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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Obama passes the buck

President Obama has passed the buck to Congress, announcing that he will seek Congressional approval for an attack on Syria (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
Obama said he had made the decision that military action was justified by U.S. intelligence showing the use of chemical weapons. 
He also said he had the authority under his executive powers to launch an attack, but argued seeking the blessing of Capitol Hill was a better route.
“I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” Obama said in the Rose Garden. “The country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective,” Obama said.
Obama said congressional leaders have agreed to schedule a debate and vote when Congress comes back into session.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Saturday that he expects the House to consider the measure the week of Sept. 9.
I guess that he's determined to degrade the power of the US Presidency too as part of his term in office. Ben Smith reports on that aspect.
Presidents for decades have ignored the Constitutional requirement that Congress authorize acts of war, launching attacks from Kosovo to Libya without authorization. Presidents Bush and Obama took a 2001 authorization of the use of force against terrorists as a carte blanche for a global secret war from Rome to Pakistan; the last formal authorization came in 2003, for Iraq. And Obama — the president who spent the summer defending the vast surveillance power of the National Security Agency — had shown no particular inclination to give up presidential authority.
But Saturday’s announcement redefines the playing field over national security, delivering, six years late, on a promise he made during his presidential campaign, and more broadly on the vision of the presidency that he was elected by an anti-war Democratic Party to install.
“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” candidate Obama told he Boston Globe in 2007.
The politics of Washington’s great institutions — the presidency; the congress; the courts — do not always align with partisan politics, and Congressional leaders had no choice but to celebrate the president’s surprise move.
Unbelievable. I wonder if the US will still exist when Obama is scheduled to leave office. 

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Assad's son dares Obama to attack

In a lengthy Facebook post 'liked' by numerous children and grandchildren of the Syrian elites, Hafaz al-Assad, the 11-year old son of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has dared President Obama to attack his country (Hat Tip: Jack W).
It is impossible to confirm whether the Facebook account does, in fact, belong to the son, Hafez al-Assad, and aspects of it invite doubt. For example, the owner of the account wrote that he was a graduate of Oxford University and a player for a Barcelona soccer team, neither of which would be likely to appear on the résumé of an 11-year-old boy in Damascus.
But those claims could also be read as the ambitions of a child, and there are reasons to believe that the account may actually belong to Hafez.
The owner of the account wrote that he was a graduate of a Montessori school in Damascus, a detail of the Assad children’s lives that Vogue magazine reported in a February 2011 profile of their mother, Asma al-Assad. That article portrayed them as typical suburban children who played with remote control cars and watched Tim Burton movies on an iMac as they lounged around the family home, described as running “on wildly democratic principles.” It has since been removed from the Vogue Web site, but Joshua Landis, a well-known scholar of Syrian politics, posted a copy to his blog.

Perhaps most significantly, the Facebook post said to have been written by Hafez al-Assad has been “liked” or commented on by several accounts that appear to belong to the children or grandchildren of other senior figures in the Assad administration. Among them are accounts that seemingly belong to two children of Deputy Vice President Mohammed Nassif Khierbek, Ali and Sally, and to three children of a former deputy defense minister, Assef Shawkat, who was killed in a bombing in July 2012.
The accounts said to belong to the children of Mr. Shawkat — one of his sons, Bassel, and two of his daughters, Anisseh and Boushra — appeared to be authentic, according to a Syrian journalist from Damascus who has extensive knowledge of the country’s ruling elite and spoke on condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns. Mr. Shawkat was married to the sister of Bashar al-Assad, making these three children cousins of Mr. Assad’s son Hafez, who is believed to be the author of the Facebook post.
Many of the people who commented on the post had changed their profile pictures to show portraits of the Syrian leader or his father, also named Hafez, who ruled the country for three decades before Bashar al-Assad took power in 2000. Several of them referenced the author’s relationship to the two President Assads. One referred to the author by a diminutive and familiar nickname, “Hafouz,” and complimented him for his strength and intelligence, writing that such a feat was unsurprising for the son and grandson of the past two presidents. Another commenter wrote: “Like father like son! Well said future President!”
And the post itself?
“They may have the best army in the world, maybe the best airplanes, ships, tanks than ours, but soldiers? No one has soldiers like the ones we do in Syria,” the post’s author wrote of the United States military. “America doesn’t have soldiers, what it has is some cowards with new technology who claim themselves liberators.”
The author then compared the potential American airstrikes to the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a close ally of the Assad regime in the current conflict. Many in the Arab world saw Hezbollah as the victor of the 2006 clash.
“I just want them to attack sooo much, because I want them to make this huge mistake of beginning something that they don’t know the end of it,” he wrote. “What did Hezbollah have back then? Some street fighters and some small rockets and a pile of guns, but they had belief, In theirselves and in their country and that’s exactly what’s gonna happen to America if it chooses invasion because they don’t know our land like we do, no one does, victory is ours in the end no matter how much time it takes.”
 Sounds pretty confident, doesn't he?

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Overwhelming majority of Israelis back US attack on Syria

Shavua tov, a good week to everyone.

A poll of Jewish Hebrew-speaking Israelis finds that 67% support an American attack on Syria.
While in the United States and Great Britain, some 90 percent of the publics are opposed to such an attack -- in Israel, more than 66% of the Jewish Hebrew-speaking population supports an attack (only 17% opposes). With that, the exact same percentage of the population is concerned that if such an attack occurs, Israel will be drawn into a war.
This duality, which characterizes the Israeli mood and public discourse in recent weeks, receives statistical affirmation in an Israel Hayom survey conducted by New Wave Research.
Israelis believe that ultimately an attack against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime will take place -- close to 73% of Israelis believe so. More than 57% believe if the U.S. attacks Syria, the Israel Defense Forces will act against specific targets or threats. Only 13% think that the situation will deteriorate into all-out war in the Middle East. Over 28.7% said they are not concerned that a U.S. attack will drag Israel into a war.
And a lot more Israelis are finding gas masks.
Another statistic of note coming from the survey is that over 71% of those questioned have equipped themselves with a gas mask. Of those who still have not, some 25% said they intended to do so in the coming days (some 7% of all those polled). 37% said they do not intend to get gas masks (some 10% of all those polled), and the same percentage said they have not yet decided. 
Hmmm.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

A couple of great comments on Obama's use of military force




Shabbat Shalom everyone.

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Krauthammer: 'These are guys who couldn't organize a three-car funeral'


On Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier on Thursday night (which I was able to watch, but not to download), Charles Krauthammer blasted the Obama administration's efforts to organize a coalition to attack Syria, saying 'these are guys who couldn't organize a three-car funeral.'

