Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Week in Review

Shots heard round the Islamic world, “Martyr’s Day,” Israel’s friend in Europe, another Chinese military breakthrough, and the fastest-growing part of America’s unbalanced budget.

Middle East
Inspired by the government overthrows in Tunisia and Egypt, crowds have taken to the streets in Libya, Yemen, Iran and Bahrain in recent days to demand political change in their countries. In Bahrain, clashes turned violent when on Thursday police pushed hundreds of mainly-Shiite protesters out of the capital’s central square. Shiite populism in Bahrain is not a good thing for America, which has its 5th Fleet stationed in the country. Reuters reports that Western officials fear that majority rule in Bahrain could help their enemies in Shiite-ruled Iran. In Yemen, demonstrations have continued for over a week, with four protesters being killed on Thursday. Demonstrators want to overthrow President Ali Abdullah Saleh—again, not a good thing for the United States, which looks on the leader as an ally in its fight against al Qaeda. In Libya, five have been killed in protests, and Iraq saw fatalities when police opened fire on anti-government protesters on Thursday. As for America, it is caught between its philosophy of supporting democracy in the Middle East, and containing radical forces and Iranian-Shiite hegemony in the region.
Celebrating Martyr’s Day in Lebanon on Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah announced to a rally that fighters should be ready to “take over the Galilee.” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded sharply at a conference in Jerusalem saying, “Nasrallah announced today that he can occupy the Galilee, but I have news for you, he can’t.” Galilee is the northernmost region of Israel that borders Lebanon. It contains a strong Palestinian Arab presence. Should Hezbollah forces try to move south during a war with Israel, they could have some help from the inside. But as the Trumpet has reported before, Hezbollah’s strength is in its massive rocket arsenal. A war with Israel would probably involve a barrage of weaponry rather than a ground incursion into Galilee.
During Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most recent visit to Israel on February 1, she declared that Germany’s relations with Israel have “no parallel with any other country to which Germany has ties,” in the words of the Jerusalem Post. “Merkel, considered one of Israel’s closest allies in Europe, declared that ‘the security of Israel is not just a two-state issue, but a global issue. We have to make certain that the security of Israel in secure borders is assured’” (February 2). Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, stated during the chancellor’s visit that “We are allies, Israel and Germany, and we have a great desire, on both sides, to strengthen our relationship and our bilateral cooperation. We also have the strong desire to advance peace and security in our region. Chancellor Merkel and I spoke at length about several ideas in this regard.” Chancellor Merkel replied: “We have similar values, which makes it very easy for us to cooperate” (jta, January 31). Unknown to most, this collaboration between Israel and Germany started soon after World War ii, when Israel began reaching out to Germany for both intelligence and the provision of military hardware. In many end-time prophecies, God discusses Israel’s Assyrian (German) “lovers,” and how Israel will be the victim of a treacherous diplomatic double cross. In this regard, watch for Germany to become closely involved in a revival of the Middle East “peace process.”
Meanwhile, Chancellor Merkel is urging new Egyptian leadership to preserve the country’s 32-year peace treaty with Israel. “We … expect the future Egyptian government to continue to keep the peace in the Middle East, in that the agreements made with Israel are respected and Israel’s security is guaranteed,” Merkel told reporters February 11. German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg made similar comments at the Munich Security Conference earlier in the month. These statements stand in stark contrast to U.S. President Barack Obama’s silence on the issue. Considering the intimate relationship that has existed between the United States and Israel since the foundation of the Jewish state in 1948, it is remarkable that President Obama, in a lengthy 17-paragraph document addressing the historic changes taking place in Egypt, failed to mention Israel or regional peace in any manner whatsoever. Israeli leaders are surely taking note of which world leaders are speaking up in their defense. This will only make the Jewish state more receptive to German advances.
Emboldened by the recent protests in Cairo, Bedouin gangs in the Sinai Peninsula escalated attacks on police forces, prompting Israel to agree to an Egyptian force being deployed in the region. The move on February 1 marked the first time Egyptian troops have entered the Sinai since the 1979 treaty established it as a demilitarized zone. Already known as a “lawless land,” the Sinai Peninsula has long been plagued with Bedouin gangs refusing allegiance to Cairo. The gangs are notorious for their help in smuggling weapons to Hamas militants. Now, Israel fears the peninsula could become a breeding ground for jihad.
