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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Ongoing War Against the Middle East's Christians: Car Bomb Kills Copts Outside Church in Alexandria, Egypt

As reported by CNN (http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/12/31/reports-car-bomb-outside-egyptian-church-kills-7/?hpt=T2):

"A car bomb outside a church in Alexandria, Egypt killed at least seven people and wounded at least 24 others early Saturday, Egyptian state media reported, citing unnamed security officials.

The car bomb exploded at 12:20 a.m. in front of the Church of Two Saints, where Coptic Christians were attending services, Egypt's Nile TV reported.

A nearby mosque was damaged and eight Muslims were among the injured, according to Egypt's MENA news service.

Egyptian officials are blaming foreign elements for the attack, MENA reported."

An isolated incident carried out by "foreign elements"? Rubbish. In fact, this latest incident is a repeat of a massacre which occurred at the beginning of 2010. As described by Adel Guindy, in an article entitled "Symbolic victims in a socially regressing egypt" (http://www.coptsunited.com/Details.php?I=168&A=1307):

"On January 6, 2010, at 11:30 p.m., gunshots were heard in Nag Hammadi, Egypt (a town situated 80 kilometers, or 50 miles, north of Luxor). The shooting was aimed at a group of Copts leaving church following the midnight Christmas Mass (which the Coptic Church celebrated on January 7, 2010, in accordance with the old Julian and Coptic calendars). Seven people were murdered, including a Muslim who happened to be in the vicinity. In addition, nine Copts were injured, one later succumbing to his wounds at the hospital. The victims were all 17 to 29 years old.

Had it not been for the bishop’s decision to begin mass earlier than usual and to finish well before the traditional hour of midnight, the number of victims could have been substantially higher. The bishop decided to hold mass early due to threats he had received in the days before Christmas regarding 'a special Christmas gift.' Though the State Security had been informed of these threats, no action was taken.

The following morning, Christmas Day, Copts gathered in front of the town’s hospital where the dead and wounded had been taken. Corpses were lying on the ground and the wounded were not being treated. The hospital and security personnel would not release bodies to be buried, and relatives complained of rude and provocative treatment by them. As the crowd soon grew to 2,000 people, the authorities decided to prevent the families from carrying on with the funeral procession at the nearby church and used tear gas, clubs, and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd (wounding seven people), which began shouting anti-government slogans and throwing stones at the security forces and at the hospital facade. Once permitted to resume the funeral procession, Muslim onlookers began throwing stones at them."

Persecution of Egypt's Copts, who comprise some 10 percent of Egypt's total population of 80 million, is systematic and ongoing. According to the the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), there are "an average of four attacks against Copts every month; there have been 144 attacks nationwide over the past three years" (http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportId=87004). The Egyptian government denies Copts the right to build churches or pray at home, and as also observed by EIPR, "the homes of some Copts, particularly in southern Egypt, were demolished or closed because the government suspected them of being clandestine churches". Copts are denied government and public posts and have difficulty obtaining employment in the judiciary, the army, the police, the media, and universities.

From a broader perspective, the persecution of Egypt's Copts is little different from the violence being perpetrated against Christians in Gaza (see: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aC7P93EMyb1Q&refer=home) and Iraq (see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/31/iraq-baghdad-christian-bomb-attacks).

When Obama visited Cairo at the beginning of his presidency, he never once mentioned the oppression of Egypt's Copts. Given Obama's refusal to honor his campaign pledge to recognize Armenian Genocide, I cannot imagine that Obama will dare broach the issue of oppression of the Middle East's Christian community anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Like a Thief in the Night, Obama Appoints Robert Ford Ambassador to Syria

Bypassing Senate confirmation and seeking to avoid public scrutiny by acting while many are on holiday, Obama has appointed Robert Ford as ambassador to Syria (see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/29/AR2010122904168.html). There has been no ambassador to Syria following the involvement of Damascus in the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a friend of the West, in 2005.

The appointment comes at a time when the U.N. tribunal investigating the Hariri murder is preparing to announce its determination that Hezbollah, which doesn't dare act without Syrian approval, perpetrated the assassination. For the avoidance of doubt, Syria is deemed a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the U.S. State Department.

