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NightWatch 20110819


For the Night of 18 August 2011

North Korea-US: The United States has decided to provide financial assistance to North Korea in two programs, if not more. First the US has promised to provide North Korea with up to $900,000 in emergency flood assistance, the State Department said Thursday.

That announcement reinforces a decision by South Korea to offer almost $5 million worth of food aid to North Korea to help it recover from summer floods.

The second aid program concerns POW/MIA affairs. A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said the North had accepted a US proposal for talks on the resumption of the excavation of remains of American soldiers killed during the 1950-53 war.

"The US side, some time ago, sent an official letter to (North Korea) through an appropriate channel, requesting it to hold talks for the excavation of remains," he said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency on 19 August. North Korea accepted the proposal and work was already under way to arrange talks between the two militaries, the spokesman said.

Comment: In the official US position, these money payments are programmatic, for specific tasks by North Korea or for humanitarian purposes. North Korean leaders, however, will interpret them differently, as American bribes for returning to the six-party talks.

The US will argue that this aid is not related to nuclear talks. However, it is worth noting that the US almost never offers humanitarian aid to North Korea except when prospects for talks are positive. The US insists there is no linkage.

The North's leadership almost certainly will conclude that their program of belligerent provocations, mixed with non-substantive diplomatic flirtation, has worked again.

The search for the remains of Korean War POWs and decedents requires some perspective, namely what has transpired in Vietnam for more than two decades. In the  search for the remains of US soldiers from the Vietnam War, the US paid about $1 million for every spade of earth turned to try to find the remains of US soldiers as guided by the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese let the US pay, knowing, but never divulging, where nearly every missing US soldier lies or still works.

North Korea is similar. The POW recovery program is an aid program for North Korea. The North Koreans do not search for their own dead, but are happy to accept American money for US dead. It is blood money for talks. However, the US and North Korean search teams, just like the US and Vietnamese search teams, never take seriously reports from even credible sources that US and allied soldiers are alive in North Korea or in Vietnam.

Vietnam: The Vietnamese government warned the public to stop gathering, marching and forming protests against China in the capital of Hanoi, saying "hostile forces" were trying to damage relations between the two countries, according to a Hanoi's People's Committee statement.

The statement said most of the marches stemmed from patriotism and frustration, but recently, hostile elements from inside and outside Vietnam have begun inciting people to cause public disorder in Hanoi. It added that the protests caused political instability, creating a negative impact on Vietnam's foreign relations.

Comment: Looking past the communist cant, the statement is a warning to the cell-phone, flash mob activists that the communist government in Hanoi will not tolerate a youth uprising, as in Arab states. The controlled anti-Chinese demonstrations in Hanoi apparently have served the purposes of conveying the extent of popular hostility to the Chinese that the Vietnamese communist leaders wanted. Those men and women are unwilling to risk the possibility that anti-Chinese sentiment could switch rapidly to anti-regime sentiment, once flash mobs are permitted.

Pakistan-Afghanistan: For the record. A senior unnamed Pakistani military officer said Pakistan can bring the anti-Kabul Haqqani militant syndicate to the negotiation table for peace in Afghanistan. The officer said a military assault on the Haqqani hideouts would spark a war in the entire tribal region of northwest Pakistan and that the Pakistan Army cannot win. However, the source said it remains unclear what incentives for peace Haqqani could be offered even if they agree to negotiate.

Comment: The statement about the Haqqanis is contradictory and self-serving for the Pakistan Army. It conveys no sense that the Haqqanis are willing to talk and no details that provide reassurance that the Pakistan Army can persuade them to do so, as it claims.

What it does evidence is that the Pakistan Army has channels of communication to one of the largest Afghan rebel fighting forces. The implication is that the Pakistan Army has a reliable relationship with the Haqqani family and syndicate in Waziristan.

