Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tbilisi

Israeli Official: “We Have Every Intention of Defending Ourselves”

Following this morning’s attempted terror attacks against Israeli personnel in Georgia and India, Israeli officials said they would respond, though declined to specify further.

“I don’t think that it would be true to say that we are going to sit back and twiddle our thumbs,” Paul Hirschson, deputy spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters and others on a late-morning conference call organized by The Israel Project. Hirschson said, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have already indicated, “we have every intention of defending ourselves”–the primary obligation, he said, of any sovereign state under attack.

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Following this morning’s attempted terror attacks against Israeli personnel in Georgia and India, Israeli officials said they would respond, though declined to specify further.

“I don’t think that it would be true to say that we are going to sit back and twiddle our thumbs,” Paul Hirschson, deputy spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters and others on a late-morning conference call organized by The Israel Project. Hirschson said, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have already indicated, “we have every intention of defending ourselves”–the primary obligation, he said, of any sovereign state under attack.

Earlier, Netanyahu pointed the finger at Iran and its terror proxies, though Iran denies any involvement:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran and Hezbollah of being behind Monday’s double terror attack on the Israeli embassies in India and Georgia.

Earlier, an explosion hit an Israeli diplomatic car near the embassy in New Delhi, injuring the wife of a diplomat stationed with the Defense Ministry’s mission in India. In Georgia, an explosive device was found in a Tbilisi embassy employee’s car and was neutralized safely.bi

The coordinated attack is believed to be linked to the fourth anniversary marking the assassination of Hezbollah arch-terrorist Imad Mugniyah.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ho-hum. After Journolist, a report that network execs ordered news staff to go easy on Obama doesn’t seem so shocking.

Same old. Harry Reid insults another ethnic minority group. Marco Rubio reams him, but where’s La Raza and MALDEF?

Yawn. Another horrific poll for the Democrats to ignore: “Among whites with less than a college education—a group the two parties split in the most-recent midterms—the GOP has a 16-point advantage, 49% to 33%, when voters were asked which party they wanted to control Congress. Republicans, meantime, are gaining ground on a number of issues that have traditionally been advantages for Democrats. More Americans now think the GOP would do a better job on the economy—an advantage the party last held briefly in 2004 but has not enjoyed consistently since the mid-1990s. On one of the Democrats’ core issues, Social Security, just 30% now think the party would do a better job than the GOP, compared to 26% who favor the Republicans. That margin was 28 points in 2006.”

Franco is still dead. And Congress is still unpopular. “Congress’ job rating from the American people in August remains near the historical lows seen in recent months. Nineteen percent of Americans now approve of the overall job Congress is doing, while 75% disapprove.”

Predictable. Democrats are in “panic” mode, Rep. Paul Ryan explains. “‘The Left sees their agenda being rebuked by the voters this fall,’ Ryan tells us. As their electoral worries mount, he says, Democrats are scurrying to ‘nullify any notion that there is an alternative path for America. They want to delegitimize an alternative plan and win the argument by default, making the case that there is no other path for America than what progressives have mapped out for the country, and that any other talk, of any other idea, is just fanciful. That’s what’s troubling,’ Ryan says. ‘They are trying to deny the debate that must happen if we are going to get out of the mess that we’re in.'”

Par for the course. This time using schoolyard taunts to demean the left, Robert Gibbs enrages Democrats trying to survive the coming electoral tsunami: “A number of liberal TV and radio hosts continued to process Gibbs’s comments on Wednesday, questioning everything from his motives to what effect his remarks could have on Democratic turn-out in the midterm elections. And despite several efforts at levity by the embattled press secretary at Wednesday’s briefing, a number of high-profile liberal commentators warned that Gibb’s remarks could harm liberal enthusiasm in the midterms.”

