For the night of 21 November 2012
Comment: This agreement has received little attention in mainstream press, but is by far the most important achievement of the US President's visit to Burma, assuming Burma keeps its pledge.
North Korea has supported Burma's nuclear program and would be embarrassed by revelations of the extent of its involvement in Burma. The expulsion of North Korean nuclear engineers and technicians from Burma will be the indicator that the Burmese government is sincere in placing its nuclear program under international supervision to confirm its peaceful purposes.
This also would represent a major setback to North Korean hard currency revenue. Burma is the only new client for nuclear technology that North Korea has developed in two decades.
The most important point is that Burma did not promise to halt or dismantle its nuclear program. The US position on Iran and North Korea is that they must halt their programs. Iran's program already is under IAEA supervision. North Korea's program used to be under partial international supervision.
Israel-Gaza Strip: The exchanges of attacks have stopped during this Watch. Hamas posted the terms of the ceasefire agreement.
-Israel will cease all its activities against the Gaza Strip in the sea, land and air, including the incursions and assassinations.
-The Palestinian organizations will cease their activity from Gaza against Israel, including the rocket fire and border attacks.
-The border crossings to Gaza will be opened, facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods. This move will take effect after a 24-hour cooling-off period.
-Additional issues will be negotiated if necessary.
Comment: This is not the durable peace that US officials say is the objective. It also probably is not enforceable by Hamas authorities because they do not control smaller splinter groups that probably will not consider themselves bound. The ceasefire will last becasue the principal parties say so, but Readers should expect violations. Both sides will use the respite to rest and rearm. There will be more fighting, but not for a few weeks.
Special Comment: So what just happened? After eight days of rocket and air attacks, both sides can declare victory of a sort. That is not a good outcome for Israel. The situation is much more complicated and ominous than in many decades.
Israel smoked out and degraded, for now, significant new Hamas capabilities to attack Israel. In assembling the target intelligence, Israel confirmed details about the volume, periodicity and nature of Iranian support to Hamas. It also learned Hamas' reaction time for retaliating with long range rockets plus the range and accuracy of those rockets.
It also learned that the rocket capabilities improvements would not be possible without Egyptian complicity, if not outright cooperation. This bodes ill because longer range and more accurate rockets and even short range ballistic missiles are almost certain to show up in the future inventory of Hamas. With help from Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force operatives, Hamas rocketeers will get better. They are already better than they were in 2008.
Israel also learned about the capabilities of the Iron Dome system in actual combat. The market for this system is almost unlimited. South Korea could use a few hundred to reduce the North Korean rocket and artillery threat to Seoul. Even minor improvements to civilian protection would be enormously important. There is no protection now.
Both India and Pakistan are potential buyers. Even if Israel has exaggerated its claims about the system's effectiveness, every projectile it destroys means lives saved, in a South Korean or South Asian battlefield. It could provide a level of civilian protection that simply does not now exist in those other battlefields. China will certainly attempt to steal it.
As for Iran, Israel showed that Iran cannot protect its clients. On the other hand, Iran learned that Israel cannot destroy Iran's clients without committing genocide.
As for the Arabs in general, Israel confirmed that they remain fragmented, but less so than before as the result of the Arab spring democracies. Had the conflict lasted longer, the role of anti-Israel Arab democracies might have become clearer. Israel strategists must conclude that the trend in the Arab world is not favorable to Israeli survival. Hostility to Israel, not support for the Palestinians, is the one issue that can unite the Sunnis and Shiites as never before, now that the Sunni-but-secular strong man regimes have been replaced by Islamists.
As for the US, the Israeli tail wagged the US dog and the US responded with political backing and promises of more military aid. The US also announced that only a single US aircraft carrier task group would be on station in the Persian Gulf region through the winter because of "mechanical problems" on the USS Nimitz.
Most Readers will know that US combat operations in the Middle East usually require three aircraft carrier task groups. The presence of a single carrier task group is peacetime combat readiness.
This means that the price of US support for Israel's counter-attack on Iran's proxy in Gaza this November is that Israel is on its own should it decide to attack Iran before next spring and beyond. The single carrier is a signal to Israel that the US does not intend to help militarily.
Israel succeeded in degrading Hamas' immediate capability for firing rockets into Israel. Israel achieved nothing permanent, however, as long as Iran remains a reliable arms provider for Hamas. ALL that Israel can do is knock down Hamas and Israel has to keep at it regularly.
The threat of a ground attack by 75,000 Israel troops is risible. Operation Pillar of Defense proved the air force with Iron Dome can knock down the Palestinian threat without significant loss of Israeli lives. However, it cannot defeat Hamas or force it to alter its commitment to the destruction of Israel, with the support of the Arab population in Gaza.
Operation Pillar of Defense plus Operation Cast Lead in 2008, which included a large Israeli ground incursion, have shown that Israel cannot defeat Hamas without destroying the Gaza Strip and relocating its population or, alternatively, without destroying Iran's support infrastructure. That is a task that exceeds Israel's capabilities without an ironclad guarantee of US military support, meaning at least three carrier task forces on station in the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.
As long as Iran supports Hamas, Israel cannot defeat Hamas in Gaza. Ceasefires are respites from fighting that enables both sides to re-arm for the next round.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and Foreign Affairs Minister Lieberman and their coalition probably will win a large domestic electoral victory next year because they have shown that they are men of action, tempered by wisdom - in not launching a ground incursion.
Hamas and Iran learned the limits of Israeli power, confirmed Israel's reluctance to take casualties, learned details about the saturation point for Iron Dome, and learned about Israeli retaliation capabilities.
This eight-day war is, thus, a turning point because Hamas, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, has proven it can strike at the heart of Israel and still live to tell the tale. This is a breakthrough tactical development. From now on, Israel is on the defensive and the threat will get worse unless a secular revolution occurs in Iran.
Egypt is at a crossroads between cooperating with the US to receive essential US military and economic assistance and following the core beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian government of President Mursi will try to do both.
Egypt has no capability to stop arms smuggling into Gaza. It has no ability to guarantee a Palestinian ceasefire. Hamas itself has no ability to guarantee a ceasefire. It does not speak for Islamic Jihad or a score of other, smaller fighting groups.
The ceasefire will be violated, but for now the signatories to the agreement will insist the ceasefire is intact … until supplies are replenished.
End of NightWatch for 21 November.
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