Night Watch

North Korea-Syria: For the record. The party daily Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong-un sent a greeting to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad on the occasion of the 49th anniversary of the Syrian revolution.

Comment: North Korea always stands by its customers/friends. Syria was North Korea's first paying customer for made-in-North Korea Scud short range ballistic missiles and support systems in the 1980s.

Syria also purchased longer range Scud systems from North Korea. The Israelis and others judge that North Korea provided support for the suspected nuclear facility under construction that the Israelis destroyed by air strikes in 2007.

Iran-US: For the record. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday welcomed comments by US President Obama that played down the probability of war over Iran's nuclear program.

"This talk is good talk and shows an exit from illusion," Khamenei was quoted as telling clerics from the Assembly of Experts. This is the 86-member body that selects the supreme leader, supervises his activities and can dismiss him.

Note to new analysts: When a potential adversary compliments his potential enemy, it usually means somebody blundered and/or that deception is being applied by one or both parties. In this instance, the Iranian supreme leader appears to be gloating.

Syria: Deputy Oil Minister Abdo Hussameddin announced his resignation and departure from the Ba'ath Party to side with the opposition against President Al-Asad's regime. If confirmed, he would be the highest-ranking official to defect, and the third member of the administration to do so. A video of his declaration was posted on YouTube and repeated around the world.

Comment: Most news outlets reported this man as the highest-level official to defect, which means very little. A lengthy search showed the man was a Baath Party member for a long time, but failed to discover whether the defector was a Christian, Druze, Sunni, Alawite or member of another group. The implications of the defection hinge largely on details not available in the public domain.

Syria celebrated the 49th anniversary of the Syrian coup by Hafez al-Asad on 8 March 1963. Revolution Day is 8 March.

Correction: The place names cited by the Red Crescent official and reported in the 7 March edition of NightWatch are governates, not cities and towns. Syria has 14 governates - often translated as provinces - which administer 61 districts.

It is important to enter an instability problem at the right level, meaning at the level of political organization that provides diagnostic and prognostic results. The international press persists in describing unrest in terms of governates. Entering the instability problem at this level results in distorted narratives and exaggerated reports about the strength of the opposition and the weakness of the government.

Readers are justified in wondering why the government in Damascus has not collapsed. The reason is that the government is not now and has never been threatened by a governate-level insurrection. The fight is in local neighborhoods and most are on the political or geographic periphery of the governates, posing little threat to central authority.

Syria is about the size of North Dakota, according to the CIA World Factbook, with a few differences. Syria has 61 districts which more or less correspond to North Dakota's 53 counties. North Dakota's counties, however, are not organized into governates or provinces.

Syria supports more than 22.5 million people in the same space that North Dakota supports just under 700,000, but with a lot less water. North Dakota has no cities as populous as Syria's Homs which contains over a million people. North Dakota has no sea ports or borders with hostile enemy states.

NightWatch has sought to enter the Syrian instability problem at the district or sub-district level so as to guard against bias and get finer ground truth granularity about just what is happening in Syrian neighborhoods.

For example, a careful survey shows that today the Free Syrian Army and its supporting web sites posted situation reports indicating that this force engaged in six operations in five different governates on 7 March. Several were exchanges of gunfire in which no one was injured and one was erection of a roadblock, in a territory the size of North Dakota.

This data supports leaked information attributed to US intelligence persons that there isn't much of a Free Syrian Army. There is unrest in Syria, but there really isn't much of an insurgency. For the purposes of comparison, in Iraq in 2006, more than 300 firefights occurred daily. In Afghanistan last spring, there were around 50 firefights daily and hundreds of incidents involving makeshift explosives.

Syrian security forces were busy. Opposition sources reported dozens of activities in nine of the 14 governates. A closer look showed that the activities were concentrated in about a dozen of the 61 districts.

Nine governates sounds like a big insurrection. Unrest in 12 districts presents a far more manageable security problem than nine governates supposedly out of control, but in fact not. No governates are out of control and apparently neither are any of the 61 districts.

A still finer focus showed that most of the opposition activities were small, brief street demonstrations (which were not further defined), according to the opposition's own postings. There were no clashes except as noted above; no bombings and no terror attacks on 7 March.

Most of the government operations were local neighborhood sweeps that encountered no resistance. Other reported government actions included over flights of aircraft, some vague armor movements and shelling. The opposition sources that posted the reports were not careful to distinguish whether the operations were by law enforcement and police personnel, paramilitary militias or the Syrian armed forces. Most were attributed to "thugs," which suggests the paramilitary militias. 

Unfortunately the sources also were not specific about which sub-districts or neighborhoods were under stress from government operations. Each of the 61 Syrian districts has multiple sub-districts what are called, nawahi. It is not yet possible to track activity at the nawahi level, but it would show a more fine grained definition of the status of the instability problem in Syria.

Egypt: The Egyptian Parliament will likely declare in a formal vote that it has lost confidence in Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri's government, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders said on 8 March. MB member Essam el-Erian said there will be a move toward rejecting a policy statement presented by el-Ganzouri.

Comment: The Brotherhood has moved in a methodical and carefully legal fashion to use parliamentary procedure to collapse the Army-backed government and to install its own. This process is taking place now. The Egyptian Army will allow it to proceed, provided its interests and holdings are not threatened, which they are not at this time.

Libya: Update. Tribal leaders' decision to declare the eastern Libyan province of Cyrenaica a semi-autonomous federal region is "final and irreversible," regional leader Ahmed al-Senussi said on 8 March.

Comment: This statement of defiance means that the government in Tripoli must assert its authority. Nevertheless, negotiations are inevitable. Still, all  parties will be preparing for a test of strength.

End of NightWatch.

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Night Watch

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