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Happy New Year!

Yes I know it's officially been 2012 for a whole month now, but this is New Zealand which operates on an eleven-month calendar starting in February. Businesses shut down during the off-calendar period, news programmes are off the air, and people's lives generally go on hold (or on holiday). Back when I really enjoyed tennis, I used to despair when club days and interclub competitions took a break over January, and often a good chunk of December and February too. Apparently it was for the school holidays. Well for me, the only significance of school holidays was the amount of traffic on the roads. And anyway, does everybody really go away for the whole six-week period? I somehow doubt it. In the UK, closing down tennis clubs for six weeks in midsummer would be laughable - there wouldn't be any summer left!

Last night I met up with Julie, who has recently moved to Wellington and is renting in Hataitai after going through a very tough patch. It was great to catch up actually. My real estate agent rang me while I was there (more on that to come), then at 9:30 I did quite a big shop at Pak 'n' Save - it's quite relaxing to go at that time and I should do so more often. I felt like I'd had a productive evening.

But then I couldn't sleep. I slept through my radio alarm yet again, and woke up at five to eight. In my rush to leave for work I left my mobile at home. Normally this would just be a minor annoyance but I needed to email the leaseholding tenant at my flat and she'd texted me her email address. So I had no choice but to walk home mid-morning in the pouring rain to pick up my phone. I also had to visit the bank and my lawyer. Due to all that farting around, as well as my tiredness and lack of motivation, I got absolutely no work done today.

I take over ownership of the flat tomorrow but I won't be moving in then. I did ask to take vacant possession but after some negotiation the tenants agreed to move out on the 12th and pay me rent for those ten extra days. The tenancy on my current flat expires on the 18th. I had to sign a bunch of stuff today. I decided to put just over half my loan on revolving credit. I'd asked to fix the rest but the bank put me on floating instead. I signed it anyway - I can choose to fix at any time if I want - and I suppose there's a certain irony to that mistake given the title of this blog. Buying a property is so damn complicated - imagine if I had to sell one as well.

I read (or skimmed, rather) in the sports section today that a certain amount of hatred now exists between Djokovic and Nadal. If that wasn't the case, so the article said, they wouldn't have slugged it out for nearly six hours on Sunday night. I'm not sure how true that is. What is interesting is that successful tennis players often do develop a hatred of the guy (or girl) on the other side of the net. Even at my club in Auckland, those who made the finals of the club championships tended to have a higher-than-average AQ (that's arse quotient by the way), and in the tournaments I played in as a kid, the nice people I played against were usually the ones I could beat. I suspect that a high AQ, an inflated ego, and utter contempt for one's opponent go hand-in-hand.

Not totally leaving the subject of big egos, Fred Goodwin, former CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland which collapsed in 2008, has been de-knighted. All I can say to that is good.

Continuing vaguely along the same lines, there was interesting article on the Guardian website two weeks ago about Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia, the huge cruise ship that ran aground and then sank, with the loss of up to 33 lives. I thought this was an interesting and insightful comment about Italian society:
The issue of being prone to panicking or not has nothing to do with this story. Instead, this story has to do with the consequences of the complete lack of meritocratic selection on Italian society. Italy is full of "Schettinos" holding prestigious professional roles without having the necessary educational qualifications and skills, and stealing those roles from all the higly qualified but not "well-connected" Italian young people who are forced to emigrate. This story is a great metaphor of what is leading Italy into its grave, and this is the interpretation that the healthy part of Italian public opinion is giving to what happened.

31. Me, again

Here I am, in my chair.

Today's picture was taken, by the way, from the chair in this picture.

I almost used a different photo for this post, one that's more flattering, but it was zoomed in a bit and you don't see much more than me and the chair.  I like my living room, and I think the environment I choose to live in says more about "me" than just about anything else.

The New World Order[ed by Bernanke?]

Will Ben Bernanke bring the U.S. to the grips of Hyper-Inflation? Inflation is already on record levels, and soon you may be buying bread for about $100 a loaf.
If that happens, we have Germany to look to on how war and economics are evil twins...NWO anyone? Nazi Germany 2.0 anyone? Erev Rav aiding the cause 2.0 anyone? The pieces are there, and there is not much of a need to read between the lines; it's pretty obvious where the World is headed [before Moshiach].

Money Morning [Australia]:

The Fed announced its plan to keep interest rates at zero until the end of 2014 last week.

This is becoming a joke.

US interest rates were slashed to zero more than three years ago as an emergency measure.

Then that got pushed out by 18 months to mid-2013.

Now the Fed has added another 18 months of zero interest rates by pushing it out again to the end of 2014. That’s three more years.

This will make it a total six years of emergency-level interest rates.

The theory is this stimulates the economy – by reducing debt repayments and making it easier to take out new loans.

It’s sinister. Rather than encourage people to pay debts off, the Fed is making it easier to stay in debt, and also go further into debt.

Anything to get indebted consumers spending money they don’t have!

But it gets worse. This policy also punishes savers, and other investors looking for fixed-income returns. It gives people less incentive to save.

Now it will be three years before money in US banks will earn any interest. That’s if the Fed doesn’t extend this policy again!

And because US inflation is now 3%, the purchasing power of money saved in US banks is in fact falling at 3% a year. It’s like swimming against a tide.

The interest rates are effectively negative. It’s the same situation in China and Europe.

Savers also face the ever-growing risk of the bank going belly up. Instead of a ‘risk-free return’, savers are getting ‘return-free risk’.

So, if savers want to get a return on their cash, they are now forced into higher-risk investments to find it.

This policy will divert more money away from savers’ and funds’ cash holdings, and towards riskier assets, like stocks.

The Solution to the Problem

Somehow, many people still believe holding precious metals is riskier than holding cash. So now that cash holders have to move into ‘riskier assets’ to get a return on their money, gold and silver have both jumped 5% in a few days.

One argument you often hear against buying gold and silver is that neither metal will pay you interest. Now US banks won’t pay interest to savers either. Savers won’t feel like they are missing out on interest payment if they invest in gold and silver over the next three years. Or even longer if the Fed extends this policy yet again, which is quite possible.

Having another three years of zero interest rates in the US is a game changer for gold and silver prices. Gold may be up 14% since late December, and silver more than double this with a 30% gain in the same time. But both stand to keep rising this year on the Fed’s latest move.

Analysts will need to increase their precious metal price forecasts.

Institutional investors rely on precious metal price forecasts to work out how to value gold stocks. So, higher gold and silver price forecasts will lead to higher gold and silver stock valuations and prices.
Something very interesting has already happened with analysts’ gold price forecasts recently. For the first time, they are starting to forecast gold prices to go up.

Year after year, mainstream analysts forecast the gold price to fall. And year after year, it has risen. Back in 2007, the average gold forecast for the following five years looked like this.

By this reckoning, gold would have been US$500 by now. It is in fact 250% higher than this today.

Gold didn’t fall in 2007. It finished the year UP BY 31%, closing around $800 an ounce.

This was a bit embarrassing for the forecasters, so in 2008 they came up with a new five-year forecast. It had gold starting at $800, then falling for five years from there.

But despite everything that happened in 2008, gold didn’t fall. It gained 5.6%.

So the forecasters started higher again in 2009, forecasting prices to fall from there for five years. But again it rose in 2009.

This has happened every year since. Each year the analysts forecast a falling price, get it wrong, and try again.

For the first time, the consensus view is that gold may actually rise. The Fed’s plan to keep rates low for three more years will now just send these forecasts higher. To add fuel to this fire, Bernanke also said the Fed would consider another dose of quantitative easing this year.

This is another reason why gold and silver prices are rising. Quantitative easing devalues the US dollar. Anything priced in US dollars has to rise in price to compensate.

The Fed can’t raise interest rates while it floods the market with cheap money. So the extension of the Fed’s zero interest rates to the end of 2014 gives it space to use more quantitative easing.

The prospect of the Fed forcing money back into the stock market, at the same time as causing higher precious metals prices, is a powerful combination for gold and silver stock prices.

Riskier gold stocks, like explorers, are now really starting to fly. They had a tough time in 2011, but 2012 is looking very different.

This chart shows a junior gold stocks index (GDXJ) over the last two years – and I’ve highlighted in red the bounce we have seen this month.

The four gold explorers I’ve tipped in Diggers and Drillers are now up by 57% on average. The best performer is up by 150%.

These stocks are early stage, and I expect them to rise in price much further as they develop successfully on the road towards production in coming years.

The market conditions for them to thrive are perfect now the Fed has forced investors into riskier assets, as well as turbo-charging the gold price. I’ll be looking to tip more gold explorers for Diggers and Drillers to capitalise on this set up this year.