In a Washington Post column, Krauthammer expands on the theme
Having leaked to the world, and thus to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a detailed briefing of the coming U.S. air attack on Syria — (1) the source (offshore warships and perhaps a bomber or two), (2) the weapon (cruise missiles), (3) the duration (two or three days), (4) the purpose (punishment, not “regime change”) — perhaps we should be publishing the exact time the bombs will fall, lest we disrupt dinner in Damascus.

So much for the element of surprise. Into his third year of dithering, two years after declaring Assad had to go, one year after drawing — then erasing — his own red line on chemical weapons, Barack Obama has been stirred to action.
Or more accurately, shamed into action. Which is the worst possible reason. A president doesn’t commit soldiers to a war for which he has zero enthusiasm. Nor does one go to war for demonstration purposes.
Want to send a message? Call Western Union. A Tomahawk missile is for killing. A serious instrument of war demands a serious purpose.
The purpose can be either punitive or strategic: either a spasm of conscience that will inflame our opponents yet leave not a trace, or a considered application of abundant American power to alter the strategic equation that is now heavily favoring our worst enemies in the heart of the Middle East.
Read the whole thing.

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Napalm bomb dropped on Syrian school building

A napalm bomb was dropped on a school building in Urum al Kubra, which is near Aleppo, Syria this week. Since the rebels don't have planes, the Syrian government cannot really blame them this time.

Let's go to the videotape.

video

There was also a second video filmed after the attack.
In another video filmed in the aftermath of the attack, a doctor reports seven deaths and 50 injuries - and says the burns resembled Napalm injuries.
However, the use of the substance has not been confirmed.
A BBC television crew who witnessed the bombing reported no shrapnel injuries and said the victims resembled "the walking dead".
Napalm is not classified as an outlawed chemical weapon although it can cause devastating burn injuries.
Infamously used in the Vietnam War - as well as the Second World War - the jelly-like substance sticks to skin and burns at very high temperatures.
A United Nations convention prohibits using incendiary weapons against civilians, or against military targets located near civilian populations.
The pictures of the school attack emerged after MPs voted against military action over alleged chemical weapons gas attacks by the Syrian regime.
As if the Assad regime is worried about United Nations conventions.... 

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Al-Jazeera ratings even worse than previously reported

Al-Jazeera's first America Tonight broadcast featuring Stephen Walt drew a nationwide audience of 27,000, according to the Nielsen ratings. That's less than most Red Sox games.
According to figures from Nielsen, the first airing of the Qatari broadcaster’s America Tonight programme attracted an audience of just 27,000. This doesn’t stack up well against Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, which drew 2.97m. Even CNN’s Anderson Cooper mustered 627,000 viewers during the same time slot.
The numbers make for embarrassing reading for a network that in the run up to its August 20 launch spent $500m acquiring Al Gore’s Current TV and hired hundreds of journalists, including star names like CNN’s Ali Velshi. True, its launch was not helped by the decisions of Time Warner Cable and AT&T not to carry the network, but its potential reach was still a good 50m or so US homes.
The paltry numbers are probably not surprising given the largely negative sentiment stateside, with one Fox News analyst describing Al Jazeera as a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda. “It’s a very unattractive brand in the US,” Claire Enders, of the UK’s Enders Analysis, told me in the run up to the launch. “Americans have very little interest in foreign news services anyway.”
But the Qatari government won't care.
Will the Qatari royal family, which fully owns Al Jazeera, care about this poor turn out? Not one jot I reckon. Backed by the Gulf state’s petrodollars, the station is under no pressure to turn a profit and its operating costs are merely a drop in the ocean for its loaded backers.
What is the point then? With another nine years until the FIFA World Cup 2022, I’d hazard that Al Jazeera America’s intended effect is as a PR tool, designed to portray a country most Americans know next to nothing about in a positive light.
 Anyone think the Qataris will try to  buy Time Warner or AT&T? Talk about the tail wagging the dog....

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Thousands of Syrians stranded trying to escape to Jordan, blame US and Europe

Thousands of Syrians from the areas attacked with chemical weapons are trying to make their way south to Jordan. But the Syrian air force has been bombing the area, preventing these refugees from reaching the border area.
Refugees say they have been marooned by an ongoing Syrian bombing campaign, unable either to cross into Jordan or return to their homes. They say they have moved into abandoned schoolhouses, disused bakeries and demolished buildings in towns and villages across the south amid near-constant air raids as they await a chance to leave.
“We have no money, no food, no home and now nowhere left to go,” said Mohammed al- Saeed, who has been living in a makeshift shelter in the border town of Tal Shihab with his family of five since fleeing his home town of Ghouta Sharqiyyeh, or Eastern Ghouta, five days ago. “Sometimes I believe we would be better off dead.”
Local residents say the influx from Ghouta has triggered a humanitarian crisis, with municipalities running low on staples such as flour and cooking oil and unable to care for people allegedly suffering from trauma and gas poisoning.
“We are trying to host our brothers and sisters from the Damascus countryside as best we can, but we cannot even feed them, let alone treat them,” said Ahmed al-Saad, an activist with the Local Coordination Committees opposition network in Tal Shihab, which has reportedly taken in 5,000 refugees in the past week.
In the rebel-held town, residents and activists say they have set up a hospital in a local mosque but are able to offer only expired aspirin tablets and herbal remedies to men, women and children exhibiting signs of gas poisoning.
...
News of impending Western-led airstrikes against the Syrian government offered little solace to the Ghouta survivors, many of whom hold the United States and European countries responsible for Syria’s use of chemical weapons and their current plight.
“For two years, the world has watched in silence as Bashar killed 200,000 of our children,” said Um Ahmed al-Dimashqi, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Dimashqi, who arrived in Tal Shihab on Monday, said her son was killed in Ghouta. “Why did my son have to be number 200,001 for the world to take notice?” she said.

Here's video of UN chemical weapons inspectors at work taking soil samples in an area where there was a chemical weapons attack.

Let's go to the videotape.



What could go wrong?

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He had a dream, we got a nightmare

I think this sums up the United States fairly well (Hat Tip: Jack W via Suckers on Parade).

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What US strategic interests are at stake in Syria and how can they be advanced by a US attack on Syria?

Caroline Glick's JPost column deals with an issue that has not gotten enough attention in Washington this week: What US strategic interests are at stake in Syria, and how can they be advanced by a US attack on Syria?
With no good horse to bet on, the US and its allies have three core interests relating to the war. First, they have an interest in preventing Syria's chemical, biological and ballistic missile arsenals from being used against them either directly by the regime, through its terror proxies or by a successor regime.

