This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Foreign Interference?

"While the party was facing serious accusations, they tolerated the people responsible and ordered disciplinary action against those who were trying to get them to reason. They have made my decision easier. The party has evolved into two different wings; the wide base of people who have been oppressed and an overbearing mentality on the top. This mentality has no chance now. At this point, those people who have this mentality are sailing to somewhere else, guided by their arrogance. We have come to the point of a parting of the ways."
Ertugrul Gunay, MP, Turkish Justice and Development Party

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to his supporters at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul on Friday. Anadolu Agency / European Pressphoto Agency
The interesting thing in all of this is that Turkey, once known as a link between Europe and the Middle East, Islam and Christianity, with its secular government despite its Muslim ideology, attempted to emulate European democracy without the emphasis on the lens of Islam. The Ataturk vision for Turkey was to liberate government and society from the focus of Islam infusing everything with its religious and political ideology. And that direction propelled Turkey into the modern era.

The country, and its military, from whence Kamel Ataturk had sprung with his modernist vision, was determined never again to allow Islam to dominate. The Turkish military successfully intervened on four occasions to prevent Islamist parties from coming to government power. Until the advent of one party, considered by many to be "moderate", but yet an Islamist party. Which initially came to power on a tentative Islamic bent which seemed nonthreatening to the secular order.

But which, as it gained traction and greater public appeal through a succession of three elections and economic prosperity came up with a majority last time around, giving Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the confidence to forge ahead. And he did that by consolidating the position of Islam within society and government, overturning generations of secularization processes. And most of all he succeeded by charging the military elite with treason, effectively emasculating their power base.

Secular-oriented Turks were anything but content with the growing visual evidence of Islam in their formerly secular society. The Erdogan government harassed and persecuted the news media critical of their governing style. And growing confidence stimulated Prime Minister Erdogan to exercise greater authority; in fact adopting an authoritarian style that incensed opposition to his perceived mandate to bring Islam back to the fore in Turkey.

The Justice and Development Party portrayed itself as pure and unblemished by corruption, vowing to cleanse government of all corruption. Because he hasn't endeared himself to the entire population, while still holding a majority status among those in favour of growing Islamism, he has come under fire for some of his administrative decisions, and protests in the summer demonstrated just how unpopular his political governing party was seen by a segment of the population.

Now, it has been revealed that the once-pure-political party headed by Mr. Erdogan may be anything but. Associates; offspring of three of his ministers were the subject, among others, including the CEO of the state-owned Halkbank, of a long investigation. That investigation resulted in charges and arrests, hugely embarrassing to the government. The payment of bribes smoothing the way to illegal imports of gas and oil from Iran using gold bullion to aid the country despite international sanctions hasn't reflected well on the government.

An investigation into these illegal activities that began over a year earlier was a secret intelligence initiative, kept from Mr. Erdogan and his associates. This fact alone has infuriated him. Leading to the removal of 70 police officers for daring to initiate such an investigation without the consent of Cabinet. All such future enquiries, claims the government, must be reported. That government order has not seen favour by the country's highest administrative court. A rift has emerged between government, police, and the judiciary.

Demonstrators set up barricades as they clash with riot police during an anti-government protest in central Istanbul December 27, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Seze

This authoritative, quasi-democratic government has taken to disciplining members of the government party who have openly criticized the party and government leadership. The result has been a number of Cabinet members choosing to leave their posts in protest, like Ertugrul Gunay.. Leaving Mr. Erdogan increasingly looking as though he is in trouble, even though those in the know insist he will weather the situation, just one of a number his rule has been exposed to.

As for Prime Minister Erdogan, a man who likes to spread blame around at any time, and who once someone is in his bad books, they remain there; the investigation, he charged furiously, was originally engineered by his political opponents. And those political opponents have behind them foreign agencies interfering in his country's affairs. A quite intolerable situation.


A contention that completely ignores the reality that the once-and-still-popular, but increasingly beleaguered AKP party and its leader, Prime Minister Erdogan are facing a backlash resulting from his increasingly authoritarian behaviour.

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Reality versus Fiction? or Reality and Fiction

"The biggest issue is that some see Britain as a soft touch. They assume people will want to come here because they'll get an easy ride here."
Victoria Honeyman, University of Leeds politics lecturer

Britain has a very well developed social security safety network. In fact, those on welfare and living in assisted housing very often live with more financial ease than the working poor. But that is Britain's system, one the government is doubtless proud of maintaining, despite the criticisms that often come their way. After all, even those people who do migrate to Britain because they wish to take advantage of its generosity could go elsewhere, to the Scandinavian countries, for example, for similar generous treatment.

How to nudge people off the public teat when they are capable of extending themselves to find remunerative work to enable them to live independently of welfare is another matter altogether. Why should they when they feel they are entitled to any and all social welfare as a result of having had the intelligence of cupidity-sans-labour by making such an entitled selection? Where former grand estates have been turned over to large, and burgeoning families whose birth-rates far exceed that of other Brits.

"We're importing a crime wave from Romania and Bulgaria", blasted a British headline. They were quoting a Conservative Member of Parliament who informed that august body (the British Parliament) that most pickpockets trawling the streets of the country were from Romania. This is typical tabloid fare, and it appears to be working very well. No one actually has an idea how many Romanians and Bulgarians will end up filtering through to Britain, but the generous welfare state is certainly seen as a draw.

Both countries joined the EU in 2007, resulting in over 100,000 migrants already working in Britain under work restrictions limiting jobs access and state benefits. But those restrictions are set to be lifted in two days' time -- January 1 -- granting migrants from both countries similar rights as other EU nations, enabling them to live and work freely across Europe's wide swath of EU membership. And since Britain, although it chafes at certain infringements on its sovereignty as a EU member, is a member it must abide by its general rules.

In 2004 when Poland and other former countries aligned with communism under the USSR joined the EU it was estimated that several thousand would make their way to Britain. A swell of a whopping one million Poles made that transition. But since that time there has been an acknowledgement that the country's economy was aided by their working presence. That fact hasn't worked to ameliorate fears of a pending invasion of Bulgarians and Romanians.

Countries of Eastern Europe are known to be relatively impoverished. The most sadly impoverished demographic that of the Roma. And those same tabloid items accuse the Roma living in Britain currently of a wide range of social ills, including eating cats and conducting an illegal baby market. That, opposed to the statement by the Center for Economics and Business Research that migration is one factor to aid Britain eclipse Germany to become the most robust economy by 2030 in Europe.

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Hamas rejects terror label of Egypt Islamists

Reuters , Tuesday 31 Dec 2013
Ahram online
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi meets with Gaza-based Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo to discuss Palestinian reconciliation, 17 June. (Photo: AP)
The Palestinian group Hamas condemned on Tuesday Egypt's designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group last week, reaffirming its solidarity with the ousted movement despite a crippling blockade imposed by Cairo.

Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas Gaza government, also snubbed calls by some rival Palestinian factions to sever its connections with the Brotherhood.

"We reject such a classification for the Muslim Brotherhood group. No one, regardless of its influence, can push Hamas or any of the Palestinian resistance factions to abandon their ideology, abandon their history," Haniyeh told reporters.

Egyptian prosecutors and officials say the Muslim Brotherhood has links with domestic Islamist militants who have stepped up attacks on security forces across the country.

