30 September 2008

* الملف الايراني احرق اصابع بوش ودول الخليج تستعد لعملية الاستيعاب


تخصص الرئيس الاميركي جورج بوش الابن الذي ستنتهي ولايته بعد اسابيع قليلة، في خوض معارك ناقصة، لم يلق فيها نجاحاً. وهو لم يكتف بخسارة الحرب على جبهة الارهاب والتدخل الخارجي في الدول وابرزها العراق، بل الحق خسائر فادحة بالاميركيين، اذ تم خلال عهده وللمرة الاولى، تسجيل اعتداء غير متوقع ذهب ضحيته اكثر من 3 آلاف شخص، كما ان نهاية عهده تشهد اسوأ ازمة مالية واقتصادية تمر بها الولايات المتحدة وتهدد الاقتصاد الاميركي برمّته وتلقي ظلالاً من الشك حول الاقتصاد العالمي.
ومن المعارك غير المكتملة التي خاضها بوش، الملف النووي الايراني والذي يشكل حرجاً بالنسبة اليه، فهو لا يستطيع اكمال الطريق الى النهاية اي توجيه ضربة عسكرية الى طهران، مخافة اندلاع حرب تهدد دول الخليج برمته وتعيد الى الاذهان التجربة الفاشلة في العراق. كما انه لا يمكن لبوش ان يتراجع لانه ادخل العديد من حلفائه في معركة لا دخل لهم فيها، وورطهم بمواقف هددت مصالحهم.
اما المخرج الوحيد المتاح حالياً امام الرئيس الاميركي، فهو ترك الامور على ما هي عليه، اي ترك الاوروبيين يأخذون زمام المبادرة والتنسيق مع روسيا للوصول الى طريقة التحرك المثلى. من هنا، يمكن فهم القرارات الهشة التي أخذها مجلس الامن الدولي، والتهديد والوعيد الاوروبي بفرض عقوبات على ايران، والحديث عن احتمال (شبه معدوم) لتولي اسرائيل مهمة الضربة العسكرية. ومن غير المتوقع ان يحصل تطور بارز في هذا الملف ينقذه من حال الركود الذي يتخبط فيه قبل وصول الرئيس الجديد الى البيت الابيض، ومن المعلوم انه لدى وصول هذا الرئيس، قد تستغرق الامور اسابيع لا بل عدة اشهر لتشكيل فريق العمل واعتياده على التعاطي مع المواضيع الاساسية التي تواجه اميركا، المعلوم منها والمجهول.
وبحكم هذا الواقع، تعتبر الجبهة الغربية في حال استراحة قسرية تفرضها الانتخابات الاميركية. اما على الجبهة العربية، فالوضع مغاير، لانه في استحالة القدرة على توجيه اي ضربة عسكرية، ومع عدم القبول بالسماح لاي طائرة اسرائيلية او اميركية باستخدام الاراضي العربية لضرب ايران (خوفاً من رد الفعل الايراني)، يبقى عنصر وحيد يعمل عليه الخليجيون وهو استيعاب القدرة الايرانية.
ومن هذا المنطلق، تأتي الخطوات الخليجية تجاه ايران والتي قامت بها دول الخليج قاطبة من خلال مجلس التعاون الخليجي، فيما قامت الرياض بمبادرات فردية تجاه طهران، وتم توكيل قطر لعب دور همزة الوصل بين الجانبين. ولكن لعبة الاستيعاب، ليست سوى القناع السياسي الدبلوماسي الموضوع على وجه الخوف من ايران. ومن المعلوم انه فور توافر اي فرصة لتوجيه ضربة الى ايران تقضي على قدرتها النووية، وتعيدها الى ايام الحرب مع العراق، حيث كانت الدول الخليجية الاخرى بمنأى عن الخطر الايراني، وتدعم العراق بالامكانات كافة ليشكل الدرع الواقي لها، فإن دول الخليج لن تتوانى ن تقديم اي مساعدة لوجستية او عسكرية او مالية لتحقيق هذه الغاية.
ولكن، حتى ذلك الوقت، يستمر الخليجيون في استيعاب ايران واسترضائها، فحتى الامارات، وعلى الرغم من الخلاف القوي مع طهران حول الجزر الثلاث، تقيم اقوى الروابط التجارية معها. وينطلق الخليجيون من ثابتة انه اذا لم تكن اميركا مستعدة للمغامرة في ايران، فما هو السبب الذي سيدفعهم الى خوض مثل تلك المغامرة التي سترتد سلباً عليهم؟
ووفق كل هذه المعطيات، تتقاطع التحليلات والتوقعات على اننا لن نشهد اي حرب في المنطقة، وبالاخص بعد زوال الفرص الذهبية التي لاحت في الافق وسمحت في القيام بمثل هذه الخطوة.

(elnashra)

29 September 2008

* (#11) Tripoli Buhsas Blast!

Brief:
Explosion in a bus carrying Lebanese army troops in Tripoli/Buhsas on Monday.
6 killed and 30 injured. Explosion occured at 7:45am in Buhsas, same timing as the recent Tripoli explosion.
The bomb was reportedly placed in a Renault18 car plate #501516,that was remotely detonated.
Details:
A car bomb exploded Monday near a military bus carrying troops on their way to work in northern Lebanon, killing at least five people and wounding 25, Lebanese security officials said.
The officials said most of the casualties were soldiers. It was the second deadly attack targeting troops in northern Lebanon in less than two months.
A senior military official told The Associated Press that three soldiers were among the dead, but had no breakdown of the number of injured among the troops.
The security officials said the car packed with explosives was parked on the side of the road and was detonated by remote control as the bus drove in the Bahsas neighborhood on the southern entrance to the northern port city of Tripoli.
They said the explosives used were mixed with metal balls to maximize casualties.
The blast, which tossed the car about a dozen meters, occurred during the morning rush hour, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Television footage showed soldiers sealing off the area and preventing people from approaching the blast scene. The explosion shattered windows of cars parked in the area. Police forensic experts in plainclothes searched for evidence in the bus wreckage. Pieces of flesh were strewn on the road.
Tripoli has been rocked by sectarian fighting between pro-government Sunni fighters and pro-Syrian gunmen of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, that killed or wounded dozens in the summer before a truce was reached.
On Aug. 13, a total of 18 soldiers and civilians were killed by a roadside bomb packed with nuts and bolts near a bus carrying troops on a busy Tripoli street. It was Lebanon's deadliest bombing in more than three years.
Monday's explosion came two days after a massive bombing in the capital of neighboring Syria killed 17 people and wounded 14. Syrian authorities on Monday said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber and that the vehicle came from a neighboring Arab country.
It did not identify the country. Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan border Syria. Syrian President Bashar Assad has recently warned of extremists operating in northern Lebanon and beefed up his border troops along that frontier in recent days.
No group has claimed responsibility for Syria's explosion, the August bombing in Tripoli, or Monday's attack.
Tripoli, about 50 miles north of Beirut on the Mediterranean coast, is a majority Sunni city and is Lebanon's second-largest. The region there is known to be a strong base for Sunni militants.
In 2007, Lebanese troops fought Sunni militants of Fatah Islam group in a nearby Palestinian refugee camp. The three-month battle that left hundreds dead before the army crushed the militants.
Fatah Islam group claimed responsibility for a bomb blast that killed a soldier in Abdeh, near Tripoli, on May 31.
Sheik Daie al-Islam al-Shahal, founder of the fundamentalist Salafi Sunni movement in northern Lebanon, said Monday's attack was part of the conflict among "external forces" in Lebanon, rejecting suggestions that Sunni terrorists were behind it.
"The false allegations and haste do not help stability and cause tensions," said al-Shahal, Lebanon's most powerful Salafist leader.
 