Second, the US and its allies have an interest in containing the war as much as possible to Syria itself.

Finally, the US and its allies share an interest in preventing Iran, Moscow or al-Qaida from winning the war or making any strategic gains from their involvement in the war.
 
...
 
It is important to note that despite the moral depravity of the regime's use of chemical weapons, none of America's vital interests is impacted by their use within Syria. Obama's pledge last year to view the use of chemical weapons as a tripwire that would automatically cause the US to intervene militarily in the war in Syria was made without relation to any specific US interest.

But once Obama made his pledge, other US interests became inextricably linked to US retaliation for such a strike. The interests now on the line are America's deterrent power and strategic credibility. If Obama responds in a credible way to Syria's use of chemical weapons, those interests will be advanced. If he does not, US deterrent power will become a laughing stock and US credibility will be destroyed.

Unfortunately, the US doesn't have many options for responding to Assad's use of chemical weapons. If it targets the regime in a serious way, Assad could fall, and al-Qaida would then win the war. Conversely, if the US strike is sufficient to cause strategic harm to the regime's survivability, Iran could order the Syrians or Hezbollah or Hamas, or all of them, to attack Israel. Such an attack would raise the prospect of regional war significantly.

A reasonable response would be for the US to target Syria's ballistic missile sites. And that could happen. Although the US doesn't have to get involved in order to produce such an outcome. Israel could destroy Syria's ballistic missiles without any US involvement while minimizing the risk of a regional conflagration.

There are regime centers and military command and control bases and other strategic sites that it might make sense for the US to target.

Unfortunately, the number of regime and military targets the US has available for targeting has been significantly reduced in recent days. Administration leaks of the US target bank gave the Syrians ample time to move their personnel and equipment.

This brings us to the purpose the Obama administration has assigned to a potential retaliatory strike against the Syrian regime following its use of chemical weapons.

Obama told PBS on Wednesday that US strikes on Syria would be "a shot across the bow."
After reading Caroline's entire column, my conclusions are:

(a) There are US strategic interests at stake in Syria and they go beyond President Obumbler's drawing a red line in the sand that the US must now defend to avoid losing any more credibility in the Middle East.

(b) Israel's alleged actions in Syria have advanced US interests by preventing the proliferation of Syria's chemical weapons and by denying Hezbullah the ability to spread the war to Lebanon.

(c) The Obama administration has no clue what strategic interests are at stake in Syria. It probably has not even considered the question.

(d) US strategic interests could be served by a limited strike against Syria, provided that the Obama administration stops presenting such a strike as a once-in-a-lifetime event.

(e) Three and a half more years of an Obama administration could - and probably will unless things change - lead to the US becoming a third-rate power, just as Obama has wanted all along.

Read the whole thing.

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Video details about 'black budget' for spying on Israel and the Pollard connection

Here's a report from WJLA-TV in Washington about the US intelligence agencies 'black budgets' for spying on foreign countries, a story I covered originally here.

Let's go to the videotape.



A report at The Hill makes what seems to me to be an obvious connection between the black budget and convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in the United States, after the US government broke a plea bargain (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
The White House and the Israeli Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
The revelations come as no surprise to Georgetown University's Paul Pillar, who retired as the national intelligence officer for the Near East in 1995 after a 28-year career in U.S. intelligence. Israeli spying, he said, has remained a major threat since U.S. citizen Jonathan Pollard received a life sentence in 1987 in a massive spying case that gravely strained relations between the two countries.
“Israel should be assumed to continue to have an aggressive intelligence collection operations against the United States,” Pillar said. While much information is collected through traditional political contacts, “I would personally have no doubt that that is supplemented by whatever means they can use to find out as much as they can about what we're doing, thinking, deciding on anything of interest to Israel, which would include just about any Middle Eastern topic.”
The issues of continued Israeli settlement construction and Obama's strong interest in reaching a negotiated settlement to avoid a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, Pillar said, are two issues where U.S. and Israeli interests “certainly diverge,” he said. Spying, he said, could give Israel “warning indicators” before any public decisions, and enable the country to put its “political machine in action” and get the United States to reconsider.
“If I were in [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's shoes and had his perspective,” Pillar said, “I would spare no effort to try to collect every bit of intelligence I could, in secret as well as openly.”
He said the public revelations won't impact U.S.-Israeli relations.
“Everything is trumped by political realities,” Pillar said. “Don't expect any statement by the White House press secretary tomorrow that says, 'Oh my gosh, we are really upset with the Israelis for trying to spy on us'. You're never going to hear anything like that, because politically it is hazardous for basically any American politician – and certainly an incumbent American administration – to underscore ... the divergence of U.S. and Israeli interests.”
Sounds to me like Pillar should be working the State Department. They have the same sort of Israel-hating perspective on things. Then again, Georgetown probably isn't a bad choice for him either.

I want to point out again that if you look at the list of countries on which the US is spying (China, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and Cuba), Israel is the only one that is supposedly considered a friend of the United States. No other country on that list would surprise anyone. And you don't see the US spying on Britain or South Korea (to give two non-Arab, non-Muslim countries that are comparable either in terms of a close relationship with the US or in terms of military predicament). You don't think anti-Semitism has anything to do with this attitude, do you? Maybe if the US government was sharing the information it has agreed to share with Israel, and were backing its supposed ally, it wouldn't feel the need to spend billions of dollars spying and counter-spying on Israel.

And you wonder where Chas Freeman came from? 

Disgraceful.

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Will Obama go it alone in Syria?