Don’t Forget Silver

The Fed’s moves are also very bullish for silver stocks. A silver producer I tipped last year is down overall but has rallied 15% over the last month and is following the silver price up strongly.

A more recent silver recommendation, an early stage explorer, is up 14% in a few months. This is only just getting started. With successful exploration, the same forces carrying gold explorers up will carry this silver explorer much higher.

Silver usually outperforms gold in a rally, and has done twice as well as gold in this current one. So this silver explorer could be the most explosive of the precious metals tips this year.

The Fed’s answer to everything is to print money. It’s scary that after more than three years since the start of crisis, they are handing out the same medicine. Like a scene from Groundhog Day, it’s not hard to imagine them still keeping rates down and printing money beyond 2014.

Clearly Bernanke has no grasp on economics – just a grasp on the money printer. If he understood anything, I’m sure he’d put his own money into precious metals and precious metals stocks. Somehow I don’t think he’s smart enough to spot the opportunity.

Will Ben Shalom Bernanke be a real Ben Shalom - helping usher in peace in 5772? I hope so, otherwise we'll all be millionaires...just not the kind we used to dream of.

30. Nature

My hellebores are blooming.

Too bad you have to get underneath them to see them!

King David And His Ruach HaKodesh: Tehillim In Depth

The Secrets of Tehillim:
אשרי האיש אשר לא הלך בעצת רשעים, “Praiseworthy is the Man that does not go with the counsel of the wicked.” King David gracefully opens up his classical work of Tehillim with a quote for the ages, something that would prove to be a symbol of all the Torah stands for: expressions of “Praiseworthy”, and the concept of. When we look within the Torah, the words of Moshe Rabbeinu, and within King David’s Tehillim, we find a coherent theme: from the closing of Devarim and onwards into Tehillim, we are confronted with “אשר” on many angles. Perforce then, we must assume and ascribe proper Gadlus to this overlooked yet massive conceptual theme, and begin to fathom, “what is Praiseworthy-ness.”
To quote “Midrash Tehillim”: “Moshe gave to Israel five Books of Torah, and corresponding to these five books, King David gave us his five books of Tehillim.”
Moshe Blessed Israel, “באשריך” / “Fortunate” are You O’ Israel, Who is Like You!
And King David Blessed Israel with “אשרי” / “Praiseworthy” is the Man that does not go with the counsel of the Wicked.
Finally, there is a famous Devar Torah, that says when one combines the “Beis” of “Bereishit” with the “Lamed” of “Yisrael”, the first and last letters of the Sacred Torah, they combine to form the word,
“לב”/ “Heart”, suggesting that the Torah comes from the Heart of the Divine. The Gematria of this “Heart” is 32, the same as the word, “כבוד” / “Honor –Glory”, corresponding to the 32 Glorious Pathways of Wisdom within the Torah. However, when we combine the letters that the first and last words have in common, we find a subtle surprise, in that the word, “אשרי” is formed, expressing the Torah’s ultimate message of Moshe Rabbeinu and King David: The definition and stressing of being Praiseworthy. To quote the Midrash Shocher Tov, “Moshe was the Rav, and his student was David.” How fitting it is, to see the symmetry to the Torah’s proclamation, within the simple context that the Torah closes with; from Moshe Rabbeinu’s last words to King David’s introduction to his World, should we be surprised to see that King David is the true disciple of Moshe Rabbeinu? No longer should this be a staple of our long tested Emunah, rather with a keen eye, we can see the Torah’s Truth before us, as it’s been since King David first began to continue Moshe Rabbeinu’s legacy in Torah.
When we open up a Sefer Tehillim, we instantly are acquainted with at least four direct references to “Ashrei”:

1) “Ashrei”…Ashrei / Praiseworthy is the Man that does not go with the counsel of the Wicked.
Here, King David opens up Tehilim literally with Ashrei. [Much like Hashem opens the Torah with “ב” of “Bereishit” for a reason, and there are numerous secrets in the Torah to explain why with a Beis rather than an obvious Alef] King David, with our earlier quote from the Midrash, begins in a way that will continue the legacy that Moshe Rabbeinu left off with. It is worth noting that King David began where Hashem
“left off”, as he took the liberty to begin with that famed “Alef”, and continues to define for us that Ashrei: is a Man that does not walk with the counsel of the Wicked.
One interesting point to note, is that the commentary of the Radak notes, the word Ashrei is in the plural. This subtle distinction can help us understand King David’s intention much clearer, especially when we relate this work with Mishlei, of King Shlomo. As it should be noted, Mishlei is immediately found in Tanach after Tehillim, and begins with, “משלי שלמה בן דוד מלך ישראל”,and the simplest way to grasp King Shlomo’s message, is to use the same definition as Ashrei in the plural, so to Mishlei in the plural. Thus from Shlomo’s words, we can see how he came to explain his father’s monumental work Tehillim with intention; Mishlei in plural makes it easier to understand Ashrei in plural: for Mishlei suggests, that King Shlomo “Composed many Mushlim (Proverbs)”, and King David implies, “The Man that did not walk with the Wicked’s counsel, knows the PATHS of Praiseworthiness.” The usage in plural makes us adjust the order of the words, to realize that a righteous Man will know ALL that is Praiseworthy, the more he avoids counsel of the Wicked.

2) The second location of King David’s Ashrei definition, comes from the double connotation of the term Ashrei. Just as Hashem makes use of double language when he began the Torah, “בראשית ברא”, two usages of “ב” one after the other, King David begins with Ashrei (Ha-Ish) Asher…It should be noted that the word “Asher” (אשר), one of the Tribes of Israel, is directly named this because the women surrounding his birth found him to be Praiseworthy.” Thus King David effectively began Tehillim with a double dose of “Praiseworthy”, following the protocol of Torah established within Bereishit. One item of note, when Moshe was told, “Yasher Ko-ach” (way to go!) in his breaking the First Luchos by Hashem, as the Bible Commentator Rashi points out, that the word, “That” (אשר), is used in conjunction with Praise from Hashem! Hashem says “THAT”, as if he is pointing his finger, THAT (Breaking of the Luchos) which you did was Great! It should be noted here the two words employed are “Asher” and
Yasher [Ko-ach]- “Praiseworthy” and “way to go!”, in the words of Rashi. King David fittingly so opens with “Ashrei”, and if we look at the first 3 end letters of the first three words, it promptly
spells, “ישר” / “Yasher”, as in “Yasher Ko-ach” / Way to go!

3) Next, if we take this finding of the word, “ישר”, one step further, we find yet another two definitions of “Ashrei.” First of all, Yasher, means straight or “Just.” One need not struggle with his intellect much to fathom how or why the word “Just” could be synonymous with Praiseworthy, as Just is the opposite of the counsel of the Wicked. Yet if we extend ourselves a bit further, a wonderful secret is revealed to us, when we look at the end letters of the first four words. The final Yud of Ashrei, Shin of Ha-Ish, Reish of Asher, and the Alef of Lo, promptly spell out for us, “אשרי.” The Hints are endless at this point, as we can understand Ashrei within the context of the additional word added to י''ש''ר, “Lo” / לא", used to
spell, “אשרי.” The word , “לא” can be rearranged (from left to right) to spell God’s name, “אל,” as King David is compared to Malki Tzedek in Tehillim 110 (You shall be a Minister forever by
my word, Malki Tzedek), who he himself in Parashas Lech Lecha, is called a Priest To God (אל) Above, upon which Yaakov Avinu is called a Minister to אל Tachton (Below) in the Midrash Rabbah. Another hint is a reference to the Beginning of Tehillim with an Alef, as “לא” can be looked at
as, “ל''א”, “to the Alef”, standing for Ashrei, and fittingly making it possible to spell out the word Ashrei properly. And finally, Ashrei can be looked at as איש / ר. Just as the Torah employs the Letter Reish, so does Tehillim: Torah can be seen as תהו / Chaos, yet restored with a strength in the Reish /ר, for the Reish can be seen as a strength when used as a “Power of Tohu”, where one letter can be used on a root level. Thus this “Chaos / תהו” becomes infused with a Reish, to make “תורה.” This Reish is even hinted at in Tehillim: “Yasher”, is the same letters as Reish (ישר = ריש). And when applied to Tehillim, a real Man (איש), when he is completed, and nullified before Hashem (as Reish is spelled with, “ר-יש”, suggesting, “Yesh!”/There is) reducing the Reish to just ר without the implication of self, or “yesh”, the Reish is joined with the Man (איש+ר=אשרי), making the Man Praiseworthy!