25 September 2008

* Ameron International Sinks 33%

Ameron International Corp., a supplier of industrial paints and pipes, tumbled as much as 33 percent in U.S. trading after third-quarter profit dropped more than analysts predicted, citing ``difficult market and economic conditions.''

Net income declined to $15 million, or $1.63 a share, from $21.1 million, or $2.32, a year earlier, the Pasadena, California-based company said in a statement today. Per-share earnings excluding some costs were $1.63, missing the $1.98 estimate of D.A. Davidson & Co. analyst Brent Thielmanand $1.83 estimate of Boenning & Scattergood Inc. analyst Ryan Connors.

Losses in the company's water transmission group widened by $2.3 million because of declining construction and municipal funding constraints in the principal markets of California, Nevada and Arizona, Ameron said. Profit fell in the infrastructure products unit, where a slowdown in U.S. home construction led to lower demand for decorative concrete poles for residential lighting, while pricing competition and fuel costs in Hawaii lowered margins.

``The company's construction and water pipe markets are expected to remain challenged and fourth quarter results are not expected to be as high as third-quarter results,'' Chief Executive Officer James Marlen said in the statement.

Sales rose 3 percent to $170.1 million, short of the $182.5 million average of estimates by Thielman and Connors.

Ameron fell $32.46, or 30 percent, to $75.68 at 12:16 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Earlier, shares slid to $72.20, for the biggest intraday decline since the company began trading in July 1980. The stock gained 17 percent this year before today.



(bloomberg)

24 September 2008

* Syrian Troops and Heightened Fears along the Border

Some 10,000 Syrian troops have been deployed along Syria's northern border with Lebanon, and Syrian President Bashar al Assad even attended a major military drill in the border area on Sept. 22. It is unclear whether Syria simply wants to pressure Saudi Arabia to concede influence in Lebanon, or if it actually intends to move forces into the country. In any case, instability in northern Lebanon is Syria's most immediate objective.

Lebanese politicians are growing nervous at the sight of a major Syrian troop buildup along the northern Lebanese-Syrian border. According to a Sept. 23 report from Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal, approximately 10,000 Syrian troops have deployed along the northern border since the weekend. A source in the area told Stratfor that Syria has sent T-62 main battle tanks and mechanized infantry into the area, and that infantrymen have been spotted erecting tents near the border. With Tripoli less than 30 miles by road from Lebanon's northern border with Syria, Syrian forces are just a short drive from Lebanon's second-largest city.

Heightening Beirut's fears, the Syrian military conducted a major drill Sept. 22 along the border that was attended by Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

The Syrians are claiming that the military buildup is simply intended to crack down on rampant drug smuggling and criminal activity across the border. This is not a very convincing argument. An army does not deploy tanks to fight smugglers, and most smugglers along the Lebanese-Syrian border are active to the east, in the central part of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains -- not in the north, where the current buildup is occurring. Using 10,000 troops to curtail the activity of smugglers makes no tactical sense.
The Syrians have a special anti-smuggling force, the Hajjanah troops, which are a camel-mounted special border unit well-suited to the rugged mountain area between Syria and Lebanon. Moreover, Syrian authorities actually encourage smuggling into Syria, because it allows imported smuggled goods to be paid for in Syrian currency.

The Syrians have something much bigger in mind regarding their western neighbor. Ever since the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri that forced Syrian troops out of Lebanon, the Syrian regime has been slowly and steadily rebuilding its political, economic and security presence in Lebanon. Nearly three-and-a-half years after the Hariri assassination, Lebanon is once again swarming with Syrian intelligence officers carrying out Damascus' bid to reclaim hegemony over Lebanon.

Syria apparently intends to carry out this objective by first destabilizing the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, which Stratfor pointed to in a 2007 analysis as the next likely flashpoint between Syria and Saudi Arabia as they vie for control over Lebanon. Tripoli has witnessed a spate of attacks mainly between the Syrian-backed Syrian Nationalist and Socialist Party and the Saudi-backed Future Trend movement led by Hariri clansmen, who are essentially operating as proxies in a Syrian-Saudi battle for influence in Lebanon. Though these two Lebanese factions agreed to a tentative cease-fire in September, Syria is now planning to break this peace, creating instability and a justification for Syria to intervene militarily in northern Lebanon.

A reliable security source in Lebanon claims that a group of Syrian intelligence officers who entered northern Lebanon in the past week have been meeting with their local Lebanese agents in the Qubba sector of Tripoli. Their primary objective is to instigate clashes between the Sunnis and the Alawites that would bring instability to the Lebanese north in the weeks ahead.

Whether Syria simply intends to pressure Saudi Arabia to concede influence in Lebanon or actually intends to move forces into the country remains to be seen. But with Israeli-Syrian peace talks currently in flux because of political chaos in Israel, it appears that the Syrians are moving toward taking matters into their own hands to achieve the geopolitical objective of reasserting physical control over Lebanon.

(strat.for)

23 September 2008

* (#10) Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp explosion


A bomb concealed in a motorcycle exploded Tuesday near a mosque in a south Lebanon Palestinian refugee camp killing a militant and wounding four civilians, Lebanese and Palestinian.

* Russia: Reincarnation of "The Party"

... Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is also head of the United Russia party, will soon begin a series of visits with local party organizations in various regions of Russia, daily newspaper Vedmosti reported Sept. 22.
The implications of such a tour are myriad. This is all part of an effort by Putin to consolidate political control in the hinterlands, and when the tour is over no one will doubt who is in charge. It is important to note that the way the United Russia party is now being referred to -- simply as "The Party" -- is reminiscent of another Russian party that served as the single controlling power in Russia for most of the 20th century. Now there is a new version of The Party, and Putin is at its helm.

United Russia has been the ruling political party in Russia for the past five years, controlling two-thirds of parliament. Before 2003, the party polled well, and since its founding in 2001, it had become a major political organization. But United Russia did not dominate the political landscape until then-President Putin (who was the de facto if not formal leader of the party) began to consolidate his control over all of Russia politically, economically and socially.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992, Russian heads of state had not headed the political parties that backed them because it would have been a reminder of the Soviet days, when just one party ruled the country. But Putin became head of the ruling United Russia party in April, after Dmitri Medvedev had been elected president and just three weeks before Putin handed him the presidential reins.

Now formally heading up United Russia, Putin has the freedom to publicly use the party as a tool -- among many in his kit -- to identify loyalists versus those who want to remain independent. Such a tool is very similar to one used during the Soviet era, when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was made up of the top echelon of Russians (approximately 15 percent of the population and the most highly skilled or educated). To have any clout at all in the Soviet Union, one had to be a member of "The Party," as it was referred to. 
Today, although United Russia claims only about 1.5 percent of the population, its membership is quickly growing, and its reincarnation of The Party is certainly something the Kremlin has been promoting.

According to United Russia officials, "Much has been done with the reformation of United Russia on the federal level, but in the regions they still do not grasp the new role of the party." This is a warning that Putin's consolidation and reorganization on the federal level under The Party will now trickle down to the regional level. When Putin first came to power as president, he consolidated some control over Russia's regions by purging a number of governors. Now that Putin has weeded out opposition to his power, it is time for him to make sure that each leader is formally beholden to him politically.

