Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Week in Review

Middle East
Christianity is on the retreat across the Middle East, according to a recent report in Britain’s Independent. And it is not just war-torn Iraq that Christians are leaving—their numbers throughout the region are rapidly decreasing. “Across the Middle East, it is the same story of despairing—sometimes frightened—Christian minorities, and of an exodus that reaches almost biblical proportions,” wrote the Independent. “Almost half of Iraq’s Christians have fled their country since the first Gulf War in 1991 … and stand now at 550,000, scarcely 3 percent of the population. More than half of Lebanon’s Christians now live outside their country. Once a majority, the nation’s 1.5 million Christians, most of them Maronite Catholics, comprise perhaps 35 percent of the Lebanese. Egypt’s Coptic Christians—there are at most around 8 million—now represent less than 10 percent of the population” (October 26). In order to address the problem, the Roman Catholic Church held a synod last month to discuss Christianity in the Middle East. Reports of Christian persecution are destined to fan the flames of hatred, just as they did in the times of the First Crusade.
Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula is promising more small scale attacks like its failed attempts to bomb two U.S.-bound cargo planes. “To bring down America we do not need to strike big,” a spokesman said. The so-called “Operation Hemorrhage” cost only $4,200. Al-Qaeda intends to bleed its enemy to death by a thousand cuts, and has published its intent on the Yemeni-based group’s online magazine. The group is shifting from spectacular 9/11-type attacks to cheaper, easier terror that will ignite the “security phobia” that is sweeping through America—in order to cause not maximum murder, but maximum economic damage. America’s open society is especially vulnerable to such attacks.
Syria is refusing United Nations nuclear inspectors access to multiple suspect sites, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained by Reuters. For over two years, Syria—which denies ever having an atom bomb program—has blocked iaea access to the nuclear site bombed by Israel in September 2007. The report also reveals that Syria is denying inspectors access to a pilot plant used for acid purification, which produces uranium ore as a by-product. The appearance of three other Syrian sites under military control has been altered following iaea requests to visit them. Syria has allowed access to a research reactor in Damascus, at which inspectors found unexplained particles of processed uranium. Reuters says the report tells of Syria dodging questions about this processed uranium, and giving inconsistent information to the iaea. The UN has proved ineffectual in preventing—or even monitoring—nuclear weapons development in rogue countries, including Syria, Iran and North Korea.
debkafile’s military sources report that Iran has supplied Syria and Hezbollah with thousands of surface missiles with ranges of nearly 200 miles and that they are being equipped with guidance systems by Iranian engineers. “The new guided Fateh-110, M-600 and Scud D missiles hardware can pinpoint any part of Israel within a 10-meter radius in defiance of Israel’s aerial and anti-missile capabilities,” debkafile says, citing Israeli and Western missile experts. Iran has provided Syria and Hezbollah with the means to fight “a new, far more comprehensive war,” it writes. The guidance systems would allow Hezbollah to strike critical targets in Israel using far fewer missiles than in the past. Uzi Rubin, former head of the Israel Mission Defense Organization, said in a recent speech, “The enemy has achieved aerial supremacy without even having planes.” Hezbollah and Syria apparently have 1,500 warheads that could hit the Tel Aviv area. In acknowledgement of this reality, Israeli Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin warned the Israeli cabinet last Sunday: “Tel Aviv will be a frontline in the next conflict.” debkafile also reports that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has put Hashim Safi Al-Din, his cousin and heir apparent, in command of southern Lebanon and its border with Israel. Previously, Safi Al-Din was head of Hezbollah’s Liaison Office in Tehran, and, as such, debkafile says Iran will count on the new frontline commander for implicit obedience in a war situation.
Ireland finally succumbed to an EU bailout on November 21. The European Union will provide it with loans of up to around €90 billion. As Stratfor wrote, “Germany is using the opportunity presented by the crisis to redesign the European Union and its institutions—especially eurozone fiscal rules and the enforcement mechanisms for those rules” (November 22). Ireland has had to hand over control of much of its budget to Europe. It appears that it has been able to retain its low corporate tax rate, for now. But if it slips up on any of the bailout conditions, France and Germany will be more than willing to force Ireland to sacrifice its low corporate tax rate.