They also accuse the group of plotting violence along with Islamist groups from neighbouring countries, Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah.

Hamas, founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been seen as a major loser from the July 3rd ouster and arrest of elected Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who belonged to the Brotherhood.

Since then, tension has grown between Hamas and the army-backed Cairo government, and curbs on trade to Gaza mounted.

"We seek to reaffirm that we do not intervene in Egyptian internal affairs. Egypt cannot do without us and we cannot do with Egypt. These historical, geographic and security links can never be severed," Haniyeh added.

Cairo has stepped up a campaign against Hamas near its Gaza border by closing almost 1,200 smuggling tunnels that used to provide an economic life-line for the territory, home to 1.8 million people.

Neighbouring Israel has also maintained a tight blockade of the enclave since Hamas took over in a brief, bloody civil war in 2007 after winning parliamentary polls the previous year.

Hamas has refused to renounce its armed struggle against Israel and is itself designated a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

But Haniyeh said Hamas maintained nearly daily contacts with Egyptian authorities over the movement of people through their joint border, as well as a November 2012 ceasefire with Israel.

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Exclusive: US “framework” calls for 80,000 Israeli West Bank evacuations to the big settlement blocs

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 31, 2013, 9:34 AM (IDT)
John Kerry after Geneva accord with Iran
John Kerry after Geneva accord with Iran
The State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington Tuesday, Dec. 31, that Secretary John Kerry would discuss with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas a “proposed framework” to serve as “a guideline for addressing all core issues” in the decades-long dispute. 
“Some people say this would be an interim agreement. No, that’s not the case,” she said. The core issues she listed were “borders between Israel and a future Palestine, security arrangements, the fate of Palestinian refugees and conflicting claims to the holy city of Jerusalem.”

Kerry leaves for Israel and Ramallah on New Year’s Day to continue his shuttle, after Monday night, Dec. 30, Israel released from jail 26 Palestinian terrorists serving life sentences for murder.

debkafile reported earlier that the US Secretary does not expect Israeli and Palestinian leaders to approve the proposed framework – only to contribute their comments. We also reported that Abbas had indicated to the Secretary that that Palestinians were preparing to reject his proposals by demanding their referral to the various pan-Arab forums.

DEBKA Weekly No. 616 of Dec. 20 was first to divulge the nine points of the unpublished draft Kerry planned to present to Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week. Since then, certain amendments were introduced - especially in relation to Israel’s military presence in the Jordan Valley and Judea and Samaria.  The document continues to be molded by Kerry’s ongoing back-and-forth communications with the two parties.

Nevertheless, the nine points disclosed hereunder stand as the basic guidelines of the proposed US framework:

Israel hands over 92.8 pc of West Bank to Palestinians

1. Nearly all its content draws on the proposal Ehud Olmert, then Prime Minister, submitted to Abbas on Aug. 31, 2008, which he never accepted; nor was it approved by any Israeli authority.

2. Territory:  Israel will annex 6.8% of the West Bank including the four main settlement blocs of Gush Etzion with Efrata; Maale Adummim; Givat Zeev; and Ariel, as well as all of the “settlements” of East Jerusalem and Har Homa - in exchange for the equivalent of 5.5% of Israeli territory.

3. The Safe Passage:  The territorial link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would cut through southern Israel and remain under Israeli sovereignty and Palestinian control.

Our sources add that out of all other options, the American sponsors of the accord prefer to build an express railway line from Gaza to Hebron, without stops, which would be paid for by Washington. Abbas has already informed John Kerry that he wants the train to go all the way to Ramallah.

There will be a special road connecting Bethlehem with Ramallah that bypasses East Jerusalem. This is mostly likely the same route currently planned to go around Maaleh Adummim.

Since the safe passage will cross through Israeli, accounting for 1% of its territory, this area will be deducted from the land Israel concedes, leaving 4.54% for the land swap with the Palestinians.

4. Jerusalem:  East Jerusalem will be divided territorially along the lines of the Clinton Parameters with the exception of the “Holy Basin,” which comprises 0.04% of the West Bank.

Sovereignty over this ancient heart of Jerusalem, with its unique and historic concentration of Jewish, Christian and Muslim shrines, will pass to an international commission comprised of the US, Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

5. Refugees:  This issue will be addressed according to guidelines proposed by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in the year 2000 - and rejected by Yasser Arafat.

An International Foundation will be established to resettle the bulk of the Palestinian refugees in Canada and Australia, except for a small portion to be accepted in Israel in the framework of family reunification.

6. Security:  The Olmert package made no mention of security. However the Kerry draft deals extensively with this issue and Israel’s concerns. It calls for the evacuation of all 10,000 Jewish settlers from the Jordan Valley leaving behind a chain of posts along the Jordan River. Security corridors cutting through the West Bank will maintain their land and operational links with Israel.

Border crossings will be set up between Palestine and Jordan with an Israeli security presence. The security section of the draft assigns the use of West Bank and Gaza airspace by Israel and the Palestinians. There will be no Israeli military presence inside the Palestinian state.

7. Taxes: The present arrangement for Israel to collect customs levies and distribute the revenues to the Palestinians will continue. (debkafile: That is about the only clause which the Palestinians accept.) Israel will carry out security checks on goods bound for Palestinian that are unloaded at Haifa and Ashdod ports, and levy customs at rates fixed by the Palestinians to be disbursed in the Palestinian state.

8. Settlements:  Eighty percent of all Jewish settlers on the West Bank will be confined to the major settlement blocs as defined in 2. The remaining 20% amounting, according to American calculations to 80,000 people, will have to decide on their own whether they prefer to stay where they are under Palestinian rule or move to Israel.

debkafile’s sources report that Secretary Kerry advised the Israeli Prime Minister bluntly that he need not promise to force settlers to leave their homes - as the Sharon government did when he executed the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Netanyahu replied that it was unacceptable for Israel to abandon the settlers to their fate. He therefore proposed that instead of forcing them to cross back into Israel, they would be absorbed in the larger settlement blocs remaining under Israeli sovereignty.

9. Timelines:  Different timetables are proposed in the US framework for implementing different sections: The Palestinian leader says he is willing to give Israel three years as a transition period for relocating settlers.

When he submitted the paper to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders earlier this month, the Secretary of State told them that he saw no point in the two negotiating teams holding meetings consumed by interminable debates on one point or another. He therefore asked both parties to henceforth send him their comments in writing.

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Volgograd blasts: Putin vows to 'annihilate terrorists'

BBC News online -- 31 December 2013
A relative grieves over the coffin of a victim of the Volgograd attacks, 31 December The funerals have begun in Volgograd following two suicide attacks on Sunday and Monday
Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to fight "terrorists until their complete annihilation", in his first comment on two suicide attacks in the southern city of Volgograd.
The attacks, on Sunday and Monday, claimed a total of 34 lives.

Thousands of police are patrolling public transport and checking traffic in the city following the attacks, which injured some 60 people.

The first victim has been buried - a policeman killed at the train station.
No group has said it carried out the attacks, which Russian investigators believe are connected. They are similar to previous indiscriminate attacks by Islamist militants operating from the North Caucasus.