It is crucial for Russia's central ruling party to control the regions, since each regional head tends to lord it over whatever national champion or natural resource -- oil and natural gas, metals, or diamonds -- is found in that region. Most of these local party leaders are already handpicked by Putin and fall into one of two categories: his former security comrades or oligarchs. For example, Vladimir Kulakov, governor of Voronezh Region, is former KGB, and Dmitri Zelenin, governor of Tver Region, is one of the managers of aluminum giant Norilsk Nickel and heads up Ressource Bank and RATO Bank.

Putin has always had a firm hold on his former security comrades. When a financial crisis hit Russia, he proved that he was also in control of most of Russia's banks and major corporations and those who ran them. Most of these governors from the security and business worlds are already beholden to United Russia and Putin's vision of the country. Putin has to make sure that the stragglers are playing for his team, like St. Petersburg Gov. Valentina Matvienko, who remains outside of United Russia but reportedly swears allegiance to Putin.

The timing of Putin's regional tour is critical. Putin and the Kremlin are in their final stages of consolidating control over every aspect of political power and wealth in the country. Enforcing a new management structure from the top down is imperative to Putin's efforts to clean house and impose control, and there is no better way to do it than by bringing everyone under the command of The Party. As Putin weeds out the opposition, he is resurrecting old connections in very formal and public ways, making it clear to everyone exactly who holds the power in Russia...

(strat.for)

22 September 2008

* Atlantis Dubai!

* Remembering 1975 Lebanese Civil War


Lebanon's different Muslim groups, principally the Shi'ite, Sunni, and Druse (Druze) sects, which made up about half the population, were discontented with the 1943 National Pact, which established a dominant political role for the Christians (Phalange Party or Phalangists), especially the Maronites, in the central government. Palestinians also lived in Lebanon, particularly in the south in refugee camps or in bases from which guerrillas of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) carried out attacks on neighboring Israel. Lebanese Muslims tended to sympathize with the PLO.

The spark that ignited the war occurred in Beirut on April 13, 1975, when gunmen killed four Phalangists during an attempt on Pierre Jumayyil's life. Perhaps believing the assassins to have been Palestinian, the Phalangists retaliated later that day by attacking a bus carrying Palestinian passengers across a Christian neighborhood, killing about twenty-six of the occupants. The next day fighting erupted in earnest, with Phalangists pitted against Palestinian militiamen (thought by some observers to be from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). The confessional layout of Beirut's various quarters facilitated random killing. Most residents of Beirut stayed inside their homes during these early days of battle, and few imagined that the street fighting they were witnessing was the beginning of a war that was to devastate their city and divide the country.

Despite the urgent need to control the fighting, the political machinery of the government became paralyzed over the next few months. The inadequacies of the political system, which the 1943 National Pact had only papered over temporarily, reappeared more clearly than ever. For many observers, at the bottom of the conflict was the issue of confessionalism out of balance--of a minority, specifically the Maronites, refusing to share power and economic opportunity with the Muslim majority.

The government could not act effectively because leaders were unable to agree on whether or not to use the army to stop the bloodletting. When Jumblatt and his leftist supporters tried to isolate the Phalangists politically, other Christian sects rallied to Jumayyil's camp, creating a further rift. Consequently, in May 1975 Prime Minister Rashid as Sulh and his cabinet resigned, and a new government was formed under Rashid Karami. Although there were many calls for his resignation, President Franjiyah steadfastly retained his office.
As various other groups took sides, the fighting spread to other areas of the country, forcing residents in towns with mixed sectarian populations to seek safety in regions where their sect was dominant. Even so, the militias became embroiled in a pattern of attack followed by retaliation, including acts against uninvolved civilians.

Although the two warring factions were often characterized as Christian versus Muslim, their individual composition was far more complex. Those in favor of maintaining the status quo came to be known as the Lebanese Front. The groups included primarily the Maronite militias of the Jumayyil, Shamun, and Franjiyah clans, often led by the sons of zuama. Also in this camp were various militias of Maronite religious orders. The side seeking change, usually referred to as the Lebanese National Movement, was far less cohesive and organized. For the most part it was led by Kamal Jumblatt and included a variety of militias from leftist organizations and guerrillas from rejectionist Palestinian (nonmainstream PLO) organizations.
By the end of 1975, no side held a decisive military advantage, but it was generally acknowledged that the Lebanese Front had done less well than expected against the disorganized Lebanese National Movement. The political hierarchy, composed of the old zuama and politicians, still was incapable of maintaining peace, except for occasional, short-lived cease-fires. Reform was discussed, but little headway was made toward any significant improvements. Syria, which was deeply concerned about the flow of events in Lebanon, also proved powerless to enforce calm through diplomatic means. And, most ominous of all, the Lebanese Army, which generally had stayed out of the strife, began to show signs of factionalizing and threatened to bring its heavy weaponry to bear on the conflict.

Syrian diplomatic involvement grew during 1976, but it had little success in restoring order in the first half of the year. In January it organized a cease-fire and set up the High Military Committee, through which it negotiated with all sides. These negotiations, however, were complicated by other events, especially Lebanese Front-Palestinian confrontations. That month the Lebanese Front began a siege of Tall Zatar, a densely populated Palestinian refugee camp in East Beirut; the Lebanese Front also overran and leveled Karantina, a Muslim quarter in East Beirut. These actions finally brought the main forces of the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), into the battle. Together, the PLA and the Lebanese National Movement took the town of Ad Damur, a Shamun stronghold about seventeen kilometers south of Beirut.

In spite of these setbacks, through Syria's good offices, compromises were achieved. On February 14, 1976, in what was considered a political breakthrough, Syria helped negotiate a seventeen-point reform program known as the Constitutional Document. Yet by March this progress was derailed by the disintegration of the Lebanese Army. In that month dissident Muslim troops, led by Lieutenant Ahmad Khatib, mutinied, creating the Lebanese Arab Army. Joining the Lebanese National Movement, they made significant penetrations into Christian-held Beirut and launched an attack on the presidential palace, forcing Franjiyah to flee to Mount Lebanon.

Continuing its search for a domestic political settlement to the war, in May the Chamber of Deputies elected Ilyas Sarkis to take over as president when Franjiyah's term expired in September. But Sarkis had strong backing from Syria and, as a consequence, was unacceptable to Jumblatt, who was known to be antipathetic to Syrian president Hafiz al Assad and who insisted on a "military solution." Accordingly, the Lebanese National Movement successfully pressed assaults on Mount Lebanon and other Christian-controlled areas.

As Lebanese Front fortunes declined, two outcomes seemed likely: the establishment in Mount Lebanon of an independent Christian state, viewed as a "second Israel" by some; or, if the Lebanese National Movement won the war, the creation of a radical, hostile state on Syria's western border. Neither of these possibilities was viewed as acceptable to Assad. To prevent either scenario, at the end of May 1976 Syria intervened militarily against the Lebanese National Movement, hoping to end the fighting swiftly. This decision, however, proved ill conceived, as Syrian forces met heavy resistance and suffered many casualties. Moreover, by entering the conflict on the Christian side Syria provoked outrage from much of the Arab world.

Despite, or perhaps as a result of, these military and diplomatic failures, in late July Syria decided to quell the resistance. A drive was launched against Lebanese National Movement strongholds that was far more successful than earlier battles; within two weeks the opposition was almost subdued. Rather than crush the resistance altogether, at this time Syria chose to participate in an Arab peace conference held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 16, 1976.
The Riyadh Conference, followed by an Arab League meeting in Cairo also in October 1976, formally ended the Lebanese Civil War; although the underlying causes were in no way eliminated, the full-scale warfare stopped. Syria's presence in Lebanon was legitimated by the establishment of the Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) by the Arab League in October 1976. In January 1977 the ADF consisted of 30,000 men, of whom 27,000 were Syrian. The remainder were token contingents from Saudi Arabia, the small Persian Gulf states, and Sudan; Libya had withdrawn its small force in late 1976. Because of his difficulties in reforming the Lebanese Army, President Sarkis, the ADF's nominal commander, requested renewal of the ADF's mandate a number of times.