4) And lastly, when we look at the very essence of what makes a Man not Praiseworthy, is when he walks with the counsel of the Wicked, as King David closes with this stipulation. When we look closely at the beginning and end letters of, “With counsel of the Wicked” / בעצת רשעים,” again we find hints of, “אשרי.” The ב in the atbash system, where each letter is replaced with its opposite, becomes a Shin / ש, the Tav becomes an א /Alef, the ם becomes a י /Yud, and again, as a power of strength infused into the
word, the ר /Reish remains unchanged, and we are pleasantly surprised to find encoded here is, אשרי.

[This principle of keeping the Reish and putting it in the company of other letters through change, or a strength, is what is termed the powers of Tohu (Raw spiritual strength) cultivated and expressed within Tikkun (vessels to contain the Light), creating a Redemptive Light; an example of this is the Kosher letter Beis found in the white parchment of a Kosher letter Peh in a Sefer Torah written with black ink, expressing two degrees of letters, white fire and black fire; or the infusion of the five final letters merged into the normative 22 letter alphabet, where the five final letters can function as a higher intellect, as seen in Navi, where a Final Mem can come at the beginning of a word – thus the Reish has a similar effect, as we have seen with תהו+ר=תורה,and other places in Tanach that have this nuance.]

With this last Ashrei, King David has shown us yet another level of Praiseworthy – to avoid the counsel of the Wicked. And in closing, King David finishes his first pussuk with, “And with the way of sinners do not stand!” The end letters reveal to us the word, “כאדם”, “Like Adam.” As the Torah explains
in Vayikra 18:5: “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which Man shall carry out and by which he shall Live – I am Hashem”; The Talmud points out here, the usage of the word, “אדם” as
opposed to “איש”, pointing out that “אדם” relates to all Mankind, for even if a Noahide learns Torah, he shares in the title of Adam the same as a Kohen Gadol, upon which Chazal learn that a Noahide who learns his share of Torah is compared to a Kohen Gadol. Hence the term “Adam” (Man), and the obvious omission of the term “איש” (connotation of “Jewish” Man) from the Torah, leads to an amazing discovery within King David’s Tehillim, and his conclusion of, “Like Adam”; For the depth we have been graced with, in one simple Verse from the Poetic Hands of David, one could say with Honor, he is indeed, a Praiseworthy Man, by definition.

May We Be Called Praiseworthy In Hashem's Eyes

Geulah 5772


I was almost a complete wreck at work today after listening to last night's Australian Open final that went seven minutes shy of six hours. I slept through most of the middle stages but woke up in time for Nadal to escape from the jaws of defeat in the fourth set, then go ahead 4-2 in the fifth. At that point it seemed Rafa would do it. It's a shame I couldn't see it (no I'm not going to rush out and get Sky) - these two guys play almost impossible tennis, such as Nadal sliding to pick up balls from well outside the tramlines. It's worth noting that Nadal had a break point for 6-6 in the fifth, which would have sent the match into a seventh hour and spinning into outer space.

So Andy Murray's wait for a first grand slam title goes on. I've heard people say that he's soft between the ears, or that he struggles with the big occasion at the sharp end of grand slams. While I'd agree to some extent with the second comment (though not at all with the first), his main problem is that he's human, albeit a human who happens to be very good with a racket in his hand. After last night I wonder whether Djokovic and Nadal are human at all.

29. Inside my fridge

Israel: God's Abode Down Below

It's Now Proven: Hashem is King In Israel!

God exists. Eighty percent of Israeli Jews can't be wrong. And it is precisely for that reason we must say: God protect us from the results of the poll (conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute's Guttman Center for Surveys and the Avi Chai Foundation ). While it is conceivably possible to deal with that burning, wholesale belief in the divine, what do we do with the "You chose us" part? Seventy percent of respondents said they also believed Jews are the Chosen People - and that frightening parameter is only on the rise.

You have to give it to the pollsters. They let the cat out of the bag. To paraphrase the Haaretz advertising slogan from the 1990s - Israel: Not what you thought. Not what the world thought, not what Israelis imagine themselves to think. Israeli society isn't secular, it isn't liberal and it isn't enlightened. Were they permitted to respond freely, it's doubtful that 80 percent of Iranians would say they believed in God; it's doubtful there is any other free nation on the planet, with the possible exception of the Americans, that would produce the same results. But there surely is no other nation on the planet that is so secure in its arrogant certainty that it was selected from all the other nations and raised above them.

The findings of this powerful poll are the most important key to understanding Israeli society and the conduct of its governments. It is the only prism through which it is possible to comprehend the occupation, the racism, the Haredization and the capitulation to the settlers. In our hearts, we think: This is our destiny. If in any enlightened society settlers and the ultra-Orthodox would be treated as marginal, eccentric, messianic groups, the attitude toward them in Israel comes from a very deep place within the "secular" society. If in any enlightened society the occupation stirs protest and revulsion, the attitude to it here is based in a religious belief that justifies all its iniquities.

The survey proves that we are all "hilltop youth," and that most of us are Sicarii. Expressions of racism toward Arabs and foreigners, Israel's arrogant attitude toward international opinion - these too can be explained by the benighted, primeval belief of the majority of Israelis (70 percent ) that we enjoy complete license because You chose us. Even the religious character of the state, which is much less secular than we tend to think - no buses or El Al flights during Shabbat, no civil marriage, no unkosher hotels, a mezuzah on the doorjamb of nearly every home and a rising number of people who kiss it each time they enter or exit - all this can be explained by the survey data.

There is much less religious coercion than it would appear, much more willing dedication to the caprices of Jewish fundamentalism. From now on, it can no longer be claimed that the secular majority has acquiesced to the religious minority; there is no secular majority, only a negligible minority.

In contrast to most European states today, in Israel "atheist" is a derogatory term that few people even dare to say, much less use to identify themselves. In such a country, it is impossible to speak seriously about secularism. We should admit the truth, which is that we are an almost religious society and a state that is almost based on religious law. There's no need to keep counting the number of people wearing kippot, headscarves or shtreimels. Bareheaded people are in the same camp: They accept the character of their state, where the religion is the state and the state is the religion, all mixed together. There's no need to keep being shocked by religious extremism - being religious, whether moderate or extreme, is all the same, and it's the majority here.

From Jenin to Hebron, we are in the West Bank above all because the majority of Israelis believe that it is not only the land of the patriarchs, but that this fact gives us a patrimonial right to sovereignty, to cruelty, to abuse and to occupation - and to hell with the position of the international community and the principles of international law, because, after all, we were chosen from among all other peoples. From Bnei Brak to Mea She'arim, these Haredim are, to a large extent, us, just with different dress and languages - more extreme versions of the same belief.

Perhaps it was inevitable. A state that arose on a certain territory and conquered another territory and has remained there nearly forever, all on the basis of Bible stories; a population that never decided whether it was a nation or a religion; and a state that purports to be a "Jewish state," even if no one has any idea what that means. All these cannot exist with no foundation - a chosen people that believes in its God. That is Israel, circa 2012. God have mercy on us.

...And since majority of Jews live here, is this the Teshuva that Hashem desires to bring the Geulah?

The Ramchal says just before revelation of God in Israel, each member must do teshuva in his heart, so that there can be revelation.
Here is for hoping 5772 will go down as the year of Teshuva and GEULAH!

28. Light

The morning sun, reflected off the mirror on the back wall of the curio cabinet.

Twists and turns

Today I went on my first walk as part of the tramping club. My preparation was less than ideal: I (stupidly I guess) stayed awake till 2:40 this morning to listen to the second men's Aussie Open semi on the radio. The 4¾-hour match had as many twists and turns as a snake slithering down a spiral staircase. From what I could tell neither Djokovic nor Murray was quite at their best, but it sounded like a gripping contest, at least when that Aussie commentator (whose focus was on everything but the tennis) got out of the way and Richard Evans and Chris Bowers took over. Perhaps the pomminess of those two announcers endears them to me, but they do seem extremely knowledgeable about the game. It was a shame, after such a close-fought match, that Murray couldn't quite make it. I'm now listening to the women's final between Sharapova and Azarenka. It's 3-3 in the first set; if it remains close you can expect the gruntometer to hit record levels. I saw Sharapova play in Melbourne in 2005 - the grunting on that occasion was almost hilariously loud. For the record she thrashed Li Na, who wasn't anything like the player she is now. Update: Azarenka swept to the title without losing another game! Mum said she played out of her skin.