More of the same. “Reset” means a license for the Russian bear to go hunting: “Russia said on Wednesday it had deployed high-precision air defense missiles in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, sending a defiant signal to Tbilisi and the West two years after a war with Georgia. The formidable S-300 missile system bolstered Moscow’s military presence in the disputed territory and drew an angry response from Georgia.”

Cat still got his tongue? Obama silent on Ground Zero mosque.

Ho-hum. After Journolist, a report that network execs ordered news staff to go easy on Obama doesn’t seem so shocking.

Same old. Harry Reid insults another ethnic minority group. Marco Rubio reams him, but where’s La Raza and MALDEF?

Yawn. Another horrific poll for the Democrats to ignore: “Among whites with less than a college education—a group the two parties split in the most-recent midterms—the GOP has a 16-point advantage, 49% to 33%, when voters were asked which party they wanted to control Congress. Republicans, meantime, are gaining ground on a number of issues that have traditionally been advantages for Democrats. More Americans now think the GOP would do a better job on the economy—an advantage the party last held briefly in 2004 but has not enjoyed consistently since the mid-1990s. On one of the Democrats’ core issues, Social Security, just 30% now think the party would do a better job than the GOP, compared to 26% who favor the Republicans. That margin was 28 points in 2006.”

Franco is still dead. And Congress is still unpopular. “Congress’ job rating from the American people in August remains near the historical lows seen in recent months. Nineteen percent of Americans now approve of the overall job Congress is doing, while 75% disapprove.”

Predictable. Democrats are in “panic” mode, Rep. Paul Ryan explains. “‘The Left sees their agenda being rebuked by the voters this fall,’ Ryan tells us. As their electoral worries mount, he says, Democrats are scurrying to ‘nullify any notion that there is an alternative path for America. They want to delegitimize an alternative plan and win the argument by default, making the case that there is no other path for America than what progressives have mapped out for the country, and that any other talk, of any other idea, is just fanciful. That’s what’s troubling,’ Ryan says. ‘They are trying to deny the debate that must happen if we are going to get out of the mess that we’re in.'”

Par for the course. This time using schoolyard taunts to demean the left, Robert Gibbs enrages Democrats trying to survive the coming electoral tsunami: “A number of liberal TV and radio hosts continued to process Gibbs’s comments on Wednesday, questioning everything from his motives to what effect his remarks could have on Democratic turn-out in the midterm elections. And despite several efforts at levity by the embattled press secretary at Wednesday’s briefing, a number of high-profile liberal commentators warned that Gibb’s remarks could harm liberal enthusiasm in the midterms.”

More of the same. “Reset” means a license for the Russian bear to go hunting: “Russia said on Wednesday it had deployed high-precision air defense missiles in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, sending a defiant signal to Tbilisi and the West two years after a war with Georgia. The formidable S-300 missile system bolstered Moscow’s military presence in the disputed territory and drew an angry response from Georgia.”

Cat still got his tongue? Obama silent on Ground Zero mosque.

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What Georgia Can Teach Israel About Iran

One thing pretty much all Israeli commentators agree on is that Western acceptance of the Iran-Brazil-Turkey nuclear deal would be a disaster for Israel.

Unlike the original deal on which it is modeled, and which Iran rejected last fall, this deal makes no pretense even of delaying Iran’s nuclear program. The original deal sought to buy time by transferring most of Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country, leaving it without enough to build a bomb until it enriched more. This deal would transfer a much smaller percentage of Iran’s uranium overseas, and would thus still leave it with enough to build a bomb.

Yet Western acceptance of it would not only kill any chance for tougher sanctions on Iran (no great loss, since the sanctions effort wasn’t going anyplace anyway); it would also make it much harder for Israel to take military action against Iran: Israel would then be portrayed as the warmonger ruining the world’s chances for peace in our time.

As Israel’s government contemplates this grim scenario, it might do well to read a new book on the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 — or at least Prof. Shlomo Avineri’s review of it in Haaretz.

