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NightWatch 20110315

NightWatch

For the Night of 15 March 2011

North Korea: South Korea's Unification Ministry announced Tuesday, 15 March, it has received a message from Pyongyang through the Red Cross signaling willingness to accept the return of the 27 fishermen who drifted into South Korean waters. In the message, North Korea stressed that it was accepting the return of the 27 fishermen after taking into account "the feelings of the family members who are waiting for them."

Comment: The significance of the message is the North has relented in not demanding the return of four additional fishermen who asked to stay in South Korea. The North wanted the return to take place at sea, for no apparent reason, but South Korea insists it take place at Panmunjom, the normal venue for such exchanges.

The North blinked in this exchange and that usually means it really needs help from the South.  An overture for talks should follow.

Bahrain: Politics. A state-of-emergency has been imposed in Bahrain as a result of the country's political unrest, according to a statement released by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The King said the Bahraini military is authorized to use all necessary measures to end the unrest.

The state of emergency, apparently including martial law, will last for the next 90 days in order to restore order. A state of anarchy and threats to citizens' safety in Bahrain will not be tolerated, Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa said at a 15 March work meeting of his deputies, ministers and officials, BNA reported.

At the meeting, al-Khalifa received assurances on the sufficiency of food and commodities in the country as well as its financial and banking situation. He directed officials to talk to the international media to present what he called the true image of Bahrain's current situation. He also praised the Gulf Cooperation Council's Peninsula Shield Force for assisting in restoring order in Bahrain

Security. The Bahraini Defense Force (BDF) announced a crackdown on those who flout the law. According to the director of the BDF Military Judiciary, any necessary action will be taken against lawbreakers. Additionally, emergency procedures will be put into effect, including a curfew. Under the "state of national safety," some locations will be evacuated and rallies disrupting the public order will be banned. Security forces will also limit entry and exit to certain locations, and suspects will be tracked down and arrested.

Clashes in Bahrain on 15 March resulted in the deaths of two men and injuries to more than 200 people, said a source at Salmaniya Hospital, which has been receiving most of the casualties in the Shiite areas, Reuters reported. The hospital confirmed an earlier report that a Bahraini man had been killed and said that a Bangladeshi man had died in Sitra.

Bahrain's Interior Ministry announced the death of a member of the General Security in the Ma'ameer area, BNA reported 15 March. The member was killed by being intentionally run over by rioters. He was on duty at the time.

Bahrain has recalled its ambassador to Iran for consultations, BNA reported.

Bahrain-Gulf Cooperation Council: The third installment of the Peninsula Shield Force arrived in Bahrain on the evening of 15 March, BNA reported. The group joined the previous two installments that arrived on 14 March. Some 1,500 Saudi and UAE security forces deployed on the 14th, but the nationality of the latest installment has not been reported.

Reaction

Iraq:  The Militant group Asaib Ahl al-Haq said the Saudi military intervention in Bahrain is state terrorism intended to put down popular attitudes through force of arms under the pretext of maintaining regional security, Al Sumaria reported. The group also said in a statement that U.S. intervention in Bahraini affairs is an attempt to dominate the country. The group noted that these moves will negatively affect stability, adding that military intervention by Saudi Arabia took place after a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Bahrain.

Muqtada al Sadr also denounced the deployment of the Shield Force.

Iran: Regional military forces dispatched to Bahrain reveal the countries' support for the Bahraini government and such "meddling" will be costly, Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani said in a Majilis open session, IRNA reported. Larijani said the recent Bahraini visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the European multi-standard stands on the issue reveal how anxious the United States is about the massive Middle Eastern revolutions. He added regional states are now entitled to blame the United States for any aggression and massacre.

Iran-US: Switzerland's ambassador to Iran was called to the Iranian Foreign Ministry to hear complaints about U.S. support for the foreign military intervention in Bahrain, IRNA reported 15 March. Switzerland serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran

Iran-Saudi Arabia: The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Saudi ambassador to Iran to voice its concern with, and opposition to, the military intervention in Bahrain, IRNA reported. The foreign ministry's director general for Persian Gulf and Middle East affairs, Hossein Amir-Abollahiyan, denounced the intervention, saying the protestors in Bahrain are peacefully expressing their demands to the government. Amir-Abollahiyan said he expects the Saudi government to deal with the situation in a responsible and logical manner.

Hamas and Hezbollah: Both denounced the Saudi intervention, as they described it.

Comment: The only nations and political movements to have denounced the deployment of the Shield Force are those allied with Iran. The reaction of this group provides indirect evidence that Iran and its proxies have been backing the Bahraini Shiite protestors in order to overthrow the Sunni house of al Khalifa and create a third Shiite state.

The Bahrain uprising did not start as a pro-Iranian or anti-monarchical movement. It demanded political reform - more representation and greater accountability within a constitutional monarchy.

Sometime after 8 March, the protestors' demands changed from reform to overthrow of the monarchy and replacement by a republic. Thus, the protests have evolved into a proxy battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Despite the pervasiveness of internal security in Bahrain, the Kingdom has announced no arrests of Iranians or Iranian agents. Nevertheless, the deployment of the Shield Force is aimed at Iran and its message is to stop the meddling. The Sunni Kingdoms are calling Iran's bluff.

Oman: Update. Protesters demonstrated across Oman on 15 March, calling for Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said's new police chief to investigate recently fired Cabinet ministers for alleged corruption, Reuters reported.

