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NightWatch 20120118

NightWatch

For the night of 18 January 2012

India-Iran: The Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said that India would not cooperate with unilateral US sanctions against Iran and its central bank.

"We have accepted sanctions which are made by the United Nations. Other sanctions do not apply to individual countries. We can't accept that," said Mathai, adding that India had not sought any waiver from US sanctions.

Mathai said that an Indian ministerial delegation is visiting Iran to work out a mechanism for uninterrupted purchase of oil from Iran and to come up with a financing arrangement. "We continue to buy oil from Iran and a number of EU countries too continue to do the same," added Mathai.

He also said that India will not seek a waiver from the US sanctions. India never seeks US permission to do what India intends to do.

Comment: The US sanctions are generally not being accepted by countries that rely on Iranian oil. A recent decrease in Chinese and South Korean imports of Iranian oil is assessed as the result of decreased demand because of the poor global economy. Japan, South Korea and Turkey intend to seek waivers. Greece said that it relies on Iranian oil for 30% of its supplies. A reduction would risk the collapse of the Greek economy.

The bottom line is that over time the threat of effective sanctions appears to be decreasing along with the need for Iran to attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz.

Syria: The Syrian Army agreed to a temporary ceasefire in Zabadani, on the Lebanese border 20 miles northwest of Damascus in the past two days, but broke the ceasefire by nightfall. Shelling and fighting has resumed.

Comment: Accurate details are not available in open sources because of Syrian restrictions on press coverage. Press reporting relates that last Friday Syrian Army forces attempted to execute a suppression operation in the town of 40,000 but the so-called "Free Syrian Army" resisted.

This fighting is important for several reasons. Zabadani would be the first town that possesses and organized rebel forces strong enough to defend territory. That marks the threshold when an uprising escalates into an insurgency on the path towards revolution.

Proximity to central Lebanon implies that the fighters in this town have support and receive supplies from Lebanon. The Sunni Arab uprising in Syria cannot succeed unless it achieves a base and has a steady outside source of bullets and weapons.

As in all internal instability problems, the central government is weakest on the periphery. Zabadani is not far from Damascus, but it is on the border, where the mandate of the government always is hardest to sustain. Syria also has difficulty enforcing its rule along portions of the Turkish border, but the Turks are much more judicious than the Lebanese in allowing their territory to be used to destabilize a neighbor.

Syria is under pressure to retake this town because the failure to restore central authority would constitute the first significant step in the ultimate collapse of the regime. The regime has been whipsawed by demonstrations and low level violence. Loss of a border town would represent a qualitatively new level of resistance with significant outside weapons support.

One of the many ironies in the Syrian situation is that the US and the West has challenged Russia for selling weapons to the legitimate government of Syria, but has not questioned or investigated where the Free Syrian Army got its small arms and more importantly a supply of ammunition.

Special comment: It bears repetition that the overthrow of secular governments in Arab states in the past year has led to the ascendancy of Islamist political parties that are anti-US, anti-Israel and anti-non-Islamic religious groups. There are now fewer Christian communities in the Iraq that the US Army liberated.

The record is 100% consistent, although the full consequences have yet to play out. Only the Arab monarchies have held the line against the suppression of diverse cults and minority ethnic groups. In the Sunni Arab world, monarchies have survived, but secular civilian governments have not.

Democracy in the US political philosophy does not carry the same meaning in Arab political philosophy. Fundamentalist imams consider democracy to be un-Islamic. Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan said, famously, democracy is a station stop. Most Arabs do not consider democracy - holding elections - an absolute good in its own right. For many, it is a process that leads to an emirate or a caliphate.

Syria-Russia-China-UN: Russia will give no explanation for weapons deliveries to Syria and, along with China, will block the UN Security Council from approving any military intervention in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 18 January.

Comment: This is a great power response to some Sunni Arabs' call for armed intervention in Syria. The message is that NATO will not be allowed to execute another Libyan operation in Syria.

End of NightWatch for 18 January.

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