Volgograd's streets are buzzing with special buses that carry police and military patrols. Soldiers are in full battle gear with helmets and bulletproof vests.
At the entrance to a large shopping mall police asked everyone to open their bags and unbutton coats. Everyone was treated with respect and people, mostly sales assistants queuing to get inside, were very patient.
However, one could immediately see many issues here. How long will the queue be when the shopping mall opens to the public? Is not such a gathering of people in a single place a security problem?
Some residents say new security measures, however chaotic, bring some relief. Others are quite sceptical. They doubt that policemen and soldiers will be able to find a bomber in the crowd. But almost everyone I spoke to said they wished these measures had been introduced in October, after the first bomb attack on a bus.
Volgograd, a city of one million known as Stalingrad during World War II, commemorated the 70th anniversary of the battle of the same name this year, in an outpouring of Russian patriotic fervour.

The bombing of the railway station on Sunday and the attack on a trolleybus on Monday came days before the New Year holiday - one of Russia's biggest celebrations - and just over a month before the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

In a New Year address in the eastern city of Khabarovsk, Mr Putin said: "We bow our heads in front of the victims of the terrible acts of terror.
"We will fiercely and consistently continue the fight against terrorists until their complete annihilation."

More than 5,000 officers were deployed on Tuesday morning, regional security spokesman Andrei Pilipchuk said.
Extra reserves and the "maximum number of police and interior ministry soldiers possible" were being brought in, he said.

As many as 600 police officers from the city were recently transferred to Sochi, 688km (428 miles) to the south-west, to help with preparation for the Games which begin on 7 February, Reuters news agency reports.

Events for New Year's Eve, such as children's parties, have been cancelled in the city, while residents have been asked not to set off fireworks.
A policewoman speaks to a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Volgograd, 31 December Here, a policewoman speaks to a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Volgograd on Tuesday. 
The death toll rose overnight as a person wounded in Sunday's attack on the station died of their injuries, bringing the total fatalities in that attack to 18.
Another person injured in Monday's attack on a trolleybus also died, bringing that toll to 16.


The Motherland Calls
  • Struck by suspected suicide bombers three times in two months
  • Formerly known as Stalingrad, it was the scene of the bloodiest battle in World War II and has a deep symbolism for Russia
  • One of the biggest cities near the troubled North Caucasus region
  • A main transport hub between Moscow and Southern Russia
The first victim to be buried on New Year's Eve was transport policeman Dmitry Makovkin, 29, killed at a metal detector in the station, where the suicide bomber set off the device.

Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral. His commander hailed Mr Makovkin as a hero who possibly prevented greater loss of life by preventing attackers from entering the station.
A second victim was being buried on Tuesday and funerals are due to continue through the holiday period.

Investigators believe a male suicide attacker bombed the trolleybus and are studying fragments of his body in an effort to identify him. Police sources say the attack on the station may also have been the work of a male bomber.

Identical shrapnel was used in the bombs, according to Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee.

Analysts say the prime suspect for the attack is likely to be Doku Umarov, a fugitive Islamist militant leader from Chechnya.

He has orchestrated previous bomb attacks on Russian civilian targets, and vowed in July that his fighters would use "any means possible" to keep Mr Putin from staging the Sochi Games.


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Monday, December 30, 2013

Vigilante-State Security

Now there's a situation one doesn't see in the West. Government urging powerful families, tribal entities holding social prominence and political power, to range themselves alongside government police and military to fend off the counter-attacks by a determined and defiant Muslim Brotherhood, with its own tribal and clan affiliates most among the poor and the dispossessed, the students inflamed to uphold strict Islamic ideals, and the battle is joined.

In the 1990s an Islamic insurgency mounted against then-President Hosni Mubarak saw the establishment of "popular committees" where ruling party members, parliamentarians and prominent government allies called on their extended family relationships to incite action against the militants in towns and cities. Those tactics had their success, and they've been resurrected.

Support among the religiously fundamentalist Egyptian masses for the Muslim Brotherhood remains strong.

And the clerics and the elite among the Muslim Brotherhood call upon their supporters to make their voices heard in rejection of the removal of Mohammad Morsi, and the Brotherhood from government control and power. Armed civilians from anti-Islamist and pro-government families have been encouraged to do the loyal thing for their country. Egypt needs all the support it can get for its security forces.

Armed civilians now help guard police stations, Coptic churches and other targets. They gather to confront pro-Morsi rallies. This represents an important pact reached between Egypt's security apparatus and the influential clans in the south, the most conservative geography of Egypt with its strong heritage of inter-family feuding and Islamist militancy.

Conscription of these civilian assets is vital in countering the popular appeal of the Brotherhood among the masses.

These families capable of mounting their own casual, non-state militias are given free reign to act, armed with light weaponry to face off with Islamists. There is a reward at the end of the conflict,  one that inspires these families to act at the behest of the government agents. Authorities will be prepared to support candidates from those participating families in future parliamentary elections on the near horizon.

Molotov-hurling students protesting on behalf of the Brotherhood, chanting against the military and police at the Islamic Al-Azhar University were chased by riot police. Islamist protesters tossing Molotov cocktails at security forces in Alf Maskan were met on site by civilians hurling stones working for the police side. Three police vehicles were torched, 265 protesters arrested.

And any participants in Brotherhood rallies, having by their presence more than amply declared their association with the now-declared terrorist group will be taken into custody, sentenced to five years in prison. They face the prospect of seeing armed civilians posted at demonstration sites. And their speedy apprehension, charge and imprisonment by security authorities.

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Repeating The Past

"We condemn the assassination of former minister Mohammed Chatah and condemn acts of violence and murder, but [hope] they don't lead to more war and devastation damaging our homeland."
Nijib Mikati, [caretaker] Lebanese Prime Minister

"The criminal is the same, he who is thirsty for the blood of Syrians is the same one spilling Lebanese blood ... from Beirut to Tripoli ... in all of Lebanon, the criminal is the same, he and his Lebanese allies, as in Daraa, Aleppo, Damascus and all of Syria."
Fouad Siniora, Lebanese opposition group March 14, former Lebanese prime minister
Lebanon is very well aware of its history. That old adage of those not recognizing history repeating it, is a well-founded one, but not always apt. George Santana may have coined a hugely repeated warning in "those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it", but failure to take into account human nature, tribal antipathies, and religious and sectarian blight may see history repeat itself while those involved remain fully cognizant of the horrors of the recent past.

Those horrors saw Lebanese Christians, Shiites, Sunnis and Druze, and Palestinian refugees all at war with one another, committing horrendous atrocities against one another, and against the intruding UN, US, Israeli and Syrian militaries, there ostensibly to aid Lebanese to refrain from slaughtering one another, and all failing in their self-appointed missions.

During that time of unmitigated chaos in a horrific spiral into ongoing conflict, Iran's Revolutionary Guard guided Hezbollah into creation as Martyrs for Allah. The new martyrdom-inspired militia surprised all with its vehement violence. Mounting well-planned and meticulously-executed mass bombings that shocked its targets, targets that had no idea what or who had hit them.

And it is that Iranian-inspired jihadist mission that has succeeded in driving the rift within Lebanon more deeply, widely and brutally than the inhibiting memory of past massacres that Lebanese inflicted on one another that remains to this day, and which is propelling Lebanon into another wider schism with a cataclysmic upheaval in the offing.