Thus, after more than one and one-half years of devastation, relative calm returned to Lebanon. Although the exact cost of the war will never be known, deaths may have approached 44,000, with about 180,000 wounded; many thousands of others were displaced or left homeless, or had migrated. Much of the once-magnificent city of Beirut was reduced to rubble and the town divided into Muslim and Christian sectors, separated by the so-called Green Line.

* Advanced Composites bags Dh58m Nakheel deal

Advanced Composites (AC) said it has been awarded a Dh 58-million contract to supply and install the district cooling glass reinforced piping (GRP) network at Nakheel's Palm Jebel Ali Crescent A project.
AC will provide over 20 km of GRP pipes for the project. The contract will also see AC supplying and installing the valves required for the district cooling services. All the GRP products will be manufactured at AC's manufacturing facility in Al Hamriyah Free Zone, Sharjah. The company is a subsidiary of Emaar Industries & Investments.
Dr Raed Al Zubi, General Manager, AC, said: "As the nominated sub-contractor for the district cooling works we are extremely pleased by this latest contract. We strongly value our working relationship with Nakheel on its prestigious projects and this gives us another opportunity to demonstrate our value offering. We are also looking forward to working with the main contractor on this project, Al Rajhi Construction. It is critical to understand the client's needs and expectations and to work swiftly in order to align with the project's overall construction timeline for the prompt delivery of our work. So it is important for us to plan well and communicate effectively with the main contractor to ensure that we execute well."
Established in Al Hamriyah Free Zone in 2000, AC's clients include Darwish, NCTC, Black & Veach and Sixco with products for drainage and sewerage plants. It has supplied over 100 km of GRP pre-insulated pipe systems for a number of district cooling projects in the UAE. Emaar Industries & Investments is a private joint stock company focused on the Mena and South Asian manufacturing sector.
(zawya)

20 September 2008

* Rush to the Gulf set to lower salaries

Dubai has positioned itself as the natural home for frazzled bankers as the region’s fundamentals seem to dictate growth amid global gloom, but the rush to the Gulf could finally bring down the mega-salaries commanded here.
Bankers are expressing relief that they are in Dubai or elsewhere in the Gulf, rather than back home in London or New York, in spite of lingering concerns that there are not enough banking fees for the long list of recent newcomers. 
Two years ago, when banks such as Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank were betting on the Gulf as the “next China”, two-year guaranteed bonuses were common as whole teams were poached at vast premiums.
Now, as more bankers seek work in Dubai, the premier staging post for the booming oil rich region, the laws of supply and demand are kicking in.
“Bankers who are under threat in London or New York may have less bargaining power if they are asked to relocate to the Middle East,” says David Johnson, regional chief for headhunter Whitehead Mann. “You may therefore see a reduction in packages being offered.”
At the height of the Gulf poaching frenzy, managing directors were commanding two-year guaranteed basic salaries of $1m, which has now slumped to $500,000-$750,000, says one banker building a team in Dubai.
He now believes he can lure people with the equivalent of London basic salaries of $300,000 or $400,000 for New York bankers, bolstered by benefits and the Gulf’s tax-free living. But Mr Johnson warns against hiring cheap bankers who lack experience.
”A few months ago, I wasn’t getting too many good CVs,” says one senior banker with a European investment bank.
“Now I am being offered class acts, though not all of them have the relationships needed to do business in this region.”
As the coalface of Middle Eastern investment banking moves deeper into the outer reaches of the Saudi economy, Arabic-speaking bankers command the highest premiums.
Bankers are sifting through the 40-strong contingent at Lehman Brothers’ DIFC offices, who did not get paid this week.
Lehman veteran Makram Azar, who was global head of sovereign wealth funds, has within days of the company’s bankruptcy signed up to launch a regional office for private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.
Other Lehman staff might be less lucky. Some had relocated to Dubai weeks ahead of the collapse and have since been approached by the removal companies who cannot invoice Lehman.
The governor of the Dubai International Financial Centre, Omar bin Sulaiman, has promised to bend the rules to help them out.
The DIFC will extend visas to let employees find another job, and may even respond to requests from employees who cannot meet financial demands.
(ft)

* Expats to elect?

The good news: The Lebanese all over the world can vote using nothing but their passports or I.D. cards. No need for those troublesome voting cards anymore.

The bad news: This will take effect in 2013.



  بارود لـ"النهار": الهوية وجواز السفر للاقتراع في الانتخابات
ثلاثة مواضيع ستستأثر بالاهتمام في الايام القريبة هي: محادثات رئيس الجمهورية ميشال سليمان في الولايات المتحدة الاسبوع المقبل، المصالحة بين "تيار المستقبل" و"حزب الله"، إنجاز مشروع قانون الانتخاب في لجنة الادارة والعدل تمهيدا لعرضه على الهيئة العامة قبل آخر الشهر الجاري، كما أعلن أمس رئيس مجلس النواب نبيه بري.
والى محاور الاهتمام هذه، لا تزال تداعيات الجلسة الاولى لمجلس الوزراء في السرايا في العهد الجديد، تتفاعل. وعلمت "النهار" ان هذه الجلسة احتلت حيزا من اللقاء الذي جمع الرئيسين سليمان والسنيورة مساء أمس في قصر بعبدا قبل سفر الرئيس سليمان في عطلة نهاية الاسبوع الى نيويورك، ومغادرة الرئيس السنيورة مع عائلته بيروت الى مكة المكرمة خلال اليومين المقبلين لأداءمناسك العمرة. وكان توقف عند الحملة التي شنها وزراء "التكتل الوطني الحر" على رئاسة الحكومة.


بري
وزار الرئيس بري قصر بعبدا للتشاور مع الرئيس سليمان قبل سفره الى الولايات المتحدة. وأدلى بتصريح تطرق فيه الى ازالة الصور والشعارات من بيروت، قال: "تم الاتفاق على هذا الامر بوجود ممثلين لقيادة الجيش وقوى الامن الداخلي، على أساس ان نبدأ في بيروت وننتقل بعد ذلك الى كل أنحاء لبنان. وللأسف الشديد وبصراحة كان الاخوة في تيار المستقبل طلبوا آنذاك وقتاً اضافياً وحتى الآن لم ينته هذا الوقت الاضافي. وقد علمت ان هذا الموضوع موضع نقاش وان شاء الله خيراً".
وابلغ مصدر بارز في الاكثرية الى "النهار" ان "تيار المستقبل" يحاول اقناع الطرف الآخر بتحييد طريق المطار من كل المظاهر والشعارات والصور التي لا تتناسب وكون هذه الطريق الواجهة الوطنية للبلد".
وفي موضوع المصالحة طرحت فكرة ان يزور وفد نيابي من "حزب الله" دارة قريطم بما يمهد الطريق امام لقاء يجمع رئيس "تيار المستقبل" النائب سعد الحريري والامين العام للحزب السيد حسن نصرالله. وقالت مصادر ان الاتصالات مستمرة على اكثر من صعيد لتحقيق هذا الهدف، فيما اوضحت اوساط الحريري "ان ابواب قريطم مفتوحة دوماً".
واعلن الحريري في افطار غروب امس في قريطم على شرف الهيئات الدينية "ان المصلحة الوطنية تفرض على الجميع فك ارتباط لبنان مع المصالح الخارجية ومساعدة الدولة على القيام بمسؤولياتها الكاملة في رعاية شؤون المواطنين". وقال: "نريد للحوار ان يفتح ثغرة في الجدران المسدودة بين الطوائف وبين الطوائف والاحزاب، ويؤسس لعلاقات سليمة لا تقوم على منطق الاستقواء او يبرر استخدام السلاح".
ورأى نائب الامين العام لـ"حزب الله" الشيخ نعيم قاسم "ان المصالحة ليست مرتبطة بالتحالفات الانتخابية وليكن معلوماً ان لا خلاف طائفياً او مذهبياً على رغم كل الضوضاء".