In a close vote on Thursday night, Britain's parliament rejected participation in an attack on Syria.
After a marathon eight-hour debate, Cameron lost a vote that was initially seen as a symbolic motion setting up a final vote in the days ahead authorizing force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for allegedly using chemical weapons. But the surprise loss of even the weaker piece of legislation — by a vote of 285 to 272, including a group of rebels from Cameron’s Conservative Party in opposition — appeared to cost the United States its centerpiece ally in a still-forming coalition. The rejection additionally signaled what analysts called the biggest rupture in the U.S.-British “special relationship” since the 1982 Falklands war.
Technically, Cameron could still authorize military strikes over the objection of Parliament, but top government officials — including the prime minister himself — indicated that was not an option following Thursday’s defeat.
“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action,” Cameron said after losing the vote. “I get that, and the government will act accordingly.”
The Brits are gun-shy after Iraq. For now, at least, the Americans are saying that the operation is still on.
The outcome of the U.K. vote could make it more difficult for President Barack Obama and other Western allies—already weary from years of difficult military intervention in the Middle East—to convince their own publics of the need for intervention in Syria.
Mr. Cameron's defense secretary, Philip Hammond, said the U.S. "will be disappointed that Britain won't be involved." Mr. Hammond, speaking in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp., said he still expected other countries to continue to look at a response.
The setback also raises questions about Mr. Cameron's authority. The prime minister, who wasn't required to hold a parliamentary vote but chose to, had personally laid out his case at length to parliament earlier in the day about why military action was needed and why it would be justified, citing humanitarian grounds and the need to prevent the use of chemical weapons in the future.
U.S. officials said Mr. Obama is prepared to act in coming days without Britain. They added that unlike U.S. involvement in the 2011 military operations in Libya, the options being considered in Syria are on a smaller scale and wouldn't require a coalition to be effective.
But the US security establishment is getting cold feet as well. 
Former and current officers, many with the painful lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan on their minds, said the main reservations concern the potential unintended consequences of launching cruise missiles against Syria.
Some questioned the use of military force as a punitive measure and suggested that the White House lacks a coherent strategy. If the administration is ambivalent about the wisdom of defeating or crippling the Syrian leader, possibly setting the stage for Damascus to fall to fundamentalist rebels, they said, the military objective of strikes on Assad’s military targets is at best ambiguous.
“There’s a broad naivete in the political class about America’s obligations in foreign policy issues, and scary simplicity about the effects that employing American military power can achieve,” said retired Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the run-up to the Iraq war, noting that many of his contemporaries are alarmed by the plan. 
...
The potential consequences of a U.S. strike include a retaliatory attack by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah — which supports Assad — on Israel, as well as cyberattacks on U.S. targets and infrastructure, U.S. military officials said.
“What is the political end state we’re trying to achieve?” said a retired senior officer involved in Middle East operational planning who said his concerns are widely shared by active-duty military leaders. “I don’t know what it is. We say it’s not regime change. If it’s punishment, there are other ways to punish.” The former senior officer said that those who are expressing alarm at the risks inherent in the plan “are not being heard other than in a pro-forma manner.”
The problem is that given Obama's foolish statement about 'red lines' - not to mention the ongoing discussion of this action for the past week, backing off now could erode whatever credibility Obama (and the United States) have left in the Middle East.
An Army lieutenant colonel said the White House has only bad options but should resist the urge to abort the plan now.
“When a president draws a red line, for better or worse, it’s policy,” he said, referring to Obama’s declaration last year about Syria’s potential use of chemical weapons. “It cannot appear to be scared or tepid. Remember, with respect to policy choices concerning Syria, we are discussing degrees of bad and worse.”
That's because America has a President who's a fool, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.

What could go wrong? 

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Why is the IDF ordering viagra?

The IDF has asked for bids for 1,200 Viagra pills. No, it's probably not for what you think.
Like other ministries, the Defense Ministry periodically publishes tenders in the daily press through the Government Advertising Bureau. One such tender recently published seeks 1,200 tablets of 100 mg. sildenafil citrate, the active ingredient in Viagra, to be used by Israel Defense Forces soldiers suffering from erectile dysfunction. The tender is signed by the Medical Corps, so the tablets are not meant for anyone other than IDF soldiers, such as Defense Ministry employees or people being served by the Rehabilitation Branch. Nor, apparently, is this the first time the ministry has sought price quotes for Viagra to be supplied to the military.
In 2005, an article appeared in the Hebrew journal Aviation and Space Medicine, published by the Aerospace Medicine Research Center, about a decision by the Israel Air Force to forbid their pilots from taking Viagra before flying, out of concern it could affect their color perception. The researchers recommended that no pilot should fly within six to eight hours after taking the drug.
The Defense Ministry responded that due to privacy issues, it could not comment. 
...
A previously published study by Israeli researches has demonstrated that the drug Cialis (from the same family of Viagra ) effectively deals with altitude sickness. According to results of a study conducted on 51 Israeli tourists climbing Mount Kenya or Kilimanjaro, those who incorporated Cialis in their treatment against altitude sickness reported suffering less from the effects of their high climb. According to details of the study, published in the Journal of Travel Medicine, more of those taking Cialis managed to reach the summit of the mountain. 
Hmmm.

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An Israeli nightmare

Former Republican congressman Allen West has it right. Barack Hussein Obama is an Israeli nightmare.

Best description I've seen in 140 characters or less.

More here  (Hat Tip: Bad Blue).

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Assad's human shields

In an earlier post, I reported on the abandonment of Syrian army installations that the Assad regime feared would be the targets of an American air strike.

Now, those installations have been repopulated. No, not by the army.


If the US has human intelligence in Syria (Israel almost certainly does), they ought to go after some of the members of Assad's inner circle just to teach him a lesson.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

What a surprise: The United States spies on Israel

The Washington Post reports on the $52.6 billion 'black budget' that the United States has for spying on other countries in fiscal 2013. The Post obtained the budget from Edward Snowden, the former NSA analyst who has currently found temporary asylum in Russia. The Post isn't telling all, but it's telling enough for us to know that Israel is a target.
•U.S. intelligence officials take an active interest in foes as well as friends. Pakistan is described in detail as an “intractable target,” and counterintelligence operations “are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel.”
Let that sink in. Every one of those countries is (or in Pakistan's case ought to be) an enemy of the United States... except Israel. So why are we a target?

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Jordan's King Abdullah leaves his country: Is an Arab spring uprising on the way?

A report on Israel National News indicates that Jordan's King Abdullah has left the country (Hat Tip: Sunlight).
This week on Arutz Sheva's Reality Bytes Radio with Josh Hasten, controversial Jordanian writer and activist Mudar Zahran returns to the show for an exclusive interview. He stated, that King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan have left the country. News reports say it's because of a working visits to Europe. But Zahran has other thoughts on the timing of his trip abroad as he anticipates an "Arab Spring: uprising in Jordan as well.
Plus, hear from an Arab perspective on whether or not the United Kingdom and the United States will attack Syria and if Syria will then attack Israel in response.
For a past interview with Mudar Zahran on Reality Bytes click here.
Hmmm. You can hear the show here.

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The dark side of the morons

Heh.

