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Azerbaijan-Israel: An Azeri ministry of defense official called "absurd and groundless" a sensational article in Foreign Policy magazine that claimed Azerbaijan had granted Israel access to Azeri airfields in the event it attacked Iran.

An official with Azerbaijan's presidential administration, Ali Hasanov, blasted the allegations as an attempt to damage relations between Azerbaijan and Iran, who share a common border.

"We have stated on numerous occasions and we reiterate that there will be no actions against Iran... from the territory of Azerbaijan," Hasanov stated.

Comment: Israeli security cooperation with Azerbaijan dates to1991, months after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the declaration of an independent Azerbaijan. Israel was one of the first states to recognize an independent Azerbaijan.

Since then Israel has pursued a long term military assistance program. Since Netanyahu's visit to Baku in 1997, Israel has assisted the modernization and training of Azeri forces. In 2009, an Israeli defense company announced plans to build a plant in Baku. In February 2012 Israel announced a $1.6 billion arms and assistance package for Azerbaijan, including modern air defense systems, missiles and drones.

Israel probably does not require use of airfields in Azerbaijan to launch an attack against Iran. It would need them more as a place for the Israeli strike forces to recover after an attack. Thus, there is little likelihood of any actions against Iran originating from Azerbaijan. There is a higher likelihood that such actions might originate in Israel and conclude in Azerbaijan.

The advantage to Azerbaijan is that it would end up with a squadron of Israeli combat aircraft in place to defend it against any Iranian retaliation.

Syria: Several developments were reported on 28 and 29 March. Fighting continued, featuring phone video shots of fighting in Homs plus official reports of another "rebel stronghold" falling to the government on the 29th.

While the opposition and international media reported "heavy" fighting in Homs, President Asad was shown visiting the Homs neighborhoods that government forces recently cleared and seriously damaged.

Finally, a western reporter embedded with opposition fighters reported that he witnessed and heard the opposition fighters he was with order tires set on fire because the smoke made the fighting look more serious in the reporter's videos.

Comment: Readers should be suspicious of manipulation when they read any report that mentions a place as a rebel stronghold. The opposition controls no territory at all, much less strongholds. In the Syrian context, press mention of a stronghold in connection with the opposition is spin.

Readers may have confidence that President Asad would not be permitted by his security staff to visit a zone of heavy fighting. The government video of destruction in Homs was more credible than the cell phone video of fighting. Homs is quieter than the opposition wants outsiders to believe. The government does not hesitate to show destruction because it blames the fighting on outside infiltrators and backers.

Finally, the eyewitness testimony about opposition open manipulation of video images reinforces the NightWatch contention that a substantial portion of what the opposition reports is fabricated.

That statement does not imply that government reportage is necessarily more credible. Every reporting entity is and should be skeptical of government statements.

It does mean that sympathy for the apparent underdog can make some media people vulnerable to deception and manipulation. At least some of the images taken by cell phone users are completely phony and staged.

For analysts, it is all information that might be converted into evidence. A lot will be rejected. It must be judged piece by piece. There are no shortcuts.

Note to new analysts: It is important to appreciate a basic rule of evidence law: sometimes liars tell the truth and sometimes honest people lie. An inability to cope with these subtleties can mean the difference between freedom and incarceration; life and death.

Videos are not self-proving and not self-evident since the arrival of the digital age. Images are worth a thousand words, which is why propagandists delight in manipulating them. Superior analysts understand and are skillful in judging the value of information as evidence, regardless of the medium of collection.

Mali: A delegation of five Presidents from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) cancelled their trip to Mali after about 100 pro-coup demonstrators blocked the runway at Bamako and refused to allow the delegation's aircraft to land. In response, ECOWAS has imposed tight sanctions on Mali until the army mutineers restore the elected government.

ECOWAS officials announced late Thursday, 29 March, that the members states - which include all those that border Mali -- will close all the land borders with landlocked Mali and freeze the nation's bank account if the junta does not step aside. No gasoline, for example, will be allowed into Mali. Only humanitarian aid will be allowed in.

Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the President of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States told reporters in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, that the sanctions will go into effect in 72 hours if the coup leaders do not take steps to restore the country's democratic institutions.

Comment: Mali is now under a blockade. Collective punishment is being administered to prompt Malians to boot out the army mutineers. Army officers in sub-Saharan Africa seem slow to pick up on the fact that the era of coups passed 30 years ago. They still occur, but they are increasingly short-lived and unsuccessful.

When Bamako, the capital, runs out of gasoline and food, the counter-coup will succeed. Meanwhile, no one is preventing the Tuaregs from fragmenting Mali, the declared purpose of the coup.

End of NightWatch for 29 March.

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