Ed: 37: May/2012
On March 31, a series of coordinated bombings, the likes that have not been seen since 2007, rocked the Southern Thai cities of Yala and Hat Yai.
These attacks were spectacular and garnered both domestic and international media attention. While a wakeup call to the international community and the Thai political elite, the attacks do not portend the insurgency entering into a new stage, but rather they are a reminder of a conflict that is now in its ninth year; a slow-burn insurgency in the heart of prosperous Southeast Asia, which has claimed the lives of 5,100 people, wounded approximately 9,000 in more than 11,000 incidents of violence.
Fourteen months after the popular uprising that brought down the Mubarak regime, Egypt is heading toward a head-on collision between the Islamic forces and the secular military apparatus that has ruled Egypt since 1952, when a group of young officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser revolted against the monarchy and toppled the regime.
Much has been written about a tacit agreement between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) led by Field Marshal Tantawi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The so-called "deal" was supposed to divide power between the two protagonists, whereby the Islamists would retain power in the legislative bodies, and the military, through their proxies, would keep control of the executive branch of government - first and foremost the presidency.
Livni, with her well-to-do background, is history, at least as a prime ministerial contender. Humbly-born Mofaz, on the other hand, emerged from his sweeping victory as a force to reckon with, a battle-tested general who, while an underdog, can be counted on to fight for the premiership tooth and nail.
Readers with long memories will remember the antics of the Citizens' Electoral Council (CEC) - the local followers of convicted American fraudster and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, who have mostly disappeared from the headlines over the past decade.
But since January, all that conspiratorial thinking has been on public display every week via free-to-air TV. "CEC Report" is a half-hour show presented by CEC founder and leader Craig Isherwood and CEC Executive Member Robert Barwick broadcasting on Melbourne community station 31.
The show somehow manages to be both soporific and thoroughly alarming. Bland, measured and unassuming, Isherwood and Barwick appear much like most amateur community station TV hosts - except their message is stark raving bonkers.
The tumultuous events that have swept through the Middle East during the last year or so were widely referred to in the West as the "Arab Spring". The media was awash with expectations of a secular democratic upheaval that was about to remove the dictators that had ruled much of the region for generations.
The term "Spring" had European origins, conjuring up associations with the "Spring of Nations" in 1848, the "Prague Spring" of 1968, or the Eastern European Spring of the late 1980s after the fall of Communism, when popular uprisings in the name of secular democracy sought the overthrow of despotic regimes that had ruled for decades. The "Arab Spring," according to this thinking, was analogous to the European experience.
I have known Cardinal George Pell for a number of years, discussed Middle East politics over a kosher meal he arranged for me in his home, worked with him on a range of matters of Catholic-Jewish concern and had any disagreements treated respectfully and graciously. In that light, watching him on ABC television's Monday "Infotainment" program, "Q & A", was not a comfortable experience.
Following a period of increased international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, the P5+1 nudged Iran back to the negotiating table on April 13. The two-day talks, held in Istanbul, yielded little but an agreement to resume talks in five weeks time, on May 23 in Baghdad.
Whether you agree with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's assessment that Iran had been given a "freebie", or US President Barack Obama's description of the latest talks as an "opportunity for us to negotiate and see if Iran comes to the table in good faith," the fact remains that despite the sanctions and these negotiations, Iran's nuclear enrichment and development continues apace in defiance of the unequivocal Western and UN policy to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
Debate about Israel often leads back to the Shoah, the World War II Nazi Holocaust. The Holocaust is of course a constant background for many Jews both in Israel and out - an horrific presence, but also an important source of shared experience, and nation building, as well as the ultimate argument for the belief that Jews need self-determination in their own state, i.e. Zionism.
But the Shoah is also increasingly being invoked by Israel's critics...
The clock is ticking on the Iranian nuclear program. Last December, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta appeared on the CBS news program, "60 Minutes", and declared that Iran could have a bomb within twelve months. He added that the time frame might be shorter if the Iranians have "a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel." If Panetta's assessments are correct, then Iran's best diplomatic strategy for 2012 is just to let the clock run out. The West will have to carefully develop a counter-strategy to neutralise Iran's likely course of action.