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Iran testing 1,000 new more modern centrifuges

Adam Kredo reports that Iran is testing 1,000 brand new centrifuges.
The IAEA confirmed reports that Iran has begun installing more than 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges, which are more modern and quicker than older models used at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant.
Iran is on pace to achieve what experts have called a “critical capability” by mid-2014 or even sooner, according to the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a nonpartisan nuclear research group.
The findings come on the heels of at least 10 failed rounds nuclear talks between Iran and the West. The talks are scheduled to resume in late September, after a likely military strike in Syria, where Tehran has thrown its support behind embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
Nuclear experts say the IAEA’s findings provide proof that newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rowhani has no intention of halting the country’s nuclear program despite diplomatic overtures to the West.
The advanced centrifuges have allowed Iran to more swiftly enrich uranium, the key component in a nuclear bomb, without being detected, according to the IAEA and independent experts.
This means that Iran could “produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon before inspectors could detect the breakout,” according to ISIS.
Iran has also installed nearly 2,000 less advanced IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz in addition to the 1,000 advanced centrifuges, significantly increasing the nuclear plant’s output, according to the IAEA.
“Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities,” the IAEA concluded.
Read the whole thing. What could go wrong? 

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Obama: US has to enforce international norms because UN can't

So is this going to apply to Iran too? Can he at least make it preventative rather than reactive?
“I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria,” Obama said in an interview with the PBS NewsHour, stressing that he has not decided to order a military attack.
“But we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on chemical weapons they are held accountable,” he said.
A closed-door meeting of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, called to consider a British-drafted resolution authorizing the use of force to prevent any further use of chemical weapons in Syria, adjourned without action after Russia and China opposed the measure.
In response, U.S. officials made clear they considered such initiatives irrelevant to Obama’s decision on military action. Although officials gave no indication of when a U.S. attack might occur, they said they expect U.N. inspectors to leave Syria on Saturday.
“We see no avenue forward [at the United Nations] given continued Russian opposition to any meaningful Council action on Syria,” deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“Therefore, the United States will continue its consultations and will take appropriate actions to respond in the days ahead.”
The U.S. dismissal seemed to put the administration and its allies at odds with the U.N. leadership. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, without setting a deadline or addressing the Syrian request for an extension, said it was “essential to establish the facts” and the U.N. team “needs time to do its job.”
Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, said international law requires a Security Council decision before any military action. “I do know that President Obama and the American administration are not known to be trigger-happy,” Brahimi said at a Geneva news conference. “What they will decide, I don’t know.”
Not anymore we don't need a Security Council resolution. Heh. 

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Feiglin: Obama to pay for Syria complications with Israeli concessions

Knesset member Moshe Feiglin (Likud) worries that any complications from an Obama-initiated attack on Syria will be paid for with Israeli concessions.
In my evaluation, America's anticipated strike in Syria is part of a long-term US plan. If it wanted, America could have continued to blur the Syrian use of chemical weapons. Massacres happen all the time throughout the world; some are intentionally ignored while others are amplified. The President of the United States is eager to bolster his image in the aftermath of his resounding policy failures. To stabilize his relations with the Arab world and Russia after expected complications set in, Obama intends to pay in Israeli coinage. Israel must urgently formulate a strategy - and not suffice itself with mere tactical positioning. In the Middle East, either you sit down to the dinner - or you are the main course.
Does anyone else wonder whether he means concessions to the 'Palestinians' or concessions to Syria? I suspect both....

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Sometimes it really is more important to be right than to be wise

Hagai Segal on the final meltdown of relations between Israel and Turkey.
Contrary to its prior commitments, Ankara has yet to return its ambassador to Israel, but it benefits from the thousands of Israeli tourists who returned to Antalya. At this juncture, Turkey can be considered Israel’s most bitter enemy in the region after Iran.

What does this prove? That in contrast to the familiar mantra, sometimes it is more important to be right than to be wise. The Israeli instinct to sacrifice values and assets for the sake of good relations with the neighbors is leading it from one failure to another. Netanyahu and Amidror relinquished our honor for the sake of peace, but in the end we were left with neither honor nor peace.
Erdogan interpreted their apology as an act of weakness and concluded from it that he can continue his assault on us. Now one can only hope that we too will reach some conclusions of our own. The apology to Turkey cannot be withdrawn, but we can still take a tougher stance with regards to the European boycott of the settlements. For example, the government can take a deep breath and declare that it is banning the “Horizon 2000” program as long as Europe continues to ban Israeli projects in Judea and Samaria. Europe will think twice before declaring another boycott. It may even cause Erdogan to rethink his attitude towards Israel.
Indeed. 

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Prominent rabbis: No need for gas masks

Two prominent Haredi rabbis told their followers on Thursday that there is no need for gas masks. Rav Chaim Kanievsky urged followers to fear only the day of judgment on Rosh HaShanna (which is next week), and Rav Aaron Yehuda Leib Steinman urged followers to strengthen themselves in Torah study (link in Hebrew). I have translated part of the article below.

In the last 24 hours, Rav Steinman was asked how to act, and whether this time was different from previous times when Israelis tried to obtain gas masks (at which times Rav Steinman also said they were unnecessary).  Rav Steinman calmed those who asked, and said that in this period, we must strengthen ourselves with Torah study and fear of Heaven, and to seek merits for the oncoming day of judgment (Rosh HaShanna).

The Torah protects the people of Israel, Rav Steinman said. There is no need for masks.

A group of married students at the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem sent a question to Rav Chaim Kanievsky asking how they must prepare for the expected war, and whether they should go to the distribution points to obtain masks.

In response to their question, Rav Kanievsky laughed and said that masks are for Purim (the holiday on which people get dressed up in costume). Rav Kanievsky urged his questioners to continue to be absorbed in their Torah study without any suspicion or fear regarding what may follow.

Last night, additional people came to Rav Kanievsky's Bnei Brak home to ask if there is anything to fear. He said that we must only fear Rosh HaShanna and to worry about our merits in God's judgment.

