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NightWatch 20121212

NightWatch

For the night of 11 December 2012

North Korea: Update. North Korea launched its long range rocket on 12 December. The North Koreans claimed the launch was a success.

The Yonhap news agency, citing a South Korean government source, said the rocket took off from the Sohae/Tongchang-ri launch center on the west coast at 0951 local time (0051 GMT) and was immediately detected by South Korean navy ships deployed in the Yellow Sea. Multiple other news sources reported the rocket launched at 0949 local time.

Japanese sources reported a rocket stage fell into waters off the Philippines at 1005, 12 December, giving a flight time of 14-16 minutes.

The US military confirmed the trajectory of what it called a missile and said, "Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit."

Comment: The information about technical troubles appears to have been disinformation. A 16 minute flight time would support the North's claim that the launch was a success. If confirmed, this would be the first North Korean success in launching a satellite into orbit, and the first successful test of the components of an intercontinental ballistic missile. That makes this a great marketing tool for the North.

Naturally and reflexively the Allies condemned the launch. The only comments that matter, however, are those from China. None have been reported during this Watch. The Chinese made clear last week their opposition to any North Korean action that promotes instability in Northeast Asia. On the other hand, the Chinese will be the first to observe that this launch has caused no significant instability, aside from diplomatic bombast..

This is North Korea's second rocket launch this year in apparent defiance of Chinese official public opposition. It is time to question whether all factions in the Chinese government are opposed to North Korean provocations. Alternatively, it is time to explore which factions in the Chinese government are encouraging North Korean provocative behavior.

Syria: The United States designated the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization. The US believes al-Nusra has links to al Qaida, according to the US State Department.

Comment: Today, al- Nusra fighters captured what is being called a strategically vital army base near Aleppo. In fact, government forces abandoned it and took anything of value with them. They have been abandoning peripheral bases, which have become difficult to supply, and steadily falling back towards Damascus to defend the center of power.

Relative to al-Nusra, no other Syrian opposition fighting group is doing what it is doing, taking abandoned bases. That might not seem to be a significant achievement, but then that is what the most intrepid of the Syrian opposition fighters is capable of achieving.

The notion that US denunciation has any significance on this fighting is risible. The Asad government's fall back to Damascus means that the end game has begun. Violent internal instability in all states is centripetal.

The US, the West and the Saudis have lost influence over, much less control of, the Syrian main opposition fighters, despite the new so-called unified chain of command. Jabhat al-Nusra was not invited to the meetings last week in southern Turkey, but it appears to be spearheading success at Aleppo. The jidaists are in the vanguard and the Western powers are playing catch-up... poorly.

Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The United States' decision to designate the Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization was "very wrong and too hasty," Deputy Leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Farouk Tayfour said on 11 December. The chaos in Syria makes it too early to categorize people, and the decision will cost the United States popularity in Syria, Tayfour said.

Comment: The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has little use for US, western or Saudi opinions. As pro-Brotherhood fighting groups continue to lead the struggle, they have made it clear that US influence will be negligible in the end game..

NightWatch Special Comment: (This is a NightWatch editorial opinion.) The US is helping to destabilize the government of Syria, just as it did the government of Egypt.

US interests generally favor stable governments, whether elected or not. The Chinese take the same approach to North Korea. They judge that instability in Northeast Asia is contrary to China's national interests. It is bad for business, investment and development projects. Thus, even the Chinese would consider the current US policy as confusing because it promotes instability with no clear end state in mind.

In the Syrian case, the US is acting as a proxy for Saudi Arabia, which is determined to block the spread of Iranian influence in Arab countries.

The US has no high-minded moral interest in this fight, as if it were helping the downtrodden struggle against an authoritarian government. Were that the motivating factor, the US might have denounced Egyptian president Mursi's assumption of dictatorial powers on 22 November. Asad has no comparable powers. The US has said nothing about Mursi's personal coup d'etat.

The big winner from instability in Syria and Egypt will be Iran because its policy of hostility towards Israel is a magnet for all Arabs.

The Saudis lost the struggle to influence or control the direction of the Arab Spring states when Hamas survived eight days of Israeli air attacks, owing exclusively to Iranian, Egyptian and Sudanese help. Saudi Arabia, with all its $billions, was irrelevant.

The US and Saudis appear to be on the wrong side of history, because Iran already appears to have made contingency preparations for supporting an anti-Israel, fundamentalist, Sunni regime in Damascus, just as it did with the Mursi government in Egypt.

US policy in the Middle East appears to be promoting an increased threat to Israel by uniting the new Islamist regimes against Israel under Iranian leadership. This is the one issue on which they can agree and this is a warning.

Egypt: Dueling protests occurred in Cairo, separated by concrete barriers. Anti-Mursi protesters breached a barricade outside the presidential palace in Cairo, but did no damage. Pro-Mursi supporters fired birdshot into the camp of the anti-Mursi protestors in Tahrir Square.

Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi invited all sectors of the Egyptian population, including journalists, politicians, athletes and artists, to meet on 12 December in the Olympic Village to discuss a way to end Egypt's current political crisis. He said the national unity talks will not cover politics or the referendum but will bring Egyptians together.

Comment: Today, the leaders of Egypt were Army officers, once again. There is no revolution if a civilian elected government has to rely on the Army. Mursi and the Brotherhood have grasped defeat from the jaws of victory, but they do not yet seem to appreciate the implications of what they have done in bringing back the Army.

Ironically, Mursi refused to accept that the courts had authority over him, but personally accepted Army authority over him when he asked for Army protection.

Mali: Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra announced his resignation and the resignation of his government early 11 December, just hours after soldiers acting on the orders of ex-coup leader Amadou Sanogo arrested Diarra at his home. In a brief speech given at and aired by national broadcaster ORTM, Diarra said that he resigned with his government. He gave no reason for resigning.

Comment: A new prime minister has been appointed but this act by Sanogo and his thugs indicates he has not accepted that his coup failed; his actions strategically damaged, if not destroyed the integrity of Mali and that he should be in prison for treason, instead of ordering the arrest of anyone for any reason.

This action has undermined the international effort to recapture northern Mali from the Islamists, jihdists and terrorists. Until Sanogo is in irons and behind bars, nothing useful can be done in Mali.

Morocco: Comment. This week news sources have reported new political restiveness and frustration that the King's commitment to political reform is weak.

The NightWatch hypothesis for warning purposes is that the Arab monarchies are the next targets of Arab Spring activism in 2013. The first round of anti-monarchy demonstrations took place in Jordan. The second round occurred in Morrocco.

The secular leaders have been overthrown. The monarchs are next, including the House of Saud, before 2013 is over.

End of NightWatch for 11 December.

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