31 January 2009

* Cedar Island

“Beirut - "Noor International Holding", located in Beirut, declared its determination to present to the Lebanese official authorities the development of "Lebanon's Cedar Island" project facing the Lebanese coast in order to get the approvals. The company revealed also that the project is an artificial island in the sea and it is similar to Lebanon's national symbol. It is worth mentioning that this island will be the biggest artificial tree in the history”
"Dr. Saleh confirmed that the project, in its plans, takes into consideration the protection of the maritime environment without causing any damages to it due to the fact that some of the Island's parts will be the cedar's branches floating above the sea surface."


25 January 2009

* Obama's new foreign policy vs Iran

President Obama intends to repudiate the Bush legacy of support for Nazi Iran, Islamist Pakistan, fascist Venezuela and its Trotskyite allies of Bolivia and Nicaragua. Obama's new policy is to rebuild anti-Iran alliances with the Arab states, India, Israel, Russia, and Cuba.

As part of Obama's new foreign policy, he must above all isolate Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who as a Bush appointee is pro-Iran.

As an alternative to Defense Department/CIA/Bush control of foreign policy, Obama intends to empower the State Department under Hillary Clinton.

The outlines of Obama's new foreign policy are now emerging.

Behind the rhetoric of US support for the Middle East peace process, Obama is isolating Iran and reaching out to the Arab states, Fatah, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

Behind the rhetoric of assisting Afghanistan, Obama is reaching out to Russia, as illustrated by Obama's surprise decision this week to rely on Russia in place of Pakistan as the main partner in supplying US forces in Afghanistan.

Behind the rhetoric of US confrontation with Hugo Chavez in Latin America, Obama is reaching out to Cuba and El Salvador in Latin America in a bid to isolate Chavez.

Finally, behind the rhetoric of government reform, Obama intends to strengthen the anti-Iran State Department and weaken the pro-Bush and pro-Iran forces at DoD and CIA.

Thanks to Secretary Gates' connections to CIA, the Defense Department now controls most of the government's intelligence reports. Obama worries that DoD control of intelligence leads to DoD control of US foreign policy.

Obama's primary concern is that Gates has accumulated vast power with which to dominate US foreign policy, at the expense of the State Department and Congress.

In particular, Obama has concerns about this week's revelations on MSNBC describing a massive secret DoD/NSA wiretapping and internal surveillance program. This DoD program goes far beyond the potential of the FBI/CIA wiretapping programs. Obama's progressive supporters will insist that he attack Gates for sponsoring and funding this NSA program.

Obama intends to stop Gates by rebuilding the State Department as an anti-Iran counterweight to Gates and CIA. Obama has strengthened State by naming former Senator George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke as special envoys. Obama now has three diplomatic superpower heavy hitters on policy at State -- Clinton, Mitchell and Holbrooke -- who can overpower Robert Gates and CIA.

Finally, in view of Gates' excessive power and his wrongheaded pro-Iran policies, Obama should consider asking Robert Gates for his resignation.

At the very least, Obama should put Gates on notice not to oppose his security initiatives, especially his outreach to the Arabs and Russia. After all, Bush lost the election, and Gates should give way to Clinton and Obama.


* Gulfsands starts drilling on northern Syria well

The UK's Gulfsands Petroleum has begun drilling operations at a second well in its Block 56 concession in northern Syria, following an earlier discovery at the same location.


* An eye opener- Dubai neck deep!

Dubai still trying to show that every thing is normal which is otherwise, ground reality Dubai has been now sold to Abu Dhabi & neck deep in debt.
Wisdom says When you rise too fast & too high the fall will be fatal.
Is Dubai's Party Over? The glitzy façade shows some cracks.

In her classic account of World War I, Barbara Tuchman sets the scene for the passing of the prewar era with a vision of epochal pomp, the funeral of Britain 's King Edward VII. Nine monarchs rode in the procession and the pageantry evoked "gasps of admiration," wrote Tuchman. But when it was over, one British peer reflected that "all the old buoys which have marked the channel of our lives seem to have been swept away."

In Dubai last month, a very different kind of pageant was held, but if Tuchman were still around she'd have been taking notes. This triumph was billed as a world-beating blowout, a $20 million star-smacked extravaganza with the likes of Charlize Theron, Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jordan, and Robert De Niro in attendance.
The fireworks display was so enormous it could only truly be appreciated from the heavens (literally—it was visible from space). The occasion was the opening of the $1.5 billion Atlantis resort complex on an enormous artificial archipelago shaped like a palm tree. The point of the party, its promoters explained, was to show the world that Dubai is a land of fantasies come true, an over-the-top destination for good times. But among many of the guests, the mood was funereal. As the fireworks exploded, the global economy was imploding. Many of Dubai's overleveraged fortunes were  crumbling, and no one was sure where to turn. The old buoys seemed to have been swept away.

"It's a tragedy in the making,"said a senior executive with one of the city's biggest real-estate-development companies as he peered into his champagne. "A lot of people are going to get hurt. A lot of dreams are going to be shattered," he said, referring not only to the erstwhile rich and the speculators. Imported workers are already being exported, jobless, back to their homes. Skyscrapers are standing unfinished, baking in the sun. "Have you seen all those ships lined up on the horizon?" he said, gesturing toward the open gulf. "They're stuck out there full of steel and concrete nobody wants anymore."

While it may be an exaggeration to say that as goes Dubai, so goes globalization, it has become hard to imagine one without the other. More than any other place on earth, this city-state in the United Arab Emirates is the creation of worldwide commerce, a specialty-built magnet for the kind of hot money that seeks the quickest, highest profits and then moves on when they disappear. A lot of that cash comes from nearby Arab oil powers, most notably the adjacent emirate of Abu Dhabi, which has 90 percent of the UAE's crude. But many billions more have flowed in from Iran, India, China, Russia, Europe, the United States, and indeed just about every other corner of the world.

