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NightWatch 20091104

NightWatch

For the Night of 4 November 2009

Japan-US: The United States warned Japan today that reneging on a bilateral agreement to relocate a US airfield on Okinawa could harm the countries' alliance, The Associated Press reported. A US State Department spokesman spoke the warning while discussing Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama's option of moving the U.S. Marines Futenma Air Station out of the prefecture.

The US said it is Japan's decision, including deciding what kind of relationship Japan will have with the United States. He added that the agreement is designed to meet common security challenges and is done in complete transparency and partnership with the government of Japan.

What the US spokesman did not say is that the agreement was made with a very different Japanese government. The statement is also silly. Both partners to an alliance shape the relationship.

This administration, like all its predecessors, does not yet seem to grasp the implications of maturity in an alliance relationship in an inter-dependent global economy and security environment.

Asian states are taking back responsibility for their own security. The process has been unidirectional since the years immediately after World War II. Then the US owned 500 bases and facilities in the Philippines. Today the US has access to Philippine bases.

For the record. Japan's Foreign Minister called off a trip to Washington, Reuters reported. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said the cancellation was due to scheduling difficulties. He said the two governments have been unable to set a time for Foreign Minister Okada to meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because of Okada's busy schedule in Parliament. Hirano confirmed that Okada's visit to the United States is canceled.

The snub to the US is unusual, but Okada did meet with US diplomats today in preparation for President Obama's trip to Japan this month.

Cambodia-Thailand: Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed renegade former Thai prime minister Thaksin as an economic advisor to himself and the Cambodian government. A government spokesman told the BBC that Cambodia valued Mr. Thaksin's leadership qualities and business experience and that he would be an asset to the country.

Hun Sen is flagrantly provoking the stronger and more sophisticated Thai during the King's waning days. Paybacks will be violent for what the Thai leadership will interpret as a deliberate Cambodian insult.

Nepal: The government placed security agencies, including the army, on high alert following the seizure of administration offices across the country by Maoist former rebels, according to The Associated Press.

The government issued the alert because it said it had credible information that protests by the Maoists could turn violent. Home Minister Bhim Rawal said the security agencies were asked to remain ready to deal with possible security threats. Government spokesman and Communication Minister Shanker Pokharel said the army would be mobilized if the Maoists violate the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement by engaging in violence.

Iran: Iranian police clashed with supporters of Iran's opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi that gathered in Tehran as the country marks the 30th anniversary of the storming of the U.S. Embassy, Haaretz reported Nov. 4. Iranian security forces assembled in Tehran to prevent opposition gatherings. A witness said police clashed with protesters, using batons to disperse them. Another witness said police and Basij forces were walking around the British and Russian embassies in central Tehran. There are unconfirmed reports from the Iranian news outlet Mowjcamp that Mehdi Karoubi was in attendance at the protests and was beaten by the security forces.

Afghanistan: Why is a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff quoted in Pakistan as prescribing policy tasks for the Head of State and Government of Afghanistan? Admiral Mullen's statements today were headline news in Pakistan, in the Daily Times. In Pakistan, the press image is that US generals and admirals are running Afghanistan policy.

Iran--International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA): IAEA chief Mohamed el Baradei said today Iran wants nuclear know-how because it would bring Tehran prestige, power and an engaged U.S., Reuters reported. "Iran has been taken seriously since they have developed their program," he said. He noted that his agency has no concrete evidence that Iran is pursuing atomic weaponry.

The significance of el Baradei's remarks is that they do not repeat the tired old platitude that Iran needs nuclear weapons to deter a US or Israeli attack. The historic record shows that the Ayatollahs share the Shah's strategic vision that Iran by rights should lead the Middle East. The difference is the Shah's vision was more modest than that of the Ayatollahs who also claim to lead the Islamic world. How interesting…

Saudi Arabia-Yemen: The official Saudi Press Agency said gunmen infiltrated into Saudi Arabia from Yemen killing a Saudi security officer and wounding 11 others, Reuters reported. The incident took place in the border region of Jazan.

Yemeni Shiite rebels said they seized the mountainous territory of Jabal al Dukhan inside Saudi Arabia. In a statement posted on their Web site, the rebels stated that complete control was taken after attacks "during which the aggressor was eliminated."

Al Arabiya reported today that Saudi soldiers massed on the border with Yemen following an attack on 3 November by a gunman in the border region of Jazan that killed one Saudi officer and injured 11 others. Eleven schools were evacuated following the attack, and the state-run Saudi Press Agency issued a statement saying that Saudi Arabia will do what it takes to preserve security and protect its borders from infiltrators.

The Yemeni Shiite rebels have brought border terrorism home to Saudi Arabia and they will pay for it. The King is in no mood to tolerate deviant behavior, especially by foreign Shiites. The rest of the world might get a chance to determine whether all the Saudi wealth has created a competent National Guard and Air Force.