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Provocation at the Wall

In this month's Commentary Magazine, Evelyn Gordon has a lengthy piece on the 'Women of the Wall.'
In an interview with Haaretz shortly before finishing his term as Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren said he had been devoting considerable effort to convincing Israeli leaders that the battle over the attempt by a women’s group to hold prayer services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall “could have strategic implications.” In Israel, Oren explained, the controversy over Women of the Wall “is perceived as a marginal question,” but “Americans see it as an issue of human rights and women’s status and freedom of worship.”
This divergence of views between Jews of the diaspora and Jews in Israel has a simple explanation. Americans see the struggle of Women of the Wall as a crucial battle for human rights and women’s status because they believe both are under threat in Israel. Israelis see the struggle as a marginal issue because they believe neither is under threat. The story of how that perceptual gulf has developed, and how a 25-year-old organization exploited it to catapult itself from relative obscurity to worldwide fame, is indeed a story with “strategic implications.” It’s the story of how Israelis opposed to their countrymen’s choices at the ballot box have sought to generate outside pressure to overturn those choices by creating a false narrative of an Israeli slide into fundamentalism and fascism.
...
[S]ince most Americans weren’t familiar with the details of the [Supreme] court’s [2003] ruling [seemingly barring WOW from the main prayer area], it was easy for WOW to obscure the police’s legal justification and claim that the force was simply kowtowing to Haredi demands, especially given the Haredim’s vocal (and physical) opposition to WOW’s services. That in turn played straight into the “exclusion of women” narrative—a connection WOW made explicitly. As its director, Leslie Sachs, said after one incident, “Today police succumbed to Haredi bullying and put us at the back of the bus again.” Thus, to Americans, it looked like official Israel, in the form of its police force, was colluding with a fundamentalist demand to remove women from the public square.
The organization also enjoyed one serendipitous piece of luck: In April 2013, the Jerusalem District Court asserted that police had misinterpreted the 2003 Supreme Court ruling, and that it hadn’t actually barred WOW from praying at the main section of the Wall. This was a claim WOW had never even made; its own website interprets the Supreme Court ruling the same way the police did: as saying that its right to pray at the Wall “was not without boundaries,” and therefore, it should hold its services at Robinson’s Arch. But since the state opted not to appeal the district court’s interpretation, it became binding, and thereafter, police did try to protect WOW’s monthly services.
Nevertheless, WOW also had no qualms about engaging in provocations to keep the pot boiling. The tactic is familiar to its longtime chairwoman, veteran activist Anat Hoffman. She is now executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the Reform Movement’s Israeli legal and advocacy organization. She also spent 14 years as a Jerusalem city councilwoman for the left-wing Meretz Party and has served on the boards of two prominent leftist organizations, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Israel Women’s Network. But she has been involved in less mainstream activity as well: In 1988, for instance, she co-founded Women in Black, an organization whose protests against “the occupation” and against Israeli efforts to suppress Palestinian terror were considered radical at that time—at the height of the first intifada, years before the PLO recognized Israel.
... 

[R]elocating away from the Haredi worshipers would defeat Hoffman’s main goal, as she herself defined it to the Jerusalem Post last December: “I want to see and be seen.” In short, her interest is not in holding women’s services at the Wall per se, but in doing so where they will be clearly visible to others who find them objectionable.
Indeed, WOW’s anti-Haredi agenda was clearly visible this past July, when Haredim finally managed a peaceful counter-demonstration. On the day of WOW’s planned monthly service, as many as 7,000 Haredi high-school girls arose at the crack of dawn to reach the Wall first.
According to police, they completely filled the women’s section, leaving no room for WOW to pray near the Wall as usual—which was obviously the point. The organization and its supporters were furious. “We feel like we’ve been betrayed by the police today because where we’ve been made to pray today is not a place of prayer,” Sachs said. “It is a blatant violation of the district court ruling,” charged Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israeli Reform Movement, who, backed by Israeli Conservative Movement leader Yitzhar Hess, argued that the government must ensure that WOW can pray at the Wall when it so pleases.
What neither WOW nor its supporters explained is this: What were the police supposed to have done with the young Haredi worshipers? Banned them from the Wall? Kicked them out when WOW arrived? The implication was clear. WOW’s demand for open access to the Wall applies only to itself; Haredi women are free to come en masse only when WOW doesn’t want the site.
WOW’s provocative behavior alienated even some Israelis who in principle have no problem with women’s prayer groups. Hillel Halkin, for instance, wrote an article in the Forward in June terming the organization “childish provocateurs” indulging in the “narcissism of thinking that one’s rights matter more than anyone else’s feelings or the public interest.”
...
[G]enerating diplomatic pressure on Israel starts with undermining Americans’ belief in Israel’s commitment to democratic values. Indeed, Shavit linked the two issues explicitly in his July interview with Oren quoted at the beginning of this article: “The Israel of the settlements, exclusion of women from the public sphere, and keeping the Women of the Wall away from the Western Wall isn’t distancing itself from the American left? We’re not making ourselves unpopular with the new and progressive America, including liberal Jews?”
During the years when Israel was negotiating with the Palestinians and ceding territory unilaterally, the left-wing media had no need for Women of the Wall, and consequently had no interest in it. But for the past few years, not only were there no negotiations or withdrawals, there wasn’t even any public pressure for them: Most Israelis attributed the lack of negotiations to Palestinian intransigence and thought unilaterally withdrawing from the West Bank would simply create another Gaza-style rocket base.
Consequently, for the left, it became imperative to ratchet up international pressure by making Israel “unpopular with the new and progressive America, including liberal Jews.” In this campaign, Women of the Wall proved useful, hence its sudden rise to media stardom. And in that sense, WOW is indeed a symptom of a broader Israeli problem. But this problem isn’t the “exclusion of women.” Rather, it’s the left’s inability to reconcile itself to the Israeli electorate’s rejection of their chosen policies.
 Read the whole thing.

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A seasonal photo...

The image is from Tashlich (the prayer where we symbolically throw our sins into a body of water - except in Jerusalem where we mostly use drain pipes) in 1926 in Tel Aviv (Hat Tip: Yisrael Medad).

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US and Russian navies to clash in Mediterranean?

Reuters reports that a US attack on Syria is likely to make extensive use of naval assets.
If U.S. President Barack Obama decides to take military action against Syria for using chemical weapons in its two-year-old civil war, the initial blows likely would be delivered by four U.S. guided missile destroyers currently in the Mediterranean.
...
Following are some of the U.S. military assets at Obama's disposal:
GUIDED MISSILE DESTROYERS - The United States has four guided missile destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea - the USS Gravely, the USS Barry, the USS Ramage and the USS Mahan. The ships can carry a maximum of 90 to 96 Tomahawk cruise missiles if loaded only with those weapons. The actual number they are carrying at any time depends on the mission and what other weapons and systems are needed. Tomahawk missiles are likely to be the weapon of choice if Obama orders a strike on Syria because they have a range of about 1,000 miles and can be used at a distance without a concerted effort to destroy Syria's integrated air defenses.
SUBMARINES - The United States has 58 submarines capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, including four specifically designated guided missile submarines capable of carrying up to 154 missiles apiece. The Navy does not discuss the whereabouts of its submarines, but one or more could be tapped for duty if Obama decides to carry out targeted strikes against Syria.
AIRCRAFT - U.S. B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers are capable of carrying conventional air-launched cruise missiles. Those could be called into play if needed, as they have been in previous conflicts in the Middle East, flying from bases in the United States or elsewhere. The air-launched cruise missiles also are stand-off weapons that could be dropped from outside Syrian territory.
AIRCRAFT CARRIERS - The USS Harry S. Truman is currently in the northern Arabian Sea and the USS Nimitz is in the Indian Ocean. Aircraft from the two carriers could be called into service if needed to participate in an attack against Syria. But their participation appears unlikely.
Meanwhile, the Russians are pouring naval assets into the Mediterranean....

