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NightWatch 20150219

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NightWatch

For the night of 19 February 2015

Egypt - Qatar - Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Qatar recalled its ambassador to Egypt "for consultations" over remarks by the Egyptian delegate to the Arab League who accused Qatar of supporting terrorism.

The Egyptian delegate made the accusation because Qatar expressed reservations about a clause in an Arab League statement supporting "Egypt's right to legitimately defend itself " and to take  measures to confront terrorism  including the air strikes carried out against Daesh (ISIL) in Libya.

The Egyptian delegate accused Qatar of continuously taking positions against Egypt. He said, "According to our reading in Egypt of the Qatari reservation, it is evident that Qatar is revealing its position that it is supportive of terrorism."

Qatar denied and denounced the accusation. GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al Zayani said in a statement he "rejects accusations by Egypt's permanent envoy at the Arab League that Qatar supports terrorism". On 17 February, Saudi King Salman held talks with the Emir of Qatar in Riyadh.

Comment: Egyptian and Qatari relations have not been cordial since The Egyptian Army overthrew the Mursi/Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt in July 2013. Egyptian authorities know that Qatar supported President Mursi and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Press sources also say that al Jazeera frequently runs items that are hostile to President al-Sisi.

Supposedly relations mended in December through the offices of the late Saudi King Abdallah. Qatar expressed its full support for Egypt and President al-Sisi. The thaw in ties apparently did not last past the death of King Abdallah.

Some experts judge that King Salman is much friendlier with Qatar than King Abdallah was. He also is reported to be hostile to al-Sisi and softer on issues involving the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

It is premature to judge the gravity of this row. The GCC's reaction seems aimed primarily at preserving Arab unity. Nevertheless this disagreement exposes the fact that the Arabs are not united in their definition of what is terrorism and who is a terrorist. They also openly disagree about what is the appropriate response, if any, to acts of Islamic punishment, such as the decapitation of Christians just because they are Christians.

If the Arab leaders cannot agree on fundamental issues of terrorism, an effective strategy for destroying ISIL cannot be developed and executed.

Ukraine: Update News interviews with soldiers who fought their way out of the Debal'tseve pocket have exposed the extent of the debacle. The rebels succeeded in encircling a force of at least 1,000 soldiers. They were cut off from resupply and ran low on food, water and ammunition. Some said the Kyiv government misinformed Ukrainians about the situation and conditions.

The rebel and Russia media descriptions of the condition of the Ukrainian soldiers were more accurate than daily updates by authorities in Kyiv. The rebels claim more than 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers died during the fight for Debal'tseve.

The Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council's daily map shows that the Debal'tseve pocket is gone. The ceasefire generally is holding, but the map shows a few more flashes of artillery fire than yesterday.

One clash occurred in the south near Mariupol on the coast. Ukraine said one soldier died in a rebel attack. The rebels still want to capture it. The shelling is a reminder that they consider the fighting paused, not ended.

Comment: The ceasefire might yet fail, but not because of a Ukrainian counter-offensive over Debal'tseve. Ukraine seems to lack the resources and the will to counter-attack. The more immediate danger is that the rebels will continue to try to smooth the battle lines, including limited operations to capture advantageous ground or to press a local advantage.

Italy-Libya: On 18 February, Italy called for urgent international action to halt Libya's slide into chaos and said it was ready to help monitor a ceasefire and train local armed forces.

Defense Minister Pinotti told the press, "The risk is imminent; we cannot wait any longer…Italy has national defense needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us."

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi recently closed the Italian Embassy in Tripoli. The Italian government said it is prepared to deploy 500 special anti-terrorism police to protect important sites in Rome; has prepared up to 5,000 soldiers to help protect other cities; would help monitor a ceasefire in Libya and would train anti-ISIL forces.

Gentiloni said the surge in migrant arrivals, up nearly 60 percent in the first six weeks of the year to more than 5,300, was clearly connected with the security situation in Libya.

Comment: The beheading of Egyptian Christians has jolted Italian authorities. However, they have backed tracked from a comment earlier in the week that Italy was ready to lead an anti-ISIL coalition in Libya. That panic reaction has been replaced with a more temperate statement of support for a UN-backed coalition, in line with a similar proposal by Egyptian President al-Sisi.

As noted in an earlier NightWatch edition, atrocities against nationals or perceived direct threats to national interests are the driving factors that have led countries to take military action against ISIL.

The Italians are concerned about a threat that is not yet mature. Some ISIL groups in Libya have stated the intention of attacking Europe through Italy. Nevertheless, the groups lack the capabilities and the will. By threatening Italy, they also surrendered near term opportunities. A sizeable attack is a low probability.

They can send infiltrators and teams to execute individual acts of terrorism with little warning, especially if they exploit a growing Libyan refugee population. As a living system, ISIL requires a supportive and protective host, as did the Charlie Hebdo Islamists in Paris.

The Italian leaders are prudent in taking early, relatively low cost and appropriate precautions in response to early warning. Their responses at this time will save time, resources and lives in the event the threat matures later.

End of NightWatch for 19 February.

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