The message being conveyed by Obama: You can murder friends of the U.S., yet give it a few years, and all will be forgiven. Provide advanced Scud missiles to Hezbollah (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/syria-is-shipping-scud-missiles-to-hezbollah-1.284141)? It doesn't bother Obama in the least. Begin building a nuclear reactor with North Korean assistance (http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=200858)? No need to fret.

Revolting? You bet!

In this manner, can Obama possibly wean Syria away from Iran? Not a chance. Obama is acting out of weakness, and all the Arab states are now wondering whether they should begin hedging their bets and mending fences with Tehran. Note the recent warming of Jordan, a long-time ally of the U.S., to Iran (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2010/12/war-in-middle-east-obama-losing-jordan.html).

Has Obama been influenced by John Kerry's budding friendship with Syrian tyrant Assad, or, is this another display of Obama's closet radicalism? Either way, it portends no good in the volatile Middle East.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Asia 1" Convoy Heads for Gaza

As reported by Iran's Press TV on Thursday, a new "aid" convoy is headed for Gaza:

"The first Asian humanitarian convoy to break Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip by taking relief supplies to the coastal sliver has reached Lebanon.

Currently joined by activists of 15 different nationalities, the Asian People's Solidarity with Palestine convoy, also known as Asia 1, began its journey from India and traveled through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Syria before arriving in Lebanon.
The activists say they want to display solidarity with the Palestinian people in their resistance against Israel.

Tel Aviv has been enforcing an all-out land, aerial and naval blockade on the 1.5 million Palestinians in the enclave since mid-June 2007.

The mission has been welcomed by Khaled Mashaal, the political leader of the Palestinian resistance movement of Hamas, as well as Ramadan Abdullah, the leader of the Palestinian group of Islamic Jihad.

. . . .

A seven-member delegation of Iranian lawmakers joined the mission while it was in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

The convoy plans to enter Gaza later in the month on the anniversary of the launch of the 22-day-long Israeli war on the enclave, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians.

There are fears that the mission might be fiercely confronted by Israel's military, which killed nine Turkish activists aboard Freedom Flotilla, an Ankara-backed humanitarian convoy, on May 31.

However, an Indian activist with the mission told Press TV, 'We are completely non-violent. We do not have weapons.'

In case of an attack, 'We will face it with non-violence. We'll face it with a prayer in our hearts,' he added."

http://www.presstv.ir/detail/156852.html

"An all-out land, aerial and naval blockade on the 1.5 million Palestinians in the enclave"? Peculiar how the article avoids reference to Gaza's common border with Egypt and the truckloads of goods entering Gaza each day from Israel. In 2009, 30,920 truckloads of food, construction materials and educational supplies entered Gaza from Israel, and after an Israeli Cabinet decision in June 2010, the capacity of the Kerem Shalom Crossing was doubled to allow 250 truckloads to enter Gaza Strip on a daily basis. As widely acknowledged, Gazan shops are now fully stocked with Israeli merchandise, which is even giving rise to complaints among Gazan manufacturers (see: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/how-good-news-became-bad-for-gaza-2102586.html).

Even more absurd, this convoy is setting sail after Israel announced that it will allow increased exports from Gaza (see: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/gaza_blockade).

So what is the rationale for the "Asia 1" convoy?

Faced with declining popularity in Gaza and no longer making world headlines, Hamas has acted to "heat up" the border with Israel. A total of some 200 rockets and mortar rounds were fired at southern Israel from Gaza during all of 2010, and of these, 25 were fired at Israeli civilian targets over the course of a two-day period this past week (see: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/un-israel-hamas-seeking-to-reduce-recent-gaza-tension-1.332519). One Qassam rocket exploded next to a kindergarten in Ashkelon, wounding one child (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4002195,00.html). Also, on December 6, an advanced Kornet anti-tank missile, smuggled into Gaza, was fired for the first time at an Israeli Merkava (see: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/gaza-anti-tank-missile-penetrated-idf-tank-ashkenazi-reveals-1.331848).

