Things to remember about the Sudan air strike

One big question about the Sudan air strike story is what exactly happened: we have an attack on a convoy of trucks, but no clear explanation of what was on those trucks, what kind of aircraft carried the attack, the nature of the victims/smugglers or even certainty on who carried out the attack, although it seems more likely that it was Israel rather than the US (or perhaps Israel with US logistical support.) These are the basics, which are still hazy. But if we accept that an attack took place, and that it was conducted by Israel, we still need to think carefully about the implications of this story prima facie. One important thing is that the story appears to validate accounts by the like of Elliott Abrams that Hamas is arming through the Rafah tunnels with weapons smuggled in from the Horn of Africa, through Sudan, and through Egypt where the trucks would presumably go along the Red Sea coast and enter Sinai. Remember that the idea of smuggling through Sudan and Egypt was first advanced last February by Abrams, as Jim Lobe noted. Love argued in a follow-up:
The more one looks into it, the more Elliott Abrams’ rendition of how Iran allegedly smuggles weapons to Hamas in Gaza via Somalia and Eritrea just gets weirder and weirder. Remember: he was Bush’s top Middle East adviser from December, 2002, until January 20 and, as such, had access to the most sensitive information available to the U.S. intelligence community. Yet he seems to be lending himself to an extraordinarily crude Israeli disinformation campaign in which Somalia, which is some 1500 miles from Gaza, is depicted as a key trans-shipment point for the alleged supply of weapons from Iran to Hamas.
Yet among some this is fast becoming gospel. The Cable reports:
"A Washington think tank expert on the Middle East said, ‘The Israelis have been complaining about this supply route for a long time. This gives credence to Israeli reports that Iran is trans-shipping weapons through Sudan and Egypt to Hamas. It would be impolitic for the Israelis to do this in Egypt. This is something the Egyptians have worried about: what happens if there is some sort of attack on Israel from Egyptian soil: what kind of action would Israel take?’ He speculated that the Israeli warplanes took off from the southern Israeli air base at Ovda, flew through the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba, down the Red Sea in between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and across and over into Sudanese air space. They reportedly struck the targeted convoy northwest of the city of Port Sudan, killing some 39 members of the 17-vehicle convoy. Responding to the media reports Thursday, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert didn’t try to dispel the impression that Israel had carried out the operation. ‘We operate everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure -- in close places, in places further away, everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure, we hit them and we hit them in a way that increases deterrence,' Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz cited him."
Following this Somalia-Sudan-Egypt route, they would encounter multiple checkpoints and be going through governorates controlled directly by the Egyptian military. Needless to say, the idea that Iran is supplying Hamas long-range rockets and other sophisticated equipment through Egypt (which has bad relations with Iran and Hamas) suggests that either: 1. These trucks, like other types of human or drug traffic coming from Sudan, are not being caught and there is a severe security hole in Egypt's traffic-control policies; 2. The trucks are getting through by corruption and bribery of officials they encounter, or benefit from the protection of someone up high, although these people may think the trucks contain something else entirely, like drugs; 3. The Egyptian regime, or some officials within it, are somehow complicit with the trafficking and arming of Hamas. All of these, and especially the latter, are pretty hard to swallow. Which takes us back to a key issue: what was really on those trucks? There is plenty of weapons smuggling taking place in Sudan, for sure, but can a major operation like this have taken place overland going through Egypt, which is obviously concerned about both arms-dealing on its territory and arming Hamas (after all recently they've stopped millions of dollars, and hundred of sheep, from being smuggled!) Does this appear more logical than, say, smuggling by sea as has been recently alleged over the Cyprus ship? What if the trucks that were destroyed are not in fact destined for Gaza, and the attack itself is part of a disinformation campaign aimed at sending a message to Iran? Or that at least the importance of the trucks and their content has been exaggerated? Too much of this story has not been verified. It may very well all turn out to make sense, but right now I would treat it with great caution until we have more information.
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On al-Shorouk

