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NightWatch 20110301

NightWatch

For the Night of 1 March 2011

South Korea-North Korea-US: On the anniversary of the 1919 uprising against Japanese colonialism, South Korean President Lee urged new talks with the North. US special representative Bosworth also urged new talks and State Department Assistant Secretary Campbell indicated it is time for conditional talks.

In North Korea a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted that the North remains open to dialogue and confrontation.

Comment: Readers should expect another US initiative to hold another round of essentially pointless talks. The North will be receptive because it needs food and medicine. That is the significance of the Foreign Ministry statement, but does not imply that the North will in any way impair its nuclear weapons programs before it has enough weapons for what it assesses to be its defensive and deterrent needs.

Iran: Security forces clashed with opposition supporters in Tehran on 1 March, using teargas against demonstrators rallying to demand the release of two opposition leaders, arrested yesterday. Security forces and people in civilian clothes clashed with demonstrators in Tehran to disperse them

Comment: The significance of this report is that the demonstrators are not deterred by the government's pre-emptive and preventive measure.

Oman-Iran: Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad and Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said discussed "important" regional issues by telephone, Fars News Agency reported 1 March. During the conversation, initiated by Sultan Qaboos, Ahmadi-Nejad stressed the importance of tact, prudence and the adoption of appropriate methods to benefit nations and their governments.

Comment: Sultan Qaboos obviously wants to know the secrets of Iranian success to date in suppressing anti-government demonstrations.

Bahrain: King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa fears the current political unrest in the country could disrupt relations among different sectors of the population, Minister of Social Development Fatima al-Balooshi said on 1 March.

Anti-government protesters are refusing to enter a national dialogue despite the good will attempts made by King Hamad, according to al-Balooshi. The minister noted that some elements of Bahraini society have in fact entered discussions with the government, but some protesters have refused. Those protesters refusing to talk represent just a part of the population and meaningful dialogue can only take place with all parts participating, al-Balooshi added.

Comment: In short, overtures for power sharing have been rejected. That leaves the Sheikh only a variety of coercive or concessionary measures. There is no middle ground.

Saudi Arabia-Bahrain: For the record. The government on 1 March denied reports that Saudi Arabian tanks crossed into Bahrain. The Information Ministry released a statement saying there are no Saudi Arabian tanks in Bahrain, and that tanks identified on 28 February were Bahraini tanks returning from Kuwait National Day celebrations. It said military from several Allied countries participated in an event commemorating Kuwait's liberation in 1991 as part of the celebrations.

A Saudi defense ministry official also denied the Egyptian newspaper report that Saudi Arabia had dispatched tanks to put down protests in Bahrain. No Saudi tanks have crossed the causeway to Bahrain, the unnamed Saudi Defense Ministry official said.

Comment: The initial report was that eyewitnesses observed and counted 30 Saudi tanks on tank transporters as they crossed the causeway, entering Bahrain. The truth will only become clear when the next crackdown takes place.

A point that looks increasingly certain is that the Saudi Kingdom will not permit a constitutional democracy led by Shiites in Bahrain. That implies there will be more confrontations. Neither side expects power sharing to succeed.

Yemen: Update. Protesters gathered into three streets leading to a square near Sanaa University in the Sanaa for an anti-government rally called by the opposition. While the protesters chanted anti-regime slogans, President Saleh called a press conference in which he accused Israel and the United States of orchestrating the anti-government revolts in the Arab world.

Saleh also postponed the formation of a joint unity government until a reconciliation agreement with the opposition is reached, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.

Comment: The protestors have rejected power sharing which creates the condition for more coercion by the government.

Libya: The commander of the armored vehicle and infantry division in Benghazi announced that he and the division's troops have joined the rebels, Al Arabiya reported on 1 March. Staff Brigadier General Mansur Muhammad Abu-Hajar said he and the soldiers denounce the killing of innocents by security brigades and hired mercenaries.

Comment: This latest defection is important for showing how pockets of loyalists can remain intact and capable of operations in support of Qadhafi in areas supposedly under the control of the anti-Qadhafi rebels. This is the case in towns west of Tripoli.

The key point is that an incomplete revolution almost always devolves into a civil war or a fragmentation scenario, also called secession. The rebels in the east profess no interest in establishing a separate state. That makes them, de facto, a challenger to the regime in Tripoli, one of the parties in a civil war.  The faster they organize as a functioning government,  the easier it will be for sympathetic outside states to come to their aid.

Aid is clearly in order. Tripoli is the center of power in a unified Libyan state. The rebels have failed to capture it. That creates the condition for civil war. In a head to head fight with pro-government militias and mercenaries, it is not at all clear that the rebels would win at this time. They need all kinds of aid.

Having failed to capture Tripoli when the rebellion had momentum, the most urgent priority now is to consolidate, secure and defend the areas under rebellion, offering encouragement to rebels in Tripoli and the west. One news report said the Benghazi rebels were split about their strategic priorities. One group favors advancing quickly against Tripoli. Another advocates consolidation and defense of gains already made.

A premature assault on Tripoli would not be just a tactical failure. It would expose the military weakness of the rebellion. Operationally , it would present the pro-Qadhafi forces the opportunity to counter-attack in depth all the way to Benghazi, whose defense would be weakened by a failed assault on Tripoli.

The rebels lack the capability to capture Tripoli, unless Qadhafi's guards defect or NATO intervenes. Caution mandates defense of the revolution. NATO could consider issuing a warning to Qadhafi that NATO forces will defend the Benghazi rebels against destruction by an attack from Tripoli. The NATO umbrella could also extend to towns west of Tripoli. That would at least stabilize the situaton until the next round.

The resulting Libyan state might not look like a European democracy, but the east would not be governed by a family fiefdom. No one in a generation would forget NATO coming to the aid of anti-Qadhafi, pro-democracy rebels.

Libya-China: Four Chinese military IL-76 troop transports have been sent by the government in Beijing to help complete the evacuation of Chinese workers from Libya. The aircraft flew non-stop from Urumqi in western China to Libya. Xinhua reported the arrival on 1 March of the first Il-76 in Khartoum from Tripoli, carrying 250 passengers.

Comment: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that 30,000 Chinese workers were in Libya before the start of the uprising. Of these 2,500 have returned to China; 23,000 are in third countries and 3,400 are in transit. About 29,000 have left China, cumulatively, and the Il-76s are picking up the last 1,000.

The Chinese are completing a crisis management tour de force. A frigate from China's Somali anti-piracy patrol will arrive off Tripoli on 2 March.

For the first time, the Chinese have deployed multiple Peoples' Liberation Army Air Force aircraft in a civilian assist role on the far side of the world. This is a significant force projection test. Moreover, the Chinese have managed to evacuate a population equivalent to a mid-size American town without incurring the ire of Qadhafi or the rebels. In the same time frame of the Chinese evacuations, the US tried to evacuate 600 people

End of NightWatch for 1 March.

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