Fortunately the walk started at eleven but I was still felt badly starved of sleep. We met at Karori Park and walked the Skyline Walkway over the top of Mt Kaukau to Johnsonville. It was a nice day for it - OK it was windy as heck, but we had bright sunshine the whole way. I took a few photos and chatted to some of the others in the group to begin with, but I tired towards the end. It was the first real strenuous exercise I'd had in ages, and of course that's one of the main reasons I joined the club in the first place. I carried my new backpack, which I bought in Auckland, but it was too big for a trip lasting a few hours like today; I might try and get a smaller one off Trade Me for my next day trip. The trips are categorised into about six difficulty levels - today's was the second easiest level. On the club's website it says "You can be as fit or as unfit as you like!" I'd dispute that - if you were really unfit, you'd have struggled today. Maybe that's a measure of my pomminess - being brought up in the UK gives me an idea of what "really unfit" is.

Not for helmet believers heady freedom of choice

(Photos: Amsterdamize, Flickr,
during my magical day with him, Oct 2010)

Contrary to their protestations, what counts is not what helmet believers believe but the actual evidence pertaining to protection & helmets.

Notwithstanding the fact that 'tout le monde' knows the use of helmets automatically encourages increased risk-taking behaviour, helmet believers still cling to the irrational faith that a helmet will protect you 'no matter what'! Now this would be a laughable matter if the consequences were not & had not been so dire.

$$ Why are we so willingly prepared to accept the enslavement of non-freedom brought to us by helmet believers?

$$ Why does the notion of 'zero' evidence in relation to safety not trigger our personal &/or collective alarm bells?

$$ Why am I feeling so gloomy about it all?

27. Lunch

Leftover pot roast
and dinner, too!

Israel Gone Eurythmic: Here Comes The Rain Again!

I think I Can I Think I Can!

Arutz Sheva:

The water level in Lake Kinneret -- the Sea of Galilee -- has risen by 0.6 inches in the last 24 hours, after a week in which there were more increases, with rains that fell in the north.

Just one day earlier, rain storms together with the flow of the Jordan and Golan rivers had raised the level of the lake by another 0.8 inches, bringing it to about 700 feet below sea level.
Last weekend, a snow storm in the north allowed operators to open the slopes at Mount Hermon to skiers for the first time this season, with a little over 3 feet of snow cover on the lower slope, and 1.5 meters (5 feet) on the upper slope. Heavy rain drenched the entire country from north to south as well, raising the level of the Kinneret by 4.3 inches.

As of Thursday, Jan 19, the level stood at 14.6 inches beneath the red line, the recommended level at which water should no longer be drawn from the lake. It is still above the black line, set at 215 meters below sea level, a point at which it is considered dangerous to pump water from the Kinneret.

Israel began last summer with the water level standing at 16.9 inches above the red line -- at 213 meters below sea level. Approximately 15 feet of water is still needed to fill the lake, and to bring the Jewish State back to its former non-drought status.

Please keep praying for a rainy winter in Israel!

26. Color

It's a grey day in the neighborhood, not much color to be found ...

Unless you know where to look.

Erev Rav War Cry - Let's Get Ready To Rumble!

Is This The Real Story?

[In the End of Days: Persia will fall into the hands of Edom, and Edom will fall into the hands of Persia; Erev Rav is of Klippah Edom]

NY Times:

As the Sabbath evening approached on Jan. 13, Ehud Barak paced the wide living-room floor of his home high above a street in north Tel Aviv, its walls lined with thousands of books on subjects ranging from philosophy and poetry to military strategy. Barak, the Israeli defense minister, is the most decorated soldier in the country’s history and one of its most experienced and controversial politicians. He has served as chief of the general staff for the Israel Defense Forces, interior minister, foreign minister and prime minister. He now faces, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and 12 other members of Iraeli’s inner security cabinet, the most important decision of his life — whether to launch a pre-emptive attack against Iran. We met in the late afternoon, and our conversation — the first of several over the next week — lasted for two and a half hours, long past nightfall. “This is not about some abstract concept,” Barak said as he gazed out at the lights of Tel Aviv, “but a genuine concern. The Iranians are, after all, a nation whose leaders have set themselves a strategic goal of wiping Israel off the map.”

When I mentioned to Barak the opinion voiced by the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and the former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi — that the Iranian threat was not as imminent as he and Netanyahu have suggested and that a military strike would be catastrophic (and that they, Barak and Netanyahu, were cynically looking to score populist points at the expense of national security), Barak reacted with uncharacteristic anger. He and Netanyahu, he said, are responsible “in a very direct and concrete way for the existence of the State of Israel — indeed, for the future of the Jewish people.” As for the top-ranking military personnel with whom I’ve spoken who argued that an attack on Iran was either unnecessary or would be ineffective at this stage, Barak said: “It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their opinions. But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see nothing but the sky above us.”

Netanyahu and Barak have both repeatedly stressed that a decision has not yet been made and that a deadline for making one has not been set. As we spoke, however, Barak laid out three categories of questions, which he characterized as “Israel’s ability to act,” “international legitimacy” and “necessity,” all of which require affirmative responses before a decision is made to attack:

1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?

2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?

3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?

For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s, at least some of Israel’s most powerful leaders believe that the response to all of these questions is yes.

At various points in our conversation, Barak underscored that if Israel or the rest of the world waits too long, the moment will arrive — sometime in the coming year, he says — beyond which it will no longer be possible to act. “It will not be possible to use any surgical means to bring about a significant delay,” he said. “Not for us, not for Europe and not for the United States. After that, the question will remain very important, but it will become purely theoretical and pass out of our hands — the statesmen and decision-makers — and into yours — the journalists and historians.”
Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, is the third leg in the triangle supporting a very aggressive stance toward Iran. When I spoke with him on the afternoon of Jan. 18, the same day that Barak stated publicly that any decision to strike pre-emptively was “very far off,” Ya’alon, while reiterating that an attack was the last option, took pains to emphasize Israel’s resolve. “Our policy is that in one way or another, Iran’s nuclear program must be stopped,” he said. “It is a matter of months before the Iranians will be able to attain military nuclear capability. Israel should not have to lead the struggle against Iran. It is up to the international community to confront the regime, but nevertheless Israel has to be ready to defend itself. And we are prepared to defend ourselves,” Ya’alon went on, “in any way and anywhere that we see fit.”

For years, Israeli and American intelligence agencies assumed that if Iran were to gain the ability to build a bomb, it would be a result of its relationship with Russia, which was building a nuclear reactor for Iran at a site called Bushehr and had assisted the Iranians in their missile-development program. Throughout the 1990s, Israel and the United States devoted vast resources to weakening the nuclear links between Russia and Iran and applied enormous diplomatic pressure on Russia to cut off the relationship. Ultimately, the Russians made it clear that they would do all in their power to slow down construction on the Iranian reactor and assured Israel that even if it was completed (which it later was), it wouldn’t be possible to produce the refined uranium or plutonium needed for nuclear weapons there.

But the Russians weren’t Iran’s only connection to nuclear power. Robert Einhorn, currently special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the U. S. State Department, told me in 2003: “Both countries invested huge efforts, overt and covert, in order to find out what exactly Russia was supplying to Iran and in attempts to prevent that supply. We were convinced that this was the main path taken by Iran to secure the Doomsday weapon. But only very belatedly did it emerge that if Iran one day achieved its goal, it will not be by the Russian path at all. It made its great advance toward nuclear weaponry on another path altogether — a secret one — that was concealed from our sight.”

That secret path was Iran’s clandestine relationship with the network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atom bomb. Cooperation between American, British and Israeli intelligence services led to the discovery in 2002 of a uranium-enrichment facility built with Khan’s assistance at Natanz, 200 miles south of Tehran. When this information was verified, a great outcry erupted throughout Israel’s military and intelligence establishment, with some demanding that the site be bombed at once. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not authorize an attack. Instead, information about the site was leaked to a dissident Iranian group, the National Resistance Council, which announced that Iran was building a centrifuge installation at Natanz. This led to a visit to the site by a team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who were surprised to discover that Iran was well on its way to completing the nuclear fuel cycle — the series of processes for the enrichment of uranium that is a critical stage in producing a bomb.

Despite the discovery of the Natanz site and the international sanctions that followed, Israeli intelligence reported in early 2004 that Iran’s nuclear project was still progressing. Sharon assigned responsibility for putting an end to the program to Meir Dagan, then head of the Mossad. The two knew each other from the 1970s, when Sharon was the general in charge of the southern command of the Israel Defense Forces and Dagan was a young officer whom he put in charge of a top-secret unit whose purpose was the systematic assassination of Palestine Liberation Organization militiamen in the Gaza Strip. As Sharon put it at the time: “Dagan’s specialty is separating an Arab from his head.”
Sharon granted the Mossad virtually unlimited funds and powers to “stop the Iranian bomb.” As one recently retired senior Mossad officer told me: “There was no operation, there was no project that was not carried out because of a lack of funding.”

