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NightWatch 20121023

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NightWatch

For the night of 23 October 2012

Qatar-Gaza: The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, on Tuesday became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas won control of it through elections in June 2007. He crossed into Gaza from Egypt.

The Emir pledged $400 million to build two housing complexes, rehabilitate three main roads and create a prosthetic center, among other projects. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that the visit by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has helped lift the Israeli blockade.

Comment: One commentary accurately judged that this is the latest step in an ambitious campaign by Sheikh al-Thani to assert a larger leadership role in Arab affairs, challenging Saudi Arabia. This explains Qatar's prominent role in financing arms and other aid to Syrian opposition fighting groups and its role last year in sending fighter aircraft and hundreds of ground troops to support the Libyan opposition against Qadhafi.

The house of al-Thani has a much more progressive and tolerant vision for the future of the Arab states than does the house of al-Saud. Al Thani also is more willing to honor his promises of aid than are the Saudis.

In going to Gaza, al-Thani has stolen a leadership march on the Saudis, but also has worked in support of the larger Saudi policy of divesting Iran of all its Arab allies. Hamas is an Iranian proxy, but Qatari aid and the Emir's visit might help entice Hamas back into the Sunni Arab fold. The big problem is that most Arab promises of aid are never fulfilled. This time could be different

The terms of the Qatari aid have not been made public. Qatar has not been overtly hostile to Israel, but unconditional aid might strengthen Hamas' dedication to the destruction of Israel, even at the expense of the welfare of the Palestinians in Gaza.

The poor showing of Fatah in Palestinian municipal elections last week, despite a Hamas election boycott, might have been the catalyst for the Arab monarchies to intervene directly in Palestinian affairs. The implication of the local elections is that Hamas might win a national election in the West Bank as well as Gaza. That would potentially place pro-Iranian and hostile Arab political entities on three Israeli borders, not counting Egypt.

The Saudis and al-Thanis recognize the threat and appear to be trying to avoid or at least influence that development by giving Hamas an Arab alternative to the Persians.

Yemen: The military operations to drive militants affiliated with Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from territory they had seized has proven successful with US assistance. Madyan al-Maqbas, a commentator based in Aden, said, "After their sudden withdrawal from Abyan, it ended with no one victorious or defeated. They had suddenly come, they took over, then they fled to the hills, and they left behind sleeper cells. " Security officials and analysts report the Islamists have formed guerilla cells and remain a threat.

Comment: While AQAP is not destroyed, it is on the run. Degradation of a group capable of holding territory into guerrilla cells represents a significant devolution of an insurgency. The next step is devolution to a law-and-order police problem, vice an army problem. This is tonight's good news.

Syria: Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday issued a general 'amnesty' for crimes committed during the 19-month Syrian uprising - except for those carried out by the "terrorist" rebel opposition. The amnesty was designed as a show of good will on the part of the Syrian regime towards implementing an UN-brokered temporary ceasefire for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha that begins on Friday.

Comment: Despite Asad's gesture, prospects for a temporary ceasefire are small. Government forces remain strong enough to be magnanimous. Opposition forces cannot enforce a ceasefire because of their fragmentation. Acceptance of a government offer of ceasefire at this time would be an admission of weakness.

Lebanon-US: The State Department said today that the US believed it is time for the Lebanese people to choose a government that will counter the threat posed by the civil war in neighboring Syria, like Friday's bombing that killed an anti-Syrian intelligence official.

Comment: The US apparently is supporting President Suleiman's efforts to effect a change of government in the parliament, most likely by encouraging confessional groups to shift their current allegiances. The apparent object is to make Lebanon more sympathetic to the Syrian opposition and thus make it a potential safe haven and conduit for support. That cannot occur freely as long as Hezbollah dominates the Lebanese parliament.

This analysis shows the linkage between the governments in Syria and in Lebanon. Some American strategists seem to have concluded that the cabinet government in Lebanon must fall in order to create conditions that might lead to the fall of the government in Syria.

End of NightWatch for 23 October.

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