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NightWatch 20110418

NightWatch

For the Night of 18 April 2011

Afghanistan: Two or three suicide bombers managed to penetrate the most secure areas of the Afghan Ministry of Defense to detonate and kill a Vice Minister of Defense. Unconfirmed reports list 12 people injured from the 18 April attack. The dead included at least one US advisor, a French diplomat and a French photographer.

Comment: The attack is significant because the room in which the detonation occurred is one of the most secure places in Afghanistan. The fact that suicide bombers were able to penetrate this secure area means they had inside assistance. That means that the security of the Ministry of Defense is compromised by sympathizers or agents of the Taliban or, more likely, the Haqqani forces. This is the third bombing in Kabul in three days.

Apparently no place is safe in Afghanistan, regardless of who is responsible for its security. This is the most serious attack in Kabul since the US intervention in 2001.

Iran: President Ahmadi-Nejad said on 18 April that countries in the region should be unified and that the safety and stability of the Middle East depends on cooperation between the nations and leaders of the region.

He spoke at the annual army day parade, where Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's top military adviser Yahya Rahim-Safavi said Saudi forces' presence in Bahrain is a violation of international law and a violation of the country's internal affairs. Rahim-Safavi said that Saudi Arabia could suffer the same fate and be attacked by another country under the same pretext.

Comment: Rahim-Safavi's comments are inaccurate on the law of nations and could be interpreted as a threat to Saudi Arabia, apparently from Iran. Tension is increasing.

Bahrain: Saudi and UAE troops will not leave Bahrain until the Iranian threat to Gulf Arab states ends, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said on 18 April. Al-Khalifa said the "external threat" was regional and arose from a misunderstanding between Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Bahraini Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa said on 18 April that his country experienced a coup attempt, and that the perpetrators would be held accountable.

The International Trade Union Confederation said about 2,000 workers had been fired for participation in protests, including 22 local trade union leaders. The trade union group said workers were being discriminated against for involvement in union activities. Professionals are being targeted as part of a campaign against the Shia, whether they had participated in the protests or not, a member of Al Wefaq and former lawmaker said.

Comment: Bahraini officials provided no clarification of the several statements summarized above, but they portend tighter security and tougher times for Shiites in Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabir on 18 April threatened unspecified measures if Tehran did not protect Saudi diplomats in Iran. He said his country had not considered the option of withdrawing the Saudi diplomatic mission from Iran, and he hoped matters would not reach that stage, adding that it is his country's right to protect its citizens.

Comment: The Saudis are interpreting a variety of recent developments in the Middle East as anti-Arab as well as anti-Sunni and blame Iran as the agent provocateur. In addition to the Arab spring uprisings, the more sinister and dangerous struggle is that between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Persians and their proxies.

The Bahrainis and Saudis have produced in public no evidence to support their allegations of Iranian meddling in the Arab world, but the strength of their warnings to Iran leave little doubt that the Arab leaders are convinced the Persians are meddling. The language of the public diplomacy indicates the Arabs, at least, are prepared for a violent confrontation at some point, though the location and timing are not yet apparent. The consequences for the world's energy supplies could be significantly negative.

Yemen: For the record. An agreement for power transfer in Yemen could be reached within two days following a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers on 19 April in Abu Dhabi, unnamed GCC officials said. The officials said that the agreement could be announced at the 20 April GCC meeting, which EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton will attend. The officials said that they are seeking to ensure immunity from trial for President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his family members after he steps down.

Comment: Last week the target date for Saleh to step down was 23 April. That appears to be within the envelope of this week's deliberations.

Syria: Syrian forces fired on a crowd of more than 5,000 anti-government protesters who took over the main square in Homs on 18 April. Protestors vowed to occupy the square until President Bashar al Asad is ousted.

The Interior Ministry said on 18 April that the protests, especially in the cities of Homs and Baniyas, are an armed insurrection by groups belonging to Salafist organizations. This statement came in reaction to the shooting deaths in Homs of Colonel Moin Mihla; Major Iyad Harfoush; Brigadier General Khodir al-Talawi, his two sons and his nephew in an opposition ambush on 17 April. The ambushers mutilated the bodies.

Comment: The shootings increase the likelihood that Homs will again be made an example of what happens to rebels.

Libya: Rebels will not sell more oil until production restarts in the battle-damaged, eastern Messla and Sarir fields, an oil official said on 18 April. Repairs will be completed in a matter of weeks, not months, an oil minister for the east said. According to the minister, the main challenge was to find parts to repair the damages to the fields, which rebels say were hit by pro-Qadhafi forces. A power-generation system, an oil tank and several diesel tanks that fuel the generators were damaged, the minister said.

Comment: Qadhafi's loyalists are attacking the economic underpinnings of the rebellion. As always, repair parts -- often ball bearings -- are the weak link in every economy.

End of NightWatch for 18 April.

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