On November 24, public sector workers in Portugal went on strike for one day, as the country’s two biggest unions held their first joint strike since 1988. The two unions say they represent 1.5 million workers. The strike was called over dissatisfaction with the government’s austerity measures, which are set to be approved by parliament this week. Watch for more dissatisfaction in Portugal; it could be the next economy to fall, after Ireland.
Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (cdu) voted to shrink the army and suspend conscription on November 15. Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told senior officers that the military would be cut by 25 percent. But as part of Guttenberg’s reforms, the number of troops Germany can deploy abroad is expected to double, from 7,000 to 14,000, according to the Financial Times. In terms of the number of troops Germany can actually use, the army is getting bigger and better. The cdus sister party, the Christian Social Union, also approved Guttenberg’s plans at its party conference on October 29. Conscription will end on July 1, if it gets the approval from parliament that seems almost certain now that all of Germany’s ruling coalition members have approved Guttenberg’s reforms. Continue to watch for Guttenberg to make Germany a stronger nation—just as the Trumpet has been saying for the past year.
nato leaders met to decide on a new strategic concept, or mission statement, for the alliance in Lisbon on November 19 to 20. The result was essentially mush. It would be a stretch to refer to the 4,000-word document as a statement. nato has lost its way and doesn’t really know its mission in today’s world. As the Trumpet has long forecast, expect either Germany to twist the alliance to its own ends, or for nato to fade into insignificance.
Germany continued to remain on high alert this week. The nation’s parliament building—the Reichstag—was closed on November 22. However, the suspicious device found on a plane bound for Germany from Namibia reported last week turned out to be a dud. It was a replica of a bomb, and was apparently used to test airport security staff. It is not clear who placed the suitcase at the Namibian airport. On November 23, police arrested 11 people accused of plotting a terrorist attack in Belgium. Seven were arrested in Antwerp, two in Amsterdam and one in Aachen, Germany.
Pope Benedict xvi promoted 24 Catholics to the rank of cardinal on November 20. All of them support the pope’s traditional, conservative agenda. Expect the church to become more conservative as the pope continues to put men that think like him in key offices.
China and Russia have agreed to abandon the U.S. dollar in favor of using their own currencies for bilateral trade. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the news on Tuesday, saying the new policy is not designed to challenge the dollar, but to protect the economies of Russia and China in the wake of the global financial crisis. Chinese experts said the policy reflects warming relations between Beijing and Moscow. Expect this movement away from the dollar to gather steam. And watch for Russia and China—as their global economic influence increases—to draw closer than ever to each other.
North Korea has made stunning progress in its nuclear technology, a nuclear scientist invited to tour the facilities informed the White House on November 12. Earlier this month, Stanford professor and former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Siegfried S. Hecker visited two new North Korean nuclear facilities that demonstrate Pyongyang is still committed to its nuclear program, and that it may have had outside help. The most shocking development was a new uranium enrichment plant that contains 2,000 centrifuges. “Instead of seeing a few small cascades of centrifuges, which I believed to exist in North Korea, we saw a modern, clean centrifuge plant of more than a thousand centrifuges all neatly aligned and plumbed below us,” Hecker said. North Korea claims that its enrichment plant is designed to fuel a new type of nuclear reactor currently under construction, but Hecker pointed out that the current uranium enrichment could be reconfigured easily to produce highly enriched uranium—the type used in bombs. He said “the greatest concern” is that North Korea has a secret enrichment facility somewhere else, configured to produce weapons-grade uranium. The facility he visited went completely undetected, so North Korea could easily have another hidden site.