Will the "Asia 1" escapade pass uneventfully? Probably. However, regarding the Indian activist's "prayers in our hearts", a pity he does not contemplate:

- The ongoing attempts by Hamas to target Israeli civilians with missiles.
- The Hamas charter, which calls for the murder of all Jews, not just Israelis.
- The ongoing murder, i.e. "honor killing", of women in Gaza (see: http://articles.cnn.com/2009-07-30/world/mideast.honor.killings_1_honor-killings-gaza-human-rights?_s=PM:WORLD).
- The ongoing murder of Hamas political opponents (http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/04/20/gaza-hamas-should-end-killings-torture).
- The ongoing abuse of Christians in the Gaza Strip (see: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aC7P93EMyb1Q&refer=home).
- Death threats against gays in Gaza (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/3211772.stm).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Paris Pours Poison into a Seething Middle East Cauldron: 100 HOT Missiles Being Sent to Lebanon

There are times when I can only scratch my head and wonder who is responsible for a given miscreant act. The decision of France to supply the Lebanese army with 100 HOT anti-tank missiles falls within this domain. See: http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=199914

Q&A:

Will the missiles remain in the hands of the Lebanese army?

Little chance of that. Paris is providing the missiles with no strings attached, and some, if not all, will make their way into the hands of Hezbollah and Iran.

Why is France supplying Lebanon with the missiles now, i.e. delivery by February?

Actually, the U.S. opened the door to this idiocy when Congress recently released $100 million in funding for the Lebanese army. (See: http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?ID=195113&R=R1 ) If the U.S. is supplying Lebanon with arms, Paris can hardly allow itself to be seen as withholding "aid" to a former French mandate.

Might the missiles be used by the Lebanese army to quell an attempted coup by Hezbollah?

Not a chance. The Lebanese army has a large Shiite contingent, i.e. has been infiltrated by Hezbollah, and would not stand a chance fighting against Hezbollah, which is better armed and trained.

What are the consequences of this delivery of missiles?

The Lebanese army will be annihilated during the course of future fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

Vive la France!

[I apologize to readers that comments are now being "moderated". Not long ago, a reader, sympathetic to Hezbollah, wrote to me in Arabic saying that I am a "son of a whore". Although I prefer to allow readers to vent their spleens, I still think there need be some modicum of courtesy for purposes of this blog.]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nano Retina's Bionic Retina Seeks to Restore Sight to Persons Suffering from Retinal Degenerative Diseases

In an earier blog entry (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/search/label/Nano%20Retina), I noted that I am privileged to work as a consultant for a small Israeli medical device company named Nano Retina, which is developing an ultra small bionic retina, incorporating nano-size components, designed to restore sight to those suffering from retinal degenerative diseases. Its 30-minute implant procedure requires local anesthesia, a small incision and “gluing” of the device to the damaged retina. Return of sight is anticipated to be instantaneous.

According to a recent article in The Economist entitled "Seeing into the future" (http://www.economist.com/node/17647663), a new retinal implant device, manufactured by a company named Second Sight, is soon to be granted clinical approval in Europe and will then go on sale. According to The Economist:

"The device, called the Argus II, is by no means a cure for blindness, says Robert Greenberg, the chief executive and co-founder of Second Sight, the company in Sylmar, California, that developed it. It is intended for use by people who have lost their sight as a result of retina-wasting diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, and like the earliest cochlear implants it is designed to provide only some basic sensory assistance. But despite its limitations all 30 of the people who have received the Argus II as part of clinical trials can, at the very least, now see changes in light levels and detect objects. This means that they can navigate around obstacles, find doorways, see parked or moving cars and look at someone’s head when talking to them. A handful of them can even read large print."

Although the Argus II is a marvelous achievement, Nano Retina is "setting its sights" considerably higher. The Nano Retina device is intended to allow persons blinded by retinal disease to read, watch TV and identify faces, and the company plans initial human clinical trials within several years. Moreover, as I observed in my earlier blog, the Nano Retina bionic retina is expected to work with the natural functionalities of the eye, including pupil dilation and eyeball movement, and will be powered wirelessly by a rechargeable, battery-operated mini-laser, situated on a pair of eyeglasses.

I can personally report that since Nano Retina was established in 2009, their team of international scientists has made rapid strides toward their artificial retina target. First elements of the system are ready, and several preclinical tests have already been performed, all in accordance with a rigorous time schedule.

See the following animation describing the Nano Retina project:



Truly, in my opinion, a miracle in the making . . .

Monday, December 13, 2010

Roger Cohen's Deluded "U.S. Illusions in Lebanon"

In his op-ed of today's date entitled "U.S. Illusions in Lebanon" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/14/opinion/14iht-edcohen14.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Roger Cohen writes:

"For the United States to shun any contact with Hezbollah amounts to trying to play the Middle Eastern chess game without several pieces.