For the past decade at least, real-estate speculation has been the national sport.. The price of houses and apartments, many not yet built, rose by 43 percent in the first quarter of this year alone. Mortgage money was easy to get and speculators commonly flipped properties for substantial profits in a matter of weeks, sometimes even days, before the first monthly payments came due. Everybody wanted in on the game. "Employees didn't focus on their work anymore," complains the chairman of a regional transport company. "They all wanted to go buying property for 10 percent down, if that." As of June, Dubai had 42 million square feet of office space under construction, more than any other city in the world, even Shanghai. What was a flat desert 20 years ago  is today an urban canyon.  Such is the frenzy that the Hard Rock Café, built among vacant lots in 1997, is now surrounded by skyscrapers— and plans to tear it down for another high-rise are being debated as if the Hard Rock were a heritage site.

But Dubai wasn't just a receiver of world capital. It was also an important global investor. In 2006, its DP World acquired the management of six major U.S.container ports—until an explosion of xenophobic protest in Congress made the deal politically untenable. Today, among many other holdings, Dubai owns a 43 percent share in NASDAQ OMX and a 20.6 percent share in the London Stock Exchange. Its wholly owned subsidiaries include Travelodge in Britain, Mauser in Germany, and Barney's and Loehmann's in New York. By early 2005 the "liquidity gift," or windfall profit, created by rapidly rising oil prices started to look like it would last, and Dubai's boom really picked up steam. Some of the city's top financial officials started warning privately that a bubble was forming and so sought to keep diversifying their holdings as widely as possible. But as oil prices continued to climb, more and more fresh cash poured into Dubai's freewheeling economy and the public started to feel protected from global shocks. Nobody was ready for the plunge in prices over the past four months, which has taken oil down to less than a third of its price last summer. Dubai turned out to be "insulated but not isolated," says Mary Nicola, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank.

As with so much in the interconnected world economy, the ripple effects of the current crisis keep spreading, exposing some of the more unpleasant facets of the Dubai dream. Layoffs, which have already begun, will have an impact not  just in Dubai but also in the working-class neighborhoods of Manila and Mombasa and  Thiruvananthapuram that sent their workers to the gulf. Thousands are  expected to leave when the holiday season is over, with little fanfare. The guest  workers' invitations can be revoked any time, so few complain—but  bitterness is widespread. Meanwhile, prices for houses and apartments still on the drawing board have dropped almost 50 percent in some areas, mortgage money is  simply frozen, and major projects are stalled or being scaled back. Rumors abound  that Dubai may have to sell a substantial stake in Emirates Airlines, the  national carrier that's vital to keeping it connected to the outside world. And in a
 business culture built on inside dealing, the official denials of such a  sale have had little credibility out on the street.

The sense of uncertainty and fear has grown so much that even in Dubai's  famous gold souk, which was a center of trade long before the word "globalization" was invented, there's now a pall of confusion. "Not only are gold prices  dropping," says Firoz Merchant, the owner of one of the shops. "Everything is uncertain and moving in different directions." As if to underscore the gloomy mood,  last month the Dubai Marina suddenly started filling up with excrement.
Apparently many buildings in the city can only dispose of their wastewater by having  it trucked to a treatment plant. But the drivers got impatient with long lines  and started pumping it into storm drains that led straight to the sea.

In an effort to restore confidence just days after the Atlantis resort  blowout, Dubai announced the creation of an "advisory council" headed by Mohamed Alabbar, the chairman of Emaar Properties, which is building, among many other  projects, the tallest skyscraper in the world in the heart of the city. Emaar's stock  price, it is worth noting, has plummeted more than 80 percent this year,  and the sale price of luxury apartments in the hyper-high-rise has dropped by
 40 percent.

"Here in Dubai we are realists, and we are also optimists," Alabbar told a  forum at the Dubai International Financial Centeron Nov. 24. To reassure his audience and the world he promised transparency, a rare concept in Dubai, and  addressed the question of the emirate's debt, long rumored to be astronomical.
Alabbar said the government and its many affiliated companies had obligations of  $80 billion, but assets of $350 billion. "Let me therefore state categorically: the government can and will meet all its obligations going forward."

Such semi-official figures have never been made public before and their  details have still not been divulged. So neither the liquidity of the assets nor the basis for their valuation is clear, and it's hard for analysts to judge  just how realistic Alabbar's optimism is. "The important thing is not to focus on Dubai's assets and liabilities, it is about moving forward to rectify the  situation," says Mushtaq Khan, an economist at Citigroup who authored a recent report on the Gulf.

If there is good news, it's that Dubai's leaders were quick to take some  corrective measures in the earlier stages of the crisis. In September and October, the Central Bank implemented a $32.7 billion plan to support the  country's financial institutions. Alabbar announced last month that the two main home-mortgage lenders, which had run out of money, would in effect be  nationalized. And he promised that the three largest developers in Dubai, which control about 70 percent of the supply on the real-estate market, would  work together to keep it under control. The crash of the moment is really "a healthy correction," he said.

Perhaps. Certainly many Dubai residents say they'd like a chance to catch  their breath, and there are ample signs the city needs to catch up with itself.
Just 50 years ago, the place was a dusty outpost of a few thousand people on a  forgotten corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Forty years ago, one of its biggest businesses was smuggling gold to India. After British forces withdrew in  the early 1970s from what were called the Trucial States, the seven local sheikhdoms became the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi had the greatest share  of wealth because it had by far the greatest share of oil. But Dubai had entrepreneurial spirit.