Activists have been camped out in front of the Shura Council in Muscat, the governor's office in the southern city of Salalah and in the northern city of Sohar. Strikes at Bank Muscat and Oman Air have been resolved, but staff are still demonstrating at Oman International Bank, Oman Investment Finance Company and the Intercontinental Hotel in Muscat.

The sultan ordered salary raises of up to 100 rials ($260) per month for civil workers, including security forces, beginning 1 April.

Oman-Bahrain: Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa met with Omani Interior Minister Humood bin Faisal al-Busaidi on 15 March, during which al-Khalifa thanked al-Busaidi for his country's support of Bahrain during the ongoing political unrest, BNA reported. He also thanked the interior minister for his country's deploying Peninsula Shield Force soldiers in accordance with joint defense cooperation agreements. Al-Busaidi said Bahrain's security is important for the security of Oman and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Comment: Oman is likely to be another host for a contingent of Peninsular Shield Forces if unrest persists.

Syria: About 200 protesters rallied in Damascus on 15 March, calling for political reforms and the resignation of Syrian President Bashar al Asad, according to witnesses at the scene. State-run newspaper Al Watan reported that Syrian citizens had received text messages, allegedly sent by Israeli operatives, encouraging them to demonstrate. Internet activists claimed that several protesters were detained in Syria as well as Aleppo.

Comment: The press report is the message, namely, that Asad tolerates protests, even when Israelis are behind them. It is phony. Asad's Alawite, pro-Iranian regime has no tolerance of dissent.

Israel: Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced on 15 March that they intercepted the M/V Victoria, a cargo ship, about 200 miles west of the Israeli coast. It reportedly was carrying weapons to the Gaza Strip.

At least four surface-to-sea anti-ship missiles with a range of 35 kilometers (21.7 miles) were found on board the M/V Victoria, Ynet reported. The ship also carried a radar system capable of recognizing ships before they can launch abtiu-ship missiles.

The Liberian flagged ship left Lattakia, Syria, for Mersin, Turkey, to travel to Alexandria, Egypt. The Israeli navy took the ship to Ashdod, Israel.

The Israelis said Turkey was not tied to the weapons. A Hamas official denied that the ship's contents were intended for Palestinian fighters, Al Jazeera reported. The Germans and the French have been notified because the ship is German-owned and was operating through a French shipping company.

Comment: TIsrael's actions are essentially state piracy. The timing of the Israeli seizure, however, appears to support the anti-Iranian theme of the deployment of the Peninsula Shield Force to Bahrain. The message is that even the Israelis are finding evidence of Iranian meddling.

De facto, Israel and Saudi Arabia appear to be working in parallel to stop an Iranian attempt to expand its influence by exploiting the Arab youth protest movement. Israel just sent the message that it is protecting Saudi Arabia's northern flank. King Abdallah and the Gulf states are not standing alone against Iranian subversion.  That is tonight's good news.

Egypt: The Egyptian Army will make the arrangements for a government transition if voters reject proposed constitutional changes in the upcoming referendum, head of the High Judicial Commission on the Referendum Mohammed Atteya said 15 March.

In such a scenario, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would have to issue a decree, which may be a constitutional declaration that would include fundamental principles of public rights and responsibilities, as well as the process by which the process would advance, Atteya said. Atteya noted the decree would not be a constitutional amendment, but rather a declaration to govern during the transitional period. International monitors have been invited to conduct the voting, Atteya added.

Comment: Egyptians are still waiting for a revolution. 

Egypt's Orthodox Church on March 15 rejected proposed constitutional amendments that will undergo a referendum 19 March, a source in the church said, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported. The church will not tell Copts how to vote in the referendum, the source added.

Libya: Rebel forces have retreated from the eastern Libyan city of Ajdabiya following an attack by forces loyal to Qadhafi, Reuters reported. Only one more major town lies between the advancing Qadhafi forces and Benghazi.

Libyan state television reported that Qadhafi's forces had taken complete control of the city. All rebel-held territories in Libya will be regained within days, Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaid stated on 15 March in Tripoli. The government believed there were up to 3,000 rebels from Benghazi fighting against state troops, he said.

After the Libyan army announced an imminent offensive on the city of Benghazi, shots were heard from anti-aircraft guns and heavy artillery in the city, Agence France-Presse reported. Rebels based in Benghazi announced they have appointed former Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes to head their armed forces, Reuters reported March 15, citing a rebel spokesman.

Comment: It looks too late.

France-UK-Libya: A Franco-British plan to impose a no-fly zone over Libya was overtaken by events and would no longer stop the advance of Qadhafi's forces, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on 15 March. Juppe told the French parliamentary foreign affairs committee that the plan was to conduct targeted strikes on Libyan airfields, not deploy hundreds of aircraft to patrol the skies. Qadhafi has fewer than "20 operational fighter planes and not many more helicopters," Juppe said, adding that France could at some point return to the plan.

Comment: Readers might wonder how the French who are close to Libya perceived a plan much more economical than other saw. The most powerful nations on earth with fourth generation fighters against Vietnam-era Libyan fighters looked …. rather timid against a fourth rate Libyan air force with 20 airworthy airframes. Professional airmen reported it was too risky, in NightWatch feedback.

The Libyan rebellion will collapse this week, unless the Qadhafi forces collapse first, by some miracle. Those rebels who do not escape will be tortured and executed. The UN and US will find this unacceptable.

End of NightWatch for 15 March.

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