According to Israeli legislator Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Hosni Mubarak issued a warning the day before he resigned in a 20-minute telephone conversation between the two: “They may be talking about democracy but they don’t know what they’re talking about and the result will be extremism and radical Islam,” Ben-Eliezer quoted Mubarak as saying on February 10. “Egyptians are revolting against Western-style democracy,” Investor’s Business Daily recently editorialized. “They want an Islamic theocracy.” Mubarak understood this, which is why he told President Obama on February 3, “You don’t understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now.” Now that Mubarak is gone, we are about to see what happens next. As Mubarak told Ben-Eliezer, “I won’t be surprised if in the future you see more extremism and radical Islam and more disturbances—dramatic changes and upheavals.”
While the pro-democracy protests in Egypt have subsided, thousands of workers in banks, textile and food factories, oil factories and government offices went on strike this week, demanding wage and subsidy increases. The military has said that elections will be held within six months. “The Higher Military Council expressed its hope to hand over power within six months to a civilian authority and a president elected in a peaceful and free manner that expresses the views of the people,” an armed forces statement said on Tuesday. The Muslim Brotherhood—which as the most organized political group in Egypt stands to benefit the most from free elections—has demanded that the military immediately take the further steps of lifting emergency law and releasing political prisoners. Meanwhile, a newly created committee, meeting for the first time on Tuesday, is tasked with amending the constitution within 10 days. It has already suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament. “These are all moves,” reports Stratfor, “designed to create the appearance that the military does not covet the role of directly governing Egypt for any longer than it feels it must, and that it is rapidly pushing the country forward toward democratic rule. It is also part of a strategy of keeping the opposition weak and divided …” (February 16). While the military’s goal may be to hold on to power, pushing for early elections before unified parties and strong contenders emerge will stand to benefit the Muslim Brotherhood, even though it is yet to become a legal party.
The cabinet of the Palestinian Legislative Council resigned Monday amid growing unrest in the Arab world. The government shake-up is seen by many as a way to mitigate mob fervor against the government of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Immediately following his resignation, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was reinstated and further commissioned by Abbas to fill the cabinet posts within the next six weeks. This party reshuffle is unlikely to change too much on the ground for Palestinians, although it will give the sense of political change that the populace yearns for. Abbas also called for general Palestinian elections to be held in September. If that happens, it will be the first elections since Hamas won the majority vote in 2006. Viewed as the more moderate alternative to Hamas leadership, the West has propped up the Abbas government, refusing to deal with the democratically elected Hamas faction. While Hamas stated Monday that it would boycott the September elections, the Trumpet expects Hamas to not only continue to reign over the Gaza Strip but to also probably take over the West Bank. This instability in the Fatah hierarchy could help bring about that change.
Meanwhile, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat quit last Saturday after two decades in the diplomatic service, taking responsibility for the leak of over 1,600 documents stolen from his office. Known as the Palestinian papers, the documents reveal Erekat and his colleagues were willing to give more to Israelis than they had made known to the public. As late as 2008, Palestinian negotiators understood that a peace deal with Israel meant that most settlements in East Jerusalem, comprising over 200,000 Jews, would remain under Israeli sovereignty. But while the leaders might have discussed such concessions, Erekat’s resignation reveals they would have never flown with the Palestinian public. For 20 years Erekat was an outspoken critic of Israel’s methods for achieving peace, always blaming Israel for failed peace talks. His public stance was always non-compromising in the Palestinians’ quest for statehood. His belligerence was exactly what the public wanted. And yet, one small revelation that he was actually willing to do what all negotiators do—compromise—and he is out of a job. Erekat’s resignation shows that the Palestinian public will not allow their figureheads to make a peace with Israel that concedes one inch on their demands.
Russian Defense Ministry officials signed a contract on February 9 with German private defense firm Rheinmetall to construct a combat training facility for Russia’s military on the Mulino base. Russian defense officials have also offered for Rheinmetall to manage the “support, repair and modernization of military equipment.” The agreement is significant because Rheinmetall is the first foreign company to construct such a training facility in Russia, and the German company has a sobering history. In August 1944, Nazi politicians met with German industrialists—one of whom represented Rheinmetall—to plot the future resurrection of German Nazism. But the primary significance of the deal lies in its indication of a quickly warming relationship between Moscow and Berlin. History makes plain where a warming Russo-German relationship will lead. If a peace pact results, it will indicate that one or both sides are gearing up for another imperialistic campaign. To learn more about the prophetic significance of the warming relationship between Russia and Germany, read our October 2008 Trumpet article “Russia’s Attack Signals Dangerous New Era.”
