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NightWatch 20110628


For the Night of 28 June 2011

North Korea: The government announced the closure of universities for ten months to free up manpower for construction work in support of the 2012 celebrations of Kim Il-sung's birthday. The 2012 birthday also is the official target for making North Korean prosperous.

Comment: The North cannot reach its economic goals and will probably be in famine conditions before this year's harvest.  Howevder, the North is a great believer in public enthusiasm as a substitute for resources, sound management and realistic planning. The youth who benefit most from the state will be the "shock troops" of building and cleanup ;projects that symbolize prosperity, even where these is destitution. Noth Korea has done this repeatedly.

North Korea-South Korea: North Korea threatened Wednesday to launch "a retaliatory sacred war" against South Korea for slandering the North. In a government statement published by the Korean Central News Agency, the North accused South Korea's frontline military units of setting up billboards containing slogans disparaging the North Korean army and the dignity of the North, calling them a "little short of a clear declaration of war."

The North said it "will make a clean sweep of the group of traitors through a retaliatory sacred war" and warned of "unpredictably disastrous consequences" unless South Korea apologizes for the alleged provocation, saying "those who hurt the North's dignity will never go scot-free."

Comment: The provocation that riled the North is the third this year. The North's reaction is shrill, but does not contain an ultimatum. The North's willingness to accept an apology is a strong sign that it is not pursuing an immediate or inevitable escalation. Nevertheless, the North can stage a limited provocation at any time with little or no warning.

A better indicator of the North's mood will be its reception for and handling of a South Korean official and business delegation that left for North Korea on 28 June to visit the Mount Kumgang resort to negotiate the ownership and status of the South Korean assets the North seized last year .The North's 27 June statement on the Mount Kumgang assets was harshly negative and raises no prospects for a fair or compromise settlement, despite the North's poor economy.

The North refuses to deal with the hard line Lee government in Seoul, which is the first in years to call the North's bluffs.

North Korea-Russia: For the record. A meeting scheduled for 30 June or 1 July between Russian President Medvedev and North Korean leader Kim Chong-Il was canceled, a senior South Korean government source said 28 June, Yonhap reported. The source did not know why the meeting, scheduled to take place in Vladivostok, Russia, was canceled.

Comment: This report generated much attention in the Northeast Asia for a brief time. The North's need for economic assistance and to balance its growing dependence on China create circumstances that would favor a meeting, but the report looks phony.

Afghanistan: At least six Taliban terrorists and seven bystanders died in a terrorist attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul on the night of 28 June. NATO and Afghan forces claim they killed all the terrorists. Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the lights were back on at the hotel. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Comment: There have been few sensational attacks in Kabul this year, though the number of attacks has risen during the spring offensive. Some reports suggest Karzai has been paying off the local fighters to keep Kabul relatively quiet.

The Haqqani syndicate of the Taliban most often has been responsible for suicide attacks and sensational bombings in the capital. The public images and reports of this attack seem intended to convey the perception that the US force drawdown decision is a retreat.

Iran: A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander claimed on 28 June that his country is capable of producing even longer range missiles than the ones it now has but won't make them because Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf are already within its reach. He made the statement on the second day of Iranian missile exercises.

Comment: The statement is factual. Iran has had these capabilities for five years, but can't use them without committing national suicide... because of the inevitable and unavoidable retaliation. Iran's use of missiles would lead to a quick solution to the nuclear dispute.

Bahrain-Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia will withdraw most of its security forces from Bahrain starting 4 July, according to a Bahraini government source. The source said the troops will be withdrawn because the situation in Bahrain is becoming calm. Another source confirmed the withdrawal and added that not all of the troops would leave at once.

Comment: The Arab monarchs demonstrated resolve in preventing any further spread of cell-phone activism. Their prompt action has stabilized Bahrain, on the surface at least, and appears to have contributed to stability in other Gulf Arab states.

Syria: Over the weekend 300 activists met in Damascus to discuss grievances and reform, with the government's approval. The Asad government promises to meet a deputation from the group in early July, as part of the President's national dialogue initiative. One opposition group has denounced the meeting and dialogue as government contrivances that do not lead to the fundamental political change they seek.

Israel-Gaza: Israeli's Defense Ministry proposed establishing a special naval court that could confiscate any ship that attempts to break the naval blockade on Gaza, Haaretz reported June 28. Drafted by Defense Ministry legal advisor Ahaz Benari, the proposal was sent to Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman in a letter by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in early June. Defense Ministry sources said ship seizures could function as a deterrent measure to prevent pro-Palestinian activists from renting additional ships for future flotillas. Barak wrote that the proposal could also prevent the need to use force to address future blockade violations

Comment: This report was probably a deliberate leak to intimidate the flotilla organizers. Supposedly up to 20 ships and craft will constitute the blockade-breaking flotilla, which means the Israeli Navy will require a significant surge in capabilities to enforce the Gaza Strip blockade.

End of NightWatch for 28 June.

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