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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Russia acknowledges Assad losing control

Syria's most powerful ally, Russia, said for the first time Thursday that President Bashar Assad is losing control of his country and the rebels might win the civil war, dramatically shifting the diplomatic landscape at a time of enormous momentum for the opposition.

While Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov gave no immediate signal that Russia would change its stance and agree to impose international sanctions on Assad's regime, his remarks will likely be seen as a betrayal in Damascus and could persuade many Syrians to shift their loyalties and abandon support for the government.

Russia's assessment could also further strengthen the hand of the rebels, who have made some significant gains in their offensive, capturing two major military bases and mounting a serious challenge to Assad's seat of power, Damascus.

"We must look at the facts: There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," Bogdanov, the Foreign Ministry's pointman on Syria, said during hearings at a Kremlin advisory body, the Public Chamber. "An opposition victory can't be excluded."

Bogdanov's statement marks a clear attempt by the Kremlin to begin positioning itself for Assad's eventual defeat. He said that Russia is prepared to evacuate thousands of its citizens from Syria, although he didn't say when that might happen.

At the same time, Bogdanov reaffirmed Russia's call for a compromise, saying it would take the opposition a long time to defeat the regime and Syria would suffer heavy casualties.

"The fighting will become even more intense, and you will lose tens of thousands and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of people," he said. "If such a price for the ouster of the president seems acceptable to you, what can we do? We, of course, consider it absolutely unacceptable."

Bogdanov repeated that Russia would stick to an agreement reached in Geneva in June calling for negotiations involving the government and the opposition.

Russia has joined with China at the United Nations Security Council to veto three resolutions that would have imposed sanctions on Assad's regime over its bloody crackdown on the uprising that began in March 2011. Moscow also has continued to provide the Syrian government with weapons despite strong international protests.

Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, said Bogdanov's statement marked an effort by Russia to position itself for the fall of its ally.

"It's better to talk about it now than keep saying until the moment of collapse that things remain under control," he said.

The statement may also reflect new information about the situation on the ground received by the Kremlin, he said.

"A public statement like that appears to indicate that the balance is shifting," Lukyanov said.

Asked if and when Russia is going to evacuate its embassy in Syria, Bogdanov said that the "moment hasn't come yet."

He added that the Foreign Ministry is looking at possible evacuation plans for thousands of Russian citizens, most of whom are Russian women married to Syrian men and their children. "We have plans for any occasion," Bogdanov said.

He said that "half of them support the opposition," adding that Syrian opposition delegations that have visited Moscow have included some Russian citizens.

The Interfax news agency said that if the government decides to evacuate Russians from Syria, it could be done by ships escorted by the Russian navy and by government planes.

Houston Chronicle

1,500 earthquakes hit in Iceland in November

A total of 1,500 earthquakes hit in Iceland last month. According to data from the Icelandic Met Office, the most seismic activity—or a total of 750 earthquakes—occurred in Eyjafjörður, which was also the location of the strongest earthquake, of a magnitude 3.8,

In late November, a minor glacial outburst flood was reported in Grímsvötn volcano in Vatnajökull glacier. GPS data shows that the ice level had decreased, a strong indication that a flood had started. The flood reached its peak on November 26.

A glacial outburst isn’t necessarily an indication of an upcoming eruption.

Scientists warn of unrest along New Zealand's North Island volcano belt

New Zealand's central North Island looks set for a period of volcanic activity after warnings issued on three volcanoes over the last two days.

On Wednesday, scientists at the government's Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS Science) announced they had noticed a "spiny lava dome" that had grown in a crater on White Island, a volcanic island off the east of the North Island, after an eruption on August 5.

GNS Science raised the volcanic alert level to level two, indicating minor eruptive activity, and the aviation color code to orange, warning pilots that an eruption was underway with little or no ash emissions.

"The dome is probably 20 to 30 meters across and has spines sticking up. In more than 30 years I've never seen anything like it while visiting White Island," GNS Science volcanologist Brad Scott said in a statement.

