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Comment: Links between Beirut blasts, UAE-Israel, oil and gas in east Mediterranean?

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Beirut Blast

The mother of all blasts at the Beirut port on August 4 would have qualified as the West Asian 9/11 though the objective circumstances are totally different. But 9/11, the great tragedy though it was, happened just when a muscular US, victorious in the Cold War, was spurred on by the neo-cons towards a goal of comprehensive global dominance. Osama bin Laden became the rabbit in that greyhound race. The hounds are still parked in their Afghan kennel.

The Beirut blast happened when the US is a shadow of what it was two decades ago, President Donald Trump is shuffling his feet in the ring but has no punch, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is dancing around a minefield of corruption charges. French President Emmanuel Macron, facing massive popular protests, looked pathetic turning up in Beirut barely two days after the event, walking around the port area with the authority of old Masters.

The French are prone to wear their colonialism on their sleeve. In 1992-94, when Left Liberals in Paris were writhing in pain at Europe’s indifference towards the Bosnian carnage, a brief exchange with a senior French official has remained with me:

“The balance of power shifted against the Christians in Lebanon; it is shifting against the Muslims in Bosnia.” The restoration of that balance may have crossed Macron’s mind, after surveying the scene. Macron was forthright: “What is now needed is political change; the explosion should be the start of a new era.”

The most respected of journalists in Beirut, Robert Fisk has, after talking to many witnesses, distributed damages in appropriate proportion. The sea took 70 per cent of the blast. That’s a revealing figure. In other words only 30 per cent of the blast killed 300 people, left 6,000 injured, and 3,00,000 homeless in a population of a million.

According to the distinguished Palestinian columnist, once a regular on BBC discussions, Abdel Bari Atwan, “the angry demonstrations and protests in Beirut and the hanging of an effigy of the Hezbullah leader, Hasan Nasrallah, are telling: it is Nasrallah’s head they want”.

How does an opponent like Israel go for Nasrallah’s jugular, protected as he is by a cavernous security system? Well, in sheer desperation, the war cry could well be: to block that leak let’s sink the ship. This is not the yearning of deranged enemies: this is the headline of an article made available by Carnegie, Middle East Centre — the headline itself is the story: Destroying Lebanon to Save It.

It remains a whodunit. Whichever direction the needle of suspicion goes, yields a conspiracy theory. The blast would provoke Hezbullah-Iran into action which would help Trump’s dwindling fortunes. The absurdity of this thesis is exposed by the UAE’s Mohammad bin Zayed turning up in Washington to embrace Netanyahu. If there were to be a “retaliation” to the port blasts, his magnificent towers would be the first in line of fire. So, no one is likely to rush into battle until all of Trump’s beneficiaries are cent per cent sure that he is losing.

What is all this adding up to? So far all the major post 9/11 US military engagements in West Asia have been in theatres endowed with hydrocarbons or gas pipelines. It is generally forgotten that US involvement even in Afghanistan, after Soviet departure, was to push for TAPI, the Turkmenistan-Afghan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. The Taliban would control Afghanistan; Americans would control the Taliban. This reporter was witness to the collapse of that scheme — on which more later. Osama bin Laden provided the US with a reason for entering Afghanistan. But Iraq, Syria, Libya, even Sudan (remember how George W. Bush pronounced Janjaweed in Darfur with expert ease) attracted Americans for their oil, gas and pipelines.

How does Beirut fit into this framework? That Nasrallah’s mesmeric hold on the region’s non GCC Muslims, his unquantifiable arsenal of missiles, his reliable support structure in Iran gives Israel nightmares, is the narrative being sold. But there has to be something more compelling in the mix. Global energy giants are focused on the world’s biggest reserves of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. Names like Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, Rothschild and all others in this club leap out of the documents. The gas bonanza is in the territorial water of Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus. Note, therefore, the energy in Tayyip Erdogan’s swagger, his eye keenly settled on northern Cyprus, under Turkey’s occupation and stretching the gas fields to Adana.

Meanwhile, the London-based World Energy Council has for quite some time been researching the 250 billion barrels of oil from the Shfela basin south of Jerusalem and extending into the sea. The Wall Street Journal has quoted Howard Jonas, CEO of US based IDT corporation, which owns Shfela basin that, “there is much more oil under Israel than under Saudi Arabia”.

While British Petroleum is busy in Egypt, the French giant, Total is in Beirut. Little wonder Macron was navigated expertly across the port area devastated by the blast. In addition to the Hydrocarbons, there is now the possibility of redesigning the entire Beirut port, not just for trade and transport but for gas explorations on the horizon.

Russia, Iran, Qatar, in that order, have the world’s largest reserves of gas. This formidable line-up now has, in its opposition, a team with rich prospects in oil and gas. This latter group is what the UAE’s Zayed has joined. It will please Trump before the election. Former Saudi Ambassador, Bandar bin Sultan, was so identified with Bush as to acquire a nickname, Bandar Bush. The UAE’s powerful ambassador Yousef al Otaiba, in Washington since 2008, is by comparison more nimble. Should Joe Biden win, Otaiba will be well plugged in there too.

