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NightWatch 20110314


For the Night of 14 March 2011

Bahrain: The security situation. Bahrain News Agency on 14 March confirmed that the Gulf Cooperation Council's Peninsula Shield Force entered Bahrain. The Bahraini armed forces general commander asked citizens to welcome the force. The King asked for GCC military assistance on 13 March.

Thousands of demonstrators flooded Bahrain's banking district on 14 March after police deserted the area, Agence France-Presse reported. Residents said the Financial Harbor business complex had been blocked off by protesters.

Politics. Bahraini opposition groups, including the Shiite Al Wefaq party, on 14 March, said intervention by forces from any Persian Gulf state is tantamount to a declaration of war and occupation, Reuters reported. The comment came in response to reports that Bahrain had called in forces from its Sunni neighbors to help put down the unrest.

The head of Al Wefaq denied reports that he had requested help from Iran, Al Ayam reported. Sheikh Ali Salman said he refused foreign intervention in Bahrain's affairs and said reports that said Salman sought Iranian aid were a fabrication.

Comment: These rumors might have been the catalyst for the deployment of the Peninsula Shield Force. Denials are cheap and easy; the rumors might have been accurate but backfired.

A Sunni parliamentary bloc called on King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to enforce martial law using the Bahrain Defense Force to intervene in the unrest. The bloc also called for a curfew to be imposed.

International politics. Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa met with visiting Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on 14 March. King Hamad said that the Gulf Cooperation Council's stance in support of Bahrain shows the strength of relations between the two entities, and he also praised Saudi Arabia's decision to deploy Peninsula Shield Forces to Bahrain.

Comment: King Hamad panicked and called in the cavalry. The King is weak.

Bahrain-Saudi Arabia: A line of armored vehicles carrying Saudi troops was shown Monday evening on Bahrain television crossing the 16-mile causeway that links the two countries. The force began taking up positions at strategic locations around the country, including the neighborhood that is home to the royal family, according to witnesses and Western diplomats.

Saudi Arabia responded to Bahrain's request for aid in the face of threats to security, the Saudi Council of Ministers said. After a Cabinet meeting chaired by King Abdallah, the information minister said the Council emphasized that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states will confront "with determination and commitment" any who foment sectarian strife, divide the people of the GCC or the state, or threaten the state's security and interests. Any damage to a GCC country's security damages that of all GCC states, the Council of Ministers said.

Comment: The mutual security pledge of the GCC states is as strong as the NATO Treaty. It means the Sunni Sheikhs will not go down without a fight and, if they fall, they will fall together.

The mission of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces in Bahrain will be limited to protecting infrastructure, including oil, electricity and water facilities, and financial and banking buildings, Akhbar Al Khaleej reported.

Comment: The Sunni Arab kings have run out of ideas for coping with the protest movement except use of force. In Bahrain, the introduction of the Saudi forces means that the concession phase has ended and a new cycle of instability has started. The show of force has no chance of deterring the Shiite protestors so a crackdown looks inevitable.

The introduction of the Peninsula Shield Forces might provide a brief respite for the regime, but it will not deter the protestors from protesting with increased demands. So what happens if this grand gesture fails as seem almost certain?

Bahrain-UAE: The United Arab Emirates sent about 500 police officers to Bahrain to help maintain order, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nuhayyan said. Bahrain requested assistance on ways to defuse tensions in the country, and other Gulf states would also help maintain stability, al-Nuhayyan said.

Comment: Intervention by the Peninsula Shield Force has been in planning since before King Hamad went to Riyadh on 22 February to ask for help and advice. NightWatch warned on 21 February that the GCC might be invited to send forces to prevent the overthrow of the al Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain, precisely as has occurred.

The Sunni monarchs are following the Qadhafi approach to unrest and will not tolerate the capitulation of a Sunni Arab monarch. Hamad appears to be a bit duplicitous. At the time the crown prince was encouraging dialogue, the King invited the Peninsula Shield Force to deploy. Dialogue is now dead.

The enemy of the GCC is Iran. The purpose is to prevent the further expansion of a new Iranian empire by the emergence of a Shiite-dominated pro-Iranian republic in Bahrain. The arrival of a thousand Saudis ensures escalation of the struggle and is not a guarantor of victory by either side.

It does imply the Sunni Kings are willing fight to the last Shiite.