At a number of secret meetings with U.S. officials between 2004 and 2007, Dagan detailed a “five-front strategy” that involved political pressure, covert measures, counterproliferation, sanctions and regime change. In a secret cable sent to the U.S. in August 2007, he stressed that “the United States, Israel and like-minded countries must push on all five fronts in a simultaneous joint effort.” He went on to say: “Some are bearing fruit now. Others” — and here he emphasized efforts to encourage ethnic resistance in Iran — “will bear fruit in due time, especially if they are given more attention.”

From 2005 onward, various intelligence arms and the U.S. Treasury, working together with the Mossad, began a worldwide campaign to locate and sabotage the financial underpinnings of the Iranian nuclear project. The Mossad provided the Americans with information on Iranian firms that served as fronts for the country’s nuclear acquisitions and financial institutions that assisted in the financing of terrorist organizations, as well as a banking front established by Iran and Syria to handle all of these activities. The Americans subsequently tried to persuade several large corporations and European governments — especially France, Germany and Britain — to cease cooperating with Iranian financial institutions, and last month the Senate approved sanctions against Iran’s central bank.

In addition to these interventions, as well as to efforts to disrupt the supply of nuclear materials to Iran, since 2005 the Iranian nuclear project has been hit by a series of mishaps and disasters, for which the Iranians hold Western intelligence services — especially the Mossad — responsible. According to the Iranian media, two transformers blew up and 50 centrifuges were ruined during the first attempt to enrich uranium at Natanz in April 2006. A spokesman for the Iranian Atomic Energy Council stated that the raw materials had been “tampered with.” Between January 2006 and July 2007, three airplanes belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards crashed under mysterious circumstances. Some reports said the planes had simply “stopped working.” The Iranians suspected the Mossad, as they did when they discovered that two lethal computer viruses had penetrated the computer system of the nuclear project and caused widespread damage, knocking out a large number of centrifuges.

In January 2007, several insulation units in the connecting fixtures of the centrifuges, which were purchased from a middleman on the black market in Eastern Europe, turned out to be flawed and unusable. Iran concluded that some of the merchants were actually straw companies that were set up to outfit the Iranian nuclear effort with faulty parts.

Of all the covert operations, the most controversial have been the assassinations of Iranian scientists working on the nuclear project. In January 2007, Dr. Ardeshir Husseinpour, a 44-year-old nuclear scientist working at the Isfahan uranium plant, died under mysterious circumstances. The official announcement of his death said he was asphyxiated “following a gas leak,” but Iranian intelligence is convinced that he was the victim of an Israeli assassination.

Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a particle physicist, was killed in January 2010, when a booby-trapped motorcycle parked nearby exploded as he was getting into his car. (Some contend that Mohammadi was not killed by the Mossad, but by Iranian agents because of his supposed support for the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi.) Later that year, on Nov. 29, a manhunt took place in the streets of Tehran for two motorcyclists who had just blown up the cars of two senior figures in the Iranian nuclear project, Majid Shahriari and Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. The motorcyclists attached limpet mines (also known as magnet bombs) to the cars and then sped away. Shahriari was killed by the blast in his Peugeot 405, but Abbassi-Davani and his wife managed to escape their car before it exploded. Following this assassination attempt, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed Abbassi-Davani vice president of Iran and head of the country’s atomic agency. Today he is heavily guarded wherever he goes, as is the scientific head of the nuclear project, Mohsin Fakhri-Zadeh, whose lectures at Tehran University were discontinued as a precautionary measure.
This past July, a motorcyclist ambushed Darioush Rezaei Nejad, a nuclear physicist and a researcher for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, as he sat in his car outside his house. The biker drew a pistol and shot the scientist dead through the car window.

Four months later, in November, a huge explosion occurred at a Revolutionary Guards base 30 miles west of Tehran. The cloud of smoke was visible from the city, where residents could feel the ground shake and hear their windows rattle, and satellite photos showed that almost the entire base was obliterated. Brig. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ missile-development division, was killed, as were 16 of his personnel. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader, paid respect by coming to the funeral service for the general and visiting the widow at her home, where he called Moghaddam a martyr.

Just this month, on Jan. 11, two years after his colleague and friend Massoud Ali Mohammadi was killed, a deputy director at the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility named Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan left his home and headed for a laboratory in downtown Tehran. A few months earlier, a photograph of him accompanying Ahmadinejad on a tour of nuclear installations appeared in newspapers across the globe. Two motorcyclists drove up to his car and attached a limpet mine that killed him on the spot.

Israelis cannot enter Iran, so Israel, Iranian officials believe, has devoted huge resources to recruiting Iranians who leave the country on business trips and turning them into agents. Some have been recruited under a false flag, meaning that the organization’s recruiters pose as other nationalities, so that the Iranian agents won’t know they are on the payroll of “the Zionist enemy,” as Israel is called in Iran. Also, as much as possible, the Mossad prefers to carry out its violent operations based on the blue-and-white principle, a reference to the colors of Israel’s national flag, which means that they are executed only by Israeli citizens who are regular Mossad operatives and not by assassins recruited in the target country. Operating in Iran, however, is impossible for the Mossad’s sabotage-and-assassination unit, known as Caesarea, so the assassins must come from elsewhere. Iranian intelligence believes that over the last several years, the Mossad has financed and armed two Iranian opposition groups, the Muhjahedin Khalq (MEK) and the Jundallah, and has set up a forward base in Kurdistan to mobilize the Kurdish minority in Iran, as well as other minorities, training some of them at a secret base near Tel Aviv.

Officially, Israel has never admitted any involvement in these assassinations, and after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against the killing of Ahmadi-Roshan this month, President Shimon Peres said he had no knowledge of Israeli involvement. The Iranians vowed revenge after the murder, and on Jan. 13, as I spoke with Ehud Barak at his home in Tel Aviv, the country’s intelligence community was conducting an emergency operation to thwart a joint attack by Iran and Hezbollah against Israeli and Jewish targets in Bangkok. Local Thai forces, reportedly acting on information supplied by the Mossad, raided a Hezbollah hideout in Bangkok and later apprehended a member of the terror cell as he tried to flee the country. The prisoner reportedly confessed that he and his fellow cell members intended to blow up the Israeli Embassy and a synagogue.

Meir Dagan, while not taking credit for the assassinations, has praised the hits against Iranian scientists attributed to the Mossad, saying that beyond “the removal of important brains” from the project, the killings have brought about what is referred to in the Mossad as white defection — in other words, the Iranian scientists are so frightened that many have requested to be transferred to civilian projects. “There is no doubt,” a former top Mossad official told me over breakfast on Jan. 11, just a few hours after news of Ahmadi-Roshan’s assassination came from Tehran, “that being a scientist in a prestigious nuclear project that is generously financed by the state carries with it advantages like status, advancement, research budgets and fat salaries. On the other hand, when a scientist — one who is not a trained soldier or used to facing life-threatening situations, who has a wife and children — watches his colleagues being bumped off one after the other, he definitely begins to fear that the day will come when a man on a motorbike knocks on his car window.”
As we spoke, a man approached and, having recognized me as a journalist who reports on these issues, apologized before asking: “When is the war going to break out? When will the Iranians bomb us?” The Mossad official smiled as I tried to reassure the man that we wouldn’t be nuked tomorrow. Similar scenes occur almost every day — Israelis watch the news, have heard that bomb shelters are being prepared, know that Israel test-fired a missile into the sea two months ago — and a kind of panic has begun to overtake Israeli society, anxiety that missiles will start raining down soon.

Dagan believes that his five-fronts strategy has succeeded in significantly delaying Iran’s progress toward developing nuclear weapons; specifically “the use of all the weapons together,” he told me and a small group of Israeli journalists early last year. “In the mind of the Iranian citizen, a link has been created between his economic difficulties and the nuclear project. Today in Iran, there is a profound internal debate about this matter, which has divided the Iranian leadership.” He beamed when he added, “It pleases me that the timeline of the project has been pushed forward several times since 2003 because of these mysterious disruptions.”

Barak and Netanyahu are less convinced of the Mossad’s long-term success. From the beginning of their terms (Barak as defense minister in June 2007, Netanyahu as prime minister in March 2009), they have held the opinion that Israel must have a military option ready in case covert efforts fail. Barak ordered extensive military preparations for an attack on Iran that continue to this day and have become more frequent in recent months. He was not alone in fearing that the Mossad’s covert operations, combined with sanctions, would not be sufficient. The I.D.F. and military intelligence have also experienced waning enthusiasm. Three very senior military intelligence officers, one who is still serving and two who retired recently, told me that with all due respect for Dagan’s success in slowing down the Iranian nuclear project, Iran was still making progress. One recalled Israel’s operations against Iraq’s nuclear program in the late 1970s, when the Mossad eliminated some of the scientists working on the project and intimidated others. On the night of April 6, 1979, a team of Mossad operatives entered the French port town La Seyne-sur-Mer and blew up a shipment necessary for the cooling system of the Iraqi reactor’s core that was being manufactured in France. The French police found no trace of the perpetrators. An unknown organization for the defense of the environment claimed responsibility.