In the 1980s, under Sheik Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and then his son  Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai developed its enormous free port—even  as Iran and Iraq fought a war on the horizon. Golf courses that were kept green  with millions of gallons of desalinated water started changing the landscape,  and by the 1990s, Dubai was building landmark resorts like the sail-shaped Burj Al  Arab Hotel. It also started cashing in on new technologies with special Internet  and media "cities" built to make it as important a hub for communications as it  was for shipping and air traffic. In just five years, from 1995 to 2000, Dubai's population grew 25 percent, and now stands at about 1.6 million people. The  vast majority are expatriates coming to work at every level of society, from menial labor to senior management. In 2007, the Emirates as a whole counted  only 864,000 citizens, compared with 3.6 million foreign workers. "While infrastructure development was rapid, the number of expats flocking to the  city overwhelmed it," says Citigroup's Khan.

But even if Dubai needs an enforced breather, it's not likely to get through the downturn unscathed. Abu Dhabi, after many years of quietly helping to fund Dubai's growth and watching Dubai develop a reputation for innovation and excitement, is now looking to take a bigger share of the action. "A formal statement is unlikely," says Khan, "but strategic assistance from Abu Dhabi is likely." And so is increasing control. Abu Dhabi dominates the UAE's federal government and last week the federal constitution was pointedly amended to bar the prime minister ( Dubai's Sheik Mohammed), his deputies and federal ministers from "any professional or commercial job" and to prohibit them from any business transactions with the federal or local governments. How this can be enforced is an open question—to a large extent, Dubai is Mohammed Al Maktoum— but the message was clear enough: Abu Dhabi is now in charge.

Meanwhile, the Emirates are literally taking some time off, first for Muslim holidays and then for Christmas. Few big new initiatives are likely to be announced before the beginning of the year, if then. But the cracks continue to show. Take the new Atlantis resort, for example. It is a joint project between South African developer Sol Kerzner's group and Nakheel, the Dubai development company that built the Palm Jumeirah island and other even more extravagant real-estate follies up and down the coast. Days after the grand opening, Nakheel announced it was laying off 500 people, or roughly 15 percent of its global workforce."The people with Nakheel spend $20 million on fireworks  and don't have money to pay their own people," says a Lebanese businessman with extensive interests in Dubai."It's a disaster.."

Meanwhile, even the rich are feeling the pinch. Last week the owner of a  Mediterranean-style villa on one of the Palm Jumeirah's beachy fronds facing the Atlantis dropped his asking price from $4.9 million to $3.6 million and  then $3.13 million, and offered to throw in his Bentley as well. "Our client has his money stuck in the markets and he desperately needed it to run his  business," says real estate agent Anthony Jerish. "Still, nobody bought it. Maybe we will sell the Bentley separately. I don't know." No, this isn't  the old Dubai at all.

(VS Dubai/NS NewYork)

14 January 2009

* Work on Nakheel Tower "stopped for 12 months"

Construction work on the Nakheel Tower in Dubai, destined to become the world’s tallest when completed, has been stopped for a year, it was revealed on Wednesday.
Several labourers working on the ambitious project have been laid off as progress has been "stopped until further notice".

“Further work on the foundations of Nakheel Harbour and Tower will commence in 12 months. The foundation works are likely to take approximately three years to complete,” a Nakheel spokesman said in comments published by UAE daily The National.
A senior project manager told the paper that several employees had lost their jobs because “work has stopped until further notice”.

The tower plan is set to be the centrepiece of a 270-hectare marina development called Nakheel Harbour and Tower near Ibn Battuta Mall and the Arabian Canal in Dubai.

With 200 floors and 150 lifts, it is expected to soar to more than 1km high and take 10 years to complete in phases.

Nakheel announced late last year that it was delaying several of its flagship projects, including the Trump International Hotel and Tower, in addition to axing 500 jobs amid the global financial crisis.

The developer said the Frond N villas, Gateway Towers and the Trump tower on the Palm Jumeirah, one of three palm-shaped islands the developer is building off Dubai's coast, would all be delayed.

The company said much of its Waterfront project, a series of man-made islands set to be twice the size of Hong Kong, would also be pushed back.

Nakheel said work would continue on Madinat Al Arab, Venetto, Badra and the Canal District, but areas of the project, including construction of six man-made islands, would be put on hold.

The Universe, a series of man-made islands in the shape of the sun, the moon and the planets that wraps around Nakheel's The World project, has been delayed, the company said, with work restricted to preliminary engineering studies.

On the Palm Jebel Ali, the second largest of the three Palm islands, Nakheel said work on the fond villas and infrastructure for the crescent would continue, while other phases would be delayed.

It did not give details of how long any of its projects would be delayed for.

Nakheel said work on all other projects - which include The World man-made archipelago and Palm Deira, the largest of the Palm islands - would continue as planned.

The UAE's construction and real estate industry has been hit hard with Aldar Laing O’Rourke, a joint venture between Abu Dhabi’s largest developer and a British construction company, announcing last week it was cutting up to 250 jobs because of the changed economic environment.


11 January 2009

* US Plans Massive Arms Delivery to Israel

The Pentagon plans to make a large arms delivery to Israel, rising fears that the military campaign in Gaza will go on for a long time.

The US is trying to hire a merchant ship that can carry hundreds of tons of weapons from Greece to Israel later this month; Reuters reported citing tender documents it had obtained.

According to the US Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC), the ship will transport 325 standard 20-foot containers of what has been called 'ammunition' from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod on two separate trips in the second half of January.

A description on the manifest says the containers will be loaded with 'hazardous material', such as explosive substances and detonators, without giving any more details.

The Pentagon announced the tender for the ship in the last hours of 2008. The two deadlines set for the deliveries are January 25 and the last day of the month.

Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed the planned arms shipment to Israel, but denied that the delivery was linked to the Israel's deadly offensive in Gaza.

"This previously scheduled shipment is routine and not in support of the current situation in Gaza," said Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder.

