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NightWatch 20150322

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For the night of 22 March 2015

China-India: Special Representatives of India and China are scheduled to hold talks on 23 March in New Delhi on disputed borders. This will be the 18th round of talks on the border disputes. The purpose of the latest meeting is to finalize the framework for resolving the disputes as well as to prepare for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to China in May.

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and his Indian counterpart National Security Adviser Ajit Doval will meet Prime Minister Modi on Tuesday.

Comment: Indian press analysts noted that this will be the first time that the Modi government has engaged State Councilor Yang on the border issue since Mr. Doval was appointed Special Representative last November. "It will be an exercise in clarifying and understanding each other's positions," government sources said. The last talks in this series occurred a year ago.

The border between India and China is not defined in multiple locations. The Chinese claim large areas of India, including most of one state in eastern India. As with China's offshore claims, the Chinese have no intention or legal flexibility to compromise their claims.

Both sides have built up military bases and forces opposite the disputed border regions, but the Chinese are far ahead of the Indians in making military improvements. The talks keep lines of communication open during the military buildup. Neither side is yet ready for the inevitable military conflict over claims. The talks provide a mechanism to convey reassurance that the occasional border clashes will not escalate until both sides are ready.

Iran-Yemen: Al Arabiya reported on 20 March that an Iranian ship unloaded more than 180 tons of weapons and military equipment near the port of al-Hudaydah in northwestern Yemen. According to the report, the ship docked at al-Saleef port, northwest of al Hudaydah, last Thursday. The Houthi militias reportedly closed the port and denied entrance to employees.

Comment: Assuming the report is accurate, the timing of the Iranian shipment could not be more fortuitous relative to the Houthi operations over the weekend. The supplies would replenish the ammunition and supplies used in the current Houthi offensive.

Beyond the issue of providing logistic support for the Houthis, the shipment means that the Iranians have no reservations about showing that Iran is responsible for Houthi actions since last September and that the overthrow of the government in Sana'a was part of an Iranian-backed scheme.

At a time of sensitive nuclear negotiations, Iranian activities in Yemen seem deliberately defiant and insolent. They leave no doubt that the Houthis are executing Iran's strategy. They also show that the Iranians are contemptuous of the Western powers because the Iranian leaders judge the West will do nothing to stop them and will not stop the nuclear talks.

Yemen: Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthis, vowed to send fighters into the south to defeat forces loyal to President Hadi in Aden.

In an incendiary and provocative speech on Sunday, 22 March, al-Houthi said the move is aimed at fighting al-Qaida and other extremist groups, as well as forces loyal to Hadi. He called Hadi a "puppet" of international and regional powers, who want to "import the Libyan model" to Yemen. He named the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar as conspirators against Yemen.

Comment: The speech almost was a celebration of the Houthi seizure of part of Ta'izz and its airport. Ta'izz is Yemen's third city.

On Saturday, the Houthi-led Supreme Committee in Sana'a called for "general mobilization" against al-Qaida and the militants. News services and other reporters indicated that Houthi fighting groups moved in two directions on Saturday. One group moved to capture the Governate of Ma'rib with its oil resources. Another group moved against Ta'izz.

The move to capture oil facilities in Ma'rib Governate probably is the more important of the two. Anti-Houthi fighters repelled it.

The move to seize Ta'izz received international coverage. Apparently, the Houthis captured parts of the city and its airport. The entry of the Houthis, who are Shia, into Ta'izz sparked public demonstrations in opposition to their takeover of the city.

Comment: The next target in the south is Aden. News services reported President Hadi was trying to consolidate his supporters on Sunday. However, his faction shows no signs of the military organization and capabilities to prevent a Houthi capture of Aden in the coming week or two.

The southern Arabs remain polarized and ambivalent, calculating the odds of which side will win. With Iranian support, the Houthis are about to take all the important areas of Yemen without much resistance, despite much bluster.

Special comment: Yemen already is in a state of civil war in that control of the national territory is split between the Houthis and the southerners. The split means that power is being shared.

The power sharing arrangement resulted from force or arms. That is what defines a civil war: territorial power sharing as the result of force of arms, rather than negotiations. The bifurcation of Yemen occurred faster than either faction apparently anticipated. Thus, an ultimate test of who shall govern Yemen has not occurred and probably won't.

The Houthis have made all their gains with limited military exertions. No groups feel the need to fight to the death for any reasons, compared to living to fight another day.

The Islamic terrorists are a wild card whose effect thus far has been to kill people while weakening the ability of the Sunni forces and tribes to resist the Iranian-backed Houthis.

Update on the mosque bombings. The latest casualty toll from the suicide bombings last Friday is 143 killed and 366 injured. The bombings, attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were more lethal than any of the factional fighting that has split Yemen. The casualties did not result from action by either of the major actors in the civil war. They also appear to have backfired by making the Houthis more determined to conquer the south and exterminate the terrorists.

Morocco: The government said Sunday a nationwide security operation successfully dismantled a "terrorist cell" and seized weapons that were to have been used for a string of assassinations by Moroccan adherents of ISIL.

Government security forces executed raids in Agadir, Marrakesh, Tangier, Ain Harouda near Casablanca and in Western Sahara. "Firearms and a large amount of ammunition" to be used "to assassinate political, military and civilian figures," were seized near Agadir, a government source said.

The government said members of the dismantled network had pledged allegiance to ISIL; vowed to target the Moroccan security forces and send recruits to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Comment: The government's success against the ISIL cell is important, but ominous. The raids showed that ISIL sympathizers exist in all the major towns of Morocco. The weapons seizures show that the ISIL cell was moving beyond local recruitment and into an operational phase. That would be a first in Morocco.

According to official figures, between 1,500 and 2,000 Moroccans are fighting or have fought alongside jihadists in Iraq and Syria as well as in Libya. Some might have returned to Morocco.

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End of NightWatch for 22 March.

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