The Week in Review
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the first visit to Iraq by an Iranian leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution last weekend. “This visit will open a new chapter in the two countries’ bilateral relations,” he said, “and it will help the atmosphere of cooperation in the region.” Iraqi President Jalal Talabani confirmed that he and Ahmadinejad discussed economic, political, oil, security, and numerous other issues during a meeting on Sunday. The fact that the United States allowed this visit to occur without protest is significant, and could indicate that Washington is using Baghdad as a go-between in U.S.-Iran negotiations. This would solve the dilemma for America and Iran of having to talk to each other publicly.
Clearly, the five-day operation Israel carried out in the Gaza Strip ending Monday was not enough to deter its terrorist enemies. When Israeli troops pulled out, Hamas declared “victory” and, in a bulletin broadcast by Hamas radio, said Israeli forces had failed to curb Palestinian rocket-fire against towns in southern Israel. While extensive coverage has been given to Palestinians killed in Israel’s raids, buried deeper in the news was the fact that an Israeli civilian was killed last week by one of the rockets that continue to be fired from Gaza. While many Israelis have been injured in the rocket attacks, this was the first casualty since last May. Rockets from Gaza have also begun falling on the city of Ashkelon in southern Israel, with 10 Grad missiles hitting the city on the night of February 28. This is the first time Ashkelon has experienced such a large attack, indicating that Hamas’s border breach with Egypt earlier this year has enabled terrorists in the Gaza Strip to upgrade their missile arsenal. Violence has also broken out in East Jerusalem, with hundreds of Palestinian teens pelting Israeli cars, police and people with rocks in protest of Israel Defense Forces operations in Gaza. In the midst of the worst violence in the region for decades, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Israel, futilely appealed to the Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations.
Hamas’s tradition of injecting hatred of the West into Palestinian children and breeding terrorism continues, with a Hamas children’s tv program airing on February 22 in which the show’s co-host, a giant rabbit named Assud, declares he will “kill,” “bite” and “eat” Danes and Israelis. For those who act like Hamas’s rival Fatah is opposed to terrorism, however, Palestinian and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas clarified that on February 28. In an interview with the Jordanian newspaper al-Dustur, Abbas said that although he is opposed to an armed resistance against Israel at the present time, he has not ruled out the possibility of violent conflict in the future. He also highlighted his seminal role in Palestinian terrorism, boasting that he had fired the first shot of “resistance” back in 1965. “We taught everyone what resistance is, including the Hezbollah, who were trained in our camps,” Abbas said.
The divided island of Cyprus could soon be unified. The new Cypriot president has made reunification his top priority, and the leaders of the Turkish north and Greek south are set to meet later this month, it was announced Monday. Cyprus is a crucially strategic piece of real estate. Throughout history it has been used as a launchpad to the Middle East. The Republic of Cyprus is already an EU member. Unification would cement Europe’s hold on the island and mean that the 30,000 Turkish troops currently stationed there would leave.
The European Union is also trying to increase its power in the Balkans. The EU published a series of proposals “binding citizens of the western Balkan states to the EU” this week, according to EUobserver. Europe orchestrated the breakup of Yugoslavia for this end. For more information, read our booklet The Rising Beast—Germany’s Conquest of the Balkans.
The European Commission continued its punishment of American corporate giant Microsoft last week, hitting the world’s largest software developer with a new record €899 million fine. The enormity of the fine appears to be intended as a warning message to Microsoft and other companies not to cross Europe. The European Commission says Microsoft now owes it €1.7 billion (us$2.6 billion). The Commission originally fined the company €498 million in 2004, then hit it with another €280.5 million in July 2006. The size of the latest fine surprised legal experts. The European Commission has emerged, in the words of the International Herald Tribune, as “arguably the world’s most activist regulator.” The Commission has also recently targeted Qualcomm, Intel, MasterCard, Google and Apple.
This week a Berlin art gallery was forced to close an exhibition after a group of Muslims strolled in and threatened staff with violence if they didn’t re-think the satirical art display. The Muslim men were infuriated by a picture of the Kaaba at Mecca under the title “Dumb Stone.” This explosive situation highlights the audacity of European Muslims to use their influence to effect changes in European culture and society. It comes after a series of uprisings against European governments and media outlets, including the Danish cartoon crisis and riots by Muslim youth in France.