. . . .

My sense is the passage of time — as well as bungling and inconsistencies — has rendered justice impossible in the Hariri murder. Lebanese stability is precious and tenuous: It trumps justice delayed, flawed and foreign.

. . . .

Is anyone listening in D.C.? It’s time to drop either-or diplomacy to address a many-shaded reality."

In essence, Cohen is telling us that if Saad Hariri is willing to forgive the 2005 murder of his father, Rafik, by Hezbollah, the U.S. should also let bygones be bygones. Cohen, however, has a habit of forgetting to mention inconvenient facts.

In 1983, long before Cohen became a U.S. citizen, Hezbollah blew up the Beirut barracks housing the U.S. members of the multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon, killing 220 Marines, 18 Navy sailors, and three Army soldiers. Attempts at rescuing survivors from the rubble were subsequently hindered by Hezbollah sniper fire.

Cohen also fails to mention the 1984 kidnap and murder of William Francis Buckley by Hezbollah. Buckley, buried in Arlington National Cemetery, was tortured to death by Hezbollah.

Also, no reference by Cohen to Hezbollah's bombing of the Jewish community center building in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 85 people and injured hundreds. Why should Roger sully his argument with such trivial details?

Cohen spent the better part of 2009 attempting to convince us that Iran is "not totalitarian", while ignoring Iran's brutal oppression of Baha'is, Kurds, Sunnis, women, homosexuals, dissidents and journalists, and never broaching Iran's support of genocide in Darfur. Now, in 2010, he would have the U.S. seek rapprochement with Tehran's hired Hezbollah thugs for the sake of a "many-shaded reality".

Forgive and forget? Sorry, Roger, not in this lifetime. I spent much of 1983 in Lebanon and will never forget the gruesome sight of Hezbollah's victims. Never!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The War in the Middle East: Obama Losing Jordan

There is an ongoing war in the Middle East between Iran and the U.S., which, as yet, has not involved guns and bullets. An ambitious Iran intent on regional hegemony, incessantly snorts in bellicose fashion as it attempts to intimidate its Arab neighbors into submission. Moreover, as was revealed by WikiLeaks and has been stated often in this blog, America's Arab allies - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates - are all running scared, attempting to determine in whose favor the confrontation is trending, while occasionally suggesting that they are prepared to implement atomic development programs of their own.

Hesitant to confront Iran and belatedly limiting his opposition to sanctions that have been largely ignored by countries with their own agendas such as China and Turkey, Obama may soon watch as Jordan defects from the West. As reported by Jamal Halaby of the Associated Press:

"Jordan's King Abdullah II said Sunday he was seeking 'practical steps' to improve his frosty relations with Iran, a contrast to his regime's frequent criticism of Iran's policies.

The call came in a closed-door meeting with Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, director of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's office, Abdullah's Royal Court said in a statement.

Abdullah has been one of Iran's harshest critics in recent years, warning that its growing influence in the region could undermine him and other pro-American moderates.

The Royal Court statement said Abdullah accepted Ahmadinejad's invitation to visit Tehran soon, but no date was set.

. . . .

In U.S. cables released by WikiLeaks, U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Stephen Beecroft quoted Jordanian officials describing Iran as an 'octopus' whose tentacles 'reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment, and undermine the best laid plans of the West and regional moderates.'"

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101212/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_jordan_iran

Obama is perceived by Jordan as a weakling prepared to sell out America's friends, and notwithstanding its hatred of the Iranian "Octopus", Jordan is now hedging its bets.

A real war with guns and bullets involving an Iranian proxy? Hezbollah is demanding that Lebanon ignore the forthcoming conclusions of the U.N. tribunal investigating the murder by Hezbollah of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (see: http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/mess-report/hezbollah-threatens-new-era-for-resistance-unless-lebanon-shuns-hariri-tribunal-1.330110), and whether publication of the U.N.'s determinations leads to a coup d'état or civil war in Lebanon, or possibly a confrontation with Israel intended to distract the Arab street, is anyone's bet.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Obama's Middle East Policy: The Big Lie (I)

The revelations resulting from the publication of U.S. State Department documents by WikiLeaks as they pertain to the Middle East have proven an eye opener. Although some of what was disclosed by WikiLeaks has already been hinted at here, WikiLeaks has provided the hard evidence.

