Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Funny Money (?)

A posted comment informed me about some references to Hezb printing fake US Dollars.

So I researched it (as much as possible), and still updating this. Thanks TM.

Background: “on ne prête qu’aux riches

in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Hezb has indeed been involved in counterfeiting activities. This was not only its purview; its patrons, Syria and Iran, were also involved in it.

The United States Congress did report on this as far back as 1992, and there was an in-depth coverage on a PBS' Nova program. There is some ongoing news coverage, but reports petered out; such activity has not been officially reported on a large scale beyond 2002. There were links reported between counterfeiters and hezbollah, but a 2004 report from the US treasury department does not list notable activities beyond that date.

This may have been possible thanks to the unwitting help of United States, who had sold the Shah, Intaglio Printing Presses to print his own high quality notes. When the Mullahs took over, they allegedly used those to create high quality US$100 notes. This suspicion has not been confirmed yet, and some links suggest the Chinese triads may have something to do with it... the muddle remains, at least officially; on June 24th, 1999, in a hearing before the “Subcommittee on crime”, of the “Committee on the Judiciary” of the United States 106th Congress, Kevin T., Foley, Assistant Director of the Office of Investigations, of the United States Secret Service, stated that while “there was some attempt to relate it to state sponsorship, we can't verify any of that”.

Be it as it may, those are high quality fakes, or "Super Notes"; the first of which was first uncovered in 1996 by an experienced cash handler (not by a machine), and known as PN14342. Other subsequent notes are linked to this granddaddy of all notes, and the new currency design has also been adapted and copied. All those notes may be linked in what some call "the web of the supernote".

According to a 2003 presentation by US Secret Service counterfeit specialist Lorelei Pagano, the PN14342, while a very high quality counterfeit, but “all exhibited a flaw” that may have “a deliberate mistake to distinguish the fakes”, in order to “prove to distributors that these were indeed counterfeits.

North Korean: No Likely Link

To date, North Korea maybe the only country that appears to systematically follow such an approach to fundraising; Kim Jong-il (show here inspecting troops) is desperate for hard currency. However, aside from its export of missile technology, it has few links to Iran and Syria. Rather, his own counterfeiting may be linked to Russia, as reported by "StickyNotes".

Yes, few links; the “Axis of Evil” was only a metaphor, dreamt up by some speech writer with a poor grasp of history. The guy was fired soon afterwards.

As far as high quality counterfeiting, the link in the Middle East may be primarily to the Chinese underworld, and not necessarily via Iran or Syria.

Going back to counterfeiting, the problem was almost epidemic in the 1990’s in Lebanon. At some point that Lebanese banks had lists of Currency numbers that they would not accept.

Diagnosis: a cautious “Da". Zere iz somessing zere...

There is no clear-cut evidence that the money Hezb has distributed is not the real McCoy…

But some of it may well be; oddly, they did come up with a large amount of newly printed bills at a time when the banks had run out of hard currency denominations, especially those above US$50. Still, they are too smart to risk dumbing US$ 300 Million in fake denominations at once.

Maybe part of it is. To be sure, there no shortage of worrying evidence of organized counterfeiting:

The activity that started in the 1990’s does continue; some clans in Lebanon do still counterfeit money, and have upgraded to the new currency templates.

Some of this activity was carried out in Brital as late as 2003, but the activity may have stopped, or moved away by then. When the car branched out into car theft, it attracted too much unwanted attention, and an army raid.

Also, recent bombing in Tyre has revealed some printed sheets that did not quite fit in the picture. Oddly the media did not even pick up the story or even investigate further; it took a private citizen to notice the detail in a report from MSNBC

To be sure, the media does a lot of misrepresentations; but the latest story needs to be investigated carefully, lest it be blown out of proportions. Counterfeiting may be endemic in Lebanon, but it is not epidemic.

Prognosis: "Niet". Yu No Nid to Panik... ослабьте...

Watch the blogs and Lebanese banks.

