On July 2, Cinnabon made history, becoming the first American franchise to open a location in Libya. The 7,500 square-foot bakery-cafe in downtown Tripoli also sells Carvel ice cream and is the first of at least 10 locations franchisees Arief and Ahmed Swaidek plan to open in Libya in the next four years. Cinnabon, which already has locations in major Middle East markets, also wants to expand into Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.
Libyan Cinnabons are slated to "feature classic menu items as well as 'locally created' sandwiches, salads and baked goods," along with cakes and pies imported from Italy. Focus Brands International, Cinnabon's overseas expansion partner, also works with other fast-food chains like Moe's Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky's, and Auntie Anne's pretzels. No word yet on whether Libyans will get to experience the wonders of giant pretzels or Tex-Mex in the near future.
With general elections potentially on the horizon, a new party has burst onto the Israeli political scene. On Wednesday, the Pirates party, which according to Haaretz "champions ‘the freedom to copy' and ‘the pirating sector,'" applied for recognition as an official political party. Despite its name, the group, led by former Green Leaf party member Ohad Shem-Tov, does not belong to the Pirate Parties International (PPI) movement, which already has an established Israeli chapter. Though the party refuses to speak to non-pirate media, its goals apparently "range from the radical to the delirious," including "the freedom to divide and copy" and social justice.
Shem-Tov is best known for forming the Green Leaf Graduates party before the 2009 following his expulsion from the original Green Leaf party, which campaigns to decriminalize marijuana. During the general elections that year, the Green Leaf Graduates forged an unlikely alliance with the Holocaust Survivors Party, running advertisements espousing a hybrid pro-cannabis, pro-survivors benefits platform.
The Pirate creed is not new to the region. In 2011, PPI member Slim Amamou joined the new Tunisian cabinet as State Secretary of Youth and Sports. PPI also made significant inroads in May, when it won 8 percent of votes in Schleswig-Holstein during German general elections, in addition to 8.9 percent in Berlin and 7.4 percent in Saarland. Israel's Pirate party stands somewhat of a chance, since the election threshold for the Knesset is just 2 percent, but whether it asks the Jewish state to recognize the Church of Kopimism is more of a gamble.
The raging civil war in Syria has created a new spectator sport for Israeli vacationers: war tourism. Mortar shells from Syria are now landing in the demilitarized zone in the northern Golan Heights, and residents in the area say they can hear gunfire as well. Many Israelis are foregoing the pool or the beach, flocking instead to the Israel-Syria border for a little action. As Maariv reported Tuesday, the intrigue attracts "dozens" of Israelis who arrive each day with their binoculars, inspired by the broadcast images of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak "watching the shelling of Jobata al-Khashab across the border in Syria."
"We saw a few days ago how Defense Minister Barak watched the battles in the Syrian village of G'ovta with binoculars," Yosi, a resident of Tel Aviv, told Maariv. "I know that it's dangerous and the border becomes explosive, but it is still intriguing."
According to The Times of Israel, tour guides have caught on to the fad and are adding the "Syrian unrest" to their agendas. Police in northern Israel are on alert in case any curious travelers try to get into any sensitive army installations on the border. Hopefully we won't be reading any stories about overly adventurous tourists.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's grand political masterstroke has officially failed. Kadima chairman and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz announced during a closed-door faction meeting Tuesday night that his party is quitting the prime minister's coalition because it refuses to compromise with right-wing parties on the revision of the unconstitutional Tal Law, which exempted ultra-Orthodox Israelis from mandatory military service. Netanyahu's most recent compromise offer allowed for 50 percent of ultra-Orthodox between the ages of 18 and 23 to be drafted by the Israel Defense Forces, and another 50 percent between the ages of 23 and 26 to be drafted into national service. Mofaz rejected the offer on the grounds that it "violates" the "principle of equal sharing of the burden of military service."
Mofaz's decision comes two weeks before the Aug. 1 deadline for a new law to be passed and just 70 days after Kadima joined the surprise government coalition. Kadima Members of Knesset have been demanding that their party leave the coalition for several weeks, and the faction, which holds 28 out of 120 Knesset seats, is expected to split.
Panda diplomacy has become a pillar of China's soft power strategy, but the death of a week-old baby panda in Japan -- the first born to Tokyo's Ueno zoo in 24 years -- stands to disappoint those who hoped that its birth would motivate "people-to-people sentiment" and help overcome the strained China-Japan relationship. The unnamed cub, who died of pneumonia, had already become a national sensation. As AFP reported, "Newscasts had dedicated a nightly segment to the male cub's daily activities since his birth on July 5, with retailers unveiling a host of panda-themed products in celebration." A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday that the country laments Tokyo's loss.
This may be a major blow, but the legacy of the 5-ounce panda is not without controversy. On June 29, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara drew the ire of China's foreign ministry for suggesting that the zoo name the unborn baby cub after the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan, but whose sovereignty is disputed by China. The Chinese foreign ministry responded with a statement calling Ishihara's "scheme to undermine China-Japan relations" a "clumsy performance" that "will only tarnish the image of Japan and Tokyo."