However, a senior military analyst in London, who wished to remain unnamed, said the timing of the shipments shows that they may be 'irregular' and linked to the military operation in Gaza.

The tender for the ship followed a December US arms delivery to Israel, which was also carried out by a merchant ship.

This is while shipping brokers in London who have carried out weapon deliveries for the British and US military in the past say that shipment of such a large cargo of weapons to Israel is rare.

"Shipping 3,000-odd tons of ammunition in one go is a lot… this is pretty rare and we haven't seen much of it quoted in the market over the years," one broker said, on condition of anonymity.

Tender documents indicate that the German ship hired by the US in early December also carried a massive cargo of weapons that weighed over 2.6 million kg and filled up to 989 standard 20-foot containers to Ashdod from North Carolina.

In September, the US Congress approved a plan to sell Israel 1,000 bunker-buster bombs, of the Guided Bomb Unit-39 (GBU-39), that use GPS to find their way and are able to penetrate deep fortified constructions, such as Iran's nuclear facilities.

Last week, The Jerusalem Post, reported that the first shipment of the missiles arrived in early December, adding that the bombs had been used in the military onslaught in Gaza.

So far, Israel's 15-day offensive in the besieged Palestinian enclave has claimed the lives of more than 800 Palestinians and wounded almost 3500.

Hamas on the other hand says Palestinian fighters have so far killed at least 30 Israeli soldiers and wounded more than 80 others.


* Dubai rents down 17% in last five months, villas down 45%

The flood of rent increases Dubai has seen in the last several years is receding, a survey reported by the Xpress newspaper shows.

A comparison of advertisements in early January 2009 against those published in August 2008 reveals an average of a 17% rental drop in eight districts across the Emirate: International City, Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT), Dubai Marina, Discovery Gardens, Bur Dubai, Deira, Al Qusais, Al Nahda and Al Muraqqabat.

Discovery Gardens saw the biggest slide in average rents in the one- and two-bedroom units, with each unit down by over 25%.

International City saw a 17% and a 27% drop in the one-bedroom units and two-bedroom units respectively, though there was only an 8% rental drop for studios. At JLT and Dubai Marina, rents have slipped but at a much smaller rate during the same period, an average of 9%.

To illustrate how the property meltdown is affecting rents, Saif Lohar, 24, an Indian real estate agent in Link Gulf Real Estate for two years, offered himself as a case study.
In September 2008, the Indian broker took a mortgage from Amlak Finance for a AED 1 million studio unit at Sabah Tower 3 at JLT, opposite Dubai Marina. In January, his studio’s market price is down by 25% to between AED 750,000 and AED 800,000. The AED 95,000 rent income currently covers his amortisation.

"At the moment, I feel like I’m losing capital," said Lohar in an interview for Xpress. "If I put my studio in the market now, I could only get AED 800,000 to AED 850,000, max. The problem is that rents are also going down." Overall, prices at JLT units have dropped nearly 40% from AED 2,200 per square foot in September last year to AED 1,350 to AED 1,500 per square foot today, he said.

"No one is buying, everyone is on a wait-and-see mode," he said.

An HSBC report said that from early December 2008, property transactions have dried up and the number of properties available for sale increased by 36% as investors tried to make a quick exit from the UAE.

But with up to 60,000 people expected to lose their jobs in the Gulf by March 2009 and with many residential projects such as Discovery Gardens and Jumeirah Beach Residence still half-empty, the Emirate’s real estate industry has yet to see the bottom, other brokers said.
Bhavesh Magnani, a real estate broker, blames speculators for the property sector’s overheating.

"I’ve never seen rents drop at all in my four-year career as a broker, until now," said Magnani of Rocky Real Estate. "Yes, we made money out of these quick deals from speculators, but the downside is we’ve become victims ourselves because we also need to rent a space for ourselves."

Elizabeth Sellwood, Vice Chairman of Real Estate Specialists, said: "Dubai has experienced rental increases anywhere from 10% to 15% a month in the past year. We are now seeing prices either remaining the same or going down slightly."

Carlos Abourjeily, a Lebanese property broker with Engel and Volkers in Dubai, said he has not made a sale in the last few months. "No one is buying, and rents are quite volatile too. There’s been a softening of rents but this depends on the quality of property and location," said Abourjeily.

The slump has caused a 45% drop in the prices of villas, which have also been affected by Dubai Muncipality's ban on single people sharing a villa.

"This is not a meltdown," insisted Abourjeily, "but a sign of maturity. Not all areas are seeing a drop in rental price. As for sales, they have totally gone dry. Nobody’s buying because people are waiting for prices to go down."

Syed Adnan, an Indian property broker, said while it’s a bad time for speculators, it’s a good time for end-users. "In the beginning, the Dubai plan was great. For the low-end, there’s International City. For mid-range, there was the JLT, Marina and Discovery Gardens. For the high-end, there were the Springs, Meadows, Arabian Ranches.

"At AED 270,000 introductory price for a studio at International City, it was affordable for the lower middle-class people to buy. Even if someone sells a studio for AED 450,000 now, he would still make a hefty profit," said Adnan.

With more choices available and rents starting to fall, renters are now in a position to negotiate, especially on the one- to two-cheque policy, Abdul Mutalib, a broker in Faisal Al Awai Real Estate, said.

"Before, any property we advertised would go in less than a week, even a day. But now we have to wait for up to one month before it is booked," he said.

Sharjah, where rents have gone down by 10%, has followed Dubai’s lead, said Rashid Kazi, Sales Manager of Moon Home which specialises in Sharjah. "There’s a lot of property available in the market but there are no tenants. The market is volatile with so much uncertainty."

Among the other startling revelations from the study, annual rents for villas in Arabian Ranches have dropped by an average of AED 50,000 to AED 60,000.