Some blogs have been doing a decent job at tracking this with professionalism and doggedness. They will no doubt post any further reports on this.

Lebanese bankers and money changers will soon be aware of any counterfeit currency; they would have a list of serial numbers and other details.

They have seen it before, and know how to deal with it; for example, it is possible that bill number “AB 24858265 B” may have already been “blacklisted” since 2003. From what I have seen, serial numbers remain the best way to track fakes.

Remedy: Wait and See... I will soon clear up.

For now, ask your friendly neighbourhood banker or money changer. Odds are the money you get from the bank is safe. And keep tab of this if it develops further. To be sure, the United States have not made much noise about this...

And remember; if there is something the Lebanese agree on, it is money. Brital learned it the hard way.

Follow-up (Sept. 1st, 2006):

As of Sept. 1st, 2006, there were NO reports of anything fishy. CBC news reporter Mike Hornbrook recently called the story completely Insane; he went on to snapped shot to report that Hezb cash is REAL as far as he knew. You know those pesky reporters do work hard, afterall...

We’re hunting for them too, but so far haven’t turned up anything unexceptional. One tantalizing possibility remains, for conspiracy buffs; some fakes may not contain the design telltale feature mentioned above...

Follow-up (Sept. 20th, 2006):

This story moves slowly; nothing ground-breaking came out of Lebanon so far. Yet, an intriging post at "SnappedShot" describes large cash seizures in the Territories, which Israeli police assume may come from Iran. Some details of the operation are found on "VitalPerspective" report it as well. Worth following up.

It remains possible, however, that the money is all real, and may not come exclusively form Iran. This is because of all the oil-money flowing around in the Middle East, and of the tendency to fund armed groups. Call it politics by petro-dollar.

Things will be clearer as the Israeli written press picks up the story; then any link with Iran, or Hezb, or counterfeiting will be better established.

It is alos possible that this guy did not pay "protection" to the right people, and found himself "exposed"...

My Musings...

This whole cash thing got me pondering an ironic possibility. We, Arabs, may be planting the seeds of our own decadence (again). Much like Spain, 400 years agao, who spent all its gold on "prestige", we are spending oil proceeds on aimless "armed sturggles".

At least make up a plan! with the countless Billions spend on war in Lebanon alone, we could have become something... When the oil runs out (and IT WILL) I fear King Faysal's prediction will come true:

"In one generation we went from riding camels to riding Cadillacs. The way we are wasting money, I fear the next generation will be riding camels again"...

Oddly, Faysal got assassinated. Note from our lawyers: King Faysal was shot by one of his nephews. And while troops were mobilized, it was only as a precaution; the assassin acted alone. There was no conspiracy.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Leftovers After the Party

As refugees go back to Southern Lebanon, they will face two dangers; landmines and unexploded ordnance.

Because of the high number of displaced, the extent of the damage, expect more dead as kids stumble across those things. ESpecially smart kids with little to do.

It was bad before, it is worse now.

Landmines have been a feature of Southern Lebanon for a while, and the war may have added new ones, or disturbed existing fields. The terrain was already strewn with those “devices” before the latest war.

Unexploded ordnance is another, more pernicious problem. It is mostly cluster bombs, but not necessarily only that; Hezb has hidden quite a few weapons in tunnels and hideouts, locations that are now be disrupted.

The Israeli used Cluster bombs and CEM’s. Cluster bombs remain the most dangerous ones; they are actually designed to explode on contact. CEM’s are essentially shape charges, designed to detonate on frontal impact, much like a Katiusha.

To be sure, we are facing a huge cleanup task. Again. Even the Israeli press recognizes the extent of the problem.

Cleanup, Part Deux

This task is similar to the past task of cleaning up all the minefields at the end of 1990, when the war “ended”. This war may have been a “concentrate” of all the wars of yonder, with the damage and planting “concentrated” in a month…

With Hezb holding on to its weapons, this mess will not be easy to clean up. This for a simple technical reason; one fast way to detect those nasty leftovers, extensive radar mapping, could laso reveal thier hidden toys...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Beyond Chutzpah

Having played the "victor", the “benefactor”, Shater Hassan is now playing the “statesman”; apparently, he is sorry about the war. Had he known, he would not have done, but it is Israel’s fault.