Who knows, an oil and gas rich Israel may in the future be nice to a people it has been particularly nasty with: the Palestinians. The credit for affecting a change of heart will go to a GCC country which will, to that extent, have helped weaken the Iran-Nasrallah ticket in the region.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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Who is Preetika Chauhan? Everything to know about ‘Savdhaan India’ actress arrested by NCB

Saavdhan India’ actress Preetika Chauhan (30) was among one of the people who got arrested after getting caught buying drugs. Here’s everything about her!

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The Narcotics Control Bureau made two more arrests in the drug supply case on Sunday. ‘Saavdhan India’ actress Preetika Chauhan (30) was among one of the people who got arrested after getting caught for buying drugs red-handed.

Who is Preetika Chauhan?

Preetika Chauhan hails from Karsog, Himachal Pradesh. She is a B.Tech graduate and had made her acting debut with the film Jhamela, which was released in 2016.

She went on to play goddess Shachi in Sankat Mochan Mahabali Hanumaan.

Apart from Sankatmochan Mahabali Hanuman, Preetika Chauhan also had appeared in a few episodes of CID and Savdhaan India. She was also seen as Bhudevi in Star Bharat show Jag Janni Maa Vaishno Devi.

Preetika was last seen as Goddess Parvati in Santoshi Maa – Sunayein Vrat Kathayein. Preetika was also part of the TV show ‘Devon Ke Dev Mahadev’.

The case is in the ongoing investigation in actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case. The Bollywood drugs nexus case came to light while a parallel investigation was being carried out by the NCB.

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Only 7% plan on going out to movie theatres in the next 60 days

Results of July, August and October survey by LocalCircles indicate that people continue to stay reluctant in going to theatres and multiplexes due to the Covid-19 scare.

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Even though movie theatres are now open, only 7 per cent people are willing to go to watch a film there in the next 60 days, as per a survey.

Results of July, August and October survey by LocalCircles indicate that people continue to stay reluctant in going to theatres and multiplexes due to the Covid-19 scare.

Cinema halls across the states were allowed to reopen after seven months of the ongoing pandemic induced by the novel coronavirus.

Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are some of the states where theatres and multiplexes have started to function. Cinema halls remain closed in states like Maharashtra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and many northeastern states.

LocalCircles conducted a survey to know if citizens if plan on visiting movie theatres in the next 2 months. The survey received 8,274 responses from across the country.

In the survey, citizens were asked, “now that the multiplexes and theatres are open in many states and the remaining states will also open them soon, will they be going to watch a movie in the next 60 days?”

However, only 4 per cent said they would go to watch if any new releases come and 3 per cent said they will go regardless of new or old movie. 74 per cent said they will not go while 2 per cent were unsure and 17 per cent said they don’t watch movies in theatre.

LocalCircles had conducted similar surveys during past few months to know how people plan to go out to watch movies when the theatres and multiplexes reopen. In the July survey, 72 per cent consumers had said that they will not go to theatres or multiplexes when they open, keeping the Covid-19 scenario in mind.

This number increased to 77 per cent in August and stands at 74 per cent in October.

Cinema halls claim to have taken various measures to ensure safety, such as sanitisation of their premises and other Covid-19 safety protocols. Among others, some of them have started the movie shows with 50 per cent of the total occupancy, staggered show timings, social distancing, thermal screening, adequate protection gear for the staff, etc.

But all said and done, it looks like people continue to be reluctant in going to a theatre or multiplex in the next 60 days, the survey said.

States that are considering opening multiplexes and cinema halls in the coming weeks may want to consider this consumer feedback and accordingly make their decision.

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2020 lockdowns to drive new forms of automation: Report

Document extraction, robotic process automation (RPA) from anywhere, drones and various employee robots will proliferate.

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The ‘great lockdown of 2020 will make the drive for automation in 2021 both inevitable and irreversible and remote work, new digital muscles and pandemic constraints will create millions of pragmatic automations, according to a new report.

Document extraction, robotic process automation (RPA) from anywhere, drones and various employee robots will proliferate.

“In 2021, up to 30 per cent of organisations will ramp up their focus on quality by better planning and testing automation before deploying it to production or exposing it to employees,” said the Forrester report on automation.

Three times as many information workers will work from home all or most of the time, while many companies will institute hybrid models in which workers come to the office less often.

“As a result of the pandemic, new forms of automation will support one in four remote workers either directly or indirectly by 2022”.

Direct support in the form of giving a bot to individual workers to support their daily journey will be rare.

However, indirect support will blossom, as intelligent automation handles employee benefits questions and supports document, customer service, and line-of-business tasks that are often invisible to the home worker, the findings showed.

Recent rapid growth in the consumer drones industry has sparked momentum in the commercial drone market.

While social distancing is a factor in drone usage, two forces will accelerate adoption in 2021.

“First, governments are crafting better regulations to facilitate drone adoption and commercialization, with Amazon Prime Air gaining FAA approval for drone deliveries and India driving drone pilot training with new policies,” according to the report.

Second, the rapid evolution of computer vision and 5G will enable real-time drone intelligence over ultra-reliable, low-latency communications.

Like machine learning, RPA will become an embedded feature of many platforms by the end of 2021.

“But rushed and haphazard automation exposes systems and the business to serious risk, so the lack of focus on automation quality is alarming, the report warned.

It can lead to monumental failures that not only damage a company’s reputation and customer trust but also limit broader public trust in automation (specifically AI) as a result of media scrutiny, it added.

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