Israel-Hezbollah: Tonight's good news. The Israeli navy seized an arms ship bound for Syria, according to ship's documents but with a cargo bound for Hezbollah, The Associated Press reported 4 November.

Israeli military officials said the boat originated in Iran and its cargo was headed for Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. The officials said the arms cache included various missiles, including anti-tank missiles, and was disguised as an aid boat. Military spokeswoman Colonel Avital Leibovich confirmed that an elite navy unit on a routine patrol identified a cargo ship flying an Antigua flag and intercepted it without incident. The Francop weapons ship that was seized off of Cyprus by Israel Navy commandos was brought into Ashdod Port, according to Ynetnews.

"The quantity of arms seized on the weapons ship Francop is 10 times or even more than the quantity of weapons on the Karin-A ship," Israel Navy Chief Brigadier General Rani Ben-Yehuda told reporters during a briefing Wednesday at the naval base in Ashdod. (Note: the Israelis captured the Karin -A with a cargo of Iranian arms for the Palestinians in 2002.)

During the briefing, the General reconstructed Tuesday night's dramatic events which took place some 180 km (about 110 miles) off of Israel's shores were reconstructed. The Israel Navy force reached the cargo ship sailing under an Antiguan flag Tuesday night and asked to perform a routine questioning that is periodically carried out in addition to an examination of the cargo. The captain gave the go-ahead.

Members of the Commando 13 force under the protection of Israeli missile boats started to check the ship, which, according to General Ben-Yehuda, is of German origin. The ship's documentation raised suspicions because the cargo was listed as being loaded in Egypt and destined for Syria, but the containers were from the Iranian merchant fleet.

An examination of the containers revealed that they were carrying weapons. After finding the weapons, the Israel Navy notified the relevant officials that it was rerouting the ship to Ashdod Port for a thorough examination. Out of the 400 containers on the ship, 36 contained weapons.

Syria's response. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said 4 November that a ship seized by Israel on the night of 3 November was not carrying weapons from Iran, The Jerusalem Post reported. Al-Moallem said that there were "official pirates" disrupting the movement of goods between Iran and Syria, and said that the ship was carrying commercial goods, not Iranian arms headed for Syria or material for manufacturing weapons.

During the Watch, Iran also denied sending arms to Hezbollah, according to the BBC.

Comment: The Israeli version of the story needs to be taken at face value. In the principles of evidence that apply to intelligence as well as the legal profession, the Israeli statements are prime facie credible because the details can be so easily and embarrassingly refuted if they are a bluff. The Israelis deliberately are inviting international scrutiny. The detail in the public statements make the case self proving.

This is one of the most simplistic evidentiary traps clever national leaders create for their enemies. And the Syrians fell for it.

There would seem to be little profit or advantage to Syria by making any public comment on this seizure when the Israelis are in the position of calling the Syrian and Iranian bluff simply by exhibiting weapons. It would have been better and more credible to feign ignorance, rather than to assert international maritime rights. None authorize the shipment of contraband.

Aside from the battle of public statements, the seizure adds to the huge body of evidence that Iran is not an innocent victim of Western bullying, but deliberately is stoking and arming its regional proxies to attack Israel. The Islamic Republic Guards Corps, most likely, literally is carrying into execution the language of President Ahmadi-nejad about the destruction of Israel.

Italy-US: For the record. An Italian judge sentenced 23 Americans to up to eight years in prison on Wednesday for the abduction of a Muslim cleric, in a symbolic condemnation of the CIA "rendition" flights used by the former U.S. government. The Americans were all tried in absentia because the United States refused to extradite them. "This decision sends a clear message to all governments that even in the fight against terrorism you can't forsake the basic rights of our democracies," said prosecutor Armando Spataro.

Europe in general is off limits to these people because the sentences can be enforced by the International Criminal Court anywhere in Europe.

Lithuania-Baltic States-US: The first U.S.-Baltic joint military exercises will occur September 2010 or October 2010 in Latvia, The Baltic Course reported 4 November, citing General Carter F. Ham, Commander, US Army Europe. The U.S. military will send instructors to participate in the exercises. The exercises are scheduled to reoccur annually in one of the Baltic countries. Ham made his remarks in Vilnius, Lithuania.

NATO and the US are finally and belatedly recognizing that Alliance obligations to the Baltics require planning, training, exercises and commitment. The idea of NATO's eastward encroachment on former Soviet territories is more easily discussed than honored on the ground. Poland and the Baltic States have taken a huge risk that NATO has tended to ignore, until recently.

At some point in the near future, the US leadership might have to choose whether it defends the Balts under its Treaty obligations or the Afghans or Pakistanis. This is not a trivial question.

End of NightWatch for 4 November.

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