قانون الانتخاب
وامس اقرت لجنة الادارة والعدل النيابية مبدأ الاقتراع في يوم واحد، كما اقرت حق غير المقيمين في الاقتراع في الدول التي يقيمون فيها على ان يبدأ تطبيق هذا الحق سنة 2013. وستبت اللجنة بعد غد الاثنين مسألة تقصير مهلة ترشيح رؤساء البلديات من سنتين الى ستة اشهر.


بارود
وسألت "النهار" وزير الداخلية والبلديات زياد بارود عن مناقشات لجنة الادارة والعدل التي شارك في جلستها امس، فأجاب في موضوع اجراء الانتخابات في يوم واحد: "اجريت اتصالاً هاتفياً مع معالي وزير الدفاع الذي نحن على تواصل دائم معه، فأبلغني انه سيتلقى قريباً كتاباً يوضح كيف ستتكيف وزارة الدفاع وقيادة الجيش مع الاجراءات التي يتطلبها اجراء الانتخابات في يوم واحد. لذا فهناك حاجة الى التفاصيل اكثر. واذا ما تحقق هذا الامر فسيكون من اهم الاصلاحات الجديدة التي انجزناها".
وعن ارجاء اقتراع غير المقيمين الى سنة 2013 قال: "كنت ولا ازال من اكبر المدافعين المتحمسين عن اقتراع غير المقيمين. فهذا حق دستوري لا يمكن تجاوزه. ولسنا في صدد منح هذا الحق بل في صدد تكريس آلية ممارسته. وعلى المستوى العملي تتطلب ممارسة هذا الحق اجراءات من مرجعيتين: وزارة الداخلية ووزارة الخارجية. في ما يعني وزارة الداخلية اعلنت في اجتماعات لجنة الادارة والعدل جهوزية الوزارة الكاملة لتأمين كل ما هو مطلوب منها على الصعيد اللوجستي، مثل لوائح الشطب وصناديق الاقتراع. اما في ما يتعلق بوزارة الخارجية، فلا استطيع ان اتكلم عنها وهي المكلفة شؤون السفارات والقنصليات. وقد فهمت من النائب نوار الساحلي، مقرر اللجنة، ان الوزارة لا يمكنها حاليا تأمين متطلبات الاقتراع. لذا تم اقرار المبدأ وتأجل التطبيق الى انتخابات سنة 2013. وانا شخصياً اعتبر ان هذا امر مؤسف. ولكوني من اكبر المدافعين عن هذا الحق، اعتقد انه كانت هناك فرصة مؤاتية لاتاحة فرصة لغير المقيمين لممارسة هذا الحق. ولكن في الوقت نفسه لا شك في ان لدى وزارة الخارجية اسبابها وقد حاولت اعطاء جواب ايجابي لكن عامل الوقت لم يُتح لها ذلك. علماً ان جميع اعضاء اللجنة اكدوا اقرار مبدأ حق الاقتراع لغير المقيمين".
ورداً على سؤال عن اعتماد بطاقة الهوية في الاقتراع قال: "الاتجاه هو الى اعتماد الهوية بدلاً من البطاقة الانتخابية، على رغم ما سيكلف ذلك الوزارة التي ستصدر 700 الف بطاقة هوية، وهذا يتطلب دعم المواطنين في الفترة المقبلة. كما سيجري اعتماد جواز السفر لاتاحة الفرصة أمام اللبنانيين العائدين من السفر للمشاركة. وتم اعتماد الهوية وجواز السفر كمستندين للاقتراع بسبب صعوبة تزويرهما. وهذا هو خيارنا تجنبا لاعتماد البطاقة الانتخابية التي يسهل تزويرها ومنعا لاحتجازها في الماكينات الانتخابية او في وزارة الداخلية".
واعتبر ان 25 ايلول الجاري هو "موعد مفصلي حيث سيرفع مشروع قانون الانتخاب معدلا الى مجلس النواب بما يتيح لدولة الرئيس نبيه بري كما وعد، رفعه الى الهيئة العامة. وهو عندئذ لن يكون مشروع تقسيمات انتخابية فحسب بل مشروع كامل مكتمل".
وأضاف: "ان طموحاتي الاصلاحية، بين موقعي الوزاري وعضويتي قبل ذلك في الهيئة الوطنية لقانون الانتخاب، لم تتحقق وأشعر بشيء من الخيبة لعدم ادخال كل التعديلات في مشروع القانون بسبب الارتباط بعامل الوقت. علما ان أهم ما خرجت به الهيئة الوطنية هو اقتراح تعديل دستوري يمنع تعديل قانون الانتخاب قبل سنة من اجرائها من أجل المحافظة على استقرار التشريع".
وعن موضوع ترشيح رؤساء البلديات ومهلة استقالتهم قبل الترشيح قال: "رفعت اليوم (أمس) الى اللجنة مراسلات عدة من رؤساء بلديات تطالب اما بخفض مهلة السنتين واما الغائها. وانا أرى ان ذلك مطلب محق. ومن غير المبرر الاستمرار في منع رؤساء البلديات من الترشح بذريعة مهلة السنتين وعدم مساواتهم بكل المسؤولين. فاذا ما أردنا منع رئيس البلدية من الترشح بذريعة التأثير على الناخبين فحري بنا ان نمنع الوزير من الترشح لان دائرة تأثيره أوسع بكثير من رئيس البلدية.
ولفت الى أمور اخرى تتعلق بالمكننة والاوراق المطبوعة. وهذا ما ستجري مناقشته في اللجنة الاثنين المقبل.


تشكيلات
على صعيد آخر، أجريت تشكيلات في عدد من المراكز العسكرية، فعين مساعدان جديدان لمدير المخابرات هما: العقيد عباس ابرهيم والعقيد حسين يوسف. كما عين العقيد جورج خميس رئيسا لفرع مخابرات بيروت، والعقيد ريشار حلو لمخابرات جبل لبنان، والعقيد حسين خليفة لمخابرات البقاع، والعقيد عامر الحسن لمخابرات الشمال، والعقيد فؤاد هادي لمخابرات الضاحية الجنوبية.
وعلم ان العميد ميلاد طنوس عين قائدا للواء الثاني خلفا للعماد جان قهوجي، والعقيد حسين حمية قائدا للواء السابع، والعقيد مالك شمص قائدا لفوج المكافحة، والعقيد يوسف الربيع رئيسا لفرع الامن العسكري في مديرية المخابرات. ومن المرجح تعيين العميد غسان بلعة أمينا عاما لمجلس الدفاع الاعلى بعد ترقيته الى رتبة لواء. كما وضع رئيس فرع جهاز مخابرات جبل لبنان العميد جوزف نجيم في تصرف قائد الجيش.