Three-bedroom apartments in Jumeirah Lake Towers have seen a drop of AED 250,000 to AED 200,000.

 The drop in rent of a waterfront villa on Palm Jumeirah was pegged at AED 360,000 to AED 240,000.

Landlords in Downtown Burj Dubai, who were asking between AED 180,000 and AED 200,000 a year in rent for a one-bedroom apartment in September last year, are now willing to rent out a two-bedroom apartment for the same amount

Residents in Dubai are in limbo over the rent cap for 2009, which is yet to be announced. Mohammad Ahmad Al Shaikh, Secretary General of Dubai Rent Committee, said: "We’re still waiting for an official announcement on this matter."

The 15% rent cap in 2006 was reduced to 7% in 2007 and further slashed to 5% in 2008. Al Shaikh said rental disputes jumped by more than 12% with 9,000 cases in 2008, from about 8,000 cases recorded in 2007.

Rental facts
Dh50,000 to Dh60,000: The amount by which rents for villas in Arabian Ranches have dropped 

Dh250,000 to Dh200,000: The drop in rent for three-bedroom apartments in Jumeirah Lake Towers
Dh360,000 to Dh240,000: The drop in rent of a waterfront villa on Palm Jumeirah
Landlords in Downtown Burj Dubai, who were asking between Dh180,000 and Dh200,000 a year in rent for a one-bedroom apartment in September last year, are now willing to rent out a two-bedroom apartment for the same amount.


10 January 2009

* Rockets out from Lebanon?

Three artillery rockets launched from southern Lebanon landed in northern Israel on Dec. 29 -- far from the ongoing fighting in Gaza -- raising the possibility of a two-front war for the Jewish state. At the moment, however, this attack appears to have been an isolated event, rather than what it initially appeared that it might have been: a deliberate and coordinated attack by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Presently, Hezbollah is not interested in entangling itself in a conflict with Israel. If it wanted to provoke a showdown with Israel, Hezbollah's opening move would have been far more broad and sustained than three rockets. Additionally, Israel has warned that it is prepared for a struggle on its northern border -- even though it would be most effective politically and operationally, from Israel's perspective, if Israel Defense Forces (IDF) could continue to focus its efforts on Hamas. But the possibility still remains that more rockets could be launched from southern Lebanon while Operation Cast Lead is under way.

In southern Israel, reports estimate Palestinian rocket fire on Jan. 8 at roughly a dozen artillery rockets as of the time of this writing. Though more rockets could still be launched, that figure is less than half of the number seen in the early days of the ground invasion, when there were reports of approximately 30 rockets per day. On Jan. 7, Hamas reportedly launched 25 rockets. Additionally, Palestinian reports continue to come in of Israeli tanks operating near Khan Younis and elsewhere in central Gaza, although these reports remain unverified. The IDF is still conducting operations around Gaza City.

The Israeli air force also launched airstrikes on the homes of Hamas commanders Yasser Natat in Rafah and Mohammed Sanuar in Khan Younis. Natat commands Hamas rocket forces from Rafah, and Sanuar is the commander of Hamas forces in Khan Younis. Although the fates of Natat and Sanuar are unknown, the Israeli air force is continuing to carry out such strikes, suggesting that meaningful, actionable intelligence on targeting Hamas' key operational leadership might still be flowing.

Meanwhile, there have been reports of systematic bombing along the Gaza-Egypt border near the Sinai Peninsula. Though targets were struck in this area from the very beginning, collapsing smuggling tunnels and preventing new ones from being dug continues to be a concern for Israel.

One development we have been watching for is any sign of Hamas' use of anti-armor weapons, and such weapons reportedly were used Jan. 8 in the killing an officer of the Kfir Infantry Brigade in Neztarim. The precise type of weapon and the tactical circumstances are unclear at present. The weapon might have been used against an armored vehicle and successfully penetrated the armor, but it is too early to verify such claims. Hezbollah has been known to use late-model Russian anti-armor weapons like the AT-13 and RPG-29 to engage dismounted Israeli infantrymen in the past, although anti-tank weapons are not as effective in this role. Both the AT-13 and RPG-29 are capable of launching sophisticated thermobaric anti-personnel rounds, though this also would be an extremely advanced capability for Hamas to have acquired.


03 January 2009

* U.S. Reforms Promote Openness

Two years after Dubai Ports World, Uncle Sam delivers a clear message to the rest of the world.

 Two years ago, the Dubai Ports World controversy led to a lot of soul-searching in Washington, not to mention a lot of anxiety around the globe.
Fast-forward to 2009, and there is a clear message coming from the nation's capital. "America is open for business," a top U.S. Commerce Department official declares. "We are the most open major economy in the world, and we welcome foreign direct investment."

While that statement may not seem extraordinary – after all, almost every country welcomes FDI – the path that the United States took to go from a broken deal to a new era of investment promotion was not easy.
Invest in America – an initiative of the Commerce Department – was established in 2007 to "demonstrate clearly to the world that America is the best place to invest and the safest place to invest in the world," says David Bohigian, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Market Access and Compliance and the creator of the Invest in America program.
"In the aftermath of the Dubai Ports World debate, that fact was called into question," Bohigian tells Site Selection. "It looked bad to the world. It made us look like we didn't want foreign investment."
      What followed was an extensive rewrite of CIFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States) legislation and the launch of America's first-ever, focused strategy to promote FDI.
      "If we do not play an active role in promoting inward investment, we are at risk of having our investment climate perceived around the world only by the occasional difficulty," said Franklin Lavin, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, at Invest in America's debut in March 2007.
      One "difficulty" captured the most attention: the controversy that erupted over the proposed Dubai Ports World deal in February 2006. At issue was the pending sale of port management businesses in six major U.S. seaports to a company based in the United Arab Emirates. Critics said the deal would compromise national security, even though President Bush argued that UAE was a political ally and that DP World in no way compromised America's safety.
“The United States unequivocally supports international investment in this country and is equally committed to securing fair, equitable and non-discriminatory treatment for U.S. investors abroad”

      After a key U.S. House of Representatives panel voted 62-2 to block the deal, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York added amendments to a Senate bill to prevent the sale, DP World relented. On March 9, 2006, the company said it would turn over operation of the ports to a U.S. entity. DP World eventually sold the port operations to AIG's asset management division, Global Investment Group.
      The aftermath reverberated around the world, as suddenly the openness of the United States to FDI was called into question. Would the nation treat other allies this way? The question, once unthinkable, was at least being asked. 