In A Little War That Shook the World, former State Department official Ronald Asmus chronicles the events leading up to the war and its disastrous consequences for Georgia: it lost its last remaining foothold in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saw hundreds of its citizens killed and tens of thousands turned into refugees, and effectively destroyed its chances of joining either NATO or the European Union.

Yet Asmus thinks a Georgian failure to respond to Russia’s provocations would have had even worse consequences, Avineri notes: President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government “would have been toppled and there may well have been a coup d’etat in Tbilisi, which could have resulted in a particular well-known pro-Russian politician taking Georgia’s helm. In effect, Georgia could have lost its independence and become a Russian satellite once again” — for the third time in two centuries.

Avineri finds Asmus’s conclusion persuasive. But even if one doesn’t, it is hard to argue with Avineri’s conclusion. “There is something of a moral here for small countries,” the dovish professor writes. “Sometimes, being unwilling to give in is strategically the right move, even if it exacts a high price.”

An Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would exact a very high price: military counterstrikes by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and perhaps Syria; international opprobrium; a schism with Washington; and perhaps even international sanctions. And that would be true even if the West ultimately rejects the Brazil-Turkey deal and returns to the Obama administration’s plan A: declaring the problem “solved” by passing another watered-down sanctions resolution that, like its predecessors, will do nothing to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Nevertheless, the consequences to Israel of a nuclear Iran could well be even worse. And if so, Israel’s government might have to decide that the price of military action is worth paying.

One thing pretty much all Israeli commentators agree on is that Western acceptance of the Iran-Brazil-Turkey nuclear deal would be a disaster for Israel.

Unlike the original deal on which it is modeled, and which Iran rejected last fall, this deal makes no pretense even of delaying Iran’s nuclear program. The original deal sought to buy time by transferring most of Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country, leaving it without enough to build a bomb until it enriched more. This deal would transfer a much smaller percentage of Iran’s uranium overseas, and would thus still leave it with enough to build a bomb.

Yet Western acceptance of it would not only kill any chance for tougher sanctions on Iran (no great loss, since the sanctions effort wasn’t going anyplace anyway); it would also make it much harder for Israel to take military action against Iran: Israel would then be portrayed as the warmonger ruining the world’s chances for peace in our time.

As Israel’s government contemplates this grim scenario, it might do well to read a new book on the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 — or at least Prof. Shlomo Avineri’s review of it in Haaretz.

In A Little War That Shook the World, former State Department official Ronald Asmus chronicles the events leading up to the war and its disastrous consequences for Georgia: it lost its last remaining foothold in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saw hundreds of its citizens killed and tens of thousands turned into refugees, and effectively destroyed its chances of joining either NATO or the European Union.

Yet Asmus thinks a Georgian failure to respond to Russia’s provocations would have had even worse consequences, Avineri notes: President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government “would have been toppled and there may well have been a coup d’etat in Tbilisi, which could have resulted in a particular well-known pro-Russian politician taking Georgia’s helm. In effect, Georgia could have lost its independence and become a Russian satellite once again” — for the third time in two centuries.

Avineri finds Asmus’s conclusion persuasive. But even if one doesn’t, it is hard to argue with Avineri’s conclusion. “There is something of a moral here for small countries,” the dovish professor writes. “Sometimes, being unwilling to give in is strategically the right move, even if it exacts a high price.”

An Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would exact a very high price: military counterstrikes by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and perhaps Syria; international opprobrium; a schism with Washington; and perhaps even international sanctions. And that would be true even if the West ultimately rejects the Brazil-Turkey deal and returns to the Obama administration’s plan A: declaring the problem “solved” by passing another watered-down sanctions resolution that, like its predecessors, will do nothing to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Nevertheless, the consequences to Israel of a nuclear Iran could well be even worse. And if so, Israel’s government might have to decide that the price of military action is worth paying.

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Russia Threatens Georgia–Again

Last Friday, Moscow warned Georgia that it would use force to protect its “compatriots” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that have essentially broken away from Tbilisi. “If a military conflict develops, then we will have to react, including with military means,” said Valery Kenyaikin, a Russian foreign ministry official. “We are ready to defend our citizens.”