Jack Shenker has a timely article on al-Shorouk newspaper for The Arab Press Network, in which he interviews me:
"Although this has attracted criticism from opposition activists, some commentators see it as an important step towards the independent media in Egypt gaining the maturity, and thus credibility, it requires to thrive. 'Ibrahim El-Moalem [El-Shorouk's publisher], is not known as an opposition figure, or as someone who takes courageous stands against the government like Ibrahim Eissa [editor of Al-Dustour]' observed the Arabist, a prominent Egyptian blogger who has written extensively on the Egyptian media scene. 'He's going at it with a more professional point of view and a less lurid tone and I think that's what's needed in this market, where the tendency is to provide relentlessly negative coverage of the government.' If El-Shorouk's target readership is those still clinging to Al-Ahram, it couldn't have entered the fray at a better time. Three-quarters of Egyptian media remain under government control, but state newspapers are a sinking ship: publications are believed to be collectively in debt to the tune of LE 5-6 billion ($887m to $1.06bn), and morale is at rock bottom in the underpaid, overstaffed newsrooms (Al-Ahram alone employs 1400 journalists) where the standard of stories is often low. El-Shorouk has the money behind it to snap up the best columnists and has even struck syndication deals with international papers like the New York Times enabling it translate and publish some of their content, a move which some believe could transform it into a genuine challenger to the pan-Arab dailies like Al-Quds Al-Arabi and Asharq al-Awsat, both currently published from London. It remains to be seen though whether this attempt to expand the independent media market in a fresh direction will be enough to bring El-Shorouk long-term stability. For Hamdy Hassan, a media expert at the Al-Ahram institute, the problem with the new paper is not what it has done, but rather what it has failed to do. 'At a time when the average newspaper reader is getting older, what we needed was a really new outlook, a new language for editing that would bring more young people to the medium,' argues Dr Hassan. 'I expected El-Shorouk to provide all of that and prove competitive, but I'm afraid it hasn't. In other parts of the world the newspaper industry is innovating - audience research projects in America, new tabloid and hybrid formats in Britain - but El-Shorouk has proved to be essentially a copy of what is already on offer, and as a business model that will never be successful.' With a relative dearth of objective research into readership habits, it's hard to pinpoint how and why Egypt's newspaper readers make their daily purchasing choices. The Arabist believes that the ultimate triumph or failure of El-Shorouk will depend on its ability to pull out the big scoops. 'No one thought Al-Masry Al-Yom would last when it first launched, but it made its name by breaking stories no-one else had, especially around the time of parliamentary elections,' he says. 'We're not in an election period now but we do now have a 24 hour news cycle, where unlike before the independent press can break scandals and force the government to respond the same day. If El-Shorouk can become a part of that process then it will flourish; consistent, solid reporting will always create its own market.'"
Note the interview was given when I was still unsure about the Sudan attack story (it had been published that morning). And Jack, I'm not Egyptian! I’d like to add my own notes on al-Shorouk, out of interest for those who follow media development (where I have a little experience). Al-Shorouk took months of development amidst uncertainty about its editorial team and direction. It is probably still trying to find its voice and hit cruising speed, which should take one to two years (it is now less than two years old.) It is entering the market at a time when advertising revenue is, according to an industry figure I spoke to, down 40%. It has reportedly given high salaries in an industry that, in cases like al-Dustour and Sawt al-Umma (both run by Ibrahim Eissa and his proteges and owned by publisher Essam Fahmi, who honed down the model of sales-driven weeklies over the last decade) often follows the sweatshop model. A lot of investment has gone into it, and it will be interesting to see whether how long it takes to recoup that investment with this business model and the context of a financial crisis, especially when the market is full of parasitical newspapers. For one rival I spoke to, al-Shorouk is bound to fail editorially (no sense of mission - yet) and commercially (too much initial investment into marketing, salaries not commensurate with market, etc.) I am not entirely convinced: if al-Shorouk hits its stride, gets combination of big name commentary and solid reporting, it may succeed beyond current market leader (along with al-Ahram) Masri al-Youm. But I think it will need those few big stories that make its name, and the Sudan attack one could be one of those. As I told Jack, even in a market that has parasitical newspapers (i.e. that sell a couple of thousand of copies only), if you build a reputable news-driven product, they (the readers) will come.
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ADL thinks this cartoon is anti-Semitic