The President Speaks Out       The result was a dramatic policy offensive aimed to restore the United States' reputation for openness. President Bush issued an historic statement on May 10, 2007: "The United States has a longstanding commitment to open economies that empower individuals, generate economic opportunity and prosperity for all, and provide the foundation for a free society. Economic freedom, supported by the rule of law, reinforces political freedom by encouraging and supporting the free flow of ideas. To continue the advance of liberty and prosperity, my Administration will work vigorously to promote open investment policies and free trade on a level playing field."
      He added: "The United States unequivocally supports international investment in this country and is equally committed to securing fair, equitable and non-discriminatory treatment for U.S. investors abroad."
      For the world's largest investor and largest recipient of investment, this was an extraordinary statement – but it was also an admission that more work needed to be done at home to ensure that such pledged openness would be more than words on paper.
      Bush then moved quickly to sign into law, on July 26, 2007, the CIFIUS reform legislation that streamlines the process by which foreign direct investment into the U.S. is reviewed for national security reasons.

      Bohigian says these were key developments in reinforcing the message that America meant business.
      "Invest in America communicates that we are open to FDI from around the world," he says. "Dubai Ports World happened in 2006. Invest in America happened in 2007. The President's statement came out in 2007, and CIFIUS reform became effective in late 2007. We think that the legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President helped bring CIFIUS into the 21st century."
      Bohigian notes that less than 10 percent of all cross-border transactions are reviewed by CIFIUS. "And the committee does not review greenfield investments," he says. "In 18 years, we had only one real hiccup."
      Bohigian says people should know that "in the long history of CIFIUS, we have blocked only one deal – out of thousands of transactions. They have all gone through. Dubai Ports World decided voluntarily to divest. It doesn't prove we are closed; it only proves we messed one up."
      In fact, argues Bohigian, the whole ports deal controversy obscured the real "reality" about FDI in the United States – the fact that "America is the best place for risk-adjusted return in the world."
      In 2007, the U.S. garnered $238 billion in FDI, most in the world. In that same year, 5.3 million workers were employed by foreign companies on American soil.
      "FDI jobs pay 25 percent higher in wages than regular U.S. jobs," says Bohigian. "They help strengthen manufacturing. Over 30 percent of FDI jobs are in the manufacturing sector."

A Pipeline From Dubai to Houston 
A case in point is the world's largest maker of fiberglass pipes. Michael Olivier, president of Future Pipe USA, an entity of Dubai-based Future Pipe Industries, says that his company continues to expand its capital investments in the U.S.
      "While we intend to close our plant in Mississippi and relocate the capacity, we will expand a pipe production line in Houston," he tells Site Selection. "Future Pipe is the largest privately owned company in the fiberglass pipe business in the world. Obviously, having been the largest player in the last five years, much of the growth in our industry has been in the Middle East. But the company's next step is to expand in the Americas."
      With $1.2 billion in sales in 2008, plus a large backlog of orders for 2009, Future Pipe is positioned to grow its business in North and South America, says Olivier, formerly the chief economic development officer for the state of Louisiana.
      "The doubling of the capacity in our Houston plant will take us about a year and a half," he says, noting that the expansion will include a 120,000-sq.-ft. (11,148-sq.-m.) facility. "We feel that it is an appropriate time to expand. We have a niche in the medium-to-high-pressure pipe business here in the U.S."
      Ultimately, Olivier says, "we will re-establish a large-diameter pipe plant in the Americas. We will be looking for a site. One of my charges from the owners is to be constantly looking for site selection. If we get a contract that will bring us two years of production, we will make an investment of 100 to 200 jobs and $15 million to $20 million typically."
      Olivier can't say when such a search might be completed, but, he adds, "Our owners are able to make decisions quickly."
Future Pipe Industries
Dubai-based Future Pipe Industries is bullish on investment in new and expanded manufacturing plants in the U.S. Michael Olivier, president of Future Pipe USA, a subsidiary of the UAE entity, says the firm will expand its Houston plant by adding a 120,000-sq.-ft. (11,148-sq.-m.) facility. 


02 January 2009

* Lebanon Predictions for 2009

Beirut- Michel Hayek, Lebanon's Nostradamus returned to LBC last night to announce his predictions for 2009. Hayek who predicted last year that Lebanon will have a president in 2008 and it will not be affected by the global financial crises told the Lebanese yesterday that Lebanon will have elections in 2009 and will witness a boom in trade, tourism and real estate
Last year Hayek told the Lebanese : “ hold onto your properties “ ! He was correct . The real estate prices in Lebanon skyrocketed in 2008 , following the Doha accord and the subsequent election of the president.

Lebanon overall
- Unlike the rest of the world Lebanon will enjoy plenty of liquidity , the investment climate will be encouraging and whatever cannot be sold in the rest of the world will be sold in Lebanon ( in reference to the depressed real estate market worldwide) .

- The Lebanese currency (pound) will face many challenges but will overcome them .

- The governor of the central bank ( Riad Salameh ) will become the reference for the largest banks and the most powerful businessmen in the world because of his wisdom in sparing Lebanon the global financial crises.