Russian citizens in Georgia? Vladimir Putin has recently taken steps that essentially annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russia, including issuing Russian passports to their residents. Worse, Moscow’s planes are patrolling the airspace over them. Tensions remain high after Georgia announced that a Russian MiG shot down one of its drones over Abkhazia on the 20th of this month. Moscow denied the charge, saying that separatists were responsible. A video of the incident backs up the Georgian assertion.

And what is the Atlantic Alliance doing while this drama unfolds? Western diplomats say they hope relations between Tbilisi and Moscow will improve, but tensions have tended to increase over time. The situation is bound to deteriorate even further because NATO, at German and French insistence, declined this month to put Georgia and Ukraine on the path to full membership. Putin evidently took this failure as a green light for the shootdown.

No one in Washington seems to be too concerned, however. Any resemblance to Germany’s 1938 absorption of Austria is either ignored or seen as purely coincidental. The West looks weak to Moscow, and Putin’s next moves are bound to be even more aggressive.

In the meantime, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has promised to reassert control over both areas. The residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have a right to self-determination, yet at this moment the issue is not their wishes but Moscow’s interference in the affairs of a sovereign neighbor. Yes, it will be inconvenient to defend Georgia if that is what is required. But the biggest lesson of the last century is obviously applicable to this obscure conflict.

Last Friday, Moscow warned Georgia that it would use force to protect its “compatriots” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that have essentially broken away from Tbilisi. “If a military conflict develops, then we will have to react, including with military means,” said Valery Kenyaikin, a Russian foreign ministry official. “We are ready to defend our citizens.”

Russian citizens in Georgia? Vladimir Putin has recently taken steps that essentially annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russia, including issuing Russian passports to their residents. Worse, Moscow’s planes are patrolling the airspace over them. Tensions remain high after Georgia announced that a Russian MiG shot down one of its drones over Abkhazia on the 20th of this month. Moscow denied the charge, saying that separatists were responsible. A video of the incident backs up the Georgian assertion.

And what is the Atlantic Alliance doing while this drama unfolds? Western diplomats say they hope relations between Tbilisi and Moscow will improve, but tensions have tended to increase over time. The situation is bound to deteriorate even further because NATO, at German and French insistence, declined this month to put Georgia and Ukraine on the path to full membership. Putin evidently took this failure as a green light for the shootdown.

No one in Washington seems to be too concerned, however. Any resemblance to Germany’s 1938 absorption of Austria is either ignored or seen as purely coincidental. The West looks weak to Moscow, and Putin’s next moves are bound to be even more aggressive.

In the meantime, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has promised to reassert control over both areas. The residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have a right to self-determination, yet at this moment the issue is not their wishes but Moscow’s interference in the affairs of a sovereign neighbor. Yes, it will be inconvenient to defend Georgia if that is what is required. But the biggest lesson of the last century is obviously applicable to this obscure conflict.

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More from Georgia

I obviously spoke too soon when on November 5th I praised Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili for his restraint in handling large demonstrations in Tbilisi. Just after that item appeared, he declared a state of emergency, sent his riot police out to break up the demonstrations, and shut down an opposition TV station by force.

This has led many commentators to proclaim that the Rose Revolution is over and that Saakashvili is just another strongman bent on aggrandizing himself. (See, for example, this New York Times article.)

Not so fast. Ron Asmus, a former State Department official in the Clinton administration who is a major architect of NATO expansion and whose judgment I trust, offers a more nuanced view in this Financial Times op-ed.

Reporting on a recent visit to Tbilisi, he suggests that the decision to declare a state of emergency was not simply a whim of Saakashvili’s: “It was debated fiercely and decided collectively in the cabinet, including by many whose democratic credentials can hardly be questioned.”