03429524-79FB-420F-80DC-3EDCBC395DBD.jpg Pat Oliphant cartoon gets ire of Abe Foxman:
The ADL's director called the syndicated cartoon, published Wednesday and reprinted below, "hideously anti-Semitic." "Pat Oliphant's outlandish and offensive use of the Star of David in combination with Nazi-like imagery is hideously anti-Semitic," Abraham Foxman said in a statement released Wednesday. "It employs Nazi imagery by portraying Israel as a jack-booted, goose-stepping headless apparition. The implication is of an Israeli policy without a head or a heart."
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Brilliant new plan for Hamas

Religious IDF troops walk out of event featuring woman singer - Haaretz - Israel News:
"About 100 religious soldiers left a Paratroop Brigade assembly earlier this month to avoid being present at the performance of a female singer, the army weekly Bamahane reported last week. Their departure stemmed from their belief that halakha, or Jewish religious law, prohibits them from hearing a woman sing. Their position has the support of the army rabbinate. "
So if, in future battles, Hamas starts blaring some Umm Kulthoum, or Fairuz, or Dana International, some of the IDF soldiers might run away? (Of course, the most salafist-inclined Hamas members may also have to leave to prevent impure thoughts coming into their heads if they hear a female voice.)
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Links for March 26th

Links from my del.icio.us account for March 26th:

  • A Matter of National Security - No time to blog about this, but there actually was a debate this year when the Egyptian parliament voted to waive approval of arms deals - giving the president the power to make them at his discretion, with no oversight.
  • Israel's Netanyahu doesn't expect U.S. policy pressure - washingtonpost.com - Bibi not worried: ""I think you are talking about something that I doubt existed for any length of time in the past and which I am convinced does not exist today," the hawkish Netanyahu told reporters in reply to a question about possible U.S. pressure."
  • Almasry Alyoum : Sufi Sheikhs Call For Foiling April 6 Strike And Describe Its Advocators As Dissenters - Sufis for dictatorship: "Mohamed el-Shahawi, Chairman of the five-party Committee managing the dissolved Supreme Council of Sufi Orders, said all Sufis in Egypt believed in obedience to the ruler (as stated by Islam) as long as he does not violate the Islamic Law." Note he feels compelled to say this as some kind of govt-backed reordering of Sufism is taking place.
  • Hamas accused of war crimes in Gaza | World news | guardian.co.uk - HRW says Hamas guilty of war crimes, but not of using civilian shields, unlike Israel: "It said Hamas deployed fighters in civilian homes during the conflict and fired rockets from bases close to civilian areas, both violations of international humanitarian law. Israel has claimed that Hamas frequently used Palestinians as human shields against Israeli attack, but Human Rights Watch said it could not find any such cases. It said its investigation had been limited because Israel had refused to grant its researchers access to Gaza."
  • Syria Comment » Archives » Khalid Michal Interview by Paul McGeough - Interview by author of "Kill Khalid" book.
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Reuters confirms Sudan air strike

Reuters is now independently confirming the Sudan air strike story:
Aircraft destroyed suspected Sudan arms convoy - officials | Reuters: "KHARTOUM, March 26 (Reuters) - Unidentified aircraft attacked a convoy of suspected arms smugglers as it drove through Sudan toward Egypt in January, killing almost everyone in the convoy, two senior Sudanese politicians said on Thursday. The politicians, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Reuters the strike took place in a remote area in east Sudan but did not say who carried it out. Media reports in Egypt and the United States have suggested U.S. or Israeli aircraft may have carried out the strike. Sudan's foreign minister Deng Alor told reporters in Cairo on Wednesday he had no information on any attack. Any public confirmation of a foreign attack would have a major impact in Sudan, where relations with the West are already tense following the International Criminal Court's decision this month to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of Darfur war crimes. Egyptian independent newspaper Al-Shorouk quoted 'knowledgeable Sudanese sources' this week as saying aircraft from the United States were involved in the strike, which it said killed 39 people. The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum on Thursday declined to comment. Sudan remains on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, but the State Department has said that Sudan is cooperating with efforts against militant groups. U.S.-based CBS News, however, reported on its website on Wednesday that its security correspondent had been briefed that Israeli aircraft had carried out an attack in eastern Sudan, targeting an arms delivery to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Gaza. A senior Israeli defence official on Thursday described the report as nonsense. "
Previously discussed here and here. Update: Haaretz provides analysis, taking as assumption that it was an Israeli strike. Watch out for this issue being raised in a few hours at the State Dept. Daily Press Briefing - although I suspect we'll hear more about this from off-the-record sources in the next few days.
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Links March 21st to March 26th

