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NightWatch 20100802

NightWatch

For the Night of 2 August 2010

North Korea-South Korea: For the record. The Korean Central News Agency published an official statement in which the North Korean government threatened a physical response to South Korean anti-submarine warfare exercises in the Yellow Sea this week.

This looks like the same old North Korean bluster, except for the reference to a physical response. That language continues to suggest some kind of nuclear activity.

Indonesia-North Korea: Indonesia and North Korea are committed to enhance mutual benefit cooperation in various regional and international activities, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said on 2 August. The commitment was made during bilateral talks in Jakarta between Natalegawa and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun.

Natalegawa said Pak explained the progress of conditions on the Korean Peninsula. Indonesia sees that all parties must restrain themselves to avoid more tension, Natalegawa said.

Comment: Since the days of Indonesian president Sukarno, through the period of his overthrow in the early 1960s, Indonesia and North Korea have maintained cordial relations. Indonesia has sometimes served as a sounding board for developments in North Korea and a conduit for special messages from Pyongyang to Washington.

Less frequent have been visits by senior North Korean diplomats to Jakarta. Those visits have tended to coincide with new North Korean diplomatic initiatives to the US, via Indonesia, to reset talks and desperately seek aid.

Afghanistan - The Netherlands: BBC and other international media reported that the Netherlands military mission has ended its operations and is withdrawing. They transferred command of Oruzgan to the US and Australians on Sunday.

Last February, precisely in reaction to US pressure to extend the Netherlands mission in Afghanistan, the Netherlands government lost a vote of confidence in parliament and collapsed. The new government announced the end of Netherlands military involvement in Afghanistan; the termination this year of all operations and the withdrawal of all Dutch forces and equipment.

Four F16 jets, three Chinooks and five Apaches from the Royal Netherlands Air Force are expected to remain in Afghanistan until the end of the year, along with a withdrawal task force. The Dutch will take their hardware and kit with them.

Comment: Netherlands forces were among a handful of US allies -- NATO plus Australia and New Zealand -- that have rules of engagement that permit combat operations against the Taliban. The Dutch fought mostly in Oruzgan Province, in the Pashtun heart land in southern Afghanistan.

The Dutch contingent totals 1,950 soldiers. They lost 24 killed and 140 wounded in their four-year mission, fewer in numbers and percentage than any force engaged in offensive operations in the Pashtun heart land.

The significance of their departure is larger than the number of soldiers who will leave because the Dutch were authorized to engage in offensive combat. One US news commentator assessed that the Dutch are the first NATO national contingent to withdraw. More pertinent, is the fact that the Dutch represent the first foreign invasion force the Taliban have succeeded in out-waiting, not defeating, but out-waiting.

Their departure will serve as a validation of the Taliban long term strategy of outlasting the foreigners and a recruitment appeal: the Taliban will be around after the foreigners have left. A Taliban spokesman congratulated the Netherlands today.

The Dutch soldiers, maligned in European NATO circles for lax military discipline, performed extremely well under combat conditions in Afghanistan … far better than many other NATO contingents.

Azerbaijan - Russia: Unidentified sources in the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed Moscow's readiness to sell two divisions of the S-300 PMU-2 to Azerbaijan, News.az reported 2 August. According to the sources, Azerbaijani military students studying at the military academy of airspace defense in Tver are also studying the anti-missile S-300 system.

The sources said this deal is still under negotiation, but the government already reached a decision in principle. Plus, the chief of the Russian presidential administration Sergei Narishkin arrived in Azerbaijan to hold meetings with authorities in Baku in preparation for Russian President Medvedev's visit in September, when the deal might be announced.

Comment: It's a bit premature to draw firm implications about Russian intentions from this news item. Nevertheless and tentatively, this sale would suggest that the Russians - as President Medvedev stated last week - genuinely are concerned about the direction of Iranian weapons programs; are willing to provide protection against Iran for a price to neighboring states; and will not sell the S-300 to Iran. Most of the foregoing will be proven as events unfold.

Russia-Syria: Update. Russia's naval supply and maintenance site near Syria's Tartus port will be updated to accommodate heavy Russian warships after 2012, Russian navy chief Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said 2 August, RIA Novosti reported. Vysotsky said the updates will allow accommodations for guided-missile cruisers and aircraft carriers - Russian.

The significance of this report is that it is consistent with and updates earlier reports that the Russian Navy intends to return to the Mediterranean Sea.

Lebanon-Syria-Saudi Arabia: Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President al Asad visited Lebanon over the weekend and spoke with President Suleiman and Prime Minister Hariri with the purpose of preventing factional and sectarian rivalry from leading to more internal violence. "The leaders stressed the importance of stability... the commitment (of the Lebanese) not to resort to violence and the need to place the country's interests above all sectarian interests," said a statement issued by the Lebanese presidency after talks between the three leaders.

Comment: Lebanese politics do not lend themselves to easy analysis. One well-informed analyst announced that "Syria is back, "meaning Saudi Arabia has given Syria permission to rebuild its influence, drawing that conclusion from Bashar al Asad's visit in the company of the Saudi King.

Analysts at the BBC suggested the visit was an all-out push to prevent the outbreak of another war with Israel. Other analysis is that the purpose of this genuinely extraordinary visit was to prevent or prepare for civil strife in Lebanon.

The operating assumption of the UN tribunal investigating the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 has been that Syrian intelligence agents were responsible. This hypothesis resulted in the withdrawal of Syrian forces, increased US and French influence in Lebanon for a time, increased strain with Saudi Arabia, and an enormous increase in Iranian influence with Lebanese Hezbollah.

The most recent investigations indicate the Hezbollah agents were the assassins. That hypothesis is the basis for the new Syrian and Saudi overture to the Beirut government. The Hezbollah leader Nasrallah denies that Hezbollah had anything to do with the Hariri murder, has denounced the new tentative findings and threatened violence in the event they become final.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri's embrace of the Syrian President and the Saudi King indicates the evidence has persuaded him. Saad is the son of the assassinated prime minister. The Saudis are strong supporters of the Hariris.

The only actor that would benefit from discord in Lebanon among Arabs, whether Sunni or Shiites, is Iran. The UN tribunal findings potentially would vindicate the Syrians who have always denied culpability in the Hariri murder, and would establish them as credible actors. That thesis is reinforced by the presence of Saudi King Abdullah and by his message to the Beirut government, which apparently included admonishment to not provoke Israel, to avoid warfare and to restrain Hezbollah.

If there is no civil war in Lebanon and no Israeli attack into Lebanon this year, the Syrians and Saudis will have succeeded.

The footnote to the above is that President Bashar al Asad appears to have established personal rapport with King Abdullah. That, tentatively, is tonight's good news.

Israel: Update. Israeli authorities requested Egyptian counterparts to investigate the source of the rocket attack carried out against the southern city of Eilat on 2 August, Israel National News reported. The Israel Defense Force believes the attack was carried out from Sinai, but does not rule out other possibilities.

The Israelis are preparing a justification for more strikes, after the Egyptians fail to stop the rocket attacks.

Mexico-US: Update. The United States will reopen its consulate in Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua State on 3 August, a U.S. State Department spokesman said today. The consulate was closed last week for a security review. The findings of that review were not mentioned by the State Department spokesman.

El Diario reported that the reason for the closure was a cartel threatened a car bomb attack against the consulate. Some 4,000 people per week apply to this consulate for permission to enter the US or other services.

End of NightWatch for 2 August.

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