For the night of 31 January 2013
Syria: Reaction to the Israeli air attack. Syria's ambassador to Lebanon said that Syria had "the option and the capacity to surprise in retaliation," for the Israeli air attack on 30 January. Syria also sent a letter to the UN asserting its right of self-defense.
The Iranian deputy foreign minister warned that the attack would have "grave consequences for Tel Aviv."
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the strike "blatantly violates the United Nations Charter and is unacceptable and unjustified, whatever its motives."
Lebanon's Foreign Ministry also condemned the attack.
Comment: In normal times, Syria would have multiple methods of retaliating, but it has limited capability to do so now. Retaliation can come at any time, but immediate retaliation is unlikely because Israel is on alert. Syria can also retaliate through proxies, such as Hezbollah or Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
It does have enough capability to try to bait Israel into executing more attacks or, more likely, to cooperate with Israel in a sham border crisis.
If that were to happen, it would mean that Israel had decided to support the Asad government by providing him a reason to rally the nation against the external threat.
Some of the Syrian opposition leaders recognize that because they also denounced the Israeli attack.
Target update. A US news outlet, quoting an unidentified US official, reported that the SA-17s were in a convoy at the Jamraya research center, preparing to depart. Another source said the Israeli Air Force used a dozen aircraft in the attack.
Egypt: Egypt's top cleric, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, convened a gathering of rival political and religious factions on 31 January to talk about the country's political crisis. Liberal opposition leaders, Islamists, youth groups, Christian church members and independents attended.
Former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei also attended, as did former Arab League chief Amr Mussa and Saad al-Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.
They agreed to renounce violence.
Comment: Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayyib is the grand imam of al-Azhar mosque, the oldest and most important mosque in Cairo.
News services reported no major protests or clashes today. The secular opposition intends to hold a peaceful protest march in Cairo on 1 February.
Many news commentaries attribute today's meeting as a reaction to the Army chief's Facebook posting yesterday. The cause and effect link seems hard to credit because it was a Facebook posting, instead of a broadcast to the nation. Nevertheless the Army strongly supports restoration of order.
The influence of al Azhar mosque is enough to convene political leaders. A key question is whether these political leaders have any influence over the large numbers of unemployed people in the large cities, who swell the ranks of any demonstration. Expect more trouble.
Mali: The French air force bombed Islamist targets north of Kidal, the last Islamist militant stronghold in the country. A force of 1,500 Chadians is heading from Niger to Kidal to take over peacekeeping responsibilities, instead of Malian soldiers.
Malian President Dioncounda Traore on 31 January ruled out talks with Islamist groups in the north, but said he is prepared to meet with Touareg activists from the region, including representatives of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.
Comment: News about the operation is sketchy, but it appears to be entering a consolidation phase. The Chadians are experienced and should be effective in preventing incursions from the east, provided they are reliably supplied.
It is still unclear where the Islamist fighters went, but the best judgment is that the foreigners returned to Algeria or Libya. Algeria reportedly tightened border security, but no information service has reported clashes between Algerian security forces and fleeing Islamists or even sightings of them. The Algerians might have missed an opportunity to smash their old enemies who formed al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Libya is the new base for al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Mali was an expansion effort that failed, thanks to the French. .
End of NightWatch for 31 January.
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