(annahar)

19 September 2008

* USA vs Russia and the current Financial Crisis

Stock markets the world over have experienced a crush of losses and all-around volatility in recent days. Here we look at two of the most dramatic markets -- those in the United States and Russia -- where views of business and government could not be more different. While the U.S. Federal Reserve doesn't even pretend to think it could manage the entire economy by itself, the Russian system is predicated on government control born out of political and economic necessity:

The economic systems of both the United States and Russia are rooted in geography. The United States boasts a large number of interconnecting navigable rivers draining massive tracts of arable land and a variety of coastal regions blessed with multiple harbors ideal for trade and city-building. A long series of barrier islands on the East Coast greatly simplifies local ocean shipping, while a series of geographic features on the West Coast -- California's Central Valley, for example -- encourages development on that coast even without any linkages to the rest of the country.

All that was necessary to make the United States a well-developed country were a few transport links -- road and rail -- crossing the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. Transporting goods around the country is pretty simple, especially for Midwestern farmers who just need to get to a river.
Wealth begets wealth, and private enterprise faces very few barriers to growth. In short, economic advancement is a breeze in the United States, and that has shaped how the economy -- even the financial system -- has developed. Americans tend to prefer a laissez-faire system, with the government keeping fairly well out of business simply because government is not needed very much. Americans debate what to do with their wealth after it is earned -- not how to generate it in the first place.

In contrast, Russia's rivers for the most part neither interconnect nor flow to places where it is logical to site cities. Most drain to the Arctic Ocean, while the largest that does not -- the Volga -- drains into the landlocked Caspian Sea. Russia's useful coastline is also very small, and where it does have some coastline (the Black and White sea regions), it is not situated near major population centers. Because Russia's growing season is so short, foodstuffs are produced in seasonal surges rather than year-round, making transport of produce a once-a-year nightmare that cannot be ameliorated by the use of rivers or maritime shipping. Russians are dependent on shipping everything along whatever road and rail network the government has been able to build.

The result is an economic culture that is almost a perfect inverse of the United States. Whereas economic development in America is child's play, mass starvation in Russia can be avoided only with strict and careful central planning. Transport infrastructure is a convenient unifying factor in the United States -- according to some perspectives almost a luxury -- but it is a life-and-death issue in Russia. So while Americans expect their government to stay out of their business, Russians fully expect the government to play an active role in anything that involves the economy.

This backdrop does much to explain how market events of the past few days have turned out.

In the United States, the two big events were the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the government intervention to salvage American International Group (AIG), both of which found themselves on the financial rocks after gorging on subprime mortgage assets. Questionable lending practices created a massive amount of mortgages being granted to people who in truth could not afford to make payments. But since the conventional wisdom in investment is -- make that was -- that mortgages are the safest, most reliable category of securities, many investment houses bought up such subprime mortgages in bulk and developed their own lending arms to create more subprime mortgages directly.

Eventually, the housing bubble popped and the combination of a recession in housing and all these subprime mortgages going bust -- some 20 percent are in delinquency -- forced an industry-wide write-down of assets. For Lehman Brothers and AIG both, the process of rationalizing their books proved too expensive, threatening their ability to operate. In the case of Lehman, the government attempted to matchmake them with a healthier firm to allow an orderly transition; but, in the end, the government was willing to step aside and simply let the firm die by its own mistakes.

The AIG situation is a touch more complicated. Here the Federal Reserve granted an $85 billion loan to take control of 80 percent of the group's stock. Many saw this as a bailout and heckled the decision, but the reality could not be further from the truth. The Fed's conditions were simple: We will grant you this loan so that you do not need to worry about stockholders' demands (there will be no dividends) or liquidity ($85 billion should be plenty to keep AIG's internal operations running no matter what happens in the wider market). In exchange, you will sell off the entire company within two years. The Fed intervened only to ensure that AIG's massive insurance policies would not be abandoned (the group controls a half-trillion dollars' worth of financial protection that it provides Wall Street firms and the biggest companies of Europe and Asia). The price for its assistance was the group's utter liquidation. AIG, in effect, ceased to exist the day the "bailout" was announced. The Fed action simply keeps the body on life support until all of the body's organs can be harvested.

The markets are still roiled, and it is unclear whether Wall Street has fully absorbed the fact that AIG was not saved but was put down like a horse with a broken leg. The point remains that this sort of intervention is done reluctantly, with only two thoughts in mind: Intervene only when the stability of the system itself may be in danger and not simply to save any particular private enterprise; and get the government out of the business of business as quickly as possible.

Now contrast this with what is going on in Russia.

Troubles in the Russian markets are not new. Earlier this year, the government began taking a much more interventionist tack in dealing with foreign investors; and in May, foreign money began to flee. Many things contributed to the change, but the biggest would have to be a growing feeling within the Russian government that rule of law and property rights -- never very strong in Russia in the first place -- could be interpreted creatively by officials to serve the government's tactical needs. The biggest example of this was the government encouraging the fleecing of the BP half of oil firm TNK-BP.

In August, Russia invaded Georgia, adding a layer of political risk and making investors with longer memories think back to the geopolitical hostility and financial volatility of the Cold War era. The outflow increased. Finally, the Western credit crunch that claimed Lehman Brothers and AIG has triggered a global flight to quality assets. Considering the Russian view of property and the Georgia war, Russian assets are no longer considered a safe bet. Add the fact that oil prices have dropped by a third in the past three months, and energy-exporting Russia suddenly looks like the place not to be.

So, on Sept. 16, the Russian markets plunged, forcing the government to suspend trading in its final hour. Overnight strategy sessions to prevent a repeat failed, and trading was suspended in the first hour Sept. 17 for the entire day. It remained suspended Sept. 18, and the system was switched back on Sept. 19 but halted again after a couple of hours. The rout is so uncompromising that Surgutneftegaz, one of Russia's oil majors, now suffers from a market capitalization that is only slightly more than the amount of cash it holds in the bank.

The Russian government held a series of crisis meetings in which it was decided that it would directly recapitalize the three largest state banks -- Sberbank, VTB and Gazprombank -- to the tune of $44 billion. Additionally, the government will sink 500 billion rubles ($19.6 billion) directly into the stock markets and another 60 billion rubles indirectly via those same state banks.

Direct intervention in a stock market is generally frowned upon for the inefficiencies it creates -- investors never know whether they will find themselves on the wrong side of government action -- but announcing that you are going to do it ahead of time allows speculators time to line up bets against the government action. If the plan goes ahead as announced, the Kremlin will in effect be burning over $20 billion to achieve very little except perhaps the perception of getting things back on track.

Neither of these are major concerns for the government. Unlike the Americans, its goal is not to protect the economic system; the Kremlin's goal is to control the system as one would control a domesticated animal.
The difference in mindset from the U.S. Federal Reserve could not be more stark. The Fed does not even pretend to think that it could manage the entire system by itself -- and it wouldn't want to even if it could.

The Russian system, however, is predicated on government control born out of political and economic necessity. There is no allergic response to the idea of centralization. In fact, many in the top ranks see centralization as a good in and of itself. But even the most laissez-faire among them realize that, at times, a firm guiding hand is necessary -- especially in Russia.
The argument is not over whether to intervene but how deeply and for how long.

The Kremlin knows it needs more money in the system, plain and simple. It also knows that, despite its $750 billion in reserve funds, it does not have the managerial skills or even the cash necessary to manage the entire economy itself. It has to get hold of more resources.

As a stopgap measure, the Kremlin is in the process of drawing up a short list of critical firms that cannot be allowed to go under. These firms will be given some sort of access to government funding. Those not on the list are left to fend for themselves. One result is that the firms that can gain access to financing will gobble up many who cannot -- massive consolidation is definitely looming on the near horizon in Russia. Since the government is far more likely to grant lifelines to government companies, this consolidation will also be a centralization of economic power under the Kremlin.