Thus, in Afghan peace negotiations, the Haqqanis would act as a proxy for and communications channel to the Pakistan Army. Readers would be justified in concluding that the Pakistan Army has been a steady backer of the Haqqanis since US forces arrived in Afghanistan. That should surprise no one who has followed this problem seriously in the past 30 years.

Afghanistan: Two suicide terrorists attacked the UK Consulate in Kabul on 19 August, killing at least eight and injuring 10. Effective attacks of this nature inside Kabul are usually the work of the Haqqani syndicate.

Israel-Egyptian border: Israeli combat aircraft attacked seven targets in Gaza early on 19 August, killing one Palestinian, in retaliation for the coordinated terrorist attacks on 18 August against Israelis at Eilat. At least eight Israeli were killed and 10 injured in multiple coordinated attacks, apparently originating from the Gaza Strip.

Ynet reported. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the attacks originated in Gaza. Jordan reportedly told Israel shortly before the attacks that its intelligence indicated assaults were planned. An Egyptian official said Egypt was not involved.

Comment: The perpetrators are not yet known, though the Israelis assess that they came from Gaza originally. The attacks serve the interests of multiple Islamist groups who share the conviction that Israel must remain the target of Muslim warlike impulses.

In one interpretation, the goal of the attackers is to disrupt Egyptian-Israeli ties. That seems superficial. A more nuanced interpretation of this limited viewpoint is that the attackers sought to strengthen sympathy for the Islamists in Egypt, embarrassing the military government, to be sure, but more importantly pointing the direction for a future elected Islamist government in Cairo.

In this interpretation, the message is that an Islamic republic in Egypt must be anti-Israel.

Another interpretation is that Iranian backed terrorists - supplies for Sinai-based terrorists come from Iran - staged attacks to divert international attention towards the security of Israel and thus ease pressure on Syria. Confirmation that the attackers had ties of some kind to Iran would reinforce this and the next interpretation.

A third interpretation is that the purpose of the attacks was to remind Arab leaders and wider Arab news audiences that the enemy of Islam is Israel. Arabs have been fighting each other all year and the primary beneficiary of these internal struggles has been Israel. Israel has gotten a pass and its security has been better than in many years because of Arab fractiousness.

There are at least four other interpretations related to the Palestinian pursuit of statehood and Israeli opposition to it.

Regardless of the interpretations, the irreducible fact is that Israel is in the international news more than Syria or Yemen for the first time in eight months. The attacks might be a reminder from the hard core believers that the cell-phone, flash mobbers and others need to remember that the enemy of Muslims is Israel.

Egypt: Update. A sweeping Egyptian military operation in Sinai targeting militants has resulted in the capture of 20 people, including Palestinians and radical Islamists, a security official said.

Saleh al-Masri, the North Sinai security chief, told the official MENA news agency that the captured men are suspected of being involved in an attack on a police station in July that killed a military officer and three bystanders. Masri said 20 wanted men have been captured so far, some belonging to extremist Islamist cells. The men are currently undergoing interrogation.

Libya: Update. Rebel fighters claimed to have gained control of the oil refinery in Zawiya, employees at the complex said in 18 August. The employees said pro-Qadhafi soldiers were driven out of the refinery overnight.

A rebel commander said 5,000 rebel fighters were deployed around the refinery. The rebels also claim to have liberated the whole of Zawiya, except for two main streets.

Algeria: Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for a 14 August suicide bombing at a local police headquarters in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria, Reuters reported on 18 August. The group posted a statement on an Islamist website and identified the suicide bomber.

Comment: The last serious terrorist attack in Algeria was a suicide bombing against a military barracks in April 2011 in which 14 officers were killed. The interval between the two attacks suggests the al Qaida terrorists were constrained to demonstrate that they are still around. They have little capability beyond that, which means they have degenerated into organized criminals, vice Islamic warriors. Nevertheless, the leaders still have the ability to seduce devout and naïve youths into killing themselves for no earthly accomplishment.

End of NightWatch for 18 August.

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