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ISRAEL
Withdrawal Symptoms
The closer Israel gets to withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, the more worried leaders of the country's domestic Shabak security service are becoming. The possibility that a right-wing extremist will try to assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, or another political figure supporting the PM's plan, has become a paramount concern. While many of Israel's 220,000 settlers are campaigning peacefully to block the withdrawal, scheduled for next summer, Shabak chief Avi Dichter says a few hard-liners are preparing to take the law into their own hands if they get the nod from their rabbis. "The mainstream rabbis in the settlements wouldn't think of it," says a senior security official involved in protecting VIPs. "But you have religious leaders on the edges who are talking about it."

One rabbi in particular--Yosef Dayan from the West Bank settlement of Psagot--has commanded much of Shabak's attention. Weeks before a young radical assassinated Yitzhak Rabin nine years ago, Dayan and other rabbis put a death curse known as "Pulsa Denura"--which security officials view as a green light for assassins--on the Israeli leader during a ceremony outside of Rabin's home. Last week, Dayan told NEWSWEEK that any measure would be justified in order to stop Sharon's evacuation of 8,000 settlers. "If I am requested by the rabbis to do so, I will issue the Pulsa Denura," he said.

Death threats are becoming increasingly common for other prominent Israeli officials, like the head of Sharon's "disengagement authority," Yonatan Bassi. Bassi is the functionary actually plotting the evacuation of settlers from Gaza, organizing the mechanics of dismantling communities and compensating residents. And like most Israelis in Gaza, he's a religious Jew, which makes his betrayal even worse than Sharon's in the eyes of the settlers. At his kibbutz, some members have criticized Bassi for taking the job and considered blocking his salary from the communal kitty. And some hard-liners have compared Bassi's team to Europe's Judenrat--the Jewish councils appointed to carry out Nazi orders. "In the Holocaust there were also bureaucrats who dealt entirely with technical matters," said Amnon Shapira, the leader of Israel's religious kibbutz movement, in an interview with a local paper. "Does that make what they did less sinful?" For his part, Bassi says he gets threats every day via e-mail and fax. "The worst was when someone phoned my daughter and threatened to kill her children," he says. In a country where threats are rarely empty, it's no surprise Shabak's concerns are rapidly growing.
--Dan Ephron

PENTAGON
Whom to Invade Next?
Despite the fact that news out of Iraq just keeps getting worse, deep within the bowels of the Pentagon admirals and generals are updating plans for possible U.S. military action in both Syria and Iran. The Defense Department unit responsible for military planning for the two troublesome countries is "busier than ever," says an administration official. Some Bush advisers characterize the push for current military plans on Syria and Iran as merely an effort to revise routine plans that the Pentagon maintains for all kinds of contingencies in light of the Iraq war and the effect it is having on U.S. forces. (There are Pentagon officials whose sole job is to revise such plans on a regular basis.) But more fretful bureaucrats note that the updating of plans for Syria and Iran is accompanied by a revived campaign by administration conservatives and neocons for more hard-line U.S. policies against the two countries. (Syria is seen as a route for jihadis entering Iraq, while Iran is feared to be pursuing nuclear weapons.) Still, even the hard-liners acknowledge that, given the U.S. military commitment in Iraq, another war would be an unlikely last resort; covert action is the favored route for those who argue for regime change in Damascus and Tehran.
--Mark Hosenball

INDONESIA
Arrested Development
Although out-going President Megawati Sukarnoputri said she wouldn't admit defeat until the final vote is counted in Indonesia's presidential elections, most of the country embraced the news of challenger Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's victory early last week. As Jakarta's stock market reached record highs on Wednesday, foreign investors, too, celebrated the fact that Yudhoyono--commonly known as SBY--would be taking the helm. The pro-business president-elect has pledged to undertake economic reforms and crack down on corruption, and he is regarded as someone who "can deliver" on his promises, says Gary Andrews, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce.

He'll have to deliver quickly. The arrest of six employees of Newmont Mining Corp. on Thursday for allegedly polluting the area surrounding one of the American company's sites in North Sulawesi was worse than any postparty hangover foreign investors could have imagined. Newmont has denied any allegations of wrongdoing, but foreign businessmen are concerned that the arrests will deter potential investors. "Throwing a few expats in jail for a few nights does not paint a positive picture," says one foreign Jakarta-based businessman. SBY will have to implement his promised business- friendly reforms quickly if he's to regain his immediate post-election bounce. "Before this happened, the election had gone smoothly, and investors were happy to come again," says Umar Juoro, chairman of the Center for Information and Development Studies. "Now, with this Newmont case, they'll wait until the government finally gives adequate protections." SBY has his work cut out for him.
--Eric Unmacht

ARRESTS
New Crackdown
The arrest of singer Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, on a U.S.-bound flight last week shocked more than a few of the singer's fans and enraged the American Muslim community. While U.S. security officials say that Islam's name has been on American watch lists for years--thanks to alleged financial contributions to Hamas as well as alleged contacts with a German Islamic militant who later was mentor to 9/11 hijackers--Islam recently broke with Muslim militants and condemned extremism. He is now threatening legal action to clear his name.

