of risks that can go beyond one bank or institution to endanger the whole financial system. A recent example was the collapse of Lehman Bros., a leading U.S. investment bank, which triggered a collapse in confidence that bank obligations would be honoured and greatly worsened stresses on financial institutions. However, Blair insisted that such new regulation must not be so heavy-handed that it stifles the entrepreneurship that he described as the heart of any successful economy.
Blair's comments about the financial crisis were part of a broader perspective on a more closely knit world in which, he warned, no serious challenge, from climate change to terrorism, can be dealt with successfully without close international co-operation. Partnered with the theme of global interdependence was one of power shifting inevitably toward Asia, leaving the big Western powers with a limited window of opportunity to help define the nature of a new world order. "Power is shifting East, and shifting East fast," Blair said.
He noted that in meetings with Chinese leaders during this summer's Olympic Games, he learned that China is now building more power stations than have been created in Europe since the Second World War and planning to open no fewer than 70 new international airports. India will soon be in a position to achieve similar spectacular growth, he said. The lesson of this gigantic power shift, Blair said, is that the West can no longer dominate the world through sheer economic and military strength. Instead of dictating, it must seek to persuade through the power of universal values: freedom, democracy and justice. And to be persuasive in enshrining such values in global institutions, it must be true to them - working harder, for instance, to solve the problems of disease, hunger and poverty in the poorest nations.
Brown, who is now the official envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East,
a group including the United Nations, the U.S, the U.K. and Russia, offered
another example from his current work. If there were to be a solution to
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, this would be the most powerful
influence imaginable in creating healthier relations between the West and
the Islamic world. Brown was speaking at Montreal's Palais des congres,
at an event sponsored by the TD Bank Financial Group.
Security & Defense: 'We're in the midst of preparing the home front for war' The Jerusalem Post (October 16, 2008) - According to Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, the country is in one of the most complicated and dangerous periods of its history. And though he does not believe that Israel can be "wiped off the map," in spite of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats, he is increasingly concerned about the current political instability here, which he blames for delays in projects he deems essential, such as the revamping of the Home Front.
This week, as Israel marked the 35th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War - reviewing lessons learned from it - Vilnai gave The Jerusalem Post a lengthy interview, during which he covered a wide range of topics, from Labor's coalition talks with Kadima, to how Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is a target, to the danger of holding public demonstrations calling for the release of Gilad Schalit.
The former deputy chief of General Staff and deputy commander of the elite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal, says that the IDF is at a most critical juncture. It is the only military in the world, he explains, that needs to be ready at any given moment to fight a guerrilla war in Lebanon, a terror war in the West Bank and a conventional war with Syria, and confront a possible existential threat from Iran.
Since taking up his post just over a year ago, Vilnai, 64, has been immersed in establishing the National Emergency Administration (NEA), which he founded to coordinate among all of the various emergency services, in the event of a missile onslaught. This is necessary, he says, because one of the problems encountered during the Second Lebanon War was that the cabinet had to meet several times to discuss how to get food to shelters in the North. But "the cabinet needs to run the war."
How do you view Israel's current strategic position in the Middle
Is there still a conventional threat?
What poses the greatest threat?
Are there ongoing processes in the Defense Ministry that will be harmed
in the event that general elections are held now?
We are in the midst of preparing the home front for war and this is something that the government has spoken about for decades, but never dealt with or regulated properly. If we change the leadership of the Defense Ministry, I don't know what will happen. If we don't continue what we have been doing here for another two years, it will all go to waste.
What, for example?
What is the concept behind the NEA?
The cabinet does not need to meet to discuss food distribution to bomb shelters. A mayor with the right assistance can do this on his or her own.
What will the next war look like?
Can there really be peace with Syria?
We saw other Syrian intentions with the nuclear facility that the
air force destroyed last September.
A Syrian Takeover of Lebanon? Gather (October 2, 2008) - The Middle East Times reported October 2 that Syria has been moving military forces to its border with Lebanon for nearly a week now, raising the question of whether or not Syria intends to once again overtly exercise control over its neighbor. Syria has long exercised influence over Lebanon, and only reluctantly withdrew its forces under international pressure in the wake of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria is suspected by many of being responsible for the Hariri assassination. As noted by the Times, Syrian President Bashar Assad said at the time of Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon that the move did not mean Syria was done exercising its influence. The Times says, and most observers and analysts agree, that Syria continues to station thousands of covert intelligence personnel within Lebanon.
Lebanon is a problem for the entire region. Hezbollah operates freely from Lebanon, and Israel routinely violates Lebanese territory and airspace in an attempt to keep Hezbollah in check. The summer 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel inflicted massive damage on Lebanon in a conflict that seemed to diminish some of the mystique surrounding Israeli military might in the region. A significant portion of the Lebanese Army is sympathetic to Hezbollah, and the Lebanese government is fragmented and, for all intents and purposes, dysfunctional. United Nations peacekeepers are present in southern Lebanon, and Iran exercises some influence as well.
Syria has been attempting in recent months to improve its standing in the region and in the eyes of the international community. Syria's alignment with Iran has been strained at times recently, and negotiations with Israel have not played very well with hard liners within the Syrian intelligence and military establishments. The key to much of Syria's power and wealth is its influence in Lebanon, as well as its degree of control over Lebanon, and it would not be far fetched to believe that Syria would move its military forces across the border.
If Syria did act, there would probably few repercussions, and any condemnations
would be largely symbolic. Israel would not intervene, and probably could
not if it wanted to. Politically, Israel is just too fragile at the moment.
The United States is preoccupied with Afghanistan, Iraq, and a financial
crisis at home, and the United Nations force in southern Lebanon is more
for show than anything else. There is a window of opportunity right now
for Syria to reestablish control over Lebanon. That window could close suddenly,
and Syria may well be positioning itself to act before time runs out.
“Be not overcome
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