The attack was successful, but a year later the damage was repaired and further sabotage efforts were thwarted. The project advanced until late in 1980, when it was discovered that a shipment of fuel rods containing enriched uranium had been sent from France to Baghdad, and they were about to be fed into the reactor’s core. Israel determined that it had no other option but to launch Operation Opera, a surprise airstrike in June 1981 on the Tammuz-Osirak reactor just outside Baghdad.

Similarly, Dagan’s critics say, the Iranians have managed to overcome most setbacks and to replace the slain scientists. According to latest intelligence, Iran now has some 10,000 functioning centrifuges, and they have streamlined the enrichment process. Iran today has five tons of low-grade fissile material, enough, when converted to high-grade material, to make about five to six bombs; it also has about 175 pounds of medium-grade material, of which it would need about 500 pounds to make a bomb. It is believed that Iran’s nuclear scientists estimate that it will take them nine months, from the moment they are given the order, to assemble their first explosive device and another six months to be able to reduce it to the dimensions of a payload for their Shahab-3 missiles, which are capable of reaching Israel. They are holding the fissile material at sites across the country, most notably at the Fordo facility, near the holy city Qom, in a bunker that Israeli intelligence estimates is 220 feet deep, beyond the reach of even the most advanced bunker-busting bombs possessed by the United States.
Barak serves as the senior Israeli representative in the complex dialogue with the United States on this topic. He disagrees with the parallels that some Israeli politicians, mainly his boss, Netanyahu, draw between Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler, and espouses far more moderate views. “I accept that Iran has other reasons for developing nuclear bombs, apart from its desire to destroy Israel, but we cannot ignore the risk,” he told me earlier this month. “An Iranian bomb would ensure the survival of the current regime, which otherwise would not make it to its 40th anniversary in light of the admiration that the young generation in Iran has displayed for the West. With a bomb, it would be very hard to budge the administration.” Barak went on: “The moment Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the region will feel compelled to do the same. The Saudi Arabians have told the Americans as much, and one can think of both Turkey and Egypt in this context, not to mention the danger that weapons-grade materials will leak out to terror groups.

“From our point of view,” Barak said, “a nuclear state offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies. Imagine if we enter another military confrontation with Hezbollah, which has over 50,000 rockets that threaten the whole area of Israel, including several thousand that can reach Tel Aviv. A nuclear Iran announces that an attack on Hezbollah is tantamount to an attack on Iran. We would not necessarily give up on it, but it would definitely restrict our range of operations.”

At that point Barak leaned forward and said with the utmost solemnity: “And if a nuclear Iran covets and occupies some gulf state, who will liberate it? The bottom line is that we must deal with the problem now.”

He warned that no more than one year remains to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weaponry. This is because it is close to entering its “immunity zone” — a term coined by Barak that refers to the point when Iran’s accumulated know-how, raw materials, experience and equipment (as well as the distribution of materials among its underground facilities) — will be such that an attack could not derail the nuclear project. Israel estimates that Iran’s nuclear program is about nine months away from being able to withstand an Israeli attack; America, with its superior firepower, has a time frame of 15 months. In either case, they are presented with a very narrow window of opportunity. One very senior Israeli security source told me: “The Americans tell us there is time, and we tell them that they only have about six to nine months more than we do and that therefore the sanctions have to be brought to a culmination now, in order to exhaust that track.”

Many European analysts and some intelligence agencies have in the past responded to Israel’s warnings with skepticism, if not outright suspicion. Some have argued that Israel has intentionally exaggerated its assessments to create an atmosphere of fear that would drag Europe into its extensive economic campaign against Iran, a skepticism bolstered by the C.I.A.’s incorrect assessment about Iraqi W.M.D. before to the Iraq war.

Israel’s discourse with the United States on the subject of Iran’s nuclear project is more significant, and more fraught, than it is with Europe. The U.S. has made efforts to stiffen sanctions against Iran and to mobilize countries like Russia and China to apply sanctions in exchange for substantial American concessions. But beneath the surface of this cooperation, there are signs of mutual suspicion. As one senior American official wrote to the State Department and the Pentagon in November 2009, after an Israeli intelligence projection that Iran would have a complete nuclear arsenal by 2012: “It is unclear if the Israelis firmly believe this or are using worst-case estimates to raise greater urgency from the United States.”
For their part, the Israelis suspect that the Obama administration has abandoned any aggressive strategy that would ensure the prevention of a nuclear Iran and is merely playing a game of words to appease them. The Israelis find evidence of this in the shift in language used by the administration, from “threshold prevention” — meaning American resolve to stop Iran from having a nuclear-energy program that could allow for the ability to create weapons — to “weapons prevention,” which means the conditions can exist, but there is an American commitment to stop Iran from assembling an actual bomb.

“I fail to grasp the Americans’ logic,” a senior Israeli intelligence source told me. “If someone says we’ll stop them from getting there by praying for more glitches in the centrifuges, I understand. If someone says we must attack soon to stop them, I get it. But if someone says we’ll stop them after they are already there, that I do not understand.”

Over the past year, Western intelligence agencies, in particular the C.I.A., have moved closer to Israel’s assessments of the Iranian nuclear project. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed this explicitly when he said that Iran would be able to reach nuclear-weapons capabilities within a year. The International Atomic Energy Agency published a scathing report stating that Iran was in breach of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and was possibly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Emboldened by this newfound accord, Israel’s leaders have adopted a harsher tone against Iran. Ya’alon, the deputy prime minister, told me in October: “We have had some arguments with the U.S. administration over the past two years, but on the Iranian issue we have managed to close the gaps to a certain extent. The president’s statements at his last meeting with the prime minister — that ‘we are committed to prevent ’ and ‘all the options are on the table’ — are highly important. They began with the sanctions too late, but they have moved from a policy of engagement to a much more active (sanctions) policy against Iran. All of these are positive developments.” On the other hand, Ya’alon sighed as he admitted: “The main arguments are ahead of us. This is clear.”

Now that the facts have been largely agreed upon, the arguments Ya’alon anticipates are those that will stem from the question of how to act — and what will happen if Israel decides that the moment for action has arrived. The most delicate issue between the two countries is what America is signaling to Israel and whether Israel should inform America in advance of a decision to attack.

Matthew Kroenig is the Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and worked as a special adviser in the Pentagon from July 2010 to July 2011. One of his tasks was defense policy and strategy on Iran. When I spoke with Kroenig last week, he said: “My understanding is that the United States has asked Israel not to attack Iran and to provide Washington with notice if it intends to strike. Israel responded negatively to both requests. It refused to guarantee that it will not attack or to provide prior notice if it does.” Kroenig went on, “My hunch is that Israel would choose to give warning of an hour or two, just enough to maintain good relations between the countries but not quite enough to allow Washington to prevent the attack.” Kroenig said Israel was correct in its timeline of Iran’s nuclear development and that the next year will be critical. “The future can evolve in three ways,” he said. “Iran and the international community could agree to a negotiated settlement; Israel and the United States could acquiesce to a nuclear-armed Iran; or Israel or the United States could attack. Nobody wants to go in the direction of a military strike,” he added, “but unfortunately this is the most likely scenario. The more interesting question is not whether it happens but how. The United States should treat this option more seriously and begin gathering international support and building the case for the use of force under international law.”
In June 2007, I met with a former director of the Mossad, Meir Amit, who handed me a document stamped, “Top secret, for your eyes only.” Amit wanted to demonstrate the complexity of the relations between the United States and Israel, especially when it comes to Israeli military operations in the Middle East that could significantly impact American interests in the region.

Almost 45 years ago, on May 25, 1967, in the midst of the international crisis that precipitated the Six-Day War, Amit, then head of the Mossad, summoned John Hadden, the C.I.A. chief in Tel Aviv, to an urgent meeting at his home. The meeting took place against the background of the mounting tensions in the Middle East, the concentration of a massive Egyptian force in the Sinai Peninsula, the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and the threats by President Gamal Abdel Nasser to destroy the State of Israel.

In what he later described as “the most difficult meeting I have ever had with a representative of a foreign intelligence service,” Amit laid out Israel’s arguments for attacking Egypt. The conversation between them, which was transcribed in the document Amit passed on to me, went as follows:

Amit: “We are approaching a turning point that is more important for you than it is for us. After all, you people know everything. We are in a grave situation, and I believe we have reached it, because we have not acted yet. . . . Personally, I am sorry that we did not react immediately. It is possible that we may have broken some rules if we had, but the outcome would have been to your benefit. I was in favor of acting. We should have struck before the build-up.”