What could go wrong?

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Need a gas mask? Go on EBay

Are you in Israel without a gas mask? Don't worry - you can find one quite easily. It seems that there are some Israelis who are so convinced that they won't need them that they are selling their government-issued gas masks on EBay (link in Hebrew).

The gas masks, which are being sold anonymously, start at $29.99 and are being sold as high as $175. One enterprising Israeli is selling the instructions and the box (which is supposed to remain sealed until the government gives orders to open it) for $5.24.

But you'd  be foolish to buy from these people. If you cannot get one for free from the IDF or the postal service, you can buy them new from the manufacturer for NIS 222 (about $62.50). Many of the gas masks being sold on EBay are old, which means they probably date back to 2003, which is the last time we were told to open them.

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US Ambassador to Israel: US strike on Syria 'certain'

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has told Israel Radio that a US strike on Syria is 'certain' and will be 'strong and serious.'


Hmmm.

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IDF soldiers abandon patrol, go dancing with 'Palestinians' in Hebron nightclub

IDF soldiers from the elite Givati brigade abandoned a patrol on Monday night, and went dancing in a 'Palestinian' night club in Hebron, one of the most dangerous places in Judea and Samaria.

Let's go to the videotape (yes, videotape).



The IDF is not pleased.
According to the report, the soldiers entered the club while on patrol on Monday, after hearing the song Gangnam Style by Psy coming from the building. 
The footage aired by Channel 2 purportedly shows a soldier in IDF uniform, fully armed, sitting on the shoulders of a Palestinian club-goer, even clasping hands with another man at the club.

Channel 2 said that the club was frequented by members of a Palestinian clan known for its pro-Hamas tendencies.

The army has suspended the soldiers from duty until the end of the investigation, the television station said, quoting the IDF as saying that it views the incident with utmost gravity. 
You might recall that three years ago, a group of IDF soldiers was videotaped dancing in the Hebron Kasbah (or Casbah).  But at least they were in an open area and were alone and had not abandoned their patrol. At the time, the IDF opened an investigation, but I don't recall it having a conclusion.

This is the result of a generation of Israeli kids being taught that the 'Palestinians' are going to live in peace with us. If the other side were being taught the same narrative, it would be a lot less harmful.

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US and UK getting cold feet on Syria?

Overnight, both the United States and the United Kingdom indicated that they are putting off their attack on Syria for a few days (in line with a request made on Wednesday by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon).

President Barack Obama said he had not yet made his decision regarding a U.S. strike on Syria during an interview with PBS NewsHour senior correspondents Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill. The president said that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime alleged use of chemical weapons would factor into his calculation and he warned that the Assad should be held accountable. Here's President Obama. Let's go to the videotape.



Meanwhile, Britain's David Cameron also seems to be getting cold feet.
The permanent five members of the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss the draft, at which the UK Permanent Representative Mark Lyall Grant presented language condemning "the attack by the Assad regime, and authorizing all necessary measures under Chapter seven of the UN Charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons."
Western powers assert that Assad used chemical weapons on civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21, killing over a thousand and wounding thousands more.
Russia called the draft resolution "premature."
The US now "does not see an avenue forward" through the Security Council, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Wednesday after the meeting adjourned. "We are not proceeding with a vote on this draft resolution."
...
But in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to change tack on Wednesday evening in the face of growing opposition from members of the UK Parliament.
He vowed to resubmit new language to the UN Security Council, wait until the UN investigation on the ground in Syria completed its work over the weekend, and then call for a second vote from Parliament for authorization of military force.
Britain's opposition Labour Party, under Ed Miliband's leadership, threatened late Wednesday to vote against the motion to participate in military intervention in Syria without first exhausting UN procedures.
Facing defeat in the pending Parliament vote on Thursday, Cameron-- after reconvening its members for the crisis meeting-- shelved a military response for now to avoid the standoff.
The move appeared to put the breaks on any immediate action in the coming days.
What does 'exhausting UN procedures' mean? Does anyone really believe that Russia and/or China is going to approve an attack on Syria? Jordan also says it's not going to get involved (except that it could be a target for Syrian retribution since it is housing thousands of Syrian refugees. But guess who does want to be involved in an attack on Syria....
Turkey placed its armed forces on alert on Wednesday, in light of possible security threats from Syria as the West continued planning military action against the Damascus regime in response to the Ghouta attack, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday.
Davutoglu asserted that "all options are on the table" for Turkey to address the use of chemical weapons in Syria on a massive scale.
Turkey's allies in Washington, London and Paris have been weighing military intervention in Syria's harsh civil war since last week. US and British navy destroyers have been deployed to the eastern Mediterranean in the event President Barack Obama chooses to order a strike.
"We are now at a more alert position... Turkey will take whatever measures necessary within the framework of its own strategic interests," Davutoglu told reporters.
"The Turkish armed forces have the mandate to take every measure against any security threat from Syria or elsewhere... and retaliate within the rules of engagement."
Turkey has been bullish on Syria throughout its civil war, openly supporting rebels fighting Assad-- including the al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaida.
On Monday, one senior Turkish official told a local media outlet that his government was considering making their Incirlik air base available to NATO should the Western coalition, led by the United States, choose to proceed with military intervention.
Incirlik was used by NATO in operations in Iraq and Kosovo.
What could go wrong?

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Video: Jonathan Schanzer on Western intervention in Syria

Here's Jonathan Schanzer on Bloomberg television talking about the prospect of Western intervention in Syria. The intervention will apparently be postponed for a few days, but for now at least, it appears likely to happen.

Let's go to the videotape.



By the way, why does it seem like no one in the US is talking about the US interest in attacking Syria?

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A proxy war?

