The week at a glance...International
Anti-diaspora ads yanked: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended a television ad campaign aimed at persuading expat Israelis to come back home after it sparked an uproar among American Jews. The commercials, made by the Israeli government and broadcast in U.S. cities, warned Israelis that children raised in America would lose their sense of Israeli and even Jewish identity and begin celebrating Christmas. Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, called the ads “unsubtle, crude, and heavy-handed,” adding, “It comes out of an ignorance. Most Israelis don’t understand how American Jewish life works.” After the ADL and other groups protested, Israel pulled the ads.
CIA drone downed: A surveillance drone with secret stealth technology went down in Iran last week and is apparently in the hands of the Iranian military, U.S. officials said. The Pentagon initially suggested that the high-tech drone strayed across the Iranian border during routine Afghan surveillance, but later admitted that it was on a CIA mission. One of the most advanced aircraft in the world, the RQ-170 Sentinel could provide Iran with a wealth of intelligence about the special coating and bat-wing design that help it elude radar. It is also believed to carry sensors that can listen in on cellphone conversations and detect chemicals on the ground miles below. “It’s bad—they’ll have everything,” an unnamed U.S. official told the Los Angeles Times. “And the Chinese or the Russians will have it too.” Iran says it downed the drone with a cyberattack, a claim U.S. experts said was extremely unlikely.
Worshippers killed: Bombs exploded simultaneously in Kabul and two other cities this week during services for a Shiite holy day, killing at least 63 people and wounding more than 150. It was the worst sectarian assault in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban and was widely seen as an attempt to destabilize the country by stirring up hatred between majority Sunnis and minority Shiites. A Pakistan-based extremist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility, but many Afghans suspected that the group had help from others, such as al Qaida, the Taliban, or Pakistan’s ISI spy agency. “Never in our history have there been such cruel attacks on religious observances,” said President Hamid Karzai. “The enemies of Afghanistan do not want us to live under one roof with peace and harmony.”
Sesame opens: The American children’s TV show Sesame Street began airing in Afghanistan last week, part of a government effort to encourage education in a country where at least one third of children don’t go to school. The series, funded by the U.S. Embassy, is broadcast in Afghanistan’s two major languages, Dari and Pashto. It features most of the Muppets from the U.S. version, but not Oscar the Grouch, whose love of trash didn’t translate well to Afghan culture, and not the Count, whose fangs would have perplexed Afghan viewers. Sesame Street has been adapted for more than 100 countries.
‘Silent coup’? Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s sudden trip to Dubai for medical care this week has fueled rumors that the country is about to experience a “silent coup.” Zardari has been embarrassed in recent weeks by the NATO attack on a Pakistani base that killed 24 soldiers, and by accusations that he had endorsed a back-channel request for U.S. help in reining in the military. A theory ricocheting through the local press as well as through U.S. foreign-policy circles holds that Zardari is about to step down, ostensibly for medical reasons, and will be replaced by someone more acceptable to Pakistan’s powerful generals. Government officials denied the reports, saying the president was undergoing tests related to a pre-existing heart condition and would return home within days.
Luxury-car pileup: Eight Ferraris, three Mercedes, and a Lamborghini were totaled this week in what’s being called the most expensive car crash ever. Luxury-car enthusiasts were driving in a convoy from Kyushu to Hiroshima when one of the Ferrari drivers lost control while switching lanes at high speed on a wet highway. He skidded into oncoming traffic, and the cars behind him began slamming into one another, injuring 10 people. A Nissan Skyline and a Toyota Prius were also involved in the crash. The damage is estimated at more than $4 million. “It was a gathering of narcissists,” said Mitsuyoshi Isejima of Yamaguchi prefecture’s traffic police.
Choking smog: The cloud of pollution over Beijing grew so dense this week that much of the city was rendered invisible. Hundreds of flights were grounded, auto traffic was stalled for scores of miles, and residents rushed to buy masks and air filters. Chinese officials downplayed the air-quality crisis, as usual, saying their readings showed that air pollution was “moderate.” But ordinary Chinese were complaining. A link to the air monitor on the roof of the U.S. Embassy, which showed levels “beyond index” in recent days, went viral on Chinese social media. Even Chinese newspapers, which usually refer to pollution as “fog” caused by weather, began calling it “smog” in headlines this week.