It always is.

Except that, well, everybody knew that the reprisals would be terrible, and sensible Israelis long understood the missile threat…

Couldn’t he read?

Shater Hassan’s blunder would enter the annals of history as the greatest crime against Lebanon. From his speech, we can see the makings of yet another blunder.

He assumes that the Israelis are tied up in knots, and thinks that the Lebanese are cowed. He also ignores the economic factor.

1- Israel: Tied up in knots?

Early negotiations may comfort him in this feeling. And he is right in stating that amateur hour is not over, apparently.

We see Israeli tanks blowing up on Israeli mines. When we see the inefficient use of cluster bombs, initially devised for attacks on armoured formations in open areas.

Not on spread out guerrillas hiding in mountain or built-up areas.

As Lebanese Civilians get killed by “left-overs”, he can assume that his popularity will rise even more. It will be Israel’s fault.

Time will tell whether he is right. But he forgets that, contrary to Arabs, Israelis are not so attached to failed leaders. And they learn fast, and Adapt. And they still have an axe to grind...

2- The Lebanese Economy

The estimates of losses are “15 Billion, if not more”. No matter, Shater Hassan will compensate people with… Well, with USD 10,000 for each of about 30,000 families, I can see how USD 300 Million and change can be more than those miserly Billions; compare 300 to 15.

And it is “pure” money, no doubt. Move over, Rafic, here comes Shater Hassan the Builder; “that what had been demolished, friends will build it with untainted pure money”.


And what would those “friends” ask in return? Just that we keep dying for them. Pure money, indeed.

As the world dithers, Lebanon lays ruined, its reconstruction fraught with infighting. The blockade may soon push the country in recession.

Actually, the recession may even be harder than "advertised". Many of our best and brightest left the country. At least more than 250,000; and were it not for travel restrictions, more than would have left.

As long as Shater Hassan stays, they are not coming back. And as long as the other idiots who oppose him do not get their act together, they are staying out. They do not relish living under Iranian occupation...

3- Lebanese “Unity” around the “Resistance”

Don’t bet on it.

Shater Hassan’s speech may be a pre-emptive move, against the noose tightening around his neck. At least, some powerful voices are starting to rise, King Abdallah’s, no less.

Many paid the price of the war, and Hezb’s arrogance is not well received, and the party is unpopular outside the Shiite community. They are viewed as oblivious to the suffering of others, and refuse to recognize any one's contributions but their own.

In this context, Shater Hassan’s speech was perceived as arrogant by many; the websites of Arabic news channel Al-Arabia may be a good place to look; to many, Hezb is no better than Irael. To some; بدأ يعترف بالهزيمة هههههههههه ...

And returning the "captives" may not do much good to Shater Hassan's image. There are still scores of Lebanese prisoners in Syria. No matter what his (current) buddy Aoun says about it, few accept that all those who disappeared during Syria's occupation remained unaccounted for.

Nasrallah's “veto power” over the Lebanese government is now limited; Prime Minister Siniora’s musings about “private reconstruction” should be seen in this light.

The Lebanese may not tolerate a competing government within their midst, especially one carping to a foreigner, a “wali el-faqih” that few recognize as a "marja el taqlid", even in Iran.

For now, we wait...

Shiite “Unity” around the “Resistance”

Bet on it. For now; it depends how long the Shiites will accept Shater Hassan's monopoly over them.

A census by IPSOS-l'Orient-Le Jour has shown that, while 79% of Druze, 77% of Christians and 54 % of Sunnis wanted the militia disarmed, only 19% of the Shiites agreed with them. As a result, the country is split 51%-49% in favour of disarming the "resistance".