- The Central bank will be confronted with many crises but will overcome them and will receive several excellence awards that will make the Lebanese proud.

- Some gossip and rumors to disrupt the Lebanese banking industry will originate in Israel and will target some local banks and bankers
." Made in Lebanon" label will be on many products that will be consumed locally or exported . The Lebanese industry will witness a boom

- The Lebanese contractors will have their names displayed on major new construction projects.

- The Lebanese agriculture will also witness major growth , specially in the Organic field and the Lebanese agricultural engineers will score many achievements in Lebanon. But this growth in the agricultural industry will lead to huge surpluses that will force the prices down and hurt the farmers . This will lead to protests by the farmers and calls for help

- The Beirut port will be the port of the region , will witness a boom in both shipments and tourism ( cruise ships).

- The Lebanese coast will be developed to accommodate more tourists and lots of construction will take place by local and foreign companies .

- The flights to and from Lebanon will increase substantially as a result of increase in tourism and the commercial activity and the Middle East Airlines will set new records and become a prominent world class airline, despite the regional problems.

- Some occupied Lebanese territories will be returned to Lebanon .

- The International tribunal will become operational and the names of the killers will be revealed . We will be able to see and hear real pictures of the explosion and will be shocked when we here the revelations of some of the suspects and the witnesses of various nationalities

- The elections will take place. An incident will affect one of the candidates . Religion will be used in the election

Detailed predictions
- Important development in connections with the investigations of the assassinations of General Francoise Hajj and former minister Pierre Gemayel

- Two major incidents against the Army may shock the country but the army will remain intact , gains more prestige and its leadership unchanged

- Syria won't return to Lebanon, but its influence in the country will increase and will interfere in several local issues . I see Syria in a limited security role in Lebanon ...some participation will be open while some others will be marred in mystery

- The Israeli war planes will no longer be able to be safe in Lebanese airspace and "I don’t mean here because of the 10 Russian Migs that were donated to Lebanon"

- The recommendations of the Arab summit in Beirut in 2000 won't die and will come to light

- Some Lebanese leaders may be facing house arrests

- Some parties will open new centers that will surprise and shock everyone

- The name of the mayor of Sidon may be implicated in a new scandal

- New political parties will be formed, headed by women

- A dangerous and painful message will be addressed to Saad Hariri that will remind him of the past pressures his dad ( Rafik Hariri ) was subjected to

- An uprising ( intifada ) will take place between the syndicate of editors and newspapers

- The revelation of a major plot that has two purposes: To change the top leadership in Hezbollah and overturn the balance of power

- The issue of the assassination of Mughniyeh will gain more

- The name of (Minister of Interior) Ziad Baroud will make the headlines ( several plots and plans)

- Minister Safadi's name will be linked to many events : He will participate in the breaking the ice between two major rival political blocs and this will be in Lebanon's higher national interest . He will surprise the nation with his unexpected political stance in the upcoming elections

- The world of civil aviation and the Lebanese airport will witness a major tragic scene

- A wanted terrorists will reside in Lebanon

- Bikfayya area will make the news

- Jumblatt uncovers a plot against him and 2 of his associates and against an area in the Druze stronghold of mount Lebanon

- A coup in one of the areas of Lebanon

- Water issue between Israel and Lebanon will resurface

- The Armenians survive a plot against them

- Syrian Diplomatic mission will face a setback

- Palestinian arms will be used in violence incidents inside and outside the camps

- A dangerous spying network will be unraveled

- Territorial water of Lebanon will be subjected to security issues

- A party will try to restrict the movement of President Suleiman and tries unsuccessfully to block one of his trips . Special security measures will be taken to protect the president following receipt of plans over plot against the president

- Hezbollah and Palestinian brigades will join the Lebanese army

- George Adwan will survive the challenges 3 unrelated Security issues will take place :
a- An attack against an official security apparatus
b- A very sensitive kidnapping operation
c- Attack related to the diplomatic missions

- An important Lebanese Politian will be involved in an accident while outside the country

- A suicidal operation will take place ( Hayek did not predict any casualties in this operation)

- Pressure to distance Siniora from any political role and spreading rumors about his health problems

- Several clashes between Hezbollah and Israel

- The free patriotic movement which is headed by General Michel Aoun will witness new changes in its leadership

- Infiltration by suspicious people targeting General Aoun and some close to him.

- Michel Aoun will be the man of surprises and will attract media attention even when he is out of the country. Many people will be worried about Aoun as a result of some rumors

- The Kataeb ( Phalange ) party and Lebanese Forces will be the target of backstabbing and harmful attacks

Here are his predictions for the rest of the world

Arab countries:

- Scenes of disintegration within the current Egyptian regime
- Scenes involving the Military and civilians causing chaos and with devastation of governmental positions
- Revenge operations against personalities in Egyptian

- An attack on a foreign delegation in Iraqi
- The Iraqi Christians will be crying out for help
- An Iraqi security crisis (or great change) in the aviation industry
- Despite the fortifications, an attack will penetrate and target a well known personality


- An earthquake will be felt by the residents of Jordan and Iraq
- The uncovering of terrorist cells that infiltrated through the border to perform terrorist attacks in the kingdom.
- The clouds will clear in the skies of the Jordanian royal family after a dark foggy phase
- Major real estate projects to be constructed in Jordan

- Political intrigue at different levels in Kuwait along with retreats and chaos within the government
- Kuwait will remain coherent (solid) and governed (gripped) despite several destabilization attempts
- Kuwaiti Art (music/acting/entertainment) industry will go through a sad period