Elliott Abrams has an interesting take on the possibility that the United States will attack Syria.
But there are 100,000 or more dead, and that is ignored if our strikes focus narrowly on the chemical-weapons infrastructure. Most were killed by bullets or artillery; are we content to watch another 100,000 killed the same way? One need not be a supporter of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine to wonder if mass killing in this strategically important region should elicit zero response from the United States while a use of chemical weapons that kills 1,000 people elicits a military intervention.
But what about our strategic interests? If our strikes are limited to Assad’s chemical-weapons assets, we leave his war machine intact — including the air power that is one of his main advantages. We make it no less likely that our enemies — Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad — will win this proxy war and greatly strengthen their position in the Middle East — preserving Iran’s only ally in the region, which affords them ports in the Mediterranean and a border with Israel (via Hezbollah in Lebanon).
What bothers me about this - and some of you probably figured it out from the title - is the reference to a proxy war.  I can't stand Obama either but even he wouldn't pick al-Qaeda as a proxy. Does al-Qaeda (and the other six Syrian rebel factions that are Islamist) represent the United States' interests?

This could have been a proxy war, but Obama blew that opportunity two years ago. Now, it appears that the United States' interest is that they kill each other off, but using bullets rather than chemical weapons.
I’ve been in Israel this week, and found universal the sense that America is receding in the region — and seeking to recede. I know from previous travel, and many conversations with Arab leaders, that our Arab friends in the Gulf share this view. A couple dozen cruise missiles landing on chemical-weapons warehouses will not change that perception, and indeed will raise questions about our odd priorities on both the humanitarian and strategic levels.
No question about that. But what should the goals of those cruise missiles and of any further action that the United States takes be? Surely they should not be to replace Assad with al-Qaeda.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Israelis sneaking into Jordan to help Syrian refugees

Sometimes we Israelis are addicted to good deeds. This time, Israelis are sneaking into Jordan to help Syrian refugees.
Quote from the article at link below:
"... the Arab countries offer condolences... but the best role is provided by the Israelis because they are crossing the border to provide assistance to the refugees who fled deprived of everything, risking their lives without a word of thank you..."

http://www.alwatanvo.../25/290509.html

The organisation is an NGO called IL4Syrians - front page of website has some pics:

http://il4syrians.org/

Website also describes themselves, their mission and their projects (they do work elsewhere as well).
 Let's go to the videotape. 



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Ban Ki-Moon seeks a delay in US attack on Syria

Ban Ki-Moon has asked for a four-day delay in the US attack on Syria in order to give UN chemical weapons inspectors enough time to finish their inspection.
"They are working very hard, under very, very dangerous circumstances," Ban told a news conference in The Hague where he was attending centenary celebrations for the Peace Palace.
"Let them conclude their work for four days, and then we will have to analyse scientifically with experts and then I think we will have to report to the Security Council for any actions."
That would put us into next week. Hmmm.

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Jacoby: 'Never again' turns into 'yet again'

Jeff Jacoby explains how 'never again' is once again turning into 'yet again.'
“Can this really be happening? In the 21st century?” exclaimed the Israeli columnist Ari Shavit as news broke last week of the latest chemical-weapons attack in Syria. “No decent person can ignore what’s happening.”
That’s what we always tell ourselves when “never again” turns into “yet again.” But man’s inhumanity to man is no more unthinkable in the 21st century than it was in the 20th. Decent people can and usually will ignore what’s happening, and the indecent count on their apathy. “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Adolf Hitler is said to have remarked in 1939.
There are always reasons not to act in the face of a growing evil. There are always reasons to believe that atrocities are being overstated, or that tyrants can be persuaded to reform, or that common sense will prevail, or that meddling in the “internal affairs” of others will only make things worse. Then we are shocked to find we have enabled monsters.
The burning of houses of worship didn’t end with Kristallnacht, nor the gassing of civilians with Halabja, nor concentration-camp butchery with Dachau. And we aren’t finished building memorials to the dead, and solemnly declaring, as we lay our wreaths, that next time we won’t forget the lessons of history.
Read the whole thing

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US tells Assad he can relax

The Obama administration sent a message to Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday. They told him that the American action against Syria, which could happen as soon as Thursday, won't last long and won't do a whole lot of damage (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
An American military attack on Syria could begin as early as Thursday and will involve three days of missile strikes, according to "senior U.S. officials" talking to NBC News. The Washington Post has the bombing at "no more than two days," though long-range bombers could "possibly" join the missiles. "Factors weighing into the timing of any action include a desire to get it done before the president leaves for Russia next week," reports CNN, citing a "senior administration official."
The New York Times, quoting a Pentagon official, adds that "the initial target list has fewer than 50 sites, including air bases where Syria's Russian-made attack helicopters are deployed." The Times adds that "like several other military officials contacted for this report, the official agreed to discuss planning options only on condition of anonymity."
Thus do the legal and moral requirements of secret military operations lose out in this Administration to the imperatives of in-the-know spin and political gestures. 
...
"I want to make clear that the options that we are considering are not about regime change," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. Translation: We're not coming for you, Bashar, so don't worry. And by the way, you might want to fly those attack choppers off base, at least until next week.
So what is the purpose of a U.S. attack? Mr. Carney elaborated that it's "about responding to [a] clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons." He added that the U.S. had a national security interest that Assad's use of chemical weapons "not go unanswered." This is another way of saying that the attacks are primarily about making a political statement, and vindicating President Obama's ill-considered promise of "consequences," rather than materially degrading Assad's ability to continue to wage war against his own people.
Why bother? Assad is already clearing his military installations around Damascus.
Army units stationed near the capital have confiscated several trailer trucks, apparently to transport heavy weaponry to alternative locations, though no significant movement of military hardware has been reported, possibly due to heavy fighting near major highways, one of the sources added.
Among the buildings that have been partially evacuated are the General Staff Command Building on Umayyad Square, the nearby airforce command and the security compounds in the Western Kfar Souseh districts, residents of the area and a Free Syrian Army rebel source said.
Syrian military authorities do not discuss troop movements publicly, and no government spokesman was available for comment.
...
Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh, a senior military defector, said from an undisclosed location in Syria that based on Free Syrian Army intelligence gatherings, the general staff command had been moved to an alternative compound in the foothills of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains north of Damascus.
"Various commands are being moved to schools and underground bunkers. But I am not sure it is going to do much good for the regime," Sheikh said.
Another resident who lives at the foothills of Qasioun, the mountain in the middle of the city in which elite praetorian guard units are based, said the boom of artillery, usually heard daily form the 105th battalion of the Republican Guards, had fallen silent on Wednesday.
"They have been lots of army trucks descending from Qasioun. It seems they have evacuated the 105 battalion headquarters," the resident said.
Activists in east Damascus said barracks and housing compounds for the Republican Guards and Fourth Division near the suburbs of Somariya and Mouadamiya had been evacuated and troops and their families had gone into the city.
And you thought we were wimpy with all our warning leaflets and door knocks....

Russia has evacuated dozens of its nationals to Moscow

What could go wrong?

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