Hopefully, China's panda diplomacy gesture toward Malaysia will chart a smoother path.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Energy resources are a hot commodity in the Levant Basin days, and with 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil, 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, and 5 billion barrels of natural gas liquids at stake, the Israeli defense ministry is asking for a "one-time budget increase" of about $760 million to boost its naval capacity in the Mediterranean Sea so it can better protect the country's offshore natural gas platforms. Though Israel purchased its fourth Dolphin-class diesel-electric submarine from Germany earlier this year to the tune of over $500 million, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz are on board with the plan, which "calls for adding four new warships to Israel's naval fleet and deploying hundreds of soldiers in the area."
Natural gas discoveries in the early twenty-first century have created a military debacle for Israel, which does not have demarcated maritime boundary with Lebanon. All of the multinational gas platforms are privately owned and fall within Israel's exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from the coast, but they are located beyond Israel's territorial waters, which only stretch 12 nautical miles from land.
Israel's first offshore natural gas discovery, Tamar, is not slated to come online until 2013, but the defense institution fears that the platforms are already targets for terrorist attacks from Hezbollah, which receives long-range missiles from Syria. The Israeli navy does not traditionally get the lion's share of the defense budget, and top officials are worrying. As one anonymous senior Israeli military planner told Reuters, "We will do our best, but not without a major boost to our capabilities." In May, senior naval officer Capt. Sassi Hodeda told the Los Angeles Times that the navy wants to improve its radar systems and use unmanned surface vehicles to patrol, but added that they require "special technology" the navy does not have.
If the navy does receive the extra funding, the vessels it purchases "will have to accommodate an advanced radar system, a helicopter and a launch system capable of firing long-range air defense and surface-to-surface missiles." According to the Jerusalem Post, the options include designing the ships in the U.S. using foreign military aid, and building them in South Korea, but if Israel is really looking for international help, maybe it should consider ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty first.
Russia and Israel may disagree on Iran's nuclear program, but President Vladimir Putin and his entourage of about 400 officials and businessmen were warmly welcomed by Israeli officials during the Russian leader's first visit to the country in seven years. Upon arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Putin was "greeted by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and an IDF honor parade." Later that day, he attended an inauguration ceremony in Netanya for a memorial to the Soviet Red Army soldiers killed in World War II, along with Lieberman, President Shimon Peres, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Speaking at the ceremony, Putin invoked Russia as both war and peacemaker:
"Russia who so greatly helped win the war is the same Russia that can help peace in the Middle East."
Putin's agenda also included a stop at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but his 24-hour tour made plenty of time for discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and other Israeli officials about regional issues -- namely Iran and Syria. According to the New York Times, Netanyahu said during a joint news conference that he and Putin "agreed that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran ‘presents a grave danger first of all to Israel, and to the region and the world as a whole.'"
Israeli officials, however, are not optimistic that their concerns will have any impact on Russian policy:
"Let's not exaggerate. It is a very brief visit," said a senior Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for reasons of diplomacy. He added, "Do not expect any major breakthrough."
According to Haaretz, Peres did not have much success with Putin at the state dinner that evening:
"President Shimon Peres pressed Putin further, asking that he ‘raise his voice' against a nuclear Iran. Putin responded by saying that Russia has a ‘national interest' to secure peace and quiet in Israel but did not elaborate further."
Despite the fact that talks about Iran were more process than substance, Tel Aviv University Russia specialist Boris Morozof notes that Israel and Russia do have "points of common interest," such as military technology, counterterrorism, and Israel's vast natural gas fields.
On Tuesday, Putin traveled to the West Bank, where he "inaugurated a Russian cultural and language center in Bethlehem" and toured the Church of Nativity. He also told President Mahmoud Abbas that Russia "has no problem recognizing a Palestinian state," called his Palestinian counterpart's position on negotiations with Israel "responsible," and referenced Israeli unilateral actions as "not constructive."
Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet, a diplomatic body charged with mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, whose members also include the U.S., the U.N., and the EU. The Quartet has made little progress since its inception in 2002, but Abbas reportedly "called for an international peace conference to take place in Moscow."
Jim Hollander - Pool / Getty Images
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a terrorist-shooting sniper? Thanks to a program run by Jewish settlers in Gush Etzion, you too can spend a day beyond the Green Line learning how to take down extremist militants. As Yedioth Aharanoth reported recently, the experience allows tourists to "hear stories from the battleground, watch a simulated assassination of terrorists by guards, and fire weapons at the range." Sharon Gat, who manages the Caliber 3 shooting range, calls the opportunity a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" that was "created due to popular demand," and demand is certainly high among families. Enter Michel Brown, a Miami banker who brought his wife and three children to this warfare summer camp:
Upon entering the range, his five-year-old daughter, Tamara, bursts into tears. A half hour later, she is holding a gun and shooting clay bullets like a pro. "This is part of their education," Michel says as he proudly watches his daughter. "They should know where they come from and also feel some action."
By the end of the day, his trigger-happy son Jacob is confident that he can stop terrorist operatives with the best of them:
"This is an awesome experience. I learned how to stop a terrorist and how to rescue hostages. Now, when I find myself in distress, I will know how to deal."
Tourists receive a certificate at the end of the experience, and Gush Etzion Regional Council president Davidi Pearl hopes that the program will turn the Gush into "a world-famous ‘tourist gem.'"
If the program continues to be successful, we may have a small army of child counter-terror operatives on our hands.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
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