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NightWatch 20110817

NightWatch

For the Night of 17 August 2011

North Korea-US/South Korea: North Korean state media published and broadcast the official foreign ministry denunciation of the allied exercise Ulji Freedom Guardian that began yesterday. The most annoying aspect of the exercise evidently is stated in the following excerpt from the foreign ministry statement.

"Particularly, it is a very alarming move for the United States to have a so-called special action unit with the task of searching and destroying our nuclear weapons, participate in these joint military exercises."

"The prevailing situation shows that the United States is aiming only at an opportunity to usurp our nuclear deterrence in a brigandish manner, and not at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula through dialogue and negotiations."

Comment: The prospect that US special forces might hunt and seize North Korean nuclear weapons appears to have spooked North Korea. The killing of bin Laden probably reinforced their sense of unease. This statement appears to be the first denouncing a special action unit with such a mission. The statement does not convey a reassurance message that US special forces cannot succeed, which would seem to be required under the circumstances.

Philippines-China: Department of Energy Undersecretary Jay Layug said that since China wants to conduct oil exploration in the disputed Spratlys Islands, the Philippines should allow all foreign entities to explore for oil in the islands as well. Layug said the Philippine government would take a 60-40 percent split of all energy royalties regardless of whether it paid for the exploration. A Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the Philippine government has no plans to sever its ties with China.

Comment: The statement is risible because would-be oil explorers require more security than the Philippines can provide at any favorable split of royalties. Sixty-forty is hardly enough to risk Chinese opposition. China is the one power that can provide security, at least until Vietnam builds its capabilities with Indian help. At that point, no company will explore because of the increased risk.

Turkey-Syria: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey does not want any foreign intervention in Syria, but restated the official position that Syrian military operations against civilians were not acceptable.

"We do not want any intervention in Syria from outside the country but at the same time we cannot accept operations conducted against civilians the way they continued in this holy month of Ramadan. And we are determined to take every necessary measure to make sure that operations stop ... This is for us an issue that closely concerns our own stability," Davutoglu told reporters Tuesday in a fast breaking dinner in Ankara.\

Comment: The Turks got out in front of their own best interests last week. The statement signifies backtracking from the ultimatum issued earlier this week.

Syria: During this Watch, news services reported that Syrian President al-Asad told the UN Secretary General on 17 August that all military and police suppression operations against protestors had ceased. More to follow.

Lebanon: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) Pre-Trial Judge (the investigating magistrate in a Code Civile system) Daniel Fransen ordered that his decision confirming the court's indictment for the 2005 assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, as well as the indictment itself, be made public. "In his decision confirming the indictment, Fransen found that the Prosecution has presented sufficient evidence on a prima facie basis to proceed to trial," the STL said in a statement released on Wednesday.

The 47-page indictment states that Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's slaying in 2005 was the result of a plot by the Shiite militia - Hezbollah. The indictment details a complicated three-month plot by at least 11 conspirators to trail Hariri for months, establish his travel patterns and then dispatch a suicide bomber with a van full of explosives to kill him.

The investigating magistrate's decision is the key finding that permits the indictment to proceed to trial. It is a finding of the sufficiency of the evidence for there to exist a question of fact for trial. "This does not imply that the individuals are guilty, but merely establishes that there is enough material 9evid3enc) for them to be tried. The Prosecution will have to prove at trial that the accused are guilty 'beyond reasonable doubt,'" the statement added.

Comment: Hezbollah leadership already has denounced the decision as an Israeli-inspired fabrication. The four named Hezbollah suspects are unlikely to face punishment, despite their notoriety as terrorists.  Nevertheless, the indictment and findings will degrade Hezbollah's multi-year effort to remake its public image as a responsible actor in Lebanese politics and government. A trial could precipitate street demonstrations.

Gaza: Hamas militiamen abducted yesterday a group of youths who staged a rally in solidarity with the Syrian people. Eyewitnesses said Hamas security personnel were present at the Unknown Soldier Square and abducted at least 10 youths.

Some of the abductees also reportedly said that they were beaten and humiliated and improper words were used against them after they had been detained at "security" centers for several hours. Hamas authorities banned the rally for which youth groups have called to express solidarity with the Syrian people and denounce the attack on the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.

Comment: The Syrian al Asad government is a critical link in Hamas' supply chain from Iran as well as a key supporter of Hamas. Hamas' leaders appear keenly aware of where their best interests lie. Their actions show that Hamas has no tolerance for cell-phone, flash mob activists who are out of touch with the strategic situation, as Hamas interprets it.

Libya: Update. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Qadhafi abandoned Tiji and Badr, west of Zawiyah, and retreated to Jameel and Zuwarah near the Tunisian border, a rebel spokesman said on 17 August. Qadhafi's forces were surrounded from all sides, the spokesman said via telephone from Zentan. Rebel forces now have entered Tiji and Badr.

In Zawiyah, Qadhafi's forces retained control of an oil refinery, where they have stationed snipers, according to the spokesman. He added that the rebels would launch an operation to take the refinery soon.

Comment: The western rebels appear to be getting closer to threatening Tripoli with little help from the Benghazi-based regime and fighters. The rebel political situation promises to get even uglier.

End of NightWatch for 17 August.

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