On Sunday, Dmitry Medvedev—Vladimir Putin’s chosen successor—was “elected” president of Russia. The election was distinguished by the usual corruption and rigging and by Putin’s presence at Medvedev’s side throughout the whole process. Medvedev has pledged to continue Putin’s policies and is sure to be little more than a pseudo-democratic front for Putin’s authoritarian regime.
Within hours of Medvedev’s election, gas supplies to Ukraine were cut by 25 percent over a payment dispute between the Ukrainian government and Russian state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom. After a day, Gazprom cut the supplies by another 25 percent. Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz warned that it can only guarantee the uninterrupted flow of gas from Russia through Ukraine to Europe if the security of the Ukrainian energy sector remains unthreatened; otherwise Ukraine will be forced to use gas meant for Europe.
This gas cut is the Kremlin’s ploy to show the world that Medvedev’s election and Putin’s new role as prime minister will not change Russia’s aggressive foreign policy. Ukrainian leadership has been moving the country further away from Russia and closer to membership in both nato and the EU even as European officials have humiliated Russia by recognizing Kosovo. Cutting the gas to Ukraine puts both the Ukrainian and the European energy sectors at risk and shows that Russia is still a force to be reckoned with. Watch for Europe’s—especially Germany’s—reaction. How Europe reacts to this threat will prove to be more important than the growing power of Russian itself.
The newly released “Pentagon 2007 Annual Report” on the military power of the People’s Republic of China says that Russia remains the leading supplier of weapons to China and is enabling Beijing to maintain and modernize its large military potential. About 70 percent of all Russian foreign arms sales go to either China or India.
China’s military force is ensuring it remains a gargantuan threat to the little island of Taiwan. On Tuesday, President Hu Jintao said that secessionist activity in Taiwan is the greatest menace to China’s national sovereignty and territorial integration. “We are ready to have exchange, dialogue, consultation and negotiation with any political parties in Taiwan, as long as they recognize that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China,” Hu said. Ma Ying-jeou, the front-runner in the Taiwanese presidential election campaign, is known for his more pro-Chinese stance as compared to presidential incumbent Chen Shui-bian. He is also known for his willingness to improve cross-strait relations by entering into negotiations with Beijing on a “one China, different interpretations” policy. With the threat of Chinese military power looming across the straits and a fracturing alliance with the United States, Taiwan just might be willing to enter into Hu’s proposed negotiations sometime after its March 22 presidential election. In any event, expect China to gain more and more control over Taiwan.
Latin America, Africa
Colombian troops killed a leader of the rebel movement farc during a raid in Ecuador last Saturday. This threw the region into a crisis, as Ecuador and Venezuela cut off diplomatic relations with Bogota, and Venezuelan President Chavez amassed troops on the border of Colombia. Colombian officials claim a laptop obtained during the raid shows that Venezuela paid $300 million to farc, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe asked the International Criminal Court to charge President Chavez with genocide.
The EU forces (eufor) deployed to Chad had their “first serious incident” when a vehicle accidentally strayed 2 miles into Darfur. The French driver of the vehicle went missing and was later found dead; a rescue team was forced to leave Darfur during an exchange of fire that killed one Sudanese soldier and one civilian, and injured an EU soldier—the first casualty eufor has suffered in the region.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Tuesday that banks may have to reduce the principal on some of their home loans in order to avoid borrowers defaulting on their mortgages. Bernanke said that delinquencies and foreclosures were likely to rise and home prices were likely to continue to fall. “This situation calls for a vigorous response,” the chairman said. “Measures to reduce preventable foreclosures could help not only stressed borrowers but also their communities and, indeed, the broader economy.” Bernanke’s comments reveal that the housing meltdown is continuing to affect the American economy at large.
Bloomberg reported Sean Corrigan, a chief investment strategist handling $7 billion worth of commodities at a Swiss commodities firm, as saying, “You clearly don’t want to hold cash and you probably want to hold hard assets. What else are you going to hold if you think central banks are in competition to depreciate the value of their money?” The Fed has cut interest rates five times since September 18, driving the dollar down further. “Everyone has basically thrown in the towel on the greenback,” Matt Zeman, a Chicago metals trader, said. “Gold is knocking on the $1,000 door.” The precious metal hit a high of $986.90 and closed at $981.50 Tuesday, and oil eclipsed a 28-year record.