Links from my del.icio.us account for March 21st through March 26th:

  • The Big Takeover : Rolling Stone - Matt Taibbi does his expletive-filled best on the financial crisis.
  • The former Mossad analyst Clinton couldn't avoid | The Cable - Franklin affair spy is notetaker for Netanyahu. HRClinton tries to get him out of meeting, Bibi keeps him and kicks out his ambassador, who resigned. So why can't HRClinton just come out and say, as SecState I'd rather not talk in front of a person currently involved in an espionage scandal against the US?
  • What has Israel done for Jonathan Pollard lately? - Haaretz - Israel News - Israeli report laments that their spy has not been returned.
  • FT.com / Middle East - Riyadh confronts growing Shia anger - I am starting to look forward to the Dhahran uprising.
  • FT.com / Comment & analysis / Editorial - A Labour fig-leaf for Netanyahu - "When Ehud Barak defeated an ultra-nationalist coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel’s 1999 general election, there were whoops of joy, a collective sigh of relief and dancing in the streets. Ten years on, as Mr Barak tries to bolt his Labour party on to an even more rightwing coalition led by Mr Netanyahu, there is little more than a collective sneer. What happened in between was the slow-motion suicide of Labour, the party of Israel’s founding fathers, which now has so little influence on Israel’s future."
  • Palestinian children sing for Holocaust survivors - But when will more Holocaust survivors, and their descendants, stop Israel from exploiting their tragedy?
  • Who Is Really Closing Rafah Crossing? - Reportby Israeli human rights groups say that Egypt has a responsibility to open Rafah to alleviate Israel's blockade. [PDF]
  • Rain of Fire | Human Rights Watch - HRW's report on the use of white phosphorus during Israel's bombing of Gaza: "The unlawful use of white phosphorus was neither incidental nor accidental. It was repeated over time and in different locations, with the IDF "air-bursting" the munition in populated areas up to the last days of its military operation. Even if intended as an obscurant rather than as a weapon, the IDF's repeated firing of air-burst white phosphorus shells from 155mm artillery into densely populated areas was indiscriminate and indicates the commission of war crimes."
  • The mother of all media leaks - Wikileaks - Disgruntled employee leaks salaries of The National staff - I would not want to be in that newsroom when you find out the guy next to you who does the same job has a different salary than you.
  • Armando Iannucci on the making of In the Loop | Film | The Observer - Iannucci is the comic genius behind many of the best British comedy shows in recent years: "I went into meetings with financiers and distributors carrying nothing but a pitch in my head. "I want to make a comedy about what happens when the US president and the British PM are very keen on a course of military action in the Middle East that no one else thinks is a good idea. We watch everyone under them wonder what to do." That was it, basically."
  • Tunisian pilot who prayed as his plane went down jailed in Italy | World news | The Guardian - "A pilot accused of praying when he should have been taking emergency measures to avoid a crash in which 16 people died has been sentenced to 10 years in jail by an Italian court." Reminiscent of the conspiracy theory about the EgyptAir flight that went down on the US Atlantic coast in the 1990s. Still this story is relating the normal response to an emergency, he may have panicked, but invoking God (in any religion) does not make it worse.
  • Zionism is the problem - Los Angeles Times - "Yet it is no longer possible to believe with an honest conscience that the deplorable conditions in which Palestinians live and die in Gaza and the West Bank come as the result of specific policies, leaders or parties on either side of the impasse. The problem is fundamental: Founding a modern state on a single ethnic or religious identity in a territory that is ethnically and religiously diverse leads inexorably either to politics of exclusion (think of the 139-square-mile prison camp that Gaza has become) or to wholesale ethnic cleansing. Put simply, the problem is Zionism."
  • Islam's Soft Revolution - Photo Essays - TIME - There really is something offensive about the TIME mag photo gallery that is all impressed that a woman wearing the hijab is a political activist. It's 2009, TIME, where have you been?
  • Daily News Egypt - IN FOCUS: CAN OBAMA TALK TO THE BROTHERHOOD? - Khalil al-Anani: "I believe that the real motive for the non-existence of American dialogue with the Brotherhood is the American administration’s fear of upsetting the Egyptian regime, and the desire to maintain the historical alliance between the two sides on one hand, and the fear of upsetting Israel and maintaining its interests on the other."
  • Netanyahu, Labor Set Coalition in Israel - WSJ.com - Coalition could face challenge from Labor rebels that would bring it right down the middle of the Knesset.
  • FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - Dubai’s art fair defies gloomiest forecasts - Budding Dubai art world does well despite downturn.
  • Season of Migration to the North - NYRB Classics - Page for the forthcoming new edition of the al-Tayib Salih's classic novel, with a new intro by Laila Lalami.
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CBS says Israel, not US, behind Sudan strike