The more determined, better trained and armed Hezbollah with its vast superiority in all the indices reflecting the success of a military campaign, to the Lebanese military capabilities threatens the final imbalance. Lebanon is in a very hard place indeed; incapable of disarming the most powerful non-state militia in the country, and now anticipating what appears inevitable; a final clash between the political religion-driven sects.

With Hezbollah's Iran-encited entry into the Syrian civil war, another civil war is being introduced to Lebanon. The wounds of the civil war that ended in the 1990s are still raw, chafing and barely scabbed over in the past with living ghosts surrounding the entire country, and now it is being threatened by divisions within itself to plunge the country once again into raw and bloody conflict.

The wave of bombings that have struck Lebanon over the past months reflect the tensions rising over the civil war in Syria. Hezbollah arming itself on the border with Israel, again. The bomb blast that took place on Friday taking the life of Mohammed Chatah, once senior aide to both Saad Hariri and his father Rafik Hariri, and which occurred close to where the truck bomb blasted that killed the senior Hariri, wounding over 70 people and killed five.

This is Shiite Hezbollah giving its pay-back to the verbal and political assaults from a Sunni politician. The earlier blasts struck areas of the country held by Hezbollah and its Shia supporters. And now, Saudi Arabia has entered the fray in the most conspicuous manner possible, rushing to the aid of the Sunni Lebanese, offering the caretaker government $3-billion to purchase arms from France for the ill-equipped Lebanese military.

The proxy war between the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Saudi Arabia; Wahhabist Islam countering Shia Islam is being joined. And the complexities of the situation abound; where the United States has defied its own best interests by being pressed in the darkest of dark places by unfortunate decision-making, mental lassitude, inadequate intelligence and confounding realities to work alongside Russia, shoring up Iran's fortunes and that of its satellite, Syria.

Desperately seeking the lesser of two sinister threats; the attempted annihilation of Sunni Islamist terrorists linked to al-Qaeda, determined to mount its dread aspirations into the reality of a Caliphate, as opposed to attempting to stifle the equally threatening and certainly compellingly sinister aspirations of Shia Islam's most controversial and aggressive expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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Egypt urges Arab states to brand Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group

Al Aribaya -- 30 December 2013
Cairo University students supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and deposed President Mohammad Mursi shout slogans at the university's campus in Cairo, Dec. 29, 2013.(Reuters)
Egypt urged Arab League members Monday to enforce a counter terrorism treaty that would block funding and support for the Muslim Brotherhood after Cairo designated it as “terrorist” group.
Cairo also wants the League’s members to hand over wanted Islamists linked to the Brotherhood to which deposed president Mohammad Mursi belongs.

Egypt’s military-installed government listed the Brotherhood as a terrorist group last week, after officials accused the movement of a suicide bombing that killed 15 people in a police station on Tuesday.

The Brotherhood, the largest Islamist movement in the region, has a presence in most Arab countries. It condemned the bombing, which was claimed by Al-Qaeda-inspired militants based in the restive Sinai peninsula.

Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said Arab League members that signed the 1998 counter terrorism treaty, should enforce it against the Brotherhood.

The treaty coordinates anti-terrorism measures between signatories.
“The signatories are responsible for implementing the treaty,” Abdelatty told AFP, adding the members would have to stop financing the group and hand over Brotherhood fugitives to Egypt.

An Arab League official said 18 of the Arab League’s 22 members had ratified the treaty.
The Arab League said it has notified its members of Egypt’s designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.

Mursi and dozens of Brotherhood leaders face trials on various charges, including colluding with militants to carry out attacks in Egypt.

Some of the group’s leaders have fled the country, and its media operation is now based in the United Kingdom.

The movement had won every election in Egypt after the 2011 overthrow of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

It successfully fielded Mursi in the country’s first free presidential election in 2012, but he lasted only a year in power before the military toppled him amid massive street protests demanding his resignation.

Since then more than 1,000 people, most of them Islamists, have been killed and thousands imprisoned in a crackdown on his supporters.

Last Update: Monday, 30 December 2013 KSA 18:32 - GMT 15:32

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US and Iran’s First Joint Military Venture: Fighting al Qaeda in Iraq

DEBKAfile Video December 29, 2013, 7:26 PM (IDT)
With the Geneva Nuclear Accord still far from implementation a month after it was signed in Geneva, the United States and Iran are moving into stage two of their rapprochement: They are now fighting together to crush Al Qaeda terror in Iraq, debkafile’s exclusive military sources report. 
Iraq is two weeks into a major offensive for cutting al Qaeda down - the first major military challenge the jihadists have faced in the past six years. Three armies are fighting alongside Iraq: the United States, Iran’s Al Qods Brigades officers and Syria.
Their mission is to foil Al Qaeda’s drive to spread its first independent state in the Middle East across the Iraqi-Syrian frontier. Its Iraqi and Syrian branches - ISIS and the Nusra Front - have declared a holy war to this end under their commanders Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

The Anbar province of Western Iraq is the scene of the fiercest combat close to Iraq’s borders with Syria and Jordan.

To counter Al Qaeda’s superiority in speed and surprise, the US has sent the Iraqi army Hellfire surface-to-air missiles. They are already in use against al Qaeda camps on the Syrian border. Next, Washington is sending out small, long-endurance unmanned aerial ScanEagles. These drones are best suited to combat in Anbar’s deep wadis and the halophyte thickets lining the Euphrates River.
In this topsy-turvy scenario, Washington and Tehran share another surprising motive: to save the Assad regime in Damascus from Al Qaeda’s long arms.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted approvingly on Dec. 26: “Attitudes are changing in Western countries; they are becoming more realistic in their approach towards the Syrian crisis. The threat of terrorism in Syria, of jihadists coming to power, of creating a caliphate with extremist laws, these are the main problems.”

Since the Syrian chemical issue was addressed in September, Russian-Iranian-American collaboration is going strong. The joint US-Iranian war on al Qaeda is strengthening Tehran’s grip on Iraq as well as Syria. It gives Russian President Vladimir Putin hope for keeping al Qaeda away from the Winter Olympics at Sochi – an ever-present menace as a female suicide bomber, a Dagestan national, demonstrated Sunday, Dec. 29, by blowing up the railway station at the southern Russian city of Volgograd, killing up to a score of people.

The other incentive for US President Barack Obama is the hope of transposing his collaboration with Tehran and Moscow to improve US chances of a reasonable accommodation in the Afghanistan arena.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

PLO President Mahmoud Abbas undoubtedly knows that the minute he signs a peace deal with Israel, the Palestinian terrorist organizations will assassinate him. The mismanagement by Europe, the UN and Abbas's own weakness have prepared the ground for a takeover by radical elements, and it will occur in the foreseeable future. If elections were held today in the West Bank, Hamas and other Salafist-Jihadi organizations would win.
Ashton, Kerry et al are trying to create another artificial state, "Palestine," which will quickly become another Islamist country, officially refusing as a matter of policy, to recognize the State of Israel and seeking to destroy it.
If the West were genuinely interested in Palestinians and peace in the Middle East, its top priority would be to campaign for their citizenship in the Arab world, a quest that would quickly clear their heads of the nonsense of the "return;" stop the tide of money flowing into UNRWA and end the fiction of the "Palestinian refugees."
The European and American attempts to impose an academic and economic boycott on Israel increase in direct proportion to the signs that the Palestinian-Israel peace process is sinking into the mud. Boycotts, however, will simply make the Israelis more obstinate and worsen the situation.