The government's next step will be to address the funds shortage. Its goal is to prevent more money from fleeing -- the trading suspensions are only the start of that; capital controls and perhaps even limits on the ruble's convertibility will follow. After that, the government will rustle up additional resources to augment its reserves. Since the first step will make foreign money avoid Russia like a plague, the Kremlin will need to look to another source. And it looks as if the Kremlin has already found one: Russia's oligarchs.

The oligarchs were originally a group of men who robbed the Russian state blind in the early days of the Soviet collapse. Using everything from fraud to theft to armed seizure, they amassed massive, if somewhat Frankensteined, corporate empires that ruled Russian economic -- and even political -- life for years. Their membership would change as new oligarchs would rise (sometimes violently) to replace the old, but they seemed to be a permanent feature of the Russian system until the rise of Vladimir Putin. He laid out new ground rules to lash their economic power to the Kremlin's goals, and punished those who did not obey.

Yet not all of the oligarchs are private citizens anymore. The assets of many of the oligarchs who fell have since been transferred to the state and placed under the aegis of Putin's allies. So now the oligarchs can be split into four neat groups: the nominally subservient yet still independent, those with government offices, the exiled or imprisoned, and the dead.

This second group warrants some exposition, since its existence is woven tightly into the Russian predilection for centralization. It is not merely that these "state oligarchs" happen to control major firms for the state, but also that they are government ministers who directly control the firms.
They include such august personages as Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin (also president of Rosneft) and First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov (chairman of Gazprom). New President Dmitri Medvedev previously held both of Zubkov's offices. The point is that Russia's economic centralization is already deeply under way.

One of the strategy sessions held Sept. 16-17 was not simply a gathering of government economic personnel. Putin ordered that the major oligarchs -- all of them -- fly to Moscow. The attendance list was so thorough that it even included Roman Abramovich, an oligarch who not only has divested himself of many of his Russian assets but who is now living in London -- he flew in late the night of Sept. 16. The Russian oligarchs represent the greatest pool of capital -- foreign or otherwise -- in Russia, and all have a reputation for putting their own financial interests first. The fact that the markets crashed in the first hour of opening after this meeting indicates that if there was a plan for the oligarchs to provide ballast,
that plan was not very enthusiastically implemented. That will not be forgotten.

The oligarchs -- especially the private oligarchs -- have the money. The Kremlin needs the money. Centralization is the word of the day. Connecting those dots is ultimately what Stratfor sees as the main event in the Russian economy in the weeks ahead. In the American system, the emphasis is on system preservation; whereas in the Kremlin, the emphasis is on power preservation. In the United States, the events of the past week -- while certainly noteworthy -- do not represent any fundamental breach of the existing economic system. In Russia, it appears we are entering the final stage of struggle between the oligarchs and the state for control over the economy itself.

(strat.for)

* Bush Agrees To War On Iran!

The United States has agreed to sell to Israel 1,000 of the very advanced bunker buster GBU-39 bombs. This is a major development as the Bush Administration had denied previous recent Israeli requests for large numbers of this weapon system. The GBU-39 has a stand off range of 110 km and uses pop-out wings with extremely accurate fire and forget technology. It is capable of penetrating 90 cm of steel reinforced concrete. This indicates that the Israeli Government has succeeded in its request that America allow it to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. The GBU-39s will be used extensively in attacks on Iranian targets, as well as on Syrian and Hezbollah high value targets in both Syria and Lebanon.

The Israeli political landscape is about to change. I have been expecting former Israeli Prime Minister, and super war hawk, Benyamin Netanyahu to make a well timed major move. Current Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is about to resign due to his ongoing criminal troubles. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz are in a tight battle to win the vote on Wednesday as Kadima Party Chairman, with the right to attempt to form a new government. However, it appears that Bibi Netanyahu has put together a deal with Labor Party leader, former PM and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and the ultra-religious Shas Party to form a government with Bibi as Prime Minister in a few days time.

Count on Bibi Netanyahu lighting a blowtorch in the dry kindling that is the Middle East.

There is a real technical question if the GBU-39 can destroy all of the key known or suspected Iranian nuclear sites, as well as key military sites in Lebanon and Syria. The hardest sites are very well protected. Some experts think that several dozen to a hundred plus GBU-39s targeted at the same spot can take out even the deepest/most harden site; others say that a micro or mini nuke will be required.

The Israeli and American war planners may be counting on all sides refraining from the use of WMD. Rather like Saddam held back his 29 WMD armed (chemical and anthrax) Scud-type guided missiles during the First Gulf War and like Hezbollah did during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. If this is the strategy it is one very, very, massive risk to all involved.

An effective attack on the Iranian nuclear program and likely hidden sites will require a massive number of air strikes over the Iranian land mass. Iran will respond with missile attacks from its territory on Israel and with rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon and Gaza and the West Bank. Israel has tried very hard to convince Syria to part company with Iran but has had little success. Syria has a large number of guided missiles that can reach virtually all parts of Israel.

While the American supplied Israeli weapons, and the Israeli produced guided missiles, are highly accurate the Iranian/Syrian guided missiles are not so accurate (and the many tens of thousands of unguided rockets in Lebanon and Gaza/West Bank are notoriously inaccurate). This means that Israeli civilians will be hit hard if only non-WMD warheads are used. The temptation for Israel to hit back at Iranian and Syrian population centers will be very high. If this happens the cycle of escalation and counter-escalation will likely get out of control; and this is assuming that major efforts will be made to avoid mutual use of WMD in the first place.

Israel has most likely over 600 nuclear warheads from micro nukes to high mega tonnage hydrogen bombs, as well as advanced biological weapons, chemical weapons, radiological weapons, and fuel air explosive based weapons. The Iranian/Syrian side has radiological weapons, fuel air weapons, chemical weapons, advanced biological weapons, and maybe a crude nuclear device or two (doubtful but a remote possibility).

The Iranians have made it clear that they will close the Gulf to oil shipping in the event of a war. Americans have just had a taste of $5/gallon gasoline with Hurrican Ike. A general Middle East War could bring $10/per gallon gas prices to America. The world's economy, already headed to a global depression, will be thrust into the worst depression in human history.

The Iranians are also apt to hit American targets in the Middle East. In any case, any closing of the Gulf will bring a massive American and allied response making the Middle East War a likley global one as massive US/allied air attacks and naval attacks plummet Iran well beyond what Israel began.

If Iran feels that its population is seruously in danger or that its existance as a nation state is at risk, she is apt to use her strategic MAD (mutually assured destruction) force WMD (weapons of mass destruction) on the west and Israel. These weapons are DNA recombination, genetically engineered, advanced biological weapons; man-made viruses that are designed to spread throughtout North America and western Europe using humans as vectors ~ viruses that have never existed before and for which we humans have NO DEFENSE. Iran began an advanced biowar program years ago using out-of-work former Soviet advanced biowar experts, and currently has a world-class advanced biowar program.

Throw Russia and China into this mix and you have World War Three.

(LStirling)

* Profits in pipes: Infrastructure gains

"We see flowing profits from companies in the water sector involved with pipes, pumps, regulators and other equipment," notes Neil George.

In his industry-leading Personal Finance newsletter, the advisor offers a fascinating overview of three companies that help "utilities and other industries provide quality water service."
"Aging pipes are one of the most pressing challenges in the US and beyond. Studies show that in some municipalities, loss from leaky pipes accounts for as much as 10% of water consumption.

"Ameron International (NYSE: AMN) is a pipe manufacturer with operations on every continent. Earnings per share don't show smooth-line growth on a quarterly basis given the cyclical nature of construction. But it does show solid, year-over-year growth.