Shater Hassan was always good at manoeuvring. In today's context, his little chat on TV reminds me of Nasser’s “resignation” speech after the 1967 defeat. His Chutzpah will galvanize his supporters even more, and increasingly move Lebanon into a tribal setting.

In a “tribal” context, many Shiites remain stuck following Hezb into a dead end. As the community fears for its future, it will “circle the wagons” around the leader, and in even threaten others. The party is already re-arming... Seig!

As the Lemmings follow the leader into his great world quest, expect to see some renewed hostility and unlikely alliances.

Unless more courageous voices come up against the great lemming-leader, we will soon be moving to a confrontation.

Some of Hezb's luminaries already claim that Hezb is even "Greater than Lebanon".

Now that's beyond Chutzpah...

Thirty Pieces of Silver...

Interestingly, while the “Tayyar” claims that at least 200 Lebanese prisoners are held in Syria, General Michel Aoun claims that the “Tayyar” has no political prisoners in that country.

I could not believe my eyes. What is this guy really up to?

He may have been technically correct; none of those people joined the “Tayyar” officially, since the movement was formally established after they were kidnapped.

Such subtleties may be lost on the purveyors of Syria terror and their allies. Maybe the statement clears up the issue Aouns’ alliance with Hezb, who shanghaied Lebanon to war to liberate… 4 prisoners.

Apparently, the more than 10,000 people who disappeared during Syrian occupation do not really matter if you really want to become president.

Now Aoun is after the Siniora government, hinting that "Siniora [...] may have given concessions and 'guarantees' leading to signing a peace treaty with Israel". It seems he is supporting Nasrallah's idea of National Union Government. National Unity is a good Idea; but what Nation is Mgr Hassan talking about?

A friend of mine put it best:

بعدني عوني...

بسّ عون غيّر!

Paris vaut bien une messe

Friday, August 25, 2006

Lebanon's Shiites, or the power of Poverty

Back in the day...

The Scythians responded to Alexander the Great; "our poverty will be faster than your army which has to carry the bounty of all the nations you conquered".

Indeed, the poverty of some tribes was such that they have little to lose, and could therefore gain more by attacking the richer ones... Alexander won, but he did not have much fun, and still had to placate the Scythians.

For too long, Lebanese Shiites have been the downtrodden of Lebanon, maintained by traditional leaders in a feudal poverty. Assaad Beyk's son was getting an education for the sake of his people, wasn't he? When Iran came along, it offered plenty. And ask so little in return; just act as a "front" every once in a while...

And maybe sacrifice a son, or two, or more...

By the time traditional leaders tried a come-back, Hezb was well entrenched; not a "state within a state", but a "state within a non-state". Praise to the Lord...

Instead of bombing, maybe the Israelis should not have conspired (knowingly or unknowingly) with the Syrians and PLO to undermine the country since the 1960's.

McDonald's, Coke, Hollywood, Levi's, Nike and the Gap, are not so nefarious after all; they do help to sedate the downtrodden masses. When goods do not cross borders, armies will. In the meantime, the guys will make do with a nice smoke and a good brew... or tea.

The Israeli too easily forget Sun-Tzu; “Do not press a desperate enemy”. Well, this applies both ways; And Shater Hassan may be forgetting it too.

Keeping the Shiites poor may keep some beholden to Shater Hassan, like the Feudal masters of old. But many are revolting, and Hezb's victory tactic has its limitations.

Bear in mind that Iran's plenty is essentially limited; how can a third world country durably, sustainably, play Great Power politics and still develop its downtrodden provinces? Any doubters, see the picture at the top... Or read the UNDP's reports.

Whatever Iranian "bounty" fell on Lebanon is limited to serving the immediate needs of the refugees. The real work remains the work of the "non-state" of Lebanon; expect Siniora to leverage this new found power. Still, we must watch this idea of "sponsorhip".

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Reserve Revolution

Are they copying our Cedar Revolution?

Not quite; this one is about war.