The decision may still have been a wrong one, but Asmus pleads for some sympathy for a genuine reformer who is attempting to consolidate a process that has made Georgia a stand-out performer among former Soviet republics, notwithstanding a consistent campaign of subversion emanating from Moscow. “As westerners living in comfortable societies,” he writes, “we have trouble understanding the insecurity of a country that has teetered on being a failed state.”

This is not meant to be a whitewash of Saakashvili, who almost surely overreacted when he imposed the state of emergency. It’s a good thing that he has now lifted this decree, which is more than can be said of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. The Georgian president is undoubtedly headstrong and can be high-handed in dealing with opposition. But a more accommodating or weak leader would have trouble getting anything done, as witness Viktor Yushchenko’s struggles in Ukraine.

I second Asmus when he pleads for the West, while pressuring Saakashvili to respect democratic norms, to also pressure Moscow to keep hands off its former republic. There is no doubt that some bloom has come off the Georgian rose, but the revolution is not over yet.

I obviously spoke too soon when on November 5th I praised Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili for his restraint in handling large demonstrations in Tbilisi. Just after that item appeared, he declared a state of emergency, sent his riot police out to break up the demonstrations, and shut down an opposition TV station by force.

This has led many commentators to proclaim that the Rose Revolution is over and that Saakashvili is just another strongman bent on aggrandizing himself. (See, for example, this New York Times article.)

Not so fast. Ron Asmus, a former State Department official in the Clinton administration who is a major architect of NATO expansion and whose judgment I trust, offers a more nuanced view in this Financial Times op-ed.

Reporting on a recent visit to Tbilisi, he suggests that the decision to declare a state of emergency was not simply a whim of Saakashvili’s: “It was debated fiercely and decided collectively in the cabinet, including by many whose democratic credentials can hardly be questioned.”

The decision may still have been a wrong one, but Asmus pleads for some sympathy for a genuine reformer who is attempting to consolidate a process that has made Georgia a stand-out performer among former Soviet republics, notwithstanding a consistent campaign of subversion emanating from Moscow. “As westerners living in comfortable societies,” he writes, “we have trouble understanding the insecurity of a country that has teetered on being a failed state.”

This is not meant to be a whitewash of Saakashvili, who almost surely overreacted when he imposed the state of emergency. It’s a good thing that he has now lifted this decree, which is more than can be said of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. The Georgian president is undoubtedly headstrong and can be high-handed in dealing with opposition. But a more accommodating or weak leader would have trouble getting anything done, as witness Viktor Yushchenko’s struggles in Ukraine.

I second Asmus when he pleads for the West, while pressuring Saakashvili to respect democratic norms, to also pressure Moscow to keep hands off its former republic. There is no doubt that some bloom has come off the Georgian rose, but the revolution is not over yet.

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A Tale of Two Republics

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people thronged to the streets of Tbilisi on Friday to protest the government of Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Most news accounts are treating this as an indictment of Saakashvili, a Columbia-trained lawyer who took power four years ago in the Rose Revolution, and who is a close ally of the United States. That may well be right (although the protesters are not seeking to overthrow him; they merely want elections moved up).

Undoubtedly, like any other leader of an emerging democracy, he has made some mistakes and alienated some people. But what struck me as notable, and what hasn’t been mentioned in most press reports (see here and here), was the restrained reaction of the authorities.

Saakashvili didn’t call out an army of riot police to bust up the protests. The police presence was limited to a few lightly armed officers who, for the most part, got along well with the crowds. Contrast that with Russia, where far smaller anti-government rallies have been broken up by club-wielding riot police who have assaulted some protesters and arrested others, including the former chess champ Garry Kasparov.

This is clearly a tale of two former Soviet republics going in different directions: Georgia toward liberal democracy, Russia toward autocracy. Whatever his mistakes, Saakashvili deserves credit for his efforts to create greater freedom, including the freedom to protest against the government.