"If you imagine a volcano is like a tube of toothpaste then a lava dome is like the congealed, dried toothpaste that has come out of the tube. It doesn't move like a lava flow, but grows from the inside as new magma comes up and pushes the already cooled magma upwards and outwards," said Scott.

Lava domes were common at some volcanoes, but had never been seen before at White Island, where magma last reached the surface in 2000 during an explosive eruption that threw up molten rocks called volcanic bombs, rather than forming a dome.

"Our concern is that lava dome growth can be accompanied by explosive eruptions and could impact people on the island. We need to see if the dome is continuing to grow. If it's not growing, then we will be less concerned," GNS Science head volcanologist Gill Jolly said in the statement.

GNS Science would continue to closely monitor White Island.

Also Wednesday, GNS Science volcanologists warned they still believed Mount Ruapehu, in the central North Island, remained at a heightened level of unrest and that an eruption was more likely than normal.

"Our analysis is still showing higher than normal temperatures beneath the crater lake. We think this reflects a partially sealed zone a few hundred meters beneath the lake, which might be causing a pressure build up behind it. That pressure would make an eruption more likely than normal," Jolly said in a statement.

"It doesn't mean that an eruption is inevitable," said Jolly.

"If the sealed zone fails suddenly an eruption could occur, probably with little or no warning. If it fails more gradually then the pressure would probably be released more slowly and the likelihood of an eruption would revert to normal."

The crater lake was quiet and its temperature had remained relatively low at 20 to 25 degrees centigrade since March.

Eruptions at Ruapehu in 1988, 2006 and 2007 were believed to have occurred as a result of sudden failure of a seal beneath the crater lake.

Small earthquakes 3 to 5 km beneath the crater lake in late October and early November had stopped, but it was unclear whether they were related to the high temperatures estimated a few hundred meters beneath the lake.

The volcanic alert level for Ruapehu remained at level one, indicating a departure from typical background surface activity, and the aviation color code at yellow, indicating signs of elevated unrest above known background levels.

On Tuesday, GNS Science warned that neighboring Mount Tongariro was still showing a substantial possibility of further eruptions after an eruption in August and two more last month.

"After the second eruption in November we now have to consider the possibility that Tongariro might have entered an eruptive episode and this unrest could continue for several months," Scott said in a statement.

"Within an episode Tongariro might quietly discharge steam most of the time, but occasionally have small eruptions with little or no warning. There was a similar episode of activity in the 1890s."

Tongariro had seen only minor seismic activity since November 21, but there had been a very noticeable gas discharge in recent days.

It was on volcanic alert level one and aviation color code yellow.

The 80,000-hectare Tongariro National Park has more than 1 million visitors a year.

Last month's eruption resulted in videos of panicked hikers fleeing from the plume of ash and steam.

Global Times

Assad's Forces Fire Scud Missiles at Rebels

Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebel fighters in recent days, Obama administration officials said on Wednesday, according to The New York Times.

The move represents a significant escalation in the fighting, which has already killed more than 40,000 civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict and suggests increased desperation on the part of the Assad government, the report said.

A fresh wave of mayhem struck the Syrian capital Damascus on Wednesday, including a deadly triple bombing outside the Interior Ministry. One American official, who asked not to be identified because he was discussing classified information, told the New York Times that missiles had been fired from the Damascus area at targets in northern Syria.

“The total is number is probably north of six now,” said another American official, adding that the targets were in areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army, the main armed insurgent group.

It is not clear how many casualties resulted from the attacks by the Scuds, a class of Soviet-era missiles with a range of nearly 200 miles. It appeared, however, to be the first time that the Assad government had fired the missiles at targets inside Syria.

American officials did not say how they had monitored the missile firings, but American intelligence has been closely following developments in Syria through aerial surveillance and other methods, partly out of concern that Assad may resort to the use of chemical weapons in the conflict.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that Syria had not taken any new steps in recent days that signal a readiness to use its chemical arsenal.