Reserve soldiers have started a protest movement against Prime Minister Olmert, whom they blame for the Israeli defeat. The petition circulating calls for a full account of what happened. For a moment there, I thought that Israel had become an Arab country; failed leaders drove it to defeat, claimed victory, and stayed in power, unassailable.

Well, apparently not so unassailable; the “convergence” government is already fighting for its survival. This is its only policy. As they circle the wagons and maneuver to stay in power, any criticism is tantamount to treason.

Much like an Arab government...

This comes on the heels of stories of corruption, alleged depravity, and the sheer arrogance of a leadership and an army that grew complacent during the “ubuesque” occupation in Gaza and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), and misused resources.

Much like an Arab Army...

Still; this One is About Real Democracy…

The greater risk to Israeli democracy may be to keep such a team on incompetents in charge, continuing to betray their own people, and maybe stoke sectarian fire

In spite of "opposition from long-standing reservist organizations", I think they will prevail; such an oucry saw the ousting Golda Meir.

"L'ingratitude envers les grands hommes est la marque des peuple forts". And Ehud is no "grand homme".

Let us have no illusions; they are not protesting about the war. They are protesting about HOW the war was mismanaged. Once the lessons are learned, they want better management in charge, instead of the media-manufactured "leadership".

Olmert will keep on maneuvering to stay in power; his government will dump money on social programs and reconstruction, but Israelis will easily see through this vote-buying.

The longer he holds, the harder the fall. As his supporters realize how radioactive he has become, Olmer will not be the only one to go. It will soon be Bye Bye Kadima...

After this is done and they get rid of the amateurs, you bet they will be back. If nothing really changes, they will be back to Lebanon; they have been complacent for too long, and nothing has really changed in Lebanon.

And they have so few other tricks left...

Real Democracy to Them, More War for Us…

No. Nothing has really changed in Lebanon. Excusez mes jérémiades… mais ça reste vrai…

The cease-fire exists in all but name, but Hezb is keeping its fire. For now.

Nasrallah rules the roost, keeps his toys, and causes delays. And we can do nothing about the great one. Sarcasm better be backed by an Army...

Bashar is growing a spine and dreaming of the grandeur he never had. He claims he will stop the smuggling. Fat chance.

With the Europeans paying lip service to peace, and the Americans sitting on the fence,

Lebanon may soon be in the worst of all worlds:

  • A Lebanese government stifled and limited to stop-gap measures,
  • A country under Iranian-funded occupation,
  • An economy blockaded both by Syria and Israel; the Syrians are already dropping feelers.
  • All of us bracing, waiting for Tsahal to attack again and “liberate” us.

Coming (back) Soon: Same stupid war, New Mismanagement?

I hope not... Though we'll miss the Llamas...

The Movement Grows (Sept 8, 2006):

Well, it seems the movement is already having an impact.

On one hand, Olmert and Peretz have started maneuvering to remain in power. But their MP's are already making signs of defection, and the rats may already be leaving ship; a well attended wedding party in Galillee may be an indication of things to come... Kadima back to Likud?

And the Reservists are growing in Strength and numbers. Some high-minded worthies initially criticized them, but more and more "real" people are joining in a growing movement.

If we're gonna be ennemies, let it be an intelligent one.

In comparison, I am not so sure about Lebanon's "friends" and "Leaders"; some better remain stupid, but others need to grow a brain.

... And Fast.

The Israeli Government: Still floating (Sept. 20, 2006)

The Israeli government is trying to duck the issue of its incompetence by dumping the issue in a commission of inquiry with a limited mandate, which falls "short of the demands for an independent, in-depth probe with the authority to dismiss top government officials".

Olmert is standing by Peretz, knowing that they could easily fall together. And Halutz is digging in; No doubts he has many more screws-up to plan.

It is likely that they are underestimating the size of their own screw-ups; some news are already emerging, as the recent official report of the government's own incompetence.