"There's some price volatility as investors are jarred with increasingly pessimistic domestic construction outlooks, but overseas earnings will continue to bolster the balance sheet.
"Watts Water Technologies (NYSE: WTS) manufactures pumps, valves and controls for a broad array of both consumer and industrial applications.

"Used to control the pressure and direction of water moving through piping and other systems, as well the volume, you'll find Watts products installed in homes and municipal water systems, as well as factories and commercial buildings.

"The multiple applications for Watts' products also make the company resistant to the economic downturn, given the broad exposure to both consumer and governmental markets. It also positions the company to benefit from any future rebound in residential construction.

"Corrosion and failure are rampant problems in the global water delivery system, giving rise to enormous opportunities for companies able to combat contamination.

"Nalco Holdings (NYSE: NLC) offers a line of chemical treatments and related service products that keep older water systems safe and operating.

"Revenues are climbing at double-digit rates, in its water business as well as its energy-related and chemical industry businesses."


(bloggingstocks)

16 September 2008

* Lebanon Reconciliation Talks

Lebanon's deeply divided rival factions on Tuesday began national reconciliation talks on the controversial issue of Hezbollah's weapons amid skepticism the dialogue can help bridge differences

Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman speaks during the first session of a new "national dialogue" between politician rival leaders at Presidential Palace in Baabda, near Beirut September 16, 2008
 
 

In this hand out photo released by Lebanon's official photographer, Lebanese western backed majority leader Saad Hariri, right, shakes hands with pro-Syrian Hezbollah lawmaker Mohammed Raad, left, as Arab League Chief Amr Moussa, center, looks on during a leaders' meeting at the Presidential Palace in suburban Baabda, Lebanon

* Iran Weighing Global Options

Since Russia's resurgence in August, Iran has had the option to cozy up to Moscow and use that relationship as leverage in talks with the West.
However, the West could offer Tehran accommodations and an energy relationship. Iran will have to decide which option serves its interests best.


Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Moscow on Sept. 12 to discuss the upcoming completion of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. The plant has been scheduled for completion for a long time; the latest startup date given by Russia's Atomstroiexport, which is working on the project, is February 2009.

Russia's resurgence and subsequent confrontation with the West over the intervention in Georgia has given Tehran a new card to play in talks with the United States. Iran now has the option of using Russia's renewed belligerence toward the West to get the nuclear technology and weapons it actively seeks. However, the geopolitics of Iran create barriers to a full-fledged alliance with Russia. 
Tehran therefore really has two options:
a close relationship with Moscow or an accommodation with the United States that is further entrenched by an energy relationship with Europe. Either way, Tehran will have to decide which serves its interests best.

Iran's geography and demographics determine its geopolitical imperatives. It is a multiethnic country (with significant Kurdish, Arab, Azeri, Baluchi, Lurs and Turkmen minorities) with a considerable Sunni minority but dominated by a Persian Shiite majority. Iran's key geopolitical imperative is to secure its borders and prevent a foreign power from inciting internal challenges to the ruling regime or disunity between various ethnic groups. 
The key mountainous borders to the north and the west serve to check potential influence from Russia and Turkey -- the two main regional powers Iran historically has been most concerned with. Iran also has an interest in controlling the Shatt al-Arab, the swampy confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that separates Iran from its Arab neighbors in Mesopotamia and the Gulf.

Russia wants to keep the United States involved in the Middle East as long as possible -- thus allowing Moscow sufficient time to "play" in Europe and the Caucasus -- and supporting a belligerent Iran is key to that strategy.
However, Moscow has never fully committed to Tehran, in part because the two are natural competitors in the region. Russia has, however, lent Iran support in the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Moscow has promised for years to finish. Russia has also given Iran political backing, blocking anything but minimal sanctions at the U.N. Security Council and offering potential weapon sales. Now that Russia and the United States are facing off again, however, Moscow is looking to use Iran actively against Washington. Russia will still hope that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, but it may ultimately decide that a nuclear-armed Iran -- or an Iran on the path to nuclear armament -- is worth the "window of opportunity" created by the United States' being tied down in the Middle East.

However, even if Bushehr were completed, Tehran has no guarantees that it can trust Russia. The two have competing interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia -- border regions that both Tehran and Moscow must secure, and areas where Iran has many ethnic links (Ossetians, as an example, are of Iranian lineage, as are the Tajiks). Furthermore, it is unclear what Russia can offer Iran other than weapons. It is difficult to build a dependable bilateral relationship purely on weapon sales, particularly when there is obvious geopolitical rivalry already built in. The alliance would be one with essentially no insurance policy for Tehran. Russia could discard Iran with very little direct negative consequences for its own interests.

The United States and Iran are not natural competitors like Russia and Iran. The United States and Iran do have opposing geopolitical interests -- particularly due to the American support of Saudi Arabia -- but Iran was one of the United States' strongest allies in the Middle East prior to the 1979 Revolution, illustrating that the opposing interests are not as "built-in" as the regional rivalry between Tehran and Moscow. Washington needs Tehran's cooperation in stabilizing Iraq and the rest of the region by restoring a Sunni-Shia balance of power, thereby allowing the United States to extricate itself from the region and focus on larger threats in Eurasia. Iran, on the other hand, wants a guarantee from the United States that no new Arab threat would arise from Iraq or anywhere else. Obviously, Iran also needs a
guarantee that the United States will not attack it directly. Furthermore, as with Russia, Tehran simply has no real assurance that it can trust the United States.


Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas is considerable. Countries in Central Europe, such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany and Austria, are extremely dependent on Russian natural gas imports, as is Turkey. Germany receives 43 percent of all the natural gas it consumes from Russia; Turkey receives 66 percent of its natural gas from Russia. At the moment, the Soviet infrastructure links the Russian Tyumen, Timan-Pechora and Ob Basin fields with European consumers, as well as the natural gas fields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Iran holds the world's second-largest natural gas deposits and  -- in theory -- would be able to satisfy Europe's energy needs. However, Iran needs massive investment from Europe to both develop its fields -- particularly the massive South Pars field  in the Persian Gulf -- and build the infrastructure on what would be a "Soviet" scale to transport the natural gas all the way to consumers in Central Europe. Essentially, Iran would have to be able to match -- or come close to -- the Russian exports to Europe which stood at nearly 150 billion cubic meters in 2007. Currently, Iran produces only around half of that and is a net importer of natural gas because its fields are underdeveloped and all production is used up by domestic consumption. The increase in production would therefore have to be threefold for Iran to be able to both satisfy domestic consumption and replace Russia as Europe's natural gas exporter.

To reach the consumers in Europe, Iran would have to first develop domestic infrastructure that would take the natural gas from its South Pars field in the Persian Gulf up to the border with Turkey. From there, a completely new infrastructure would need to be developed to take the gas to Europe, since the current Turkish infrastructure would not be able to pump enough gas. The Iran-Turkey-Balkans-Europe pipeline system would be the longest export pipeline in the world and likely the most expensive energy project ever.

Europe, and particularly the natural gas-dependent capitals of Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava, Sofia, Rome, Budapest, Vienna and Ankara, would be a powerful lobby in Washington to make sure that the United States does not flip on Iran. This would be the insurance policy for an accommodation with the United States that Tehran could depend on. Of course, for it to become possible, Iran first has to make progress with its negotiations with the United States and then has to sell what would be the most expensive energy project in the world to the Europeans. With the Russians resurgent and threatening anew, Europe might just go for it.


(Stra tfor)

Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.