"At this point the intelligence has really kind of leveled off. We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way," Panetta told reporters aboard his plane before landing in Kuwait, AFP reported.

However, a former top general in Syria's chemical weapons program said on Monday he doesn't doubt for a moment that Assad will deploy his chemical weapons arsenal as he tries to hold onto power.

"The regime started to fall and deteriorate. It's coming to its end," retired Major General Adnan Sillou told ABC News. "It's highly possible that he'll start using [chemical weapons] to kill his own people because this regime is a killer.”

The Obama administration views the Assad government’s use of Scud missiles as a “significant escalation” of the conflict, a senior official told The New York Times. It also shows, he said, the increasing pressure on Assad, since Scuds are primarily defensive weapons, being used by the government offensively against a counterinsurgency.

“Using Scuds to target tanks or military bases is one thing,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Using them to target rebels hiding in playgrounds at schools is something else.”

Among other repercussions the Obama administration fears is the possibility that Assad’s military could fire Scuds near, or over, the border with Turkey, which has become one of the Syrian president’s most ardent foes.

Military experts said the Assad government’s use of Scuds might reflect worries that its aircraft have been vulnerable to rebel air defenses. In recent weeks, rebel forces have captured Syrian military bases, seized air-defense weapons and used some of them to fire at Syria warplanes.

The Obama administration has yet to comment publicly on the missile attacks, but a senior administration official alluded to the development in a briefing for reporters on Tuesday.

“The Syrian regime has used aircraft,” the administration official said, according to The New York Times. “It has used artillery, and it appears that it has even used missile to attack the Syrian population and to attack what was a peaceful protest movement.”

The developments came as representatives of more than 100 countries and organizations that support the anti-Assad movement met in Morocco and endorsed a newly formed insurgent coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

President Obama also formally acknowledged that coalition, known as the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, in an interview on Tuesday with ABC News.

In Damascus on Wednesday, a car bomb and two other explosives went off outside the Interior Ministry headquarters — known as the House of Justice — in Kafar Souseh, on the southern outskirts, Syrian state media reported. Two Lebanese television channels that favor the Syrian government reported that there had been casualties, said The New York Times.

An activist in Damascus said Syrian security forces had sealed off Shami Hospital, a central Damascus facility used by Syria’s elite, in a possible indication of high-profile casualties in the blasts.

Government forces and rebels have been clashing for two weeks around Damascus as rebels try to take control of the airport road and security forces try to seal off the capital from a semicircle of increasingly rebel-held towns reaching from the northeast to southwest of Damascus’s suburban sprawl.

Israel national News

Missiles on Syrian border prelude to NATO'S intervention

NATO’s deployment of Patriot missiles on Turkey’s restive border with Syria is a prelude to military intervention in the country to help “terrorist groups,” a pro-regime newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper said that the deployment of missiles was also aimed at sabotaging international peace envoy Lakdhar Brahimi’s diplomatic efforts at resolving the crisis in Syria.

“In deploying Patriot missiles, one of the Turkish campaign’s objectives is to lead NATO towards intervening militarily in Syria in support of terrorist groups,” the newspaper reported citing an unnamed official.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has consistently referred to activists and rebels as “terrorists” ever since the outbreak of a revolt in March last year that morphed into an armed rebellion.

The deployment of missiles “is also aimed at sabotaging diplomatic efforts by international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, as well as discussions taking place between US and Russian deputy foreign ministers to try and find a solution to the crisis,” the official was quoted as saying by Al-Watan.

The deployment is also aimed at “covering up French and British attempts at transferring arms to the opposition”.

Turkey’s moves “prove that Syria is making important gains on the ground, and that the terrorist groups have failed to fulfill the tasks they have been assigned by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain and Turkey”.

Damascus has consistently accused Western nations and the Gulf of arming the opposition, and of fuelling assistance to rebels through Turkey.