Some U.S. security and intel officials are already acknowledging that intelligence on Islam might be so soft that authorities will have to apologize to the singer. But that hasn't chastened others. This week the Bush administration launches a new pre-election anti-terrorism campaign that will include the likely arrests of hundreds of aliens from Middle Eastern and other countries considered to be havens for terrorists. Homeland Security has targeted for possible detention as many as 2,000 foreigners who are believed to be in violation of their visas and about whom there is "soft intelligence" suggesting possible terror connections.
--Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff

CHINA
Slamming On The Brakes
After racing along at a 62 percent growth rate in 2002 and 76 percent in 2003, car sales in China have hit a speed bump. A 30 percent sales increase in the first half of the year dipped to a meager 6.8 percent in July. The August forecast is worse: a minuscule 0.1 percent, according to preliminary numbers. The main reason for the slowdown, say analysts, is the government's new policy of tightening credit rules to slow an overheating economy. Beijing has given no sign it intends to change the policy in the near term, which is bad news for the world's automakers. Lured by forecasts of 140 million cars on Chinese roads by 2020, they have made plans to pour more than $17 billion into China by 2010. Although profit margins remain high on cars sold in China, the slowdown is forcing price-slashing. This month, both Ford and Volkswagen cut prices by more than 10 percent, and others will likely follow. Meanwhile, inventories of unsold cars will keep piling up at Chinese plants, just like they do in Detroit.
--John Sparks

DRUGS
Prescription Poppy
It was only a matter of time before drug producers caught on to the GM craze. In a paper published last week in the journal Nature a group of Australian and German scientists revealed that they've bioengineered opium poppy plants to produce the alkaloids used in analgesic pharmaceuticals, without producing the morphine that enlivens illicit drugs like heroin. Normal poppy seeds were treated with a chemical that mutated the plant and short-circuited its biosynthetic pathways, preventing the alkaloids thebaine and oripavine from being turned into morphine.

Similar research in Canada has already attracted attention from the government and pharmaceutical companies like Sanofi-Synthelabo in France. The mutated plants offer companies an agriculturally viable source of the alkaloids they need to manufacture powerful--but legal--pain relievers like oxycodone and buprenorphine. And if companies and governments are willing to invest, GM opium poppies could become a profitable--and licit--crop. That's wonderful news for traditional growers in places like Afghanistan, who could replace their illegal poppies with a viable alternative. "This is a plant that can be put to good," says bioengineer Peter Facchini at the University of Calgary.
--Kathryn Williams

HELLO KITTY
The Craze Continues
Searching for what she calls a "slumber party" purse at the Sanrio store in New York's Times Square, Lisa Mejia, 29, proclaims, "I like Hello Kitty!" Maybe it's because they're the same age? In November, Sanrio's Kitty turns 30, but the world is already celebrating. In Japan--Kitty's home--collectors are keeping an eye out for special gold Kitty coins as well as the $3,700--yes, $3,700--Hello Kitty robot, with 20,000 conversation patterns. A global Kitty exhibit includes a photo of a crop circle in England shaped like the feline. In America, where Kitty pencil cases have long been a staple among schoolgirls, an October women's surfing event in Huntington Beach, California, will showcase her new board. Stores have already rolled out 30th-anniversary booty like a vintage coin purse, the first Hello Kitty product. And in Los Angeles, a Hello Kitty prom dress, a Judith Leiber purse and sketches of Kitty from stars such as Lindsay Lohan and Calista Flockhart will be auctioned. (How much for an Ally cat?)

Bill Hensley, Sanrio's U.S. marketing director, attributes Kitty's enduring appeal to the fact that she's "so incredibly cute." But Kitty and her growing family (including Chococat and pup Chibimaru) have never had a story line like, say, the "Peanuts" gang--which may actually help. "Fans can project their own," says Hensley. Hey, a little mystery never hurts.
--Ramin Setoodeh

BOOKS
Mr. Smarty-Pants
Eskimos and Zulus don't have that much in common, but both groups are great ventriloquists. A. J. Jacobs can tell you this and many, many other things you don't need to know. It's what happens when you have a book coming out called "The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World." In it Jacobs, an editor at Esquire magazine, writes of his quest to conquer the 33,000 pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. His mission: to graduate from his family's intellectual kiddie table, where he's constantly outdone by his lawyer father and witty brother-in-law. Take this, Dad: if Pueblo women left their moccasins outside, that meant they wanted a divorce (Jacobs's wife nearly did this for his interjection of factoids into dinner discussions); vinaigrette was used by people in the 18th century to combat body odor; philosopher Rene Descartes had a thing for women with crossed eyes. The encyclopedia also gave Jacobs the Hebrew school he never had. He writes that Aaron, brother of Moses, was "the Frank Stallone" of Judaism, the one their mother talked less about. "Oh, Aaron? He's doing OK. Still finding his way. But back to Moses. Did you hear about the Red Sea?"

The path to enlightenment wasn't easy. Jacobs got eyestrain from reading six hours a day for 15 months on his couch. And his wife even started fining him $1 for each irrelevant fact he offered. He finally made it to the end of the Z's, and though there was no ribbon to cut, no "Rocky" stairs to run up, there was a measure of success, he says. "This was my Everest, and I didn't even get frostbite."
--Lisa Helem

Q&A
Ringo Starr
It began while the band was together and continued even after the breakup: wherever any Beatle went, he'd mail Ringo a postcard. The 64-year-old drummer collected dozens of them for a new book called "Postcards From the Boys." Starr chatted with NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin.

When did you first get into postcards?

It started in my teens. In Liverpool, no one was going anywhere exotic. If you got to go to London, it was a miracle. So I would say to anyone going away, "Send me a card." It sort of became a thing to do--send Ringo a card. It's not too much of an imposition. It's not like saying, "Send me a Rolls-Royce."

Even after the fights in the band, you guys were still in touch?

We still loved each other. We split up, and it was about time. But there was still lots of contact.

Some of the cards are hilarious.

I think now about how incredible it is that they all arrived. If Paul sent me a card today with one of his little drawings on it, it'd be on eBay by Wednesday.

Is it true you have months from years ago you don't remember?

Mumps?

Months.

It's interesting you say that. I was listening to "The Last Waltz" the other day, and I played on that. I know because there's a photo. But I don't remember playing. I was just getting drunk all the time. But that's over now.

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