President Obama tried to reassure Israel recently by promising that the future final status agreement would not turn the West Bank into "a replica of Gaza." He was referring to the rockets the Palestinians began launching from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory as soon as Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and stressed that in any peace agreement, the United States would not allow another Palestinian terrorist state, this one in the West Bank, to shell Israel.

The Israelis, who have already agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state bordering on Israel, justifiably demand that it be demilitarized and that Israel itself be responsible for security along the Jordan River. Their demand is based on past experience and meant to prevent rockets, mortar shells, explosives and arms in general from being smuggled into the West Bank. The Palestinians' outright rejection the West's demands might well raise suspicions in the objective observer. The Palestinians claim that Israel has a peace agreement with Jordan and therefore should have no fear that weapons will be smuggled into the West Bank. Such a claim is made only by those who conveniently forget about the thousands of rockets and other weapons used by Palestinian terrorists to attack Israel, and that have been smuggled into the Strip from Egypt, which also has a peace agreement with Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas not only refuses to recognize the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jews, but, notably, he demands that Israel be forced to absorb Palestinians as part of the so-called "right of return," instead of demanding, more naturally, that they be absorbed into the future Palestinian state -- all the while demanding that there be no Jews in the Palestinian state.

What the Palestinians do not yet understand is that the West is losing both interest in and patience for the Palestinian cause. Millions of refugees, an unprecedented number since the 1930s, are massed at borders and seeking ports of entry all over the world. Today, millions of starving Syrian refugees -- having become burdens threatening the internal security and economy of countries such as Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and even Bulgaria -- are freezing in cardboard cartons and flimsy tents.

Millions of Africans crowd into leaky boats and then drown seeking the shores of Europe, where they hope to find a decent living, while others are interned and humiliated by the Italian authorities on the island of Lampedusa. No one seems to care that in the Arab countries, masses of Muslims die in terrorist attacks at the hands of other Muslims.

In the meantime, industriously ignoring these humanitarian catastrophes, the West closely focuses on what it likes to call "finding a solution for the Palestinian problem." This focus has nothing to do with concern for the Palestinian people; it is rather a symptom of the West's complete inability to cope with the world's genuine refugee problems.

Only few of the real Arab refugees from the 1948 War in Palestine remain, and would be at least 65 years old today if their families had left when the Arab leadership called on the Arabs to flee from Palestine. All those who fled were promised that once the Arab armies won the war and slaughtered or expelled the Jews, they would return to their homes and could loot and despoil Jewish property as they pleased. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs therefore abandoned their homes in 1948 and settled in the neighboring countries, eventually engendering millions of descendants who have built their lives in the host countries and need only to receive citizenship.

The United States and the Arab countries perpetuate the issue of the so-called "Palestinian refugees" with the aid they give to relief organizations, primarily UNRWA. They waste time, money and energy on the Palestinians, in both "Palestine" and other countries, and delay interminably the day when the descendants of the original refugees become citizens of the Arab countries in which they now live. It should be recalled that the Arabs who did not flee from Palestine in 1948, now live in Israel where they make up one-fifth of the population, hold equal rights to the Jews there, have their own political parties, members of Knesset, judges on the Supreme Court, senior diplomatic posts, serve in the army only if the so wish, and are welcomed in all leading professions, including professorships in university and as senior physicians in Israeli hospitals.

Perpetuating the status of "refugee" to five generations of their descendants means the Palestinians and the West continue to foster the false hope of the "right of return," making it increasingly difficult to offer these poor souls -- whose ancestors chose to chose to displace themselves - the right to a productive life, as all other refugees and their descendants enjoy in the countries to which they chose to go.

The Americans and Europeans cynically manipulate the Palestinians, to whom they are nothing more than insignificant pawns in the plot to prolong and escalate the Arab-Israeli conflict in order to justify their continued involvement in the Middle East; in reality, their motives are in no way humanitarian.

The lack of a solution for the Palestinian problem is a tragedy; the situation should sadden every Arab with a conscience. The Palestinian leadership and interested parties throughout the Arab-Muslim world delude the Palestinians into thinking that some day in the slight-of-hand foggy future they will return to "Palestine," that is, the territory of the State of Israel. They manipulate the Palestinians even as it is perfectly clear to the entire world that the Jews will never agree to absorb the millions of descendants of the 1948 Palestinians refugees who today live in the Arab countries: to do so would mean destroying Israel by flooding it with its enemies. If the West were genuinely interested in peace in the Middle East, its top priority would be to clarify the situation for the Palestinians and campaign for their citizenship in the Arab world. It is clear, therefore, that the ultimate goal of the West, and particularly Europe, is to destroy Israel by using the descendants of these Palestinians as weapons -- first of displacement, then extermination. One need only look at how Muslims are currently treating Christians, as well as other Muslims -- as there no longer any Jews to speak of; as the saying goes: "First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people" -- in countries as diverse as the Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Mauritania and Egypt.

International law does not allow refugee status to be inherited, but both the West and our Palestinian brothers continue to use the unjustified and incidentally illegal status of refugees as profitable political-economic merchandise. The corrupt agencies of the United Nations, particularly UNRWA, perpetuate and fatten themselves on the obscene amounts of money flowing into the "Palestinian problem," which for years has not been a humanitarian issue. The Palestinian problem is nowhere on the agenda of the Arab countries, which are caught up in the internal chaos created by the Arab "Spring," and instead has become a lucrative economic project for a whole series of racketeers, rob the millions of genuine refugees around the globe, many of who are also Arabs, of their rights.

The situation in Europe is complex and complicated. Thousands of immigrants knock on the gates of the West in search of employment and a better life, even though the West itself is on the brink of bankruptcy. To them, compared to the countries they are fleeing, the West still looks like Paradise. 

The Europeans have also muddied the definition of "refugees seeking political asylum" -- people who genuinely need protection from persecution. Those who go Westward in search of work cross many poor countries where they are not in danger yet claim, unjustly, that they are refugees fleeing for their lives. This confusion also makes it difficult for the West to solve the problem of millions of genuine refugees who clearly are in imminent danger.

The worst problem of all, however, is the cynical game of manipulating world public opinion played by the rival Palestinian leaders in their undying efforts to perpetuate the Palestinian issue, which has now become Big Business, to ensure it is never resolved. Not only is Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, not considered the legitimate leader of the West Bank and was never elected in a fair and honest election, only a manipulated one but the Palestinians dispersed among the various Arab countries, and especially the West Bank and Gaza, do not consider him as representing them - as well as opposing any political arrangement with Israel for fear it might interfere with the glittering hypnotic promises of their return to "Palestine."

Mahmoud Abbas undoubtedly knows that the instant he signs an agreement with Israel, the Palestinian terrorist organizations will assassinate him. No Palestinian will agree to an arrangement that would limit his return to the future Palestinian state, currently the territory of the State of Israel.

No Palestinian leader will recognize Israel and certainly not one of them will agree to the final, definite end of the conflict. Mahmoud Abbas' refusal to recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, his refusal to waive "the refugees' right of return," his refusal to stop adding to his endless list of demands to end the conflict and his refusal to allow Israel to oversee the Jordan River are all proof that the Palestinians' plan to destroy the State of Israel has not been altered since its inception, even if perhaps its methodology has been tweaked from time to time.