More on that alleged air strike in Sudan targeting weapons shipments to Gaza: - The Sudan Tribune said yesterday it was the US, but today that it's Israel based on a report by the American TV network CBS. - Haaretz carries the CBS story and says it's part of the MOU on arms smuggling inked between the US and Israel at the end of Operation Cast Lead. The Haaretz article adds:
Meanwhile, in May, an international conference is scheduled to take place in Ottawa, the third of its kind since the end of Operation Cast Lead, which will discuss how to prevent arms smuggling from Iran to the Gaza Strip. In addition to host Canada, Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Denmark, the U.S. and Israel will also take part. Immediately after the conference a "war game" is scheduled to take place in Washington, with the participation of security officials and diplomats from the countries involved. The "war game" will practice a scenario of foiling arms smuggling from Iran to the Gaza Strip. The most recent conference took place in London a week ago and the countries cooperating in blocking the arms smuggling from Iran formulated a joint plan of operations. The plan includes the signing of a series of bilateral agreements with countries situated along the path of the smugglers, as well as countries whose commercial fleets carry cargo from Iran elsewhere.
One interesting thing in the Sudan Tribune article is that it said something about the planes coming from Djibouti. That would put the French on the suspect list too! At least it now appears that an air strike did happen (although casualty reports are around 40, not 300) - and confirms the reports from intelligence circles that the smuggling route for Hamas' weapons is indeed from or through Sudan, through Egypt (a whole other story: how do they keep under the radar, especially in Sinai?), possibly originating from the horn of Africa.
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al-Shorouk's story on secret Sudan raids

The relatively new Egyptian newspaper al-Shorouk has been making some news yesterday, reporting that the US air force had been engaged in a series of attacks against convoys of trucks carrying arms in Eastern Sudan. The destination of the trucks, apparently, was Gaza via Sinai. Needless to say this is a huge story, not only because it would appear to confirm allegations that Hamas is obtaining Iranian-purchased arms via Sudan (and probably originally Djibouti) and that they are being smuggled through Sinai and the Rafah tunnels. It followed up on the story today alleging that US Air Force raids had claimed 300 lives. The reason we've never heard about any of this, apparently, is that the US is not advertising the operations, the al-Bashir regime in Khartoum has declared a media blackout, and Egypt is respecting the blackout but keeping a close eye since this involves major arms traffic (it's an old route, once used by the French poet Rimbaud) going through its territory. Today al-Shorouk said that an Egyptian intelligence agent visited the area to verify the issue. I've been talking about this with a few people who closely follow the news yesterday and we're all rather skeptical at this point. Some of the Egyptian press (not necessarily al-Shorouk though, as far as I know) has a bad reputation for pulling things out of thin air or basing them on unreliable disinformation websites like Debka. This would be a huge, world scoop if it turns out to be true, involving so many of the region's hottest issues: arms trade, illegal US operations, Hamas' supply line, Iran, Sudan and its recently indicted president. The story also assumes that a convoy of trucks carrying weapons (presumably the Grad rockets Hamas is launching against Israel) are able to make their way through Egypt, which seems impossible without the cooperation of the government or serious wasta up high. (That being said, drugs use the same route, and small arms did come from Sudan during the Islamist insurrection of the 1980s and 1990s.) So basically, either al-Shorouk got it wrong, or it has revealed the first secret military actions of the Obama administration to control the arms smuggling to Gaza issue - as the Bush administration had promised Israel in the MOU it signed in mid-January. I'm a skeptic, but I'll be watching how this develops.
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The curse of the voodoo SMS