Among those leaders from the region with egg smeared all over their faces is Turkey's Prime Minister Erdoğan. As reported by Hürriyet Daily News, there have been allegations of eight secret bank accounts in Switzerland:

"Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s financial assets and the way he made 'his fortune' were the subjects of two of the cables sent by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, documents leaked as part of a release late Sunday by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

'We have heard from two contacts that Erdoğan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdoğan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame,' Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, wrote in a cable sent to Washington on Dec. 30, 2004.

Edelman, who has been outspoken in his criticism of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, argued that the widespread corruption would be an important factor that could degrade Erdoğan’s ability to run the country.

In a separate cable sent in July 2004, Edelman claimed that 'an anonymous source told [him] that Erdoğan and [the source] benefited directly from the award of the Tüpraş privatization to a consortium including a Russian partner.'”

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=us-cables-argue-erdogan-has-eight-accounts-in-swiss-banks-2010-11-29

If this is not enough, according to Der Spiegel the cables leaked by WikiLeaks warn of the tendencies and dependability of Ankara's policy makers:

"US diplomats have grave doubts about Turkey's dependability. Secret or confidential cables from the US Embassy in Ankara describe Islamist tendencies in the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The US diplomats' verdict on the NATO partner with the second biggest army in the alliance is devastating. The Turkish leadership is depicted as divided, and Erdogan's advisers, as well as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, are portrayed as having little understanding of politics beyond Ankara.

The Americans are also worried about Davutoglu's alleged neo-Ottoman visions. US diplomats quote one high-ranking government adviser as saying that Davutoglu would use his Islamist influence on Erdogan, describing him as 'exceptionally dangerous.' According to the US document, another adviser to the ruling AKP party remarked, probably ironically, that Turkey wanted 'to take back Andalusia and avenge the defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683.'

The US diplomats write that many leading figures in the AKP were members of a Muslim fraternity and that Erdogan had appointed Islamist bankers to influential positions. He gets his information almost exclusively from newspapers with close links to Islamists, they reported. The prime minister, the cables continue, has surrounded himself with an 'iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors' and presents himself as the 'Tribune of Anatolia.'"

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,731590,00.html

In short, with friends like Turkey, who needs enemies, but this didn't stop Obama from embracing his friend Erdoğan at the recent G-20 summit in Seoul (observe the picture in Der Spiegel).

Note the special warmth that Obama reserves for the likes of Erdoğan, Chavez (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30271562/ns/world_news-americas/) and Qaddafi (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2009/07/09/obama_shakes_hands_with_gaddaf.html). You will never see him in a picture hugging with Netanyahu, although you will see him bowing to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fd425zfw5Ew).

Erdoğan's response to the WikiLeaks disclosures? You guessed it: Blame it on Israel:

"Israel could have engineered the release of hundreds of thousands of confidential documents on WikiLeaks as a plot to corner Turkey on both domestic and foreign policy, according to a senior ruling party official.

'One has to look at which countries are pleased with these. Israel is very pleased. Israel has been making statements for days, even before the release of these documents,' Hüseyin Çelik, deputy leader of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the party’s spokesperson, told reporters at a press conference Wednesday.

. . . .

Though government officials like Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek avoided naming Israel in their public statements Wednesday, Çelik, a close aide to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, singled out the country with his comments Wednesday.

'Documents were released and they immediately said, ‘Israel will not suffer from this.’ How did they know that?' Çelik said.

Turkey and Israel have had bitter relations since the flotilla crisis, in which Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish and one American-Turkish citizen. 'Turkey, with its efficiency and foreign policy, has treaded on someone’s fields. The prime minister is known as a dominant leader not only in Turkey but also in the world,' Çelik told reporters.

Yasin Doğan, a columnist for the pro-government Yeni Şafak newspaper, also named the Israeli lobby in the U.S. as the source of the cable leaks. 'Some people from the U.S. want to drive the [Barack] Obama administration in a different direction. They also want to adjust the relations of many governments with the U.S.,' he said in his article Wednesday. Doğan is the penname of Yasin Akdoğan, who is one of Erdoğan’s political advisors."

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=akp-hints-israel-as-8220behind-the-wikileaks-conspiracy8221-2010-12-01

Obama wants to cuddle with a vain, self-serving Erdoğan, who is creating a special relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran while steering Turkey away from the West? The U.S is headed for an iceberg.