Bahrain-Iran: Iran expects Bahrain's government to act wisely and to respect the people's peaceful demonstrations, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in Tehran's first comment on the Saudi intervention in Bahrain's unrest. Iran will not stand by in the event of Saudi efforts to "exterminate" Bahrain's Shia, Salehi said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he expects the Bahraini government to "tactfully" deal with protester's right to pursue demands, which can be realized through peaceful means, ISNA reported 14 March.

Comment: The Sunni Kings have thrown down a challenge to the Persian Ayatollahs. If the Iranians attempt to escalate the crisis in Bahrain, the Sunnis have decided to meet their next move. The GCC force movement to Bahrain is as much a warning to the Iranian troublemakers as it is a sign of support for the al Khalifas of Bahrain.

Arabs against Persians… hmmm. Which side would the US 5th fleet, based in Bahrain, support, one might wonder.

Yemen: Update. The chieftain of northern Yemen's Bakil tribe, Sheikh Ameen al-Okaimi, and 20 of his tribesmen joined in with student protests in Sanaa on 14 March. A protest leader said demonstrations outside the Sanaa University campus had grown to 150,000 and said that hundreds of thousands more tribal protesters in Amran province had vowed to join the Sanaa demonstration.

Comment: Yemen is fast moving beyond the capabilities of domestic and outside parties to stabilize, if major tribes are siding with the opposition.

Israel-Palestinian Authority: Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman said that the foreign ministry believes that Hamas is stronger than Fatah in the West Bank. He said Hamas is waiting for the day when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad "obtain the maximum that the Palestinians are able to receive from the international community" before it seizes power.

Comment: This is not just propaganda, but it is the first time the Israelis have acknowledged the extent of electoral support for Hamas in the West Bank, where Fatah now governs. It is a reminder that in a free and fair election Hamas is likely to win control of the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. The news is that Israel finally has admitted this in public. Such a result would be nearly catastrophic for Israel. No one should expect free and fair elections in the West Bank … ever.

Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) accepted all constitutional amendment proposals, a media spokesman for the group said on 14 March. The MB will try for 35 percent of 518 parliamentary seats in April parliamentary elections, the spokesman said.

Comment: Three months ago the Brothers were not permitted to run for office. The difference between the targeted number of seats and the actual outcome will be a good measure of the Brothers' actual influence.

Libya: Security. Combat aircraft attacked three targets in Ajdabiya, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Marsa el Brega, a doctor in Adjabiya told the press on 14 March. A rebel official in Ajdabiya said it looked as though the planes were attempting to sever supply lines to rebels in Marsa el Brega.

Opposition news website Libya al-Youm reported that fighter jets dropped flyers over Ajdabiya after the air strikes, urging rebels to surrender and calling on people to take down the rebels' red, black and green flag.

Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi also attacked the eastern entrance to the town of Zuwara in western Libya, according to Al Jazeera TV. Witnesses said the forces are coming from eastern, western and southern directions and are one kilometer (0.62 miles) from the center of town.

Benghazi Council: General Mohamed Abdelrahim asked for weapons from the international community to fight Qadhafi, "Instead the world is watching Qadhafi slaughter his people," DPA reported. Abdelrahim said over 6,000 people have died and up to 14,000 have been injured in the past several weeks of fighting.

Comment: The greatest danger in self-help revolutions is that that the revolutionaries tend to realize they need a lot of help when it is too late. That appears to be the case now. No nation can or will send help that could make a difference in the fighting now that the rebellion is losing. The time to request help is when the rebellion is winning and there is time for it to arrive at the battle line.

The rebels waited too long before asking for help, barring a miraculous collapse of Qadhafi's forces or the destruction of the air force.

Qadhafi seems to have found a military leader who knows how to sustain an operation. Ajdabiya is the next rebel held town after Brega on the route to Benghazi.

The reports about Brega are contradictory. Qadhafi forces seized the town but do not seem able to hold it. Qadhafi's forces might have reached the limit of their supply line, if Brega remains in rebellion, in the rear of Ajdabiya.

Moreover, there is one report of internecine fighting among the Qadhafi forces. That is always a hazard of using mercenaries. More on this as better information is received.

Niger: Provisional results for Niger's 12 March presidential runoff elections show opposition candidate Mahamadou Issoufou has won the vote with almost 58 percent, Niger's electoral commission said 14 March. Seini Oumarou received 42 percent of the vote.

The constitutional council has two weeks to verify results. Under a new constitution approved by referendum last October, the military has until 6 April to return the country to civilians.

Comment: An opposition victory is not what the military government anticipated, but then this is the system they set up. Any tyrant who sets up a system he cannot control does not deserve to govern, by definition. This is a study in democracy.

End of NightWatch for 14 March.

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