They also underestimate the doggedness of their own people; in spite of sensational media reports, it appears that 85% of northern Israeli residents did not leave and toughed it out. If rockets did not cow them, incompetent politicians are unlikely to do so...

The negative reaction is not limited to the margins or the blogosphere, and dissenters are getting increasingly vocal. The protest has now its own Encyclopedia entry!

La Course en Avant (Sept. 25, 2006)

Peretz is making hints towards Syria; he is hoping to find there the votes he lost in Israel. The approach is meeting little enthusiasm in Israel.

And Olment, with a 7% approval rating, is the most unpopular Prime Minister in the history of Israel. He's been trying to talk quite a game to stay afloat. So far, the results have been un-impressive. Haaretz covered Olmert's latest press conference; it does not look good. He managed to look worse than Nasrallah; "In the current marathon of speeches and interviews, Nasrallah stands out as the only leader in these parts with an agenda. And that is not good news for the coming year".

Incompetence may not be a good enough reason to kick him out of office; rather, it is the traditional trouble Israeli Prime Ministers seem to be having with real estate that could do him in. It all depends on how many Kadima MP's managed to rebuild bridges with the Likud. What ever party they switch t, they better make sure its leader has a healthier diet, and a smarter deputy.

The Death of a Thousand Cuts (Oct. 03, 2006)

Du Nouveau; “Ron-Tal, former head of the IDF Ground Forces Command until last November”, had said publicly “yesterday that Halutz should take responsibility for the failure of the war with Hezbollah, and leave his post”. He also hinted that “Olmert should step down as well, and criticized the military's role in last year's disengagement from the Gaza Strip”.

The first reaction is to reinstate some discipline among the ranks, and “IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz yesterday discharged Major General Yiftah Ron-Tal effective immediately”.

The longer term effect; one more banderilla in the bull… The system cannot remain blocked for long, especially with partners like these...

Run, Ehud, Run!

Now the israeli High Court of Justice has given "the government [...] six days to explain why a national panel of inquiry independent of the government had not been established"... the nose is tigtening.

I would like a panel of inquiry in the shortcomings of our nasties in Lebanon, those idiots who claim to rule over us... But hell freezing over is too much to ask.

Since you Israelis have a measure of choice, please, next time, do not vote for any more amateurs; for your sake and ours. If there is going to be another war, let real mensh do the job...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Google Earth - Part 2/2

More Tracking and assessing with GoogleEarth.

The Military Situation in Southern Lebanon

Both the "Google Earth Blog" and "OgleEarth" have excellent data on the Lebanese War. There are also a couple of good sites that track and assess the past offensive from a military standpoint. And even provide a decent GoogleEarth animation of the Israeli offensive. Under the terms of the Cessation of hostilities, this would help track current Israeli positions; no doubt they would be the focus of Hezb’s “resistance” activities and Tsahal’s “defensive” operations.

From "Google Earth Hacks", you can find additional overlays for Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. There are overlays that show for the borders between Israel and its neighbours, as well as some key centers such as the Nuclear facilities at Dimona, updates to Baalbeck and Beirut's Harbour and Airport. And many others...

Environmental Damage: Spreading from Lebanon ...

The Oil Spill at the Lebanese Coast is spreading fast, and the extensive damage will take quite a while to clean up. The German "Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information" (ZKI) does an excellent job of tracking world wide environmental crises and natural disasters.

For now, having reached Syria, it will move to either Turkey or Cyprus. This depends on many factors, prevailing temperature, wind, and the direction of sea currents.

The main factor here is the Southeastern Mediterranean current, which flows northward towards Syria and Turkey. Because of this, pollution from the Lebanese coast affects them. This is what motivated the World Bank to initiate some projects to help Lebanon with pollution issues, such as the "Coastal Pollution Control and Water Supply Project".

However, as the wind shifts, the current may weaken or change direction. This happens when a low pressure zone develops over Cyprus; the current could then shift, and the slick would then turn westward towards the birthplace of Venus, the Greek godess of Love.