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NightWatch 20121125

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For the night of 25 November 2012

North Korea: On 23 November international news services began reporting that North Korea appears to be making preparations for what could be a test launch of a long range ballistic missile. Most news outlets attributed the report to the US government, reportedly based on satellite imagery of a missile manufacturing plant in Pyongyang and activity at the west coast missile launch site at Tongchang-ri.

Yomiuri Shimbun reported that North Korean personnel have been moving various components into an established launch site, which indicates they plan to launch some kind of missile in the near future. The vehicle movements reportedly include equipment similar to those in April 2012 when North Korea tested a ballistic missile that exploded shortly after launch.

Comment: Last week during the Israeli operations over Gaza, a brilliant Reader inquired whether North Korea might be expected to do something to draw attention. The satellite imagery readouts seem to answer the question. That is the pattern of North Korean behavior over many decades.

The first rule of satellite imagery of North Korea is that if it can be seen, the Pyongyang government wants it to be seen. That is the case with the latest reports. The North wants the US and the West to pay more attention to its gripes and whines.

Since mid-September, North Korea has been reported to be making preparations for a nuclear test and for a long range missile test. It is overdue to test both systems and much overdue to have some success. Tests are not inevitable based on the reported activity and winter is not usually favorable for testing.

China: The Peoples' Liberation Army Navy performed the first landing and takeoff of a carrier-capable fighter jet on its new aircraft carrier, Liaoning. The Chinese released a short video of the maiden landing on the aircraft carrier by a Chinese-made J-15 fighter, according to the defense ministry on 25 November. The actual dates of the landing and the takeoff have not been posted.

The Russian-built ski-jump carrier, renamed Liaoning, went into Chinese naval service in September. "The successful landing... has always been seen as a symbol of the operating combat capability for an aircraft carrier," Zhang Junshe, a vice director at the Naval Affairs Research Institute, told state television. "This is a landmark event for China's aircraft carrier... and (moves it) one step closer to combat readiness."

Vice-Admiral Zhang Yongyi, the commander-in-chief in charge of the tests and training program told state media, "It's like 'dancing on a knifepoint' as the aircraft have to land on a very limited space. We have done all these test flights from the very beginning, and finally we mastered the key skills for the landing of carrier-borne aircraft," he added.

Comment: Just as the carrier Liaoning is Russian-designed and -manufactured, the J-15 fighter is a Chinese knock-off of Russia's carrier-capable Sukoi 33 and is powered by Russian engines. The Chinese have shown no ability to design, engineer and manufacture these capabilities. They have shown that they can refurbish a carrier built by some other nation and that they have one trained and capable pilot.

The Chinese carrier is still several years from full operational capability, but it is already an international attraction. It is a show piece and the flagship of Chinese great power aspirations, rather than capabilities. This light carrier is too-expensive-to-risk for China because it is the only realistic training platform China possesses to help build its future three-carrier fleet.

The important take away is that the present limited capability is built on Soviet technology that China bought or stole. China has yet to prove it has the industrial capabilities to build an aircraft carrier and its air group without stealing from other countries.

Israel-Gaza Strip-Iran: Senior Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq said on Saturday that the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas does not include Egyptian guarantees to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.

Israeli news outlets reported on Sunday that Iran began shipping replacement long range missiles for Hamas last week, while the fighting was taking place. Israeli intelligence detected a ship carrying Iranian missiles that is heading for Sudan. From Sudan the missiles will be conveyed to Egypt and then smuggled to the Gaza Strip for Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Comment: President Mursi made no promises to stop the arms supplies to Hamas. Hamas made no agreement about resupply. UN, American and Israeli diplomats apparently forgot to cover that part of the Palestinian problem.

The truce appears to be holding. Israel has eased restrictions on Palestinian farmers and fishermen. Hamas is not prone to provoke the Israelis when it is restocking its rocket inventory.

Israel cannot win against Hamas as long as Iran restocks the rocket inventory with Egypt's and Sudan's assistance. Readers should understand that NightWatch judges that Egyptian officials in the Mursi government are abetting the resupply of Hamas.

Egypt: Three days of often violent protests against President Mursi have produced one person dead; clashes in Tahrir Square in Cairo; civil disorders and clashes with police in other major cities; a 9% decline in the stock market; the resignation of three advisors to President Mursi and a revival of the secular and pro-Mubarak opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The impetus for the renewed civil instability is Mursi's presidential decree on 22 November that any of his decrees were not subject to judicial review. Since there is no parliament, the decree gives Mursi executive and legislative authority without restraint.

Mursi insists that his decree is temporary. He said it is needed to protect the democratically chosen constituent assembly that is trying to write a new Egyptian Constitution from Mubarak-appointed judges who appeared poised to dissolve it. That assembly was selected from the elected members of a parliament that Egypt's judges declared was not constitutional.

The Mursi government's justice minister said that he supported the President's goal but that the president could accomplish it with a much narrower edict - one that did not assert sweeping immunity from judicial review on other matters, the feature of the decree Mursi issued on Thursday that has prompted the loudest protests.

The justice minister argued publicly for a retreat that might defuse an escalating battle between Egypt's new Islamist leaders and the institutions of its old secular-authoritarian government.

Egypt's judiciary also fought back. President Mursi's decree granting himself sweeping new power is an "unprecedented attack" on the independence of the judiciary, Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council said on 24 November.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood called for a demonstration to be held 27 November in support of Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi,

Comment: Mursi may have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. He has reverted to the tactics of Mubarak in order to make progress towards his ideas of democracy. The only constitution in effect is that of Mubarak. Mursi's decree indicates that he believes the ends justify the means, pretty much as Mubarak did.

The constituent assembly that Mursi claims he is protecting from judicial review is biased in favor of Islamists and Salafists. Tribes, Christians and women are under-represented, according to Egyptian judges, legal analysts and scholars. The group that Mursi backs promises to write a new constitution that would be based on a strict interpretation of Sharia, Islamic law, regardless of tribal, Christian or women's rights.

The key point is that Mursi's election last summer did not signify that a fundamental change of government had taken place. Rather, absent constitutional changes, it meant the Egyptians elected another potential dictator, without the inconvenience of a military coup. That dictator has emerged.

The great flaw of a democracy is the power of the voters to vote out representative government, which does not necessarily represent the will of the people, only the will of those who voted. In Egypt the difference is significant. Mursi is acting like the voters made him an Arab king.

The demonstrations indicate that many urban, educated Egyptians have awakened to the reality that their so-called Arab Spring revolution has not yet succeeded. There will be more demonstrations and Mursi must back down or risk overthrow - either would be a condign punishment for his overreaching.

End of NightWatch for 25 November.

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