Reading news reports can be like reading tea leaves. The combination of different items may mean more than any one of them says explicitly. Yet it is more art than craft. Conclusions may be sounder than received from a seer, but are less than certain.


Currently my computer screen is flickering with the following items:


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  1. "North Korea has almost completed preparations for a third nuclear test and has the capacity to carry it out "soon," a senior source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters."
  2. "North Korea sharply escalated the rhetoric against its southern rival, claiming it will soon conduct “special actions” that would reduce South Korea’s conservative government to ashes within minutes."
  3. "North Korea doesn’t appear to be getting ready to conduct a nuclear test, a U.S. defense spokesman said, after the totalitarian state threatened to reduce the South Korean government “to ashes.” "
  4. "Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said that it is necessary to relate seriously to the threat of Iran to destroy Israel. We cannot avoid the threat, and must prepare ourselves to respond. Changes in the history of the Jewish people include a capacity of Israel to defend itself politically and militarily in the face of threats."
One reasonable interpretation from items #1 and #2 is the abject failure of efforts by the United States and others to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. Item #3 sounds like a bureaucrat''s effort to justify his boss by denying what others are reporting about North Korean intentions.


In the context of items #1-#3, item #4 advances the likelihood of Israel acting alone. If Obama cannot stop the small, resource-poor, and vulnerable regime of North Korea, how can Israel rely on him to deal with a country that is an industrial and economic giant by comparison, led by an ideology that combines religious certainty and nationalist memories of grandeur, with allies in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, and other Shiite populations inclined to help,


Nothing is certain. Item #3 above may prove to be credible. If there is another North Korean nuclear test, it will--especially in the presence of things like #3--lead Israelis and others to ratchet up their ridicule of American claims to be standing firm against Iran''s nuclear activities.


Barack Obama remains active, at least in getting headlines:


"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama imposed U.S. sanctions on Monday on those who help Syria and Iran track dissidents through cell phones and computers, serving notice on technology providers that they could be held responsible for those governments'' human rights abuses."


Israelis may be forgiven a worry that the American president is more concerned about a "human rights" constituency than dealing with the tougher problem of Iran''s nuclear weapons. At least some of his human rights constituency would not object to seeing Israel brought down a notch or two, or even thrown under the bus.


Among the hopeful possibilities is that Iran''s leadership is more rational than North Korea''s. The Mullahs and Ahmadinejad may avoid boasting about reducing Israel to ashes, or even going those final steps to nuclear weapons, but threats against Israel already made do not encourage us to hope.


Another item in the news that adds to one''s doubts about international efforts against madness:
"A sharp rise in the number of deaths in the Syrian uprising is casting fresh doubt on the success of a UN peace plan, and testing a ceasefire deal.
Activists said nearly 70 people were killed on Monday, most in a government crackdown in the city of Hama.
The US said the UN monitoring mission was "risky and dangerous"".
An Israeli source is reporting a higher death total of 80 killed yesterday, 50 of them in Hama.


Perhaps we should give Kofe Annan an opportunity to interpret these tea leaves. Yet his record justifies skipping him, and going on to a conclusion that his highly touted peace accord, said to be accepted by Syrian officials and rebel leaders, was more imagined than real.


And the reliability of Barack Obama as compared to that of Kofe Annan?


That''s for Prime Minister Netanyahu and his colleagues in the Israeli government to decide.


Looking again at Netanyahu''s comment (#4 above), he may be inclined to rely more on Israel''s political skill than its military capacity.


Or maybe not.


I think that covers the possibilities for now.


I hope to be still writing when it is time to comment on later developments, assuming I have electricity, an internet connection, and enough optimism to continue this discussion.
 

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