The United Nations has known about organ trafficking in Kosovo since 2003—five years before a former prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal raised the issue, according to details based on classified documents published by france 24 on February 16. These documents show that the UN knew senior members of the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army (kla) trafficked organs from Kosovo and Albania. Leaders of the kla later went on to lead Kosovo, yet the UN said nothing.
Italian President Silvio Berlusconi will stand trial for abuse of power and prostitution with an underage girl, a judge ruled on February 15. The trial will start on April 6. On February 13, thousands protested Berlusconi’s actions. So far Berlusconi has survived all kinds of scandal. As the Trumpet has pointed out, this is in part due to the Catholic Church’s backing. If he can keep that backing, he may survive. But if the church decides to dump the scandal-beset politician, his days in power will be numbered, even if he survives the court case.
The EU and International Monetary Fund told Greece on February 11 it has to sell €50 billion of the state’s assets. Fifteen billion, they said, must go by 2015. These organizations initially told Greece that a sale of only €7 billion would be required as one of the conditions of the bailout. “Ports, airports, beaches, electricity, trains will all have to [be] sold as quickly as possible,” complained a Greek newspaper. This demonstrates that by accepting the bailout, Greece has given a major part of its power to Brussels. Europe decides Greece’s finances, not the elected Greek government.
The Johannes Kepler carried the heaviest load a European spaceship has carried into space yet, on February 16. The space transporter was launched on the European-built Ariane 5 ES launch vehicle. Alain Charmea, chairman of Astrium Space, the subsidiary of eads that manufactured the Johannes Kepler, called the launch “the biggest space event of the year.” The unmanned ship will dock with the International Space Station. Controlling space is an important way to boost national power. See our December 2003 Trumpet article “Space Wars!” for details.
Now that the Tunisian government has fallen, thousands of Tunisians are fleeing the county and flocking to the shores of Europe. In the past week alone, it is estimated that more than 5,000 would-be migrants have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni recently warned that al Qaeda may try to exploit this mass exodus from North Africa as a means of sneaking terrorist operatives into Europe. As North African nations fall to radical Islam, the mountains and deserts of the Sahara are set to become a stronghold for Islamic terrorism, and thus a major threat to Europe. The time is soon coming when Europe will react to this threat with more than just words.
On Tuesday, Taipei reiterated demands for the Philippines to apologize for having extradited 14 Taiwanese gangsters to mainland China earlier this month rather than repatriating them to Taiwan to face justice. The move is the latest in a series of steps Manila is taking toward Beijing and away from the United States and its allies. Back in December, Philippine police arrested the 14 Taiwanese citizens along with 10 Chinese nationals who were part of the same fraud gang operating on Philippine soil. While Beijing and Manila have an extradition treaty between them, none exists between Manila and Taipei. In the 38 days between the arrests and the deportation, Taipei went to great lengths to establish such a treaty and to persuade Manila not to send its citizens to China, but the Philippines seized on the opportunity to instead please Beijing. The implications of the Philippines’ action are momentous because it suggests that, from Manila’s perspective, mainland China and Taiwan are already unified. In recent months, Beijing and Manila have signed the first Sino-Philippine military agreement, collaborated on a code of conduct regarding the disputed Spratly Islands, and participated together in a China-led boycott against the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that honored an imprisoned Chinese dissident. Historically, Manila has depended on the U.S. for assistance, but the U.S.-Philippines military relationship is cooling. Beijing sees the trend as a chance to gain a foothold in the Philippines and expand its sphere of influence in Southeast Asia, while simultaneously elbowing the U.S. out. Manila is beginning to read the writing on the wall, and is positioning the Philippines for the inevitable demise of U.S. dominance in Asia.
The PLA Daily announced on Thursday that China’s military recently made a major breakthrough with “a new type of camouflage technology.” The development won first prize in China’s National Scientific and Technological Progress Award, and marks another success for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (pla). The technology is a strategic barrier that ensures security and safety for soldiers and facilities in wartime, and will play a significant role in strategic defense. Experts say the achievement fills a void in the camouflage scientific research field, and the development takes its place on a heap of evidence showing that, with increasing consistency, China is surpassing the expectations of Western experts by its rapid developments and capability. The news last month that China has developed the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missiles was taken as a sign that the balance of power in Asia has been reordered. As the pla’s might grows, expect U.S. influence in the region to wane. As the shift continues, other Asian nations will abandon the sinking U.S. ship and will rally behind China and support its ascendancy, leading to the establishment of a colossal Asian power bloc.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited Chad on Wednesday, marking the final stop on his African tour that also included trips to Zimbabwe, Gabon, Guinea and Togo. It is Yang’s fourth trip to Africa, and the trend reflects Beijing’s increasing engagement across the continent. Yang’s agenda centered on economics, and confirmed China’s eagerness to do business with corrupt African leaders that the West largely avoids. Unlike Berlin or Washington, Beijing does not tie its development assistance to conditions of “good governance.” But, as Europe and other powers watch China devour more and more of the African pie, they will move to tighten their grip on their own supply channels.