Hadden: “That would have brought Russia and the United States against you.”

Amit: “You are wrong. . . . We have now reached a new stage, after the expulsion of the U.N. inspectors. You should know that it’s your problem, not ours.”

Hadden: “Help us by giving us a good reason to come in on your side. Get them to fire at something, a ship, for example.”

Amit: “That is not the point.”

Hadden: “If you attack, the United States will land forces to help the attacked state protect itself.”

Amit: “I can’t believe what I am hearing.”

Hadden: “Do not surprise us.”

Amit: “Surprise is one of the secrets of success.”

Hadden: “I don’t know what the significance of American aid is for you.”

Amit: “It isn’t aid for us, it is for yourselves.”

That ill-tempered meeting, and Hadden’s threats, encouraged the Israeli security cabinet to ban the military from carrying out an immediate assault against the Egyptian troops in the Sinai, although they were perceived as a grave threat to the existence of Israel. Amit did not accept Hadden’s response as final, however, and flew to the United States to meet with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. Upon his return, he reported to the Israeli cabinet that when he told McNamara that Israel could not reconcile itself to Egypt’s military actions, the secretary replied, “I read you very clearly.” When Amit then asked McNamara if he should remain in Washington for another week, to see how matters developed, McNamara responded, “Young man, go home, that is where you are needed now.”

From this exchange, Amit concluded that the United States was giving Israel “a flickering green light” to attack Egypt. He told the cabinet that if the Americans were given one more week to exhaust their diplomatic efforts, “they will hesitate to act against us.” The next day, the cabinet decided to begin the Six-Day War, which changed the course of Middle Eastern history.

Amit handed me the minutes of that conversation from the same armchair that he sat in during his meeting with Hadden. It is striking how that dialogue anticipated the one now under way between Israel and the United States. Substitute “Tehran” for “Cairo” and “Strait of Hormuz” for “Straits of Tiran,” and it could have taken place this past week. Since 1967, the unspoken understanding that America should agree, at least tacitly, to Israeli military actions has been at the center of relations between the two countries.
During my lengthy conversation with Barak, I pulled out the transcript of the Amit-Hadden meeting. Amit was his commander when Barak was a young officer, in a unit that carried out commando raids deep inside enemy territory. Barak, a history buff, smiled at the comparison, and then he completely rejected it. “Relations with the United States are far closer today,” he said. “There are no threats, no recriminations, only cooperation and mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty.”
In our conversation on Jan. 18, Ya’alon, the deputy prime minister, was sharp in his criticism of the international community’s stance on Iran. “These are critical hours on the question of which way the international community will take the policy,” he said. “The West must stand united and resolute, and what is happening so far is not enough. The Iranian regime must be placed under pressure and isolated. Sanctions that bite must be imposed against it, something that has not happened as yet, and a credible military option should be on the table as a last resort. In order to avoid it, the sanctions must be stepped up.” It is, of course, important for Ya’alon to argue that this is not just an Israeli-Iranian dispute, but a threat to America’s well-being. “The Iranian regime will be several times more dangerous if it has a nuclear device in its hands,” he went on. “One that it could bring into the United States. It is not for nothing that it is establishing bases for itself in Latin America and creating links with drug dealers on the U.S.-Mexican border. This is happening in order to smuggle ordnance into the United States for the carrying out of terror attacks. Imagine this regime getting nuclear weapons to the U.S.-Mexico border and managing to smuggle it into Texas, for example. This is not a far-fetched scenario.”

Ehud Barak dislikes this kind of criticism of the United States, and in a rather testy tone in a phone conversation with me on Jan. 18 said: “Our discourse with the United States is based on listening and mutual respect, together with an understanding that it is our primary ally. The U.S. is what helps us to preserve the military advantage of Israel, more than ever before. This administration contributes to the security of Israel in an extraordinary way and does a lot to prevent a nuclear Iran. We’re not in confrontation with America. We’re not in agreement on every detail, we can have differences — and not unimportant ones — but we should not talk as if we are speaking about a hostile entity.”

Over the last four years, since Barak was appointed minister of defense, the Israeli military has prepared in unprecedented ways for a strike against Iran. It has also grappled with questions of how it will manage the repercussions of such an attack. Much of the effort is dedicated to strengthening the country’s civil defenses — bomb shelters, air-raid sirens and the like — areas in which serious defects were discovered during the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Civilian disaster exercises are being held intermittently, and gas masks have been distributed to the population.

On the operational level, any attack would be extremely complex. Iran learned the lessons of Iraq, and has dispersed its nuclear installations throughout its vast territory. There is no way of knowing for certain if the Iranians have managed to conceal any key facilities from Israeli intelligence. Israel has limited air power and no aircraft carriers. If it attacked Iran, because of the 1,000 or so miles between its bases and its potential targets, Israeli planes would have to refuel in the air at least once (and more than once if faced with aerial engagements). The bombardment would require pinpoint precision in order to spend the shortest amount of time over the targets, which are heavily defended by antiaircraft-missile batteries.
In the end, a successful attack would not eliminate the knowledge possessed by the project’s scientists, and it is possible that Iran, with its highly developed technological infrastructure, would be able to rebuild the damaged or wrecked sites. What is more, unlike Syria, which did not respond after the destruction of its reactor in 2007, Iran has openly declared that it would strike back ferociously if attacked. Iran has hundreds of Shahab missiles armed with warheads that can reach Israel, and it could harness Hezbollah to strike at Israeli communities with its 50,000 rockets, some of which can hit Tel Aviv. (Hamas in Gaza, which is also supported by Iran, might also fire a considerable number of rockets on Israeli cities.) According to Israeli intelligence, Iran and Hezbollah have also planted roughly 40 terrorist sleeper cells across the globe, ready to hit Israeli and Jewish targets if Iran deems it necessary to retaliate. And if Israel responded to a Hezbollah bombardment against Lebanese targets, Syria may feel compelled to begin operations against Israel, leading to a full-scale war. On top of all this, Tehran has already threatened to close off the Persian Gulf to shipping, which would generate a devastating ripple through the world economy as a consequence of the rise in the price of oil.
The proponents of an attack argue that the problems delineated above, including missiles from Iran and Lebanon and terror attacks abroad, are ones Israel will have to deal with regardless of whether it attacks Iran now — and if Iran goes nuclear, dealing with these problems will become far more difficult.

The Israeli Air Force is where most of the preparations are taking place. It maintains planes with the long-range capacity required to deliver ordnance to targets in Iran, as well as unmanned aircraft capable of carrying bombs to those targets and remaining airborne for up to 48 hours. Israel believes that these platforms have the capacity to cause enough damage to set the Iranian nuclear project back by three to five years.

In January 2010, the Mossad sent a hit team to Dubai to liquidate the high-ranking Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was coordinating the smuggling of rockets from Iran to Gaza. The assassination was carried out successfully, but almost the entire operation and all its team members were recorded on closed-circuit surveillance TV cameras. The operation caused a diplomatic uproar and was a major embarrassment for the Mossad. In the aftermath, Netanyahu decided not to extend Dagan’s already exceptionally long term, informing him that he would be replaced in January 2011. That decision was not well received by Dagan, and three days before he was due to leave his post, I and several other Israeli journalists were surprised to receive invitations to a meeting with him at Mossad headquarters.

We were told to congregate in the parking lot of a movie-theater complex north of Tel Aviv, where we were warned by Mossad security personnel, “Do not bring computers, recording devices, cellphones. You will be carefully searched, and we want to avoid unpleasantness. Leave everything in your cars and enter our vehicles carrying only paper and pens.” We were then loaded into cars with opaque windows and escorted by black Jeeps to a site that we knew was not marked on any map. The cars went through a series of security checks, requiring our escorts to explain who we were and show paperwork at each roadblock.

This was the first time in the history of the Mossad that a group of journalists was invited to meet the director of the organization at one of the country’s most secret sites. After the search was performed and we were seated, the outgoing chief entered the room. Dagan, who was wounded twice in combat, once seriously, during the Six-Day War, started by saying: “There are advantages to being wounded in the back. You have a doctor’s certificate that you have a backbone.” He then went into a discourse about Iran and sharply criticized the heads of government for even contemplating “the foolish idea” of attacking it.
“The use of state violence has intolerable costs,” he said. “The working assumption that it is possible to totally halt the Iranian nuclear project by means of a military attack is incorrect. There is no such military capability. It is possible to cause a delay, but even that would only be for a limited period of time.”
He warned that attacking Iran would start an unwanted war with Hezbollah and Hamas: “I am not convinced that Syria will not be drawn into the war. While the Syrians won’t charge at us in tanks, we will see a massive offensive of missiles against our home front. Civilians will be on the front lines. What is Israel’s defensive capability against such an offensive? I know of no solution that we have for this problem.”