A mystery surrounds “the tent” of Muammar al-Qaddafi


- Gaza will not be the city of massacres and blockades but the city of dialogue and compromises.
- The Palestinians will secure an important part of their rights, which will make the people happy
- A coup like attempt in the Palestinian West Bank
- Mahmoud Abbas (The Palestinian Authority President) is subjected to personal insults and will be seen in a compromising situation
- Khaled Mashaal (Hamas leader based in Damascus ) will perform difficult and dangerous missions

- Cracks in the armor of Qatari stability
- high level changes within the Qatari regime
- Qatari airlines will encounter major Problems
- Qatar will perform a new highly dangerous mediation in the region
- A certain Qatari hospital will be in the news

Saudi Arabia:
- Beginning of discovery of religious artifacts and historical/touristic sites which make KSA a tourist hotspot
- Discovery of new resources under ground equally as important as oil
- Failure of plans to create a crisis in the governing (ruling) of KSA
- The Saudi intelligence establishment foils several terrorist operations within the kingdom, but some other operations succeed in accomplishing their goals (of vandalism)
- The dialogue between religions (faiths) will be the project of projects in the coming stage despite all the security challenges and the opposing views, it will form a new line in the future of mankind
- The kingdom will be notified by an unknown party of the details of a “changing” operation
- A well known international spiritual personality makes a historical visit to KSA
- The beginning of a change in the kingdom’s weather and a great change in climate
- The outlook is very ominous around a Saudi airplane
- The modernization and creation of new laws which comfort the younger generations and form a great openness by the ruling (Royal family) towards the Saudi people
- The illusion of sadness invades the hearts of the Saudi people

- The current Syrian regime uncovers a dangerous coup attempt against it, but only reveals a fraction of what happened to the media
- Creation and reopening of Arab/foreign diplomatic and cultural centers in Syria
- Syria surprises everyone by arresting (terrorist) tactical leaders, among them one who is very well known and wanted
- A great increase in business collaborative efforts and projects between Syria and Lebanon including corporations and restaurants; Most of which are new, but some old that have been brought back to life.
- International terrorism strikes in vengeance in Syria
- Despite the hostility and distance we see bridges being extended between Syria and Saudi Arabia
- Farouq Al-Sharaa ’ (Syrian Vice President) will surface as a key personality, and public opinion will gravitate towards him
- Dynamic and intentional incidents intended to create sedition (conflict) and destabilize Syria
- A “workshop” to reposition (and replace) high level positions within the Syrian regime
- Syria will not be free of war
- Strange movements near the Syrian coast
- Someone will be pardoned, and it will begin a series of positive decisions
- Dureid Laham (Syrian actor) will be in the limelight


- Despite what is happening the UAE as a country will find ways to exit from the current economic crisis but the process will be slow
- A member of the ruling family will be in a critical situation
- I see smoke and fire caused by a major incident (or accident)
- Rumors intended to break up the unity of the emirates themselves, and a wager on the lack of this unity.

Middle east: ( non- Arab)


- Despite the sanctions (blockades/embargoes) on Iran, we will see it receiving visitors from some of the countries that imposed these sanctions
- A naval operation in Iranian waters
- The arrest of an espionage ring within Iran
- Attempts to destabilize Iranian internal security and create rifts and splits among Iranians.
- Mysterious operations in sensitive Iranian locations
- The Iranian grip will be broken through a personal assassination attempt
- Iran will direct a very harsh accusation towards an Arab country


- the Jewish communities outside Israel will be subjected to great harm
- The people of Israel will live in fear for a long period of time
- A disaster awaits the new Israeli prime minister
- Ariel Sharon’s name will resurface in the news again

Somalia :
- A painful strike awaits the sea pirates
- We will witness a sea battle with the participation of Destroyers and other naval warfare ships

- Turkey will encounter a dangerous earth quake
- Turks will go through several natural disasters this year
- The beginning of finding solutions to the historical hostility between Turks and Armenians
- There is no stability on the Turkish interior
- Turkish arms will extend in multiple directions

West Asia

The outlook for president Karzai's future is dark

- Acts of Vandalism and terrorism attempt to change the image of the Pakistani regime
- Fire will penetrate the Indian/Pakistani ceasefire
- Pervez Musharaf’s name (former prime minister) will resurface prominently

The rest of the world :

- Popular protests all over the streets of France along with acts of vandalism and chaos

- Confusion among the French Judiciary (or legal system)
- An attempted terrorist act on French soil.
- An incident (or accident) will occur. A celebrity will be among its victims
Germany: Panic among the German people due to an incident that resembles a terrorist attack

- Political Party developments reminiscent of the USSR era

- Russian positions (stances) that make it clear Russia is prepared to control (guide) global decisions
- Dangerous developments between Russia and a 2nd country which does not fall under Russia’s domain


An incident (or accident) disrupts the peaceful ambiance of Switzerland

- Problems, difficulties and obstacles await British prime minister Gordon Brown

- Depression will penetrate the London fog, and reach the faces of the British royal family.
- Neo-Nazism begins to surface (give primary signals)


- President Bush will not enjoy his retirement
- A gigantic fire will erupt in a large commercial center (or mall)
- On key issues Obama displays political inexperience (immaturity).
- Along with the presidency, Obama takes the danger (threat) as well, and while he makes plans for people in America and abroad, there is a group in America and abroad making plans for him and his work team (cabinet or administration)
- The announcement of the death of a top terrorist personality
- Some strange news will surface about (Al-Qaida leader) Ayman Al-Zawahiry
- An American Artist , Musician, Actor, or Entertainer dies in a suspicious manner

The outlook is grim for the Dalai Lama

General - unspecified location :
Arabia: An operation which is close to suicidal occurs in Arabia and generates great debate, argument and questions among Arabs.
Europe: A conflict erupts between 2 European countries which will pose questions at all levels!
Space: Once again Space Scientists (Astronomers, astronauts) make new milestones which give people new hope of man’s ability to survive somewhere other than planet earth.


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.