Assad’s regime says Syria is target of an “international conspiracy” designed at sowing chaos in the country.

NATO late last month approved Patriot missile deployment near Turkey’s border with Syria, as clashes pitting rebels and the Syrian army raged just across the frontier.

Read more: http://www.defencetalk.com/missiles-on-syria-border-prelude-to-intervention-report-45947/#ixzz2EsawEFBg

Farage: 'Good Europeans' would break up the eurozone

Many world leaders would readily sacrifice Israel to radical Islam

Israel's hawkish foreign minister lashed out at the international community on Wednesday, criticizing its policies toward the Palestinians and charging that many world leaders would readily sacrifice Israel to radical Islam just as Europe appeased the Nazis before World War II.

Avigdor Lieberman hit back at European foreign ministers for condemning Israel's plans to build settler housing in an especially sensitive area of the West Bank.

He also accused the international community of ignoring threats to Israel, including weapons smuggling by Palestinian militants and calls for Israel's destruction from Palestinian Hamas militants and Iran.

On Tuesday night, Lieberman said some of his European counterparts "regard Israel's destruction as a given." On Wednesday, he accused Europeans of being prepared to abandon Israel as they gave up Czechoslovakia to the Nazis on the eve of World War II.

"Expressions and promises of commitment to Israel's security from all around the world reminds me of similar commitments made to Czechoslovakia in '38," Lieberman told a diplomatic conference, invoking an analogy he has used before.

"My sense is that all the promises and commitments to Israel's security are mere words," he said, speaking English.

"When push comes to shove, many key leaders would be willing to sacrifice Israel without batting an eyelid, in order to appease the radical Islamist militants and ensure quiet for themselves," he said.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the prime minister, would not comment when asked if Lieberman's criticisms reflected government policy or his personal opinion.

The blunt-talking Lieberman appeared to be heating up his rhetoric ahead of Israel's Jan. 22 election in an effort to impress hawkish voters. His Yisrael Beitenu Party is running on a joint list with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud. Polls indicate the combined slate will finish first, and Netanyahu will keep his job.


Jordan warns Israelis not to visit wearing ‘Jew clothes’

The Jordanian Tourism Ministry on Wednesday warned Israeli visitors not to wear outwardly Jewish garb while visiting the Hashemite Kingdom and to avoid performing Jewish rituals during their stay.

According to a copy of a ministry memo issued at the end of November, Amman instructed Jordanian tour operators to inform their Israeli counterparts to advise Israeli visitors not to wear “Jewish dress” or perform “religious rituals in public places” so as to prevent an unfriendly reaction by Jordanian citizens.

The Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents forwarded on the imperative to Jordanian tour operators, one of whom forwarded a copy to The Times of Israel.

The memo did not specify what constituted Jewish clothing.

The Jordanian Tourism Ministry was not available for comment on the story.

Israeli tour operators contacted by The Times of Israel had not been notified of any such directives. Kfir Schwartz, director of Ahalan Olympus, a tour company in Israel that organizes trips to Jordan, said that such advisories are “not something new” but have never been formal.

Despite the liberal atmosphere in Jordan, he said, Israelis and Jews are typically advised not to wear outwardly Jewish clothes or symbols, and occasionally are met with trouble from Jordanian authorities when crossing the border.

Earlier this year, six Israeli tourists were assaulted in a market in southern Jordan after vendors were angered by their traditional Jewish skullcaps.

The six men and women arrived at a market in the town of Rabba, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the capital Amman, when one of the vendors identified the tourists as Israeli due to mens’ skullcaps, which “provoked the sensibilities of the vendors,” independent daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm reported.

The Times of Israel


By Valentin Petkantchin

You may be among those investors who had the opportunity, but did not seize it, to buy gold cheap in the early 2000s. You may also be willing, but hesitant, to do so at current prices, while still desiring the "anti-crash insurance" it represents.