Ya lahwy:
CAIRO (AFP) — The Egyptian government has sought to dispel rumours that a mobile phone text message "from unknown foreign quarters" is spreading around the country and killing those who receive it. The extraordinary move by Egypt's health and interior ministries follows press reports that an SMS containing a special combination of numbers killed a man in the town of Mallawi south of Cairo. "He died vomiting blood,followed by stroke, shortly after he received a message from an unknownphone number," the Egyptian Gazette reported on Wednesday. "The number begins with the symbol (+) and ends with (111)," it said. An "official security source" was quoted by the official MENA news agency as denying that those who receive the SMS "get splitting headaches followed by brain haemorrhage that leads to death." A statement from the health ministry quoted health officials in several regions as saying that they had "received no cases with such symptoms" "These rumours contradict all scientific facts," the statement said. Egypt's interior ministry has detained three workers at an oil company for allegedly starting the rumours "and they are now being interrogated," MENA said.
via AFP: Egypt tries to hang up on killer SMS rumours.
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Obama

Is is just me, or is it still surprising to see an American president that is articulate and can handle a press conference with grace and intelligence? Maybe I don't watch TV news often enough, but I am still taken aback every time I see Obama by how well he wears his title. Unlike his predecessor, and in many respects better than Clinton. I like this:
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama continues to face fallout from the outrage over bonuses paid to executives at AIG, which is 80% owned by the government and has received billions in federal bailout money. Asked why he did not go public with his outrage as soon as he learned of the retention bonuses at AIG, the president snapped, "I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak." The president hit on a new theme for his administration: Persistence. He said the election of a conservative government in Israel, with a prime minister skeptical of a Palestinian state made the prospects for peace "not easier than it was." But, he said, as with his domestic efforts, he will soldier on. "That whole philosophy of persistence, by the way, is one that I'm going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come, as long as I am in this office," he concluded. "I'm a big believer in persistence."
(That's probably how he got Michelle to date him.) And I say this as I disagree with some of the stuff he's done (on the economy) and wish he would get his act together and set up a Middle East foreign policy team and plan already! It would be particularly interesting to get confirmation that Hosni Mubarak will be making his first trip stateside in five years in May, as much of the Egyptian press has assumed with the recent Gamal Mubarak and Omar Suleiman visits to DC. Will Obama make Mubarak persona non grata? Will he force issues on the agenda that will make Mubarak not want to come (his original problem with Bush). Will there be any new policy departure on the question of democracy promotion in Egypt, which in 2004-2005 was arguably the flagship for the policy in the Arab world? Update: Muhammad Salah discusses this in al-Hayat.
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Fundamentalism in Israel's army

It's been a while since I agreed with Christopher Hitchens on anything else than the theory of evolution:
"Peering over the horrible pile of Palestinian civilian casualties that has immediately resulted, it's fairly easy to see where this is going in the medium-to-longer term. The zealot settlers and their clerical accomplices are establishing an army within the army so that one day, if it is ever decided to disband or evacuate the colonial settlements, there will be enough officers and soldiers, stiffened by enough rabbis and enough extremist sermons, to refuse to obey the order. Torah verses will also be found that make it permissible to murder secular Jews as well as Arabs. The dress rehearsals for this have already taken place, with the religious excuses given for Baruch Goldstein's rampage and the Talmudic evasions concerning the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Once considered highly extreme, such biblical exegeses are moving ever closer to the mainstream. It's high time the United States cut off any financial support for Israel that can be used even indirectly for settler activity, not just because such colonization constitutes a theft of another people's land but also because our Constitution absolutely forbids us to spend public money on the establishment of any religion."
Hat tip: Mango Girl.
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A message from the Israeli tourist board