Africa/Latin America
The conditions that helped lead to popular revolt in Tunisia and Egypt also exist in many sub-Saharan nations. “The underlying issues in Tunisia and Egypt will find an echo in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London. Facebook pages from Zimbabwe to Sudan are demanding change in a region where it is custom for autocratic rulers to cling to power and refuse to cede basic freedoms. Deadly clashes erupted as far south as South Africa this week as protestors there blamed corrupt municipal officials for lack of clean water, no electricity, shortage of housing and a high unemployment rate. In the city of Ermelo—around 120 miles east of Johannesburg—a man was killed in a second day of clashes on Tuesday as police fired live ammunition at petrol-bombing protestors. In Boiphelo—about 190 miles southwest of Johannesburg—two children drowned as they allegedly ran away from the scene of an armed conflict. All in all, police have arrested over 75 people since Monday. The rioting comes after President Jacob Zuma pledged in his state-of-the-nation speech last week to move faster to improve services and boost employment for the one in four people in the country without work. South Africa had a record 111 protests last year over lack of services. Such upheaval is set to drastically increase in the near future. South Africa could well be the first former Anglo-Saxon colony to fall to rioting and violence.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos revealed on Monday that the Chinese plan on building a 138-mile-long railway across his country—from the Gulf of Urabá on the Atlantic coast to the port of Cupica on the Pacific coast. China, now the world’s second-largest economy, plans on using this new transportation thoroughfare to ship coal by rail from mines in eastern Colombia to Pacific ports, where it can then be shipped across the ocean. This railway is already being hailed as a sort of land-based Panama Canal. Since China already controls the Panama Canal, the completion of this railway will give Beijing almost complete control over all land-based and sea-based freight passing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. If Beijing ever decides that it wants to cripple the world’s largest consumer of natural resources and assume control over it suppliers, America had best beware.
On Tuesday, Germany’s Deutsche Börse and the New York Stock Exchange (nyse) announced that they had inked a merger agreement, pending regulatory approval, that would hand over 60 percent ownership of the combined company to the German side. The two sides hope to close the deal by the end of this year, which would mean the biggest symbol of America’s economic might—the preeminent institution of Anglo-Saxon financial domination—would be sold. The current plans may call for New York to remain a head office to supplement Deutsche Börse’s regional hubs in Frankfurt and Paris, but the reality is that both Paris and New York will become little more than token headquarters for the new company. The baton of economic leadership is being passed again: From London to New York in 1919, and now from New York to Frankfurt.
On the other side of the globe, another foreign power is looking to take over the Australian stock exchange. A proposed takeover of the Australian Securities Exchange by its Singapore rival is likely to proceed, Channel NewsAsia reported Tuesday. The pending deal has caused a stir in the Australian Parliament and must be approved by it and the treasurer, but the nyse takeover and a sweetened pot from Singapore has caused analysts to put the odds of a deal at 50/50. Whether or not the proposed deal goes through, it is a stark reminder of the waning power of Anglo-Saxon economies. In times past, it would have been Western English-speaking nations that would have been the predators. Now they are more often the prey. Selling strategic assets to foreign nations is the height of folly.
On Wednesday, the Bank of England cut its forecast for the nation’s growth in its quarterly inflation report, but held out hope that a double-dip recession could be avoided. The bank said inflation would rise sharply to 5 percent. British unemployment figures reported bad news this week. Those out of work and claiming unemployment benefits increased 2,400 when a drop was expected, wages are at a five-month low, youth unemployment hit a new record of 965,000, and wider measures of joblessness also rose.
Interest on the U.S. national debt became a major talking point this week when President Barack Obama perhaps inadvertently spotlighted it in a Tuesday news conference. By 2014, net interest on the national debt will exceed the amount spent on education, transportation, energy and other discretionary programs outside defense, the Washington Post said. By 2018, interest payments will exceed Medicare spending as well, and only defense and Social Security will be costlier.