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NightWatch 20140812

NightWatch

For the Night of 12 August 2014

China-Southeast Asia: The meeting in Burma of the ASEAN Regional Forum last week to discuss sovereignty issues in the South China Sea ended without progress. Although the US delegation said it succeeded in conveying its points to China, the Chinese ignored the US position to restate theirs - that the waters and land areas of the South and East China Seas belong to China.

A Philippine proposal sought to give the United Nations jurisdiction over disputes. The Chinese rejected the proposal, asserting there is no dispute, so there is no basis for UN meddling.

US and Australian delegations said the US and Australia would monitor China's activities.

Comment: The stated purpose of the meeting was to craft an arrangement to reduce tension and the risk of confrontation and to agree to not undertake actions to raise tension.

The UN is always the last resort of weak states to try to hobble more powerful states. The US sided with the weak states against China. The Chinese will remember this.

India-Pakistan: On his second trip in two months to Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today visited Kargil, where a massive crowd turned up to hear him speak.

Addressing soldiers at his first stop, Leh, Modi said Pakistan "has lost the strength to fight a conventional war, but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism."

Comment: Today's trip is a minor landmark. It is Modi's second visit to Jammu and Kashmir State since May when he was elected. Indian Prime Ministers rarely visit this state, which remains one of the poorest in India.

Modi made his remarks in Kargil, the scene of the fourth India-Pakistan war in 1999. He is the first Prime Minister to visit the region since the war. Finally, his speech is his first attack against Pakistan, which supports Kashmiri insurgents who are based in Pakistani Kashmir.

His comments seem deliberately calculated to provoke the Pakistan Army, which prides itself on its conventional military power. Modi, however, is correct, though his statement is hardly news. Pakistan can begin a conventional war with India, but could not sustain it without resorting to nuclear weapons. That condition has existed since 2002.

It uses a variety of terrorist groups as force multipliers against India and other enemies. The leadership of the Afghan Taliban has resided in Quetta or Karachi since 2001 with no apparent restrictions.

Modi appears to be campaigning to expand his party's support in the State. He will inaugurate two power plants and promised more electricity, development and tourism for the State.

Iraq: Update. Several news outlets reported that Prime Minister al-Maliki gave hints of leaving office today, when he called on the Iraq Army to stay out of politics. They also reported that Baghdad seemed less tense, after news spread of Iran's support for Haidar al-Abadi.

Comment: Al Maliki has not announced his resignation, despite the pressure.

Political Reaction.

Iran: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei signaled his backing of Abadi through his national security representative, who told Iranian state media that Iran supported the process that Iraq's parliament used to choose Abadi as its leader.

Saudi Arabia. King Abdallah called on "God Almighty to grant you success ... in restoring cohesion" among the Iraqi people and "preserving Iraq's unity and achieving its security, stability and development." Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal welcomed Maliki's departure. Asked if it was a prerequisite for stability and security in Iraq, he replied: "It's the only good news I heard lately."

Military. U.S. forces launched another airstrike against an Islamic State mortar position that reportedly was firing on Kurdish forces protecting Yazidi families who had fled militants in Iraq's Sinjar province. It was the 14th airstrike in northern Iraq reported by U.S. Central Command in the past five days.

Comment: On Monday a US defense spokesman said US air forces have been flying about 100 sorties per day, including air refueling and reconnaissance missions. This level of effort to destroy mortar positions will not save the Yazidis and the Kurds.

Lebanon: Update. Army commander General Jean Kahwagi assured families of missing soldiers, who were abducted by Syrian militants during the battle for Arsal, that the military command would spare no effort to secure their quick release, an Army statement said.

At least 60 militants were killed, in addition to 19 troops and at least 15 civilians in five days of clashes triggered by the arrest of a Syrian militant, Imad Ahmad Jomaa, on 2 August. Over 20 security personnel, including 10 troops, are believed to have been taken captive.

Comment: The Syrian militants captured Arsal on 2 August, raised flags, fought the Lebanon Army, and withdrew on 7 August. On 9 August the Lebanese Army entered Arsal. On 12 August the Army commander repeated his promise to recover the captive security personnel. Kahwagi said that there would be no bargaining with the militants, but the Lebanese way is to bargain. Muslim clerics were instrumental in the timing and circumstances of the withdrawal of the Syrian militants. If the captives return to Lebanon, it will be through bargaining, rather than military action.

Lebanon is an easy target that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) can conquer quickly, if it can defeat the Syrians.

Israel-Gaza Strip: The ceasefire ends on 13 August. The Egyptian mediators are trying to arrange its extension. Hamas, however, has indicated its delegation will depart Cairo on the 13th because Israel refuses to build a seaport or permit an airport to be opened unconditionally. Israel is willing to help rebuild, to permit more trucks to enter Gaza and allow funds transfers from the Palestinian Authority to enable Hamas to pay salaries. Israel will not discuss the seaport and airport - which is de facto lifting the blockade - unless Hamas agrees to disarm. Hamas refuses.

A senior Hamas official described the talks as difficult and said this is the second and final ceasefire. A senior Hamas official also told the Palestinian delegation to make no concession and told Gazans to prepare for a long war with Israel.

Comment: Unless the Hamas officials are bluffing, Hamas will fire more rockets upon expiration of the ceasefire on Wednesday.

Hamas' armed wing the al-Qassam Brigades claim they have Israeli prisoners and that the highest priority for Israel at the Cairo negotiations was their release.

Comment: No other source has reported this information. No sources reporting on the Cairo negotiations have mentioned release of captives as an Israeli demand. Open source information suggests this is a ruse.

End of NightWatch for 12 August.

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