The real tragedy is that nowhere on the Palestinian horizon is there a mechanism in place for a democratic way to end the conflict. Many Palestinians favor the violent, radical Salafist-jihadi agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, while others reject the Islamist agenda and its lifestyle. The conflict between the two has trapped and dead-ended the Palestinians.

The Gaza Strip has been under the control of Islamists for years, and they are gradually taking over towns and cities in the West Bank. It is this situation that prevents the fractured Palestinian leadership from reaching an internal reconciliation and constructing a model for united governance that could end the confrontation between the Jews and the Palestinians. It is clear that if elections were held today in the West Bank, Hamas and other Salafist-jihadi organizations would win. It would seem there is only one model around which Palestinians can unite: the desire to end not their conflict but rather the State of Israel. The Jews are fully aware of the Palestinian model and refuse to accept any arrangement that will endanger their security.

Thus, tragically, Palestinian politics are at the moment leading the Palestinian people noplace. It was recently made known that the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, who lob rockets into Israel and mine the security fence separating Israel from Gaza, are currently having logistical problems of electricity, concrete, fuel and food -- the result of flooding caused by recent severe rainstorms. Faced with insurmountable problems, the Hamas leaders turned, indirectly, to Israel for help.

For years Hamas has been guilty of the criminal neglect of the people who live under its rule, and now its leaders are calling for help, claiming that they are "besieged" -- by the Egyptians as well as the Israelis -- and that they are facing a "humanitarian crisis," and are prepared to accept aid from Israel, but only secretly!

Since the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, Hamas has poured millions of tons of concrete into building tunnels the sole purpose of which is to provide easy access for terrorist operatives seeking to infiltrate into Israel. Hamas could have used the concrete to build houses, schools and hospitals, but instead diverted it to reinforcing terrorism. Hamas evidently far prefers to spend its billions on weapons it can use against Israel rather than on the agriculture, economy, health and welfare of the people who are dependent on it.

In the meantime, while the Palestinian Authority announced that it did not intend to pay the salaries of its Gazan employees, it was Israel that recently agreed to help Hamas out of its difficulties and provide it with fuel, concrete, medicine and food, despite the fact that throughout the years Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis with its rockets, bombs and suicide bombers and is still overtly planning to wipe Israel off the map. How lucky for the Palestinians that their enemies are the Jews. While the Palestinian and Islamic terrorist organizations plan their attacks on Israeli civilians, the government of the Israeli occupation, despite the apparent indifference of their leaders, regards the Palestinians themselves as human beings.

The rampant mismanagement by Europe, the UN's treatment of the Palestinians and Mahmoud Abbas's floundering and weakness as a policy-maker have prepared the ground for a general takeover of the Palestinian issue by radical Islamic elements, and it will occur in the foreseeable future. On the West Bank it is claimed that in the meantime, only Israeli intelligence, which props up Abbas, has prevented the Islamists from taking complete control.

It is shocking, but not surprising, that in such a complex situation people such as the EU's Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are trying to force Israel to give up assets critical to its security. They are exerting their pressure in the wrong direction: they should instead campaign for citizenship for the Palestinians in the Arab countries, a quest that would quickly clear their heads of the nonsense of the "return;" stop the tide of money flowing into UNRWA and end the fiction of the "Palestinian refugees."

As the Arab countries -- relatively new artificial creations temporarily pasted together with the lies of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, disintegrate into their original warring tribes and sects -- Ashton, Kerry, et al are nevertheless trying to create yet another artificial state, "Palestine," which will quickly become another Islamist country, officially refusing, as a matter of policy, to recognize the State of Israel and seeking to destroy it.

At his last meeting with Kerry, Abbas rejected the Israeli demand for security control along the Jordan River. Abbas and his supporters are planning to smuggle weapons into the West Bank from Jordan and to transfer them to the local Palestinian terrorists who will use them to attack Israel from the east -- exactly as Hamas began attacking from the south the instant the IDF withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Obama's recent assurances that the United States will not allow the West Bank to become "a replica of the Gaza Strip" are as valid as his assurances regarding other cardinal issues, such as Syria and Iran -- further "replicas of promises" never kept.

Related Topics:  Ali Salim

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Barrel bombs 'kill 517 in Aleppo since 15 December

BBC News online -- 29 December 2013
Footage earlier this month showed the apparent aftermath of barrel bombs
Barrels packed with explosives and dropped from Syrian aircraft have killed 517 people in the northern province of Aleppo since 15 December, activists say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 151 were children and 46 women.
The city of Aleppo has been the focus of bitter fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels.

A Norwegian frigate is meanwhile preparing to collect chemical weapons from Syria for destruction.
The arms are due to be taken from the Syrian port of Latakia to Italy.

There, they will be loaded onto a US Navy ship and taken to international waters for destruction in a specially created titanium tank on board.

The global watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical arms stockpile, has called on Damascus to "intensify its efforts" to help the operation.

The OPCW said it was up to Syria to mitigate the risks involved in transporting the stockpile to the port.

Syria agreed to abandon its arsenal to avert possible US military action in response to a sarin nerve gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus in August.

Under a deal brokered by the US and Russia, the complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment must be completed by the first half of 2014.

OPCW chief Ahmet Umzucu said in a statement that the international community was "poised and ready".

He said the UN, Russia, and other countries directly involved in the removal had agreed on how to escort the cargo vessels from Syria, after a two-day meeting in Moscow.

Equipment involved in the operation includes Russian armoured vehicles, US satellites and Chinese surveillance cameras to protect the hazardous cargo.

Syria's chemical weapons

  • Syria is believed to possess 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents including sarin and more potent nerve agent VX
  • US believes the arsenal can be "delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
  • Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention on 14 September; it signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1972 but never ratified it
Mr Umzucu said Syrian authorities now had to "consider all possible options" to ensure the chemicals' safe transport from 12 storage sites in Syria to the loading bay in Latakia.
The port lies 300km (185 miles) north of the capital Damascus.

The OPCW earlier said that it did not expect to meet the 31 December deadline for shipping out the "most critical" chemicals.

Shifting battle-lines and road closures caused by bad weather appeared to be the main causes of the delay.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group with links to the opposition, condemned the continuing use of barrel bombs in Aleppo and urged outside intervention.

The organisation, which relies on secret networks to relay information from the ground, also described those who failed to criticise the raids as "complicit in the massacres that have been committed and continue to be committed by the Syrian regime".

While the most of those killed by barrel bombs over the past two weeks were civilians, 46 were rebels, according to the SOHR.

The devices have rarely been used on such a sustained scale, says the BBC's Arab Affairs Editor, Sebastian Usher.

Aleppo is devastated and divided, with fighting at a stalemate, but with a major peace conference due next month, the Syrian government is trying to wrest back control of as much territory as possible, our correspondent adds.

In the most recent attack, 25 civilians are reported to have been killed when explosives were dropped on a vegetable market in Aleppo on Saturday.

