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NightWatch 20100531

NightWatch

For the Night of 31 May 2010

The Korea Confrontation

North Korea: the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland kept up the propaganda barrage of denunciations of the South Koreans, but made no new threats.

Russia: A team of Russian navy experts has arrived in Seoul to review the findings of the multinational investigation that concluded North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship on March 26, the Ministry of National Defense said Monday (31 May). A ministry's spokesman said the Russian delegation will inspect the wreckage of the Cheonan. Russian leaders said they will decide Russia's position on South Korea's plan to refer the North's action to the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) after completing their own examination.

China: Premier Wen refused to take sides in the confrontation over the sinking of the Cheonan, in press comments after the summit with Japan and South Korea this weekend. He repeated his earlier call for action to defuse the confrontation.

Comment: The behavior of the North remains inconsistent and contradictory. As this confrontation has grown, it has continued to try to limit economic damage, as if separate branches of government are not in communication, much less coordinating initiatives.

India: Update. The death toll from Friday's railroad sabotage and resulting train collision reached 145 on Sunday, according to Surojit Kar Purkayastha, a state inspector general of police. Thirteen cars from a high-speed passenger train derailed by a Maoist attack and then were hit by an oncoming cargo train in West Bengal state early Friday.

Afghanistan-NATO: The Afghan Taliban has proven stronger than NATO had previously believed, but international forces expect to make military and political progress in the country by the end of the year, according to NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Reuters reported 31 May. Fogh Rasmussen said the Taliban is stronger now than U.S. and NATO forces expected when operations against the group began in 2001.

Comment: The Secretary-General's statement is odd. The Taliban were beaten in 2001 by a smaller but technologically superior US force, with primarily Uzbek militia support. But they were not destroyed, which was a strategic blunder.

They made no secret of their determination to rebuild and wait out the Americans. Any resurgence after 2001 would signify a stronger Taliban than the rag tag, disorganized lot that fled to Quetta, Pakistan, in late 2001. For four years thereafter, there was little organized resistance and one of the main challenges for the US was disarming the northern tribal militias, not fighting Taliban.

Such comments do not help clarify the history or the status of the conflict.

Germany-Afghanistan: German President Horst Koehler has resigned after being criticized for linking Berlin's military deployments to defending Germany's economic interests, AP reported May 31. Koehler said he received intense criticism over a radio interview he gave after visiting German soldiers in Afghanistan, saying that military deployments could be necessary to defend Germany's interests, including free trade routes.

In a clarification on Monday, Koehler rejected claims that he favored German military missions to secure economic interests. He said he would stand down immediately.

Comment: Koehler's statements come to close to neo-colonialism. Thus, the Afghanistan fight has taken another senior victim in Germany. The chief of staff of the armed forces resigned last November over an air strike that killed nearly two dozen civilians in Konduz Province last September.

Israel-Turkey-Hamas: Four ships from the Gaza-bound flotilla that was raided on 31 May Israeli naval forces have arrived at the port of Ashdod, Israel, accompanied by Israeli warships, Al Jazeera reported.

According to Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli soldiers that intercepted the Gaza-bound aid flotilla acted in self-defense, and violence aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of the aid ships, was instigated by those aboard the ship, The Jerusalem Post reported 31 May. Ashkenazi said passengers aboard most of the ships were activists but the Mavi Marmara, the only ship on which violence took place, was sponsored by what he termed an "extremist organization" the Turkish non-governmental organization Insani Yardim Vakfi.

International Reaction: Every country in the world that pays attention to the Middle East or contains a mosque has condemned or denounced Israel. Pakistan has called for Muslim countries to act in concert in peaceful coercion of Israel.

Comment: NightWatch assesses that US diplomacy for a Middle East peace plan is the actual target of the Israeli naval action. Israel has just demonstrated that the US cannot control Israel, undermining any confidence Arab countries place in US promises relating to Israeli behavior. Israel refuses to be bound by US promises.

The timing of the Israeli action appears related to the unprecedented US position of supporting what Israeli leaders consider a hostile resolution in preparation for the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review, due in 2012. According to the analysis of The Jerusalem Post, the US was willing to sign the resolution in exchange for broad support for new sanctions against Iran. Ironically, today, Iran issued a statement supporting the resolution!

The Jerusalem Post published the following.

"The cost of the American compromise? A declaration that pressures Israel to sign the NPT and open its nuclear facilities to inspection; appoints a special UN envoy on nuclear weapons in the Middle East; and establishes an international conference, albeit one two years from now, and not next year as the Egyptians wanted."

"As if to soften the jab, American officials immediately retreated from their support for the resolution and appeared to soften their stance by setting conditions for the conference to take place. Indeed, the American statements raise the possibility that the conference may not happen at all."

"In a statement on Friday night, US National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said he had "serious reservations" about the 2012 conference, and said Middle East peace and compliance with nonproliferation obligations "are essential precursors" to a nuclear-free Middle East. He defended Israel, calling the resolution's failure to mention Iran "deplorable." (emphasis added.)

Something miscarried if Iran was not mentioned in a compromise resolution whose purpose is to build pressure on Iran. It looks like some negotiators, in their haste to throw Israel under the NPT bus, overlooked Iran.

NightWatch and a few news organizations reported that such was rumored to be the intention of the US administration in January 2010. It created a political storm in Israel then and seems to be a behind-the-scenes causal factor in the weekend's military action.

In the process, Israel's Navy once again challenged the Arabs and others: who will fight for the Palestinians, especially Hamas. The strength of the denunciations seems inversely proportionate to Muslim and Arab powerlessness in preventing and responding to Israeli actions. Pakistan, for example, is one of the loudest denouncers, but lacks the credentials to lead the Arabs.

Postscript: Turkey announced it would send armed escorts with any future aid sea convoys for Gaza.

End of NightWatch for 31 May.

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