However, you should be aware that the yellow metal is increasingly valued as a reserve asset, which will tend to push the price up, independently of all other factors. Due to new regulations, you may also have to bid in the future alongside financial institutions, including several banks, to acquire it.

First, let's take a step back, at least as it regards central banks' attitude towards gold. The fact is that it has considerably changed. Central banks, which had sold gold for decades, have become - for the "first time in 21 years", dixit the World Gold Council - net buyers in 2010, i.e. the total quantities purchased by them have exceeded the quantities sold.

Net Purchases (Green) / Net Sales (Red) of Physical Gold from the Official Sector

The official sector is comprised of central banks and other official institutions.
Source: World Gold Council

So while central banks fueled the supply of gold by 400-500 tons per year on average between 1989 and 2007, they are now increasing demand by the same factor. If this trend is to gain momentum due to the current crisis, the price of gold could soon become inaccessible to individual investors.

But central banks are not the only ones. There is also a renewed interest in gold as a safe and highly liquid asset, and this for two reasons:

First, physical gold is increasingly accepted - and therefore sought - as collateral in cases, for instance, of margin calls or securities loans. A growing number of clearing houses - such as CME Group (including its branch in Europe), ICE Europe, or LCH Clearnet Group - or of banks, like JP Morgan, now accept physical gold as collateral on their own.

Added to this is the willingness of public authorities - in line with the G20 meetings in 2009-2010 - to regulate the OTC derivatives market, including the eligible collateral that market intermediaries and central counterparties should accept. Thus, for instance, the new EU regulation on market infrastructure adopted last summer explicitly lists physical gold among the types of eligible "highly liquid collateral with minimal credit and market risk," alongside cash or government bonds. Scheduled to become fully operational in the summer of 2013, this regulation may have a clear bullish impact for the gold price in the longer term.

Second, commercial banks could also be a source of additional demand for the yellow metal due to the intricate regulation trying to transpose the so-called "Basel III" regulatory framework. Among other things, this framework introduces new criteria such as liquidity coverage ratios, requiring banks to hold certain assets considered highly liquid to serve, presumably, as a buffer in case of a liquidity crisis.

Despite its long history as a safe haven and its high liquidity (even during war times), gold was not originally included as part of those assets in Basel III, nor in the legislative package destined to its implementation in the EU and originally proposed by Brussels. The European Banking Authority, the European Securities and Market Authority, and the ECB are supposed to transmit to the Commission no later than June 30, 2013 a report that defines which assets should be considered, in their bureaucratic jargon, of "high and extremely high liquidity and quality."

The amended proposal by the European Parliament and the EU Council explicitly states in that regard that "it shall be assessed whether gold or other highly liquid commodities (...) can be considered" as such liquid assets.

Debates about the legislative package are still in progress, and the vote in Parliament is expected before the end of the year (with entry into force in 2015). But if gold is included in the finally adopted regulation, it will mean that in the next few years, the commercial banks could be compelled to buy gold just to meet their legal liquidity ratio requirements.

If you have not yet purchased your "anti-crash insurance" but you are willing to do it, you should follow closely those regulatory developments and act before they become fully effective. If you think the current price of gold is too high, wait to see what will happen when commercial banks start rushing to buy it too.

Valentin Petkantchin is a French economic and financial analyst. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Aix-Marseille III and is most recently the founder of the Economic Education Initiative (www.economic-education.org), a project aimed at publicizing sound economic thinking through comic books and cartoons.

The M7.4 of 12/7/2012 was actually 2 continuous different earthquakes

Earthquake Research Committee of the government announced it was two continuous earthquakes which are separated. According to the analysis of meteorological agency and Earthquake Research Institute of the University of Tokyo, the first earthquake was reverse fault type from the inside of the pacific plate, and 10~20 seconds later, the second one occurred, which was normal fault type. Japan meteorological agency comments it was really a complicated mechanism.

Fukushima Diary

QE4 Just Announced