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NightWatch 20100413


For the Night of 13 April 2010

North Korea-South Korea:  Update. As they had threatened, authorities in Pyongyang today froze South Korean facilities at the Mount Kumgang resort, according to Yonhap. The North used stickers to seal five South Korean-owned buildings, the Unification Ministry said. They are a family reunion center, a fire station, a cultural center, a spa and a duty-free shop. Four Korean-Chinese employed by South Korean firms were told to leave within 24 hours, a ministry spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

China-US-Iran: Reports from the nuclear summit suggest a softening of China's longstanding opposition to sanctions against Iran. The reports lack details about the apparent change in policy and Chinese media do not support the US media assertions that China has made a change.

Comment: If the US reports are accurate, what did the US offer China in return? A week or so ago, a report posted by DEBKAfile, reputed to be unclassified outlet for Israeli military intelligence, stated the US administration was prepared to trade sanctions for sanctions. The US would agree with China to not veto sanctions against Israel in return for China not vetoing sanctions against Iran.

On its face, the bargain appears symmetrical. The US and China both would make their respective allies and partners vulnerable. But such a bargain does not withstand critical examination when a critical thinker examines the consequences, demographics, resource base and just about any other comparison of Israel with Iran, beyond the fact that both begin with the letter I.

The DEBKAfile report has not been repeated by any news services, but no mainstream US news service has bothered to question what the US gave in return for this new Chinese cooperation, if it is in fact that. The negative impact of such a bargain would fall most heavily on the US, not Israel or Iran.

But as noted, no news agency has asked the question, what is the quid?

Thailand:  Deputy Prime Minister and Supervisor of the emergency Suthep Thaugsuban said the government is ready to dissolve parliament sooner than the nine months previously proposed by Prime Minister Abhisit. He said the government needed to first discuss timing with its coalition parties.

Suthep also said that "terrorists" are linked with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) -- the Red Shirts -- and that Red Shirt leaders were aware of plans by these elements to attack security forces on 10 April, leading to the clashes that left 21 dead.

Shortly after Suthep's announcement, Red Shirt leader Natthawut Saikua blamed the clashes on rogue soldiers who do not accept the current administration and called for their arrest, but he also vowed more protests unless Prime Minister Abhisit immediately dissolves Parliament and holds elections.

Comment: The next demonstrations are set for 14 April. The government is looking for an exit strategy that might enable it to reconstitute later. If the government can persuade the Red Shirts to accept elections, the unrest could move towards power sharing. If not, some arrangement with Army backing is the most likely agent for restoring civil order.

Pakistan: The outrage and protests over renaming Northwest Frontier Province have prompted a movement by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to revisit this issue.

Regarding nuclear security, Prime Minister Gilani's assurance that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are secure was echoed by US leaders at the nuclear security summit. The weapons components are no more secure than the people who guard them, based on the Chinese model of keeping essential components in separate locations.

The key question is not about the system of storage, but the quality of the system of vetting the guard personnel. Every major terrorist attack in Rawalpindi and all the terrorist attacks against Musharraf when he was in office involved insiders who terrorists who had infiltrated the security details.

Did Gilani provide any assurances about the quality of personnel vetting of the guard force.

Kyrgyzstan-US:  Interim government leader Roza Otunbayeva said the interim government would extend for one year the lease for US military use of Manas Airbase, The Associated Press reported 13 April. The lease on the base, a critical part of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, was set to expire in July 2010.

Iran: Secretary of Defense Gates said today that Iran will not have the capability to produce nuclear weapons for at least a year, possibly longer, Reuters reported. Gates said he did not believe reports that Iran might have nuclear weaponry capability within months.

An estimate of Iran possessing nuclear weapons in a year, possibly longer, is far from reassuring.

Did any Readers notice that Iran continues to be the newsworthy center of the Islamic world? This point was made in the first unclassified version of NightWatch, dated 12 May 2006. It has not changed.

Israel-Gaza: Senior Hamas official Musa Abu Marzook said Hamas is interested in maintaining a cease-fire with Israel to prevent the launch of a new war against Gaza, The Associated Press reported. Marzook said Hamas is not preventing other Palestinian groups from attacking Israel, but that there is an agreement among groups to not launch rockets. However, he said, "sometimes violations happen."

Note:  And "sometimes" Israel will destroy a village or two and look to Hamas to enforce the truce. As stated before, Hamas is not ready to return to the fight.

Israel-Egypt/Sinai: Today, Israel issued an "urgent" warning to its citizens to leave Sinai in Egypt amid fears of a terrorist plot. The prime minister's office said it had "concrete evidence" that terrorists were planning to attempt to kidnap Israelis in the Sinai Peninsula.

Israel called on families of the Israelis who are visiting Sinai to contact them, warning them, "Leave immediately and return home….According to concrete intelligence, we anticipate an immediate terror activity to kidnap an Israeli in Sinai," Prime Minister Netanyahu's office said on Tuesday.

Somalia:  Most radio stations in Somalia have stopped playing music, on the orders of Islamist Hizbul-Islam insurgents who say that songs are un-Islamic. The stations said they had to comply with the ban because, if they did not, they would be putting their lives at risk.

In the past, militants in some areas banned watching films and football (soccer) matches and forced men to grow beards. Residents can now only hear music from the government-controlled radio station and a Kenya-based UN-funded radio station, which has a FM transmitter in Mogadishu, according to the BBC.

Algeria: Army chiefs from seven African countries met in Algiers on 13 April to organize a move against the regional al Qaida group as well as against arms and drugs traffickers that travel the Sahara, The Associated Press reported. Other nations included Libya, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania.

An assessment in Strategy Page concluded that Algerian desert tribes and other Saharan peoples are fed up with the parasitic brutality and taxation that al Qaida inflicts on them and are refusing to support the terrorists. Tentatively, this is tonight's good news.

Mexico-US: Yesterday the El Paso Times reported that gangs in El Paso, Texas, might be joining the Ciudad Juarez power struggle between drug cartels and risk bringing the violence across the border.

Quoting an FBI special agent from the Bureau's gang task force, the paper reported that the Barrio Azteca and Los Sureños gangs may start a power struggle in El Paso. "The information on the streets is that Los Sureños may be aligning with the Chapo Guzmán cartel," an agent said in an interview.

The alliance between Los Sureños and the Sinaloa cartel, led by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera, makes Barrio Azteca and Los Sureños natural enemies because Barrio Azteca members reportedly are fighting on the side of the Juárez cartel against the Sinaloa cartel.

"We see two possibilities," the source said. "They can work in harmony or they can do what the cartels are doing in Juárez, fight for the control of the plaza, in this case El Paso."

Mexico: The San Antonio Express News reported today that three Mexican drug cartels have agreed to work together to destroy the upstart Zetas gang of hit men, according to Mexican and U.S. officials. Intelligence reports indicate the Gulf cartel has recruited its former rival, La Familia, to crush the Zetas gang in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, according to the head of the anti-narcotics division of Mexico's federal police.

The Zetas, mostly Mexican military deserters, are too violent, too aggressive against established cartels and bad for business.

End of NightWatch for 13 April.

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