Graphic. Background image shows stockpiles of chemical weapons in the US (2001)

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nuclear Reasoning

"We are seeing a difficult time sustaining cutting-edge morale at a time when the overall signals coming from the top are that the nuclear deterrence force is no longer a priority. How do we recruit front-line talent into a field when senior civilian and military leadership never talks about the mission? Young professionals look up for signals. They are seeing the right words, but there isn't energy behind them."
John Hamre, former deputy secretary of defence; president and CEO Center for Strategic and International Studies
AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, John Parie 
A Malmstrom Air Force Base missile maintenance team removes the upper section of an ICBM at a Montana missile site. The hundreds of nuclear missiles that have stood war-ready for decades in underground silos along remote stretches of America, silent and unseen, packed with almost unimaginable destructive power, are a force in distress, if not in decline.
AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, John Parie A Malmstrom Air Force Base missile maintenance team removes the upper section of an ICBM at a Montana missile site. The hundreds of nuclear missiles that have stood war-ready for decades in underground silos along remote stretches of America, silent and unseen, packed with almost unimaginable destructive power, are a force in distress, if not in decline.

"It's a real problem to keep those young men and women interested in going on alert three or four times a month for 24 hours at a time when it's hard to explain to them who the enemy is. It doesn't have the allure that it did during the height of the Cold War when you felt like you were doing something."
Eugene Habiger, retired air force 4-star general, head of Strategic Command, 1996 to 1998

"The relative importance of the ICBM leg of the triad has diminished in recent years, and its utility for meeting future security challenges is up for debate."
Evan Braden Montgomery, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

The world has moved on from the era of the Cold War when mutual assured destruction was the recognized strategy for avoidance of a mass catastrophic failure of humankind to solve its problems without resorting to the last-ditch response of wholesale destruction of lives. Now, nuclear weapons are in the more cautious (we hope) hands of a handful of 'responsible' nations, and teetering on the brink of entering the arsenals of unstable states.

The advanced states think of relinquishing their nuclear arsenals, of minimizing their content by destroying a good number of them, and retaining those numbers felt to represent a still-considerable threat to those who might think of reprising war conditions, while those whose authorities are so bereft of minds capable of grasping the horror of using atomic weapons to score points, demolishing countless lives, are eager to attain them for prestige and containment considerations.

The two most powerful countries not of the Western persuasions of liberal democracy are currently on a bent of demonstrating their entitled potential as world leaders. Russia, by veiled threats toward many of the countries in the Eastern bloc it had once dominated, and which have attempted to move ever closer to the West is feeling its oats. Threatening to place longer-range missiles on its western border.

And China, ever geographic-possessive-inclined, inclusive of other countries' traditional landscapes has issued a warning that it will brook no interference in its interfaces with its neighbours with which it struggles to bring into line a consensus that what China desires to acquire for its expanding needs, it should not have to struggle too hard to attain. Its unilateral declaration of a new air defence zone in the East China Sea, ample warning of its serious intent.

Negotiations, by all means, far preferable to conflict -- an outdated concept of right and wrong battling it out for might to reflect right. And if conquest can be attained bypassing might and strife, and power equated with the persuasion of bully-tactics, then what need of all those outdated nuclear missiles? The Obama administration, led by a man who prefers to lead a movement to destroy all nuclear weapons, is on the verge of decommissioning many of its underground war-ready nuclear missiles stored in silos.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles need is dwindling, and so should the ICBMs themselves, goes the argument. Besides which, the maintenance of those silos along the remote stretches of America packed with destructive power potential have outlived their purpose. No nation in its right mind possessed of nuclear missiles would ever dare use them, in full knowledge of the horrors they are capable of unleashing.

And just recently in the United States ICBM launch officers were disciplined for their violation of security rules. Three ICBM groups have failed a safety and security inspection. The U.S. faces the reality of having either to decommission these unwieldy, sinister and dangerous doorstops to the lunatic entry into the geography of an enemy's intention to wipe out American dominance and security, or to step up its commitment to safe nuclear operations.

Discussions relating to security in the face of terrorism, of cyberthreats, must also be inclusive of the spread of nuclear technologies to ferociously unstable and sometimes quite deranged-seeming countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. Where they might be persuaded in sharing their technologies and the fruit of said, with terrorist groups aiding them to achieve their aims of domination.

So, does the U.S. take its primary responsibility as the lead on nuclear might and its potential seriously enough? The commander of the ICBM force, Maj.-Gen. Michael Carey, led an American delegation on a three day trip to Russia months ago, drinking heavily, partying with local women, insulting his Russian hosts, complaining about his superiors, and speaking of the low state of morale within the ICBM force back home, in public settings. He was subsequently fired from his post.

But the U.S. seems less appreciative currently of its nuclear weapons stockpiles, looking forward to the time when it may decide on their gradual elimination. President Barack Obama envisions a nuclear weapons-free world. It is a world he lives in, free of concerns that rogue nations, in possession of those dread weapons may at some time convenient to their plans, decide to use them.

Possibly, first on those nations made vulnerable by their rejection of possessing them.

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The U.S. Year That Was

It was, 2013, arguably, not a very good year. Not for the country particularly, and certainly not for the man who led the country. When 2013 was rung in on a fairly high note, President Barack Obama enjoyed a fairly decent popularity rating. Hope remained high that he would fulfill the pledges that eluded him during his first term, and that he clearly meant to bring to fruition during his second term.

America under his firm hand and guidance of a social contract in the works, would be transformed toward a more economically egalitarian reality. Where the huge gap in entitled riches that the wealthy 1% enjoyed outdistancing the sightlines of hope for the future of the unwieldy mass of Americans -- who were underemployed in dead-end jobs, their unemployed counterparts, the working poor who had to rely on food stamps and any other forms of social welfare that would allow them to feed and clothe their families -- would be rectified.

Moreover, the estimated 45-million Americans who had no hope of ever being able to afford let alone qualify for medical insurance would be rescued from the plight of being unable to afford desperately needed medical care, and of the fear of being sent into the poor house by the cost of medical care that might make the difference between life and early death.

It might have been achieved as a resounding success had there been bipartisan resolve to stitch the bleeding wound in the American psyche through somewhat amending social inequality. But it seems that this is a hugely conflicted government, where the ability to work together has been so sadly compromised that political snubs and resistance have become the disorder of the day under the Obama administration.

In January of 2013 the approval rating for President Obama was a cautious and hopeful 52%. What with promises to effect a gun control law, tax reform, immigration reform, a budget. Battles royal on all fronts resulted in little accomplishments and a plummeting approval rating sunk down to 39%. There were simply too many political straitjackets, too many conflicts, and too many crises.

His signature social welfare project, the rolling out of the subsidized health care program thudded to a halt when aspirants logging in for the long-awaited registration for ObamaCare found themselves facing the frustration of a software program that failed spectacularly. People satisfied with the level of their health insurance and content with the medical practitioner they relied upon found themselves out in the cold.

Now, the Obama administration attempts to portray its foreign affairs in a brighter light of serene accomplishment. Where, with the guidance of the Kremlin, Washington succeeded in persuading Syria's President that abandoning his chemical weapons would succeed in preventing NATO and the US to intervene leaving his regime free, under the guiding hand of Iran, to bomb the living hell out of Syrian civilians on the pretext of battling rebellion and terrorists.

And Iran is complacently relieved that through its clever diplomacy, with its Russian ally it has succeeded in manipulating the United States and the rest of the G5+1, to an agreement that it is completely justified in pursuing a "domestic" nuclear program, and need only spend six months acceding to the pretense that if it enriches uranium to a certain level there will be no further need to compromise its real nuclear objective.

