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NightWatch 20121115

NightWatch

For the Night of 14 November 2012

China: Update. The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China concluded on 14 November after the Congress elected a new Central Committee and a new Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Comment: NightWatch will report at greater length as details warrant. The two most impressive themes that emerged from the early speeches were that corruption is a threat to the survival of the party and possibly the communist state itself and that the new leadership will have no latitude to compromise the communist political leadership. Political reform means measures to ease social tension and increase participation within the communist system. Put another way, free market economics with greater individual entrepreneurship will not lead to Western-style democracy or a multiparty system.

Jordan: For a second day, Jordanians hurled stones at riot police and chanted slogans against the King in most major cities of Jordan for a second day because of increased fuel prices, including gasoline and propane, as the result of Tuesday's announcement that the government must reduce the subsidy for these essentials. Propane is used for heating and cooking. One protestor was killed, 14 were injured and 35 protestors were arrested during the two day protests.

Government officials explained the subsidy reduction was critical and overdue because of Jordan's poor economic conditions, resulting in a $3 billion debt. Security sources claimed the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for the demonstrations. Most reporters and activists claimed these were flash demonstrations, totally spontaneous and not influenced by Islamists or political parties. A University of Jordan professor claimed, "This is the beginning of the Jordanian Spring."

Comment: Changes to the subsidies for and availability of heating and cooking fuel are two of the four most common sparks for internal upheavals that lead to government overthrows. International lenders, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, almost always advise governments to cut subsidies as part of the recommended package of measures to get control of national finances. Thus governments can become the agents of their own instability.

Despite its best efforts to minimize public protests, including a compensation package of annual payments for poor families, the Jordanian government's action appears to have started a process that threatens fundamental political change. Economic issues, such as rising fuel prices, were the initial causes of protests in all the so-called Arab Spring countries.

Unions and professional groups, such as teachers, were important participants in the early days of the Arab Spring uprisings. Teachers went on strike in Jordan and unions are calling for a two-hour nationwide strike on Sunday. Nevertheless, activists and Islamists eventually hijacked the movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya and have emerged as leaders in much of the Syrian opposition.

The claim of spontaneity and political purity is irrelevant in light of how events evolved in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria. The Brotherhood protested in public and pictures of the King were defaced or burned.

NightWatch has been expecting and has predicted that Islamists would target the Arab monarchies in the coming year. That process appears to have begun early. NightWatch does not accept for the purposes of warning that the protests were spontaneous. Cuts in subsidies have been discussed in Jordan or tested since at least September, when protests also occurred that forced the government to rescind the changes. The Government and its opposition have been ready for this move for months.

The government is not in immediate danger, but the demonstrations will recur. Once Arab Spring-style demonstrations begin, the outcome of that process is now well established. Three of the strongest Arab governments proved unable to stop it.

Israel-Hamas: After several weeks of rising tension and steadily increasing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, Israeli combat aircraft struck back today in a fairly complex air operation to take out leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian fighting groups operating in Gaza and to destroy rocket sites, according to multiple Israeli press services. The Defense Forces released video of the precision air attack that killed Ahmed al-Jabari, a leader of Hamas' military wing, and his son in their vehicle.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israel Defense Forces air attacks hit over 20 underground long-range rocket sites in Gaza that belong to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Some of the leadership decapitation air attacks missed the targets. An IDF spokesman said that Gaza is a "forward Iranian base" and that there are columns of smoke visible around Gaza.

Some 50 rockets were fired into Israel, including at Beersheba, Ashdod, Eshkol Regional Council, Ashkelon Coast Regional Council and Shaar Hanegev Regional Council. The rockets reached as far as Dimona. Hamas leaders vowed revenge, announced a state of emergency in Gaza and evacuated its security buildings.

Israel prepares for escalation. The Israeli cabinet gave preliminary authorization to mobilize military reserves if necessary for an air assault against the Gaza Strip, according to a statement from Prime Minister Netanyahu's office. Israel Defense Forces sent an Order 8, or full mobilization order, to soldiers of the Home Front Command. They also reportedly decided to move some divisions south for a possible ground offensive in Gaza. The Foreign Ministry initiated emergency mode and announced that the situation room will be manned at all times.

Comment: Israel once again is applying its doctrine of asymmetrical retaliation against the rocket attacks, responding with overwhelming force and a video release intended to show that Hamas leaders are never safe. Having lost the lobbying campaign to enlist US support for and participation in an attack against Iranian nuclear facilities, Israel struck at Iran through its proxy, Hamas. That appears to be the significance of the IDF spokesman's remark about Iran. If Hezbollah provokes Israel to support Hamas, IDF attacks into southern Lebanon may be expected.

IDF ground incursions into Gaza have done lots of damage, but have had mixed results and no lasting effects. The government has taken some preliminary steps that enable a ground operation but it is not yet committed to it, except conditionally. Actual mobilization of reservists and movement of ground force divisions towards Gaza entail enormous political and economic costs and take time, up to a week. They will be the best indicators that the decision to undertake a substantial ground operation has been made. Thus, further escalation can be avoided, but probably not this week.

There are multiple layers of strategic maneuvering associated with this Israeli action, including implications for US policy, for Egypt which recalled its ambassador on the 14th, and for the Syrian crisis. Details are still emerging on those issues and they will be analyzed as they become clearer.

Europe: Workers in several, mostly southern European countries staged protests against increased unemployment and government austerity measures. One news service reported strikes or demonstrations in 22 countries. The worst were in Spain

Spain's General Workers' Union said a nationwide work stoppage -- the second this year -- was being observed by nearly all workers in the automobile, energy, shipbuilding and constructions industries. The Spanish strike shut down most schools and while hospitals operated with a skeleton staff. Health and education have both suffered serious spending cutbacks and increased moves toward privatization.

In Portugal, the second general strike in eight months stranded commuters because of the railroad workers' strike. The Lisbon subway shut down. Some 200 flights to and from Portugal - about half the daily average - were canceled. Hospitals provided only minimum services in Portugal, and municipal trash was left uncollected overnight.

In Belgium, a 24-hour rail stoppage and scattered strikes through the south of the nation disrupted daily life. Both the Thalys and Eurostar high-speed rail services that connect Brussels with London and Paris were disrupted.

In Italy, thousands protested in Rome, Milan, Naples and nearly two dozen other cities. Police clashed with protestors, but injuries were limited.

Comment: The occurrence of widespread civil disorder in the middle of the work week is strong indicator or coordination and of unrest that could lead to sustained internal instability. One European economist pointed out that the demonstrations are enormously expensive to the unions and to the national economies and worsen debt problems.

Heretofore, most demonstrations took place on weekends, except in Greece. None were coordinated across international boundaries.

End of NightWatch for 14 November.

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