Asked if he had said these things to Israel’s decision-makers, Dagan replied: “I have expressed my opinion to them with the same emphasis as I have here now. Sometimes I raised my voice, because I lose my temper easily and am overcome with zeal when I speak.”

In later conversations Dagan criticized Netanyahu and Barak, and in a lecture at Tel Aviv University he observed, “The fact that someone has been elected doesn’t mean that he is smart.”

In the audience at that lecture was Rafi Eitan, 85, one of the Mossad’s most seasoned and well-known operatives. Eitan agreed with Dagan that Israel lacked the capabilities to attack Iran. When I spoke with him in October, Eitan said: “As early as 2006 (when Eitan was a senior cabinet minister), I told the cabinet that Israel couldn’t afford to attack Iran. First of all, because the home front is not ready. I told anyone who wanted and still wants to attack, they should just think about two missiles a day, no more than that, falling on Tel Aviv. And what will you do then? Beyond that, our attack won’t cause them significant damage. I was told during one of the discussions that it would delay them for three years, and I replied, ‘Not even three months.’ After all, they have scattered their facilities all over the country and under the ground. ‘What harm can you do to them?’ I asked. ‘You’ll manage to hit the entrances, and they’ll have them rebuilt in three months.’ ”

Asked if it was possible to stop a determined Iran from becoming a nuclear power, Eitan replied: “No. In the end they’ll get their bomb. The way to fight it is by changing the regime there. This is where we have really failed. We should encourage the opposition groups who turn to us over and over to ask for our help, and instead, we send them away empty-handed.”

Israeli law stipulates that only the 14 members of the security cabinet have the authority to make decisions on whether to go to war. The cabinet has not yet been asked to vote, but the ministers might, under pressure from Netanyahu and Barak, answer these crucial questions about Iran in the affirmative: that these coming months are indeed the last opportunity to attack before Iran enters the “immunity zone”; that the broad international agreement on Iran’s intentions and the failure of sanctions to stop the project have created sufficient legitimacy for an attack; and that Israel does indeed possess the capabilities to cause significant damage to the Iranian project.

In recent weeks, Israelis have obsessively questioned whether Netanyahu and Barak are really planning a strike or if they are just putting up a front to pressure Europe and the U.S. to impose tougher sanctions. I believe that both of these things are true, but as a senior intelligence officer who often participates in meetings with Israel’s top leadership told me, the only individuals who really know their intentions are, of course, Netanyahu and Barak, and recent statements that no decision is imminent must surely be taken into account.

After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012. Perhaps in the small and ever-diminishing window that is left, the United States will choose to intervene after all, but here, from the Israeli perspective, there is not much hope for that. Instead there is that peculiar Israeli mixture of fear — rooted in the sense that Israel is dependent on the tacit support of other nations to survive — and tenacity, the fierce conviction, right or wrong, that only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.

5772: The Inevitable Year Living Up To It's Billing!

25. Something I made

My sister is an amazing quilter; her pieces are precise and beautiful, works of jaw-dropping perfection. My mother's quilts are artistic wonders; she may not have had my sister's perfect execution, but she had an unrivaled eye for color and design.

But let the record show that I was making quilts before either of them! I made baby blankets for all 3 of my sister's boys and for my brother's sons as well. Unfortunately, I can't cut a straight line, let alone sew a straight seam, so I gave up trying. I did, however, make a wall-hanging for my brother's wedding, many years ago.

My points aren't perfect, and not all the seams are straight, and the experts will tell you that my "values" are all wrong. But I think it's very pretty, and my brother and his wife loved it.

Tzedaka Saves You From Death!

The 10th Commandment: And You Shall Not Covet

American Modern Age Guideline: Covet, Lest You Die

The Torah warns of a poor economic system, thus with the mitzvah of "you shall not covet," the Torah commands a fiscal system with an infusion of Torah Sechel.

When the Torah rules, and the Beis Hamikdash is operative, The Jewish Nation will thrive in every way, from good commerce in Jerusalem its capital, organizations of giving and support, and most importantly, with a thriving Middle Class. The Torah teaches us how to view Money and judge economic trends with righteous perspectives in spending and sharing.

The Torah lifestyle demands a Middle Class, with the infrastructure embedded into a Holy Society of such staples as Shabbos, Tzedaka, and matters Hekdesh (giving to the Temple in the name of making things Holy.)

America, in the time of all of its greatness, had instituted many of Torah's ideology; its a shame that the Muslim Imam Mahdi wannabe in the Oval Office and his predecessor Gog Bush (there's a flashback for ya'll; we are seeing the ruckus he caused in his 8 years - surprisingly everyone forgets that Barack is bottom feeding off of his NWO foundations) have virtually destroyed the bedrocks of Truth that once made America great.

Here is a look at what could be perhaps the last whimper out of the Black Hole of the artist formerly known as: America (as we knew it):

The Hill:

No greater challenge faces Congress in the year ahead than to restore the middle class, which is being crushed by widespread unemployment, rising income inequality and a sense that the political system is indifferent to its plight. As a young Iowan told my committee last spring: “We hear that corporate welfare continues, and we look across the kitchen table at our families eating ramen noodles for the third time this week. We read that the wealthy get bigger tax breaks in hopes that their money will trickle down to us, then turn the page and read about how our school districts are forced to cut staff — again.”

To his credit, President Obama has put the fight to create jobs and restore the middle class at the forefront of his agenda, and tonight he will demand urgent action. I couldn’t agree more strongly. As chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, I chaired three hearings last year on the plight of the middle class, and my state staff visited all 99 counties in Iowa to gather insights into the challenges facing working Americans. We found that more and more people are struggling just to make ends meet. Their jobs are insecure, their savings and pensions have shrunk, and they are profoundly worried about the future.

Economists have identified globalization and technology change as factors that have contributed to the decline of the middle class. But the fault also lies with misguided policy choices here in Washington, for example, tax breaks that have exacerbated inequality or encouraged corporations to move jobs overseas. It is time to tackle these policy failures head-on, and to do so with the boldness that earlier generations of Americans summoned in times of national challenge.

The mantra in some quarters is that “government can’t create jobs.” Nonsense. Smart government can create jobs — and short-sighted government can destroy jobs. Since World War II, the federal government has funded and spearheaded the building of the interstate highway system, the invention of the Internet, the exploration of the cosmos. More than 80 Nobel Prizes have been awarded for research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. These federal initiatives have spawned countless inventions and new industries, creating tens of millions of middle-class jobs.

Today, the obvious way forward is to ramp up investments in initiatives that make the middle class strong. There is bipartisan support for investments in infrastructure, including 21st century transportation and energy systems. We need smart investments to ensure that our workers have the education, skills and resources they need to win in the global marketplace. We need policies to reverse the long-term decline in manufacturing jobs. And we need to help family budgets go further by helping to make necessities such as child care and college more affordable, improving the retirement system and taking full advantage of reforms in the Affordable Care Act, such as its provision permitting adult children to stay on a parent’s healthcare plan up to the age of 26 and its ban on denial of coverage due to preexisting conditions (which already applies to children and in 2014 will apply to adults).

Instead of slash-and-burn approaches to deficit reduction, which are being sold through fear and fatalism, we need an approach that reflects the hopes and aspirations of the American people. Smart countries, in difficult times, do not turn a chain saw on themselves through policies of mindless austerity. We need to continue to invest in approaches that will spur economic growth, create quality, family-supporting jobs and strengthen the middle class. The best way to bring deficits under control is to help the 27 million unemployed and underemployed Americans get good jobs and become taxpayers again.

Instead of failed trickle-down economics for the rich, it’s time for percolate-up economics for the middle class. As we say in the Midwest, you don’t fertilize a tree from the top down, you fertilize the roots. It’s time to invest directly in our nation’s future by modernizing our crumbling infrastructure, encouraging manufacturing and innovation and giving our people the education and skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

There can be no sustainable economic recovery and no return to fiscal balance without the recovery of the middle class. The middle class is the backbone of this country, and it’s time for Congress to have the backbone to not only defend it, but rebuild it.

In Chanuka: The War was Jewish Chachmah on a collision course with Greek Wisdom

In The Geulah Years: Torah Peshuta is at War with those that think they Know Better while in positions of Power, illuminating the modern age as a Gladiator type arena where Man and his Shekker will confront and collide with Hashem for the onlooker to witness and internalize, "The Divine Perspective up close."

The only question is, will we see this inevitable epic battle in 5772