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people thronged to the streets of Tbilisi on Friday to protest the government of Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Most news accounts are treating this as an indictment of Saakashvili, a Columbia-trained lawyer who took power four years ago in the Rose Revolution, and who is a close ally of the United States. That may well be right (although the protesters are not seeking to overthrow him; they merely want elections moved up).

Undoubtedly, like any other leader of an emerging democracy, he has made some mistakes and alienated some people. But what struck me as notable, and what hasn’t been mentioned in most press reports (see here and here), was the restrained reaction of the authorities.

Saakashvili didn’t call out an army of riot police to bust up the protests. The police presence was limited to a few lightly armed officers who, for the most part, got along well with the crowds. Contrast that with Russia, where far smaller anti-government rallies have been broken up by club-wielding riot police who have assaulted some protesters and arrested others, including the former chess champ Garry Kasparov.

This is clearly a tale of two former Soviet republics going in different directions: Georgia toward liberal democracy, Russia toward autocracy. Whatever his mistakes, Saakashvili deserves credit for his efforts to create greater freedom, including the freedom to protest against the government.

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Georgia on My Mind

Georgia is on my mind. Although the facts are in dispute—they always are when Moscow is involved—it seems clear that a Russian plane entered Georgian airspace on Monday night and fired a missile at a radar station. The Kremlin, absurdly, is suggesting Tbilisi attacked itself. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe confirms there was an intrusion, and there is no evidence supporting Moscow’s version of events. If this sounds familiar, don’t be surprised: Russian helicopters flew over and fired on another part of Georgia in March of this year.

The State Department calls the more recent incident an “attack against Georgia” and says there was a “violation of Georgia’s airspace.” Then it suggests that Georgia and Russia work it out peacefully.

How’s that for an inspiring response from the final guarantor of the world’s democracies? I will skip the if-we-don’t-stop-them-in-Georgia-we-will-only-have-to-fight-them-on-the-Potomac argument and move on to the broader point. Our belief that we need the assistance of other great powers to solve the problems of the world inhibits us from confronting an aggressive Moscow. Yes, in a strict sense, we do need others’ cooperation; unfortunately, we’re not getting it. The last few years show that Russia, China, and their friends do not want to become “responsible stakeholders”—if I may use the State Department’s optimistic term—in the world as it is.

Call it what you wish—World War III, World War IV, or the Long War—but the existing international system is disintegrating. We have to confront the reality that we are already involved in destabilizing competition with other great powers. Not supporting Georgia and other democracies under attack will only hand victory to the aggressors.

Georgia is on my mind. Although the facts are in dispute—they always are when Moscow is involved—it seems clear that a Russian plane entered Georgian airspace on Monday night and fired a missile at a radar station. The Kremlin, absurdly, is suggesting Tbilisi attacked itself. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe confirms there was an intrusion, and there is no evidence supporting Moscow’s version of events. If this sounds familiar, don’t be surprised: Russian helicopters flew over and fired on another part of Georgia in March of this year.

The State Department calls the more recent incident an “attack against Georgia” and says there was a “violation of Georgia’s airspace.” Then it suggests that Georgia and Russia work it out peacefully.

How’s that for an inspiring response from the final guarantor of the world’s democracies? I will skip the if-we-don’t-stop-them-in-Georgia-we-will-only-have-to-fight-them-on-the-Potomac argument and move on to the broader point. Our belief that we need the assistance of other great powers to solve the problems of the world inhibits us from confronting an aggressive Moscow. Yes, in a strict sense, we do need others’ cooperation; unfortunately, we’re not getting it. The last few years show that Russia, China, and their friends do not want to become “responsible stakeholders”—if I may use the State Department’s optimistic term—in the world as it is.

Call it what you wish—World War III, World War IV, or the Long War—but the existing international system is disintegrating. We have to confront the reality that we are already involved in destabilizing competition with other great powers. Not supporting Georgia and other democracies under attack will only hand victory to the aggressors.

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