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NightWatch 20110318

NightWatch

For the Night of 17 March 2011

South Korea-North Korea: The South Korean government rejected North Korea's offer to resume nuclear disarmament talks as well as an offer to discuss its uranium-enrichment program. South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan said the offer for talks is unsatisfactory because the North Korean government has not shown a commitment to disarmament through its actions instead of its words.

North Korea also offered to cooperate with South Korea in coordinating responses to natural disasters and volcanic eruptions. The South agreed in principle to cooperate in natural disaster responses, but was less willing to cooperate in volcano eruption responses because the active volcanoes are all in North Korea.

Comment: The South's rejection of the North's offer looks unreasonable at first glance. However, the North wants talks without conditions. That means it wants a fresh start that ignores last year's attacks against South Korea and the North's failure to stop uranium reprocessing at its new facility at Yongbyon.

Many competent observers have described this diplomatic tactic in terms of pocketing the past and asking for more. The North wants to reset the relationship without accounting for its sinking of a South Korean patrol ship and shelling of a South Korean island. This is an old North Korean diplomatic trick, a fool's errand.

Until North Korea apologizes, there should be no progress in talks. The chances of progress actually are better if South Korea holds firmly to its position because North Korea will apologize, if it is desperate enough, which seems to be the case. It has apologized in the past.

Pakistan-US:  At least 40 people were killed and 15 others wounded by a US drone attack in North Waziristan tribal region on Thursday. This misguided attack has evoked some of the strongest denunciations of drone attacks by the highest officials in Pakistan. This is a new source of strain in US relations.

Bahrain: King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, with the chief of the defense forces, toured the financial centers in the Saif area on 17 March. King Hamad praised the security forces and the Interior Ministry and stressed that trade and economic activity will return to normal.

The King told visiting UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah that Bahrain is doing all it can to restore security and stability. He said ensuring stability would be the beginning for a national dialogue.

Comment: This was a victory lap for the King, following the arrival of the Peninsula Shield Force and the assault on the protestors on the16th. It is premature and the next round of instability is recycling.

Arrests. Several Bahraini opposition leaders supposedly with intelligence contacts in foreign countries were arrested 17 March, the General Command of the Bahrain Defense Force said. The arrestees included Shiite leaders Hassan Mushaimaa and Abdul Jalil al-Sangaece, who were taken into custody by security forces early on 17 March.

Others detained include the head of the opposition Wafa movement, Abdul Wahab Hussein, and Shiite activist Hassan Hadad as well as Sunni opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif, head of the Waad Society.

Comment: The Bahrain monarchy acted on the 17th as if it had won the struggle against insurrection because Sunni Arab armed forces cleared the financial district. One of the Shiite political leaders arrested included  Hassan Musharimaa. He was arrested just a week after the monarchy agreed to permit his return from London.

The Saudi version of events -- the Saudi narrative -- is that Iranian agents and proxies (Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Lebanese Hezbollah operatives) have been responsible for the Shiite protests, having been infiltrated from Iran.

The Saudi narrative apparently has driven the decisions of all the Gulf Cooperation Council members. This version of events implies that Saudi Arabia working with the house of al-Khalifa has blocked an Iranian-backed coup attempt to topple the Bahrain monarchy.

Now the Arab intelligence agencies are inwardly focused. They tend to be terrible about anything but internal security threats. As to internal threats, the Arab services are key pillars of the Arab dictators and monarchs.

So… how come no Iranian agents have been captured and brought to trial in Bahrain? The Saudi version of events would be more credible if there were evidence of Iranian meddling that outsiders could examine.

Saudi Arabia: On 18 March after Friday prayers, King Abdullah is expected to announce a government reshuffle, an anti-corruption campaign and a commitment to increase food subsidies to fight rising price. He is expected to replace the ministers of defense, higher education and religious affairs will be replaced, they said.

Comment: Various news services reported small Shiite protests in Eastern Province on 17 March. The Shiites in small numbers persist in defying Saudi orders banning protests.

Libya: Rebel leaders said they recaptured the western and eastern entrances to Ajdabiya and were continuing to fight government forces about 71 kilometers (44 miles) south of the city.

Government forces claimed to have the city under a tight siege and are firing on anyone who approaches exit checkpoints, according to residents. The Qadhafi government invited Associated Press (AP) reporters to witness pro-Qadhafi troops' progress against the rebels in Ajdabiya. AP reported there were hundreds of government troops as well as tanks and artillery outside the city's western gates. Ammunition and equipment reportedly were arriving in trucks.

Comment: The salient data point in the above account is the reference to the resupply trucks. Yesterday, on the 16th, Qadhafi's forces appeared to have the initiative but obviously the offensive stalled.

Logistics problems for Qadhafi's forces appear to have given the rebels a longer lease on life and resulted in a siege of Ajdabiya rather than its capture. The attacks on Ajdabiya and Misrata apparently stalled because the forces outran their supply lines.

The Rebels.

Rebel forces deployed tanks, artillery and a helicopter to defend Ajdabiya from an attack by forces loyal to Qadhafi, BBC reported 17 March.

Rebels in the northwestern city of Misrata said government forces held back and did not assault the town again. Qadhafi's forces fired artillery and tank rounds into the city but also failed to capture it.

Comment: Qadhafi's forces appear to have gone as far as their logistics will permit. The rebels appear to have found or developed some capabilities in Ajdabiya and in Misrata that match those of Qadhafi's mercenaries and militias -- tanks, artillery and an airworthy helicopter. That is a comment on the quality of forces engaged.

If Qadhafi's forces are shrinking from fighting comparably armed forces, that reinforces the hypothesis that foreign mercenaries form the backbone of Qadhafi's counter-attacking forces.

Propaganda.

Libya's General Defense Committee announced that military operations against rebel forces will end 19 March at midnight local time. The committee reportedly took the decision to allow rebels to surrender under the terms of amnesty promised by Qadhafi in a radio address. He said his regime would not abandon the country.

He also said his forces would be coming to Benghazi on 18 March. The people of Benghazi should prepare tonight and "take the weapons of whoever lays them down," he said. There will be no mercy for the rebels, he added

The Libyan General Interim Defense Committee said it will retaliate against any foreign military operations against Libya. The committee said all maritime and air navigation in the Mediterranean Sea would be exposed to danger, both short- and long-term, and all civilian and military activities will be the target of Libyan counterattacks.

UN Resolution: French Prime Minister Fillon said if the resolution was approved, France would support military action against Qadhafi within hours. The U.S. said it was preparing for action.

Earlier this week Italy announced its military bases would be available to enforce a UN Security Council resolution imposing a no-fly zone on Libya, but would not commit aircraft.

The United Arab Emirates and Qatar "may be" among those participating in a no-fly zone over Libya, said Yahya Mahmassani, the Arab League's envoy to the United Nations, al Jazeera reported.

He said that imposing a no-fly zone over Libya would not be sufficient to stop Qadhafi's forces.

Egypt announced it would not be involved in any military intervention in Libya.

Comment: If an airstrike can ground Libyan fighters and helicopters, then the handful of combat aircraft and helicopters the Benghazi Council can operate would rule the air and could threaten hostile supply lines. Rapid execution of a no-fly zone can make an enormous difference in the fight, even at this late date, if the rebels are left as the only force with air power.

France appears the most ready and determined to stop Qadhafi's air force.

End of NightWatch for 17 March.

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