I can't resist interjecting some facts for prospective tourists for Israel who are lured by this video that's lately been aired in the US: Actually, if you visit Israel, there is a good chance that YOU WILL DIE. It's not just the suicide bombings, stray rockets, crazed bulldozer operators and various types of assassins. It's also the head-fucked IDF soldiers, rabidly anti-gentile Jewish fundamentalists, settlers and crazy Russian mob types. Even if they don't kill you, they are generally rather unpleasant: just look at the customer service at those electronics stores in New York City. You know this is the place where Armageddon Hill is located, and where the Messiah is set to fight the undead armies of the Anti-Christ. Why take the chance when the Bahamas are sunnier, France has better food and Morocco more oriental exotica than you could possibly ever need? And on top of it there's a chance you'll be given a full-body cavity search at the airport. No really, that does happen. Frequently. That doesn’t happen in Mayorca, does it? Or Buenos Aires. "No one belongs here more than you" they say at the end of the ad. Well, why not let millions of ethnically cleansed Palestinians have a go first, and come back when they've sorted that out. P.S. I remember the old ad, "Have a ball... in Israel" was a much better jingle, especially to the tune of "Hava Nagila". Great song, that.
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Qatar

I've long been fascinated with Qatar's foreign policy in recent years, which appears to be driven by a need to hedge its bets (hosting a US military base, good relations with Iran, funding al-Jazeera, pissing off the Saudis every now and then...) and the personalities of its emir and his cousin the foreign minister. Here are some recent articles that highlight how perilous the acrobatic acts from Doha are starting to look like, particularly as we see a major Egyptian-Saudi push for "Arab unity" at the upcoming Doha summit (unity, that is, behind the Egyptian initiative to reconcile Hamas and Fatah, with the latter having the upper hand.) All this as gas prices plummet and sovereign funds pause to take stock of the global financial crisis... That last article points out Qatar is still set to see high GDP growth and is secure as the world's first supplier of liquified natural gas. Still, if European demand significantly weakens, and the infant world LNG market hits its first glut. One thing that's still not clear to me is the answer to the question -- beyond remaining secure from Saudi influence - what does Qatar want?
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Abu Dhabi's investment in manufacturing

Interesting take in the FT on Abu Dhabi’s goals in investing in major manufacturing companies:
"But what makes Abu Dhabi unlike not just its sister and competitor emirates but pretty much everywhere in the Arab world is its peculiar devotion to manufacturing. Much of its oil wealth is being used to start industries from scratch: in cars and aerospace, components and chips. As well as Daimler, it has invested in companies such as GE, Rolls-Royce, EADS and Advanced Micro Devices. This may look quixotic, yet invariably these stakes come with local training and manufacturing commitments. Along with reform of local education, the goal is to use manufacturing to create skills and a culture of innovation – much more than to establish new branches of old industries. This at least tries to offer an alternative to the usual model in the Gulf – where the public sector employs the bulk of nationals – or the trading company model common in most other Arab countries. Some 40 years ago, the Syrian philosopher Sadek al-Azm wrote a famous critique of the mind-set underlying serial Arab defeats. Arabs, he said, have become removed from the social and economic processes that make innovation and scientific breakthroughs possible. Abu Dhabi, it seems, wants to create, not just consume."
If you have the cash and a taste for risk, this is a great time to mop up depressed stocks in companies that are fundamentally sound or have a great body of unique know-how. I'm still curious to see exactly how Abu Dhabi is convincing these companies to set up manufacturing centers in the emirates, and whether that makes sense (in trade logistics terms, it just might...)
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Links for March 21st

Links from my del.icio.us account for March 21st:

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