On Wednesday, North Korea launched its first artillery attack on South Korea in almost 60 years, firing 50 heavy artillery shells on to an island off South Korea’s coast that killed two marines, injured 17 marines and three civilians, and set 60 civilian homes ablaze. South Korea reacted by launching 80 shells into North Korea and deploying fighter jets to secure its airspace. Pyongyang blamed Seoul for the altercation, saying South Korea had fired first, but Seoul admitted only to carrying out military exercises which were well clear of North Korean territory. Some see the attack as proof that North Korea’s ailing leader Kim Jong Il wants to bid the world farewell in a suicidal blaze of glory. But a look at the West’s history of rewarding North Korea for misbehavior reveals that the attack was a logical course of action for Pyongyang. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has taken a tougher stance against the North in an effort to break that pattern, and now Pyongyang is testing the mettle of Seoul and Washington. In the aftermath, South Korea said it would protect its turf with “stern responses” in the event of further attacks, and North Korea said it would “continue to make merciless military attacks” if Seoul violated disputed sea borders between them “even 0.001 millimeter.” China has refrained from condemning Pyongyang for the attack, and cited it as proof that talks about North Korea’s nuclear disarmament need to be resumed. Meanwhile, the U.S. said that as long as Pyongyang is actively expanding its nuclear program, talks could not be resumed. The U.S. also announced that it would deploy a nuclear aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea and would hold war games with South Korea. The Yellow Sea exercises were already postponed once last August following objections from Beijing, and will likely increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Africa/Latin America
The government of Gambia broke off relations with Iran and sent all Iranian diplomats home on November 22 over an arms smuggling scandal that has been going on since October. On October 27, Nigerian media stated that the government had seized a large shipment of weapons from Iran at the port of Lagos. The shipment was made up of 24 crates of weapons, including ammunition for small arms, mortars and 107-mm rockets. The government informed the UN Security Council of the seizure on November 12. Nigeria could report Iran to the Security Council for violating the sanctions imposed on it this summer. This would give the U.S. a pretext to pursue additional sanctions. Despite the fiasco, Iran is certain to find alternative means of smuggling weapons into Africa.
Ministers of trade from members of the African Union met in Kigali, Rwanda, from October 29 to November 2. Here, several criticized the Economic Partnership Agreements (epas) that the EU is attempting to sign with these nations. The epas are ostensibly designed to benefit African nations by allowing them to trade with Europe on favorable conditions. However, the terms of the conditions seem less than favorable, and one minister said that by signing an epa a country puts its head in the mouth of a lion. The African Union Commission and the economic commissions from Africa’s five sub-regions published a paper detailing the problems that will be caused by the epas. The third Africa-EU Summit is scheduled to take place next week, where these epas will probably be discussed. To learn more about Europe’s agenda behind these epa agreements, see our July 12 article “Creating a Eurafrican Free Trade Area—by Force.”
Germany is pursuing a similar policy in Latin America. On October 30, German Aid Minister Dirk Niebel left for a week-long trip to Latin America. “During Germany’s unification and the European Union’s extension to the east, we have not paid enough attention to some other parts of the world,” Niebel said as he was leaving. “That particularly applies to Africa and to some lesser extent to Latin America.” Niebel contrasted Germany’s proposed approach with China’s current approach by saying that it was not enough to simply offer to build infrastructure in exchange for extracting cheap minerals. Rather, he stated that Germany plans to create income for the people of poor, resource-rich nations by helping them extract and process their native mineral reserve for export to Europe. In early December, European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani will introduce to the European Parliament a paper titled “Raw Materials Initiative.” This paper states that the EU wants to access most of its raw materials from outside its own borders by means of new trade agreements. For more information, see our November 23 article, “Germany Extends Its Influence Into Africa and Latin America.”
A Malaysian man was arraigned in federal court on Monday for shocking cybercrimes against the United States. The arrest of the hacker is a troubling illustration of how vulnerable American networks can be. Lin Mun Poo is thought to have penetrated a Federal Reserve Bank computer network, computers operated by a large Defense Department contractor, and several major international banks and companies. He was arrested last month when he flew into New York carrying a heavily encrypted laptop with more than 400,000 stolen credit card, debit card and bank account numbers. If one Malaysian can have this much success, what could hostile nations like China do to America’s Achilles’ heel: technology?
Although the controversy over airport security scans and pat-downs might seem oversized to some, there is a reason the issue is getting so much attention. The New York Times wrote on Thursday that the “pat-down dispute” reveals a mistrust of government. The article says, “[W]hat has become the central theme of Mr. Obama’s presidency [is] America’s faltering confidence in the ability of government to make things work.”
On Wednesday, Australia agreed to further cooperation with Pakistan in the field of defense. Australia’s assistant secretary for Pakistan and Afghanistan said that Pakistan’s anti-militancy efforts were critical. Continue to watch for the outcome of Australia’s growing reliance on its regional neighbors.
Two weeks after a similar protest caused a small riot in London, several thousand British students again took to the streets this week with marches and sit-ins to renew their denunciation of a government plan to increase tuition fees.