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NightWatch 20140818

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For the night of 18 August 2014

Philippines-China: The Philippines will file a new diplomatic protest with China that complains about frequent patrols by Chinese ships in areas of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday. The department's spokesman said the 'pattern of illegitimate sovereignty patrols' in the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone were part of China's efforts to change the status quo in the South China Sea in violation of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and a 2002 regional accord that called for an end to tension-producing actions in the disputed waters."

Comment: Two Chinese hydrographic ships are patrolling in the Reed Bank, northwest of Palawan Island. This is one of the areas for which the Philippines granted permission to a British company to explore for oil and gas. The Chinese called that action illegal and invalid.

The Chinese patrols enforce China's claim to sovereignty. The Philippines can't match China in a sea confrontation, so the diplomatic protests are a means of ensuring that the Chinese leaders know the Philippines has not abandoned its claims.

India-Pakistan: Today, India cancelled peace talks with Pakistan that were scheduled for 25 August. The reason for the cancellation was that Pakistan's High Commissioner in New Delhi held a meeting on Monday with Kashmiri separatists before meeting with the Indians and in defiance of an Indian warning.

Comment: This is the second snub over Kashmir that India has delivered to Pakistan in a week. Internal politics in both countries are driving what seems like a hardening of relations. Sharif cannot afford to appear weak on India when protestors are camped out in Islamabad, calling for his resignation, and when the Pakistan Army is rumored to be plotting a government takeover.

Indian Prime Minister Modi also has pressure from hard-line Hindu nationalists who want a tougher position on Pakistan. The time is not ripe for innovations in foreign relations in either country.

Pakistan: Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan's party announced Monday that its members of parliament in the federal and three provincial legislatures will resign their parliamentary seats over allegations of voter fraud in last year's elections.

Former cricket star Imran Khan claims last year's general election, in which his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party came third, was rigged and has demanded Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign and hold new polls.

The announcement pre-empted a government initiative to hold formal talks with Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who is leading a parallel protest, also calling for new elections.

A huge protest march on Sunday closed Islamabad. The protestors have set up a tent camp, which they have vowed not to leave until Sharif resigns.

Comment: The PTI members of parliament will not resign in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province because they are the majority party and control the government. The PTI polled its best ever performance in last year's election, which Sharif won in a landslide victory and which was judged free and fair by international observers. PTI won 27 seats and was awarded seven more through Pakistan's quota system for women and religious minorities.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will not resign. Moreover, most politicians and analyst judge that Imran Khan's protest was a one-time show that already has fizzled.

The danger in the situation is that the Pakistan Army leadership is reported to be increasingly impatient with the civilian government and is rumored to be waiting for an opportunity to remove it.

Iraq: In response to US air attacks, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) threatened the US. ISIL warned the United States it will attack Americans "in any place" if the raids hit its militants.

An ISIL video, which shows a photograph of an American who was beheaded during the American occupation of Iraq, featured a statement which said in English "we will drown all of you in blood."

           Comment: ISIL's threat is particularly serious for American travelers and overseas workers for several reasons. Most important is that Americans may be found everywhere and tend to be unmindful of how vulnerable they are until it is too late to be safe. Second, ISIL is a magnet for Islamic youths all over the world. The Islamic Caliphate has captured the imagination of young people looking for a cause to support. The Mexican and Canadian borders are vulnerable to infiltration by jihadis.

Finally, ISIL's propensity to kill its enemies is now infamous. ISIL's executions are quick and essentially are unstoppable except by counter-violence. If ISIL so commands, its fighters will kill Americans anywhere. ISIL is not deterred by the loss of its own fighters.

Israel: Israel and the Palestinians agreed to extend the ceasefire by 24 hours to cover continuing negotiations in Cairo. A Fatah spokesman warned on the morning of the 19th that no long-term ceasefire has been reached. He blamed Israel for the delay.

           Comment: Day Five of the ceasefire passed without an exchange of fire.

Hamas coup plot uncovered. Shin Bet announced on 18 August that it has arrested 93 members of a Hamas coup-plotting cell in the West Bank. Shin Bet also captured dozens of weapons and ammunition.

The plot was conceived and organized from Hamas's overseas wing's headquarters in Turkey. It featured long term infiltration of Palestinian students and had support from cells in Jordan. It goal was to overthrow the Palestinian Authority government in a violent coup after having destabilized the West Bank by means of a mass murder terrorist attacks.

Shin Bet said it caught the plot in its early stages, but some of the attacks were to have begun during Operation Protective Edge to open a second front in support the Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Authority President Abbas has ordered an investigation of Hamas in response to the Israeli revelations.

Comment: Israeli press reported that the Shin Bet investigation began in May. The timing of today's briefing to the press, thus, seems calculated to reinforce Prime Minister Netanyahu's strong-man image and to counter pressure from the Left for a more conciliatory approach to the Palestinians. Nevertheless, the images of captured weaponry indicate the plot was genuine and at least half complete, assuming they are not fabricated.

What is worrisome is that Hamas has significant support in the West Bank. In a fair election, it probably would win control of the government there. Once a third intifada started, it almost certainly would receive significant support in the West Bank, where Palestinians already have staged violent protests of Israeli Operation Protective Edge.

The Israeli governments are masters at shaping their public image, so it is difficult to judge the credibility of all the details and the gravity and imminence of the threat. Nevertheless, Hamas governments in the West Bank and in Gaza would compound Israel's security problems.

Central African Republic: In a series of raids last week, Muslim rebels attacked several villages and killed 34 people in northern Central African Republic. They hanged, tortured, beat to death and shot their victims. According to witnesses, the rebels said they intended to cleanse eight villages before the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission in mid-September.

           Comment: French and African Union soldiers have protected the capital, Bangui, but have made no serious inroads in stopping the killings by Muslim and Christian militias.

Mali: Terrorists killed two UN peacekeepers and wounded seven in a suicide bombing attack in Ber, in northern Mali. The UN condemned the attack.

            Comment: This was the third attack in a week. Terrorists killed three UN peacekeepers in two separate incidents last week, according to the UN. The UN mission has about 9,300 soldiers and police from many African countries and about 700 civilian professionals. Its authorized strength is 12,640 soldiers and policemen.

The UN mission appears to have stabilized the security situation in general, but the bombings are reminders that the Islamic terrorists and militants remain a threat to local security.

End of NightWatch for 18 August.

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