Of course there was the bombshell unleashed by a rogue contract intelligence IT worker, and the fallout from those revelations relating to foreign snooping remains ongoing, but the good news on that file is that a more recent opinion on the bulk records collection by the National Security Agency fulfills a distinct and needed purpose, to restrain al-Qaeda's continuing sinister plans for attack on American soil.

But the social justice champion who promised Middle America the world at their feet simply has failed to materialize. The national income gap is growing. Since the 2008 recession the top 1% income has grown by 31% while the 99% has seen a pathetic 0.4% growth in income. The minimum wage of $7.25 doesn't represent much of a wage, and has been stuck there for years.

As for tax rates under this progressive government for which the underprivileged and the lower middle class and the educated voted so hopefully, that has changed. Full time employment gains someone working at minimum wage $15,000; well, well below the poverty line for a family; the Fair Minimum Wage Act is stuck in limbo.

On the positive side, if you're independently wealthy, are low tax rates. Lower than what the low and middle classes pay. Where the rich pay lower tax rates than their cleaning staff. How does that work, anyway?

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Syria airstrike kills at least 25, injures dozens in Aleppo

The airstrike, which hit a crowded vegetable market in the Tariq al-Bab neighborhood in northern Aleppo took place around 10 a.m. local time. (File photo: Reuters) 
A Syrian government airstrike dropped explosive-packed barrels on a rebel-held neighborhood in Aleppo on Saturday, killing at least 25 people and injuring dozens, according to Reuters.

Earlier, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said that those killed include two children, a teenager, a woman and a media activist, according to Agence France-Presse.

The death toll is likely to rise as dozens more were wounded in the attack, the Observatory said.
The airstrike, which hit a crowded vegetable market in the Tariq al-Bab neighborhood in northern Aleppo took place around 10 a.m. local time.

Another activist network. the Syrian Revolution General Commission, labeled the incident as a “massacre.”

“The raid targeted a crowded market where people were buying vegetables and home appliances,” the Commission said.
“Many buildings have been damaged, and one collapsed,” it added.

Other airstrikes were reported in several opposition-held areas of Aleppo, although there were no reports on the number of casualties.

For almost two weeks, President Bashar al-Assad's warplanes and helicopters have attacked opposition-controlled areas of the war-torn city.

The aerial assault has killed more than 400 people since it began Dec. 15, activists said.
Aleppo, Syria's largest city, has been a major front in the country's civil war since rebels launched an offensive there in mid-2012.

Since then, the city has been heavily damaged in clashes that have left it divided into rebel- and government-controlled areas.

Last Update: Saturday, 28 December 2013 KSA 18:30 - GMT 15:30

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US prepares to pay Netanyahu back for Iran campaign, using Palestinian issue as bludgeon

DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis December 28, 2013, 12:31 PM (IDT)
Binyamin Netanyahu braces for personal US backlash on Iran
Binyamin Netanyahu braces for personal US backlash on Iran
The Obama administration is preparing to settle scores with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,  for his campaign against US-led nuclear diplomacy with Iran, by holding him to blame for the impasse in Israel-Palestinian negotiations. This will ignore the uniform assessments by US and Israeli intelligence analysts that it is the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas who is holding out against all Secretary of State John Kerry’s Herculean efforts for a peace accord with Israel, say debkafile’s Washington and Jerusalem sources. 
Abbas (Abu Mazen) is sure that he can get more from the international community by diplomatic manipulation and effective propaganda. He believes he holds enough cards and leverage to manage without having to reach terms for deals with the US or Israel.

He is only playing along with the Americans and Israelis for one purpose – not to lose US and other Western financial assistance. Earlier this month, the European Union said it would discontinue the $1 billion annual contribution to the Palestinian Authority if a peace accord with Israel was not signed within a year. Abbas appreciates that the Europeans would follow the American lead for an aid cutoff.

The US-EU aid packages totaling $1.5 billion account for nearly all of the PA’s regular revenue. The most up-to-date intelligence data reaching Washington and Jerusalem confirm that if Abbas were to find an alternative source of income, he would grab it and drop out of the peace negotiations like a shot.

But the Obama administration and Netanyahu government alike are ignoring these assessments and pressing on with the talks, mindful of the end-of-April deadline set for reaching the finishing line.
This gap between reality and wishful thinking provides fertile ground for groundless speculation, such as the conjecture which drags the long-serving Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard into the equation in the form of a rumor that Washington may consider releasing him as a reward for Israel’s consent to release certain convicted Palestinian terrorists, including Israeli Arab citizens.

Another such rumor is that the US will put before the parties next month a final plan for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.

According to debkafile’s Washington sources, Kerry refuses to be discouraged by Abbas’s evasions and has indeed drafted a non-binding five-page working paper, which is not a plan. He will put it before Netnayahu and Abbas early next month without asking for any commitments for or against the outline.

Both will be invited to record their reservations and comments. This will supply the fodder for extending the negotiations for several more months after the first six-month period expires.

Sitting on Netanyahu’s desk too, according to our sources, is a confidential report on the Obama administration’s plans for personal retribution for the offensive he pursued against the signing of an accord to provide Iran with legitimacy for its nuclear program.

Washington plans to get back at the Israeli prime minister by pinning on him – not Abbas - the blame for the inevitable impasse in the talks with the Palestinians. He will be depicted as a political failure who heads a dysfunctional government and a serial denier of peace.

This smear campaign will be conducted internationally and in Israel, by rallying Israel’s foes abroad and Netanyahu’s political enemies at home.

debkafile has heard from a high-placed source in Jeruslem that these plans are viewed in Jerusalem as “highly problematical.” They see Israeli and American media and other personalities recruited for a personal, political vendetta against the prime minister at a level well outside acceptable bounds - even when governments disagree.

Netanyahu is well aware that the Palestinian question is not the issue. He knows he is facing the music – politically and personally - from the Obama administration for his effort to sway the US Congress against the policy of US rapprochement with a regime in Tehran which is dedicated to Israel’s extinction.

Administration sources explain that Netanyahu will be receiving a dose of his own medicine and this is legitimate.

So, as John Kerry prepares to pay his 12th or 13th visit to Israel and Ramallah, Netanyahu faces three dilemmas:

1.  Iran keeps on bragging that the Geneva accord brought its nuclear program and right to enrich uranium nternational acceptance, while at the same time flouting its provisions right and left.  Cutting-edge centrifuges have been installed for speeding the enrichment of uranium close to weapons-grade, and the construction of the heavy water reactor in Arak continues apace. The Iranians are capitalizing on the failure of the Geneva conference to set a date for the onset of the interim six-month period for further negotiations, and using the time to further their military nuclear projects.
The Geneva accord was designed to disqualify the military option for ending Iran’s chase after nuclear weapons. So what happens now?

2.  The level of Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israelis is expected by all intelligence branches to escalate. However, the Israeli government and military are tied hand and foot by the formality of ongoing US-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians. Although they know exactly who is pulling the wires behind the current violence, the Israeli military can’t strike at its heart. And so Israeli officials and military spokesmen are resorting to euphemist depictions, such as “popular, disorganized violence, to avoid action.

3.  The US campaign of deprecation against the Israeli government and its head has begun. How to deal with it?

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