Night Watch

Russia: Update. A Russian general went on TV to prove that he was not dead in Syria, as the Syrian opposition claimed. The problem is that the spelling of the general's name did not match the spelling of the general the Syrian opposition claim to have killed.

Part of the problem is the transliteration between Arabic and Cyrillic. The guy who claimed he was not dead admitted that he had been in Syria and served as an advisor to the al Asad Defense Ministry.

Curious: maybe there were more than one Russian general officer serving as an advisor whose name started with "K". Or maybe the opposition got things wrong, again. Or maybe all sides are lying, as usual.

What is irreducible is that at least one Russian general was in Damascus, serving as an advisor to the Syrian Defense Ministry. That is the first confirmation of such assistance by an authoritative Russian source.



Saudi Arabia: Update. Al Ahram ran the following item on 7 August, concerning the health of key royal family members of the Saudi government. For those who want to cut to the key point, Prince Bandar is alive and was seen by the US Ambassador.

NightWatch reproduced the official press release so that Readers could see for themselves the context and the substance of this report without interpretation or redaction.

"The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, received at his palace in Jeddah on Monday evening the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic cooperation, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu; the Secretary General of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States, Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani; Dean of Diplomatic Corps and Ambassador of the State of Qatar to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ali bin Abdullah Al Mahmoud; and deans of groups accredited to the Kingdom including the Dean of Arab Group and Ambassador of Djibouti, Ziauddin Saeed Bamakhrama; Dean of Asian Group and Ambassador of Brunei Darussalam, Pengiran Haji Jaber Eddin bin Pengiran Haji Mohammed Saleh; Acting Dean of North America Group and U.S. Ambassador James B. Smith; Dean of Oceania Group and Ambassador of New Zealand Rod Harris; Acting Dean of South American Group and Ambassador of the Republic of Argentina, Jaime Sergio Serda; and GCC Ambassadors accredited to the Kingdom including Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed Saeed Al-Dhahri; Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamoud bin Abdullah Al Khalifa; Acting Charge D'affaires of the Embassy of Sultanate of Oman, Jassim bin Eid Al-Saadi; and Acting Charge D'affaires of State of Kuwait, Wael Yousef Al-Hazzal."

"During the audience attended by Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, the ambassadors conveyed to the King the greetings and congratulations of the leaders of GCC, Islamic, Arab and friendly countries on the occasion of the Holy Month of Ramadan, wishing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia further progress and prosperity under the leadership of the King and the Crown Prince."

"For his part, the King sent his greetings to the leaders of these countries, praying to Allah Almighty for many happy returns of this holy month to Arab and Islamic nations and the world with progress, prosperity and blessings.

The audience was attended by Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, Advisor and Special Envoy to the King; Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Chief of General Intelligence and the Secretary General of National Security Council; Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Minister State, Cabinet's Member and Commander of the National Guard; Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs; and Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, President of Saudi Red Crescent Authority."

Comment: The Saudis waited a week, but discreetly and tastefully let the world know via this broadcast that neither the Syrians, Iranians nor internal dissidents killed Prince Bandar or breached Saudi security. This is the only report of a public appearance by Prince Bandar this month.

The identification of the diplomatic attendees by name, including the US Ambassador, means the Saudis invited news services to corroborate that Bandar was seen in public and is healthy.

Turkey: Some 170 militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, commonly known by the initials PKK, have been killed recently in Turkey, and about half of the slain militants were foreign, Turkish Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said on 9 August. The foreign fighters came from Armenia, Iran, Syria, Iraq and Israel, the minister said.

Comment: This press piece is almost insignificant except in one respect. The Turks are blaming their security problems on outside meddling in the same way the Syrians are laying blame for their security problems, which, in fact, are traceable to Turkey.

(The irony of the Turkish pot calling the Syrian kettle black was too good to omit.)

Syria: Update. The opposition Free Syrian Army has withdrawn from Aleppo's district of Salaheddin - its main base of support in Aleppo, according to a rebel military source on 9 August. The rebels had to withdraw due to heavy bombardment from regime forces, the source said.

Comment: Other rebel sources said the rebels ran out of ammunition and had no capability against Syrian government air and helicopter attack forces. So they ran rather than fight.

Withdrawal is a prudent tactic in the face of overwhelming military power, but that is the key lesson of the fight for Aleppo. It was never the pivotal battle that would determine the future of Syria, as multiple US pundits opined. It also showed that the government is overwhelmingly more powerful than the fractious and poorly-equipped rebels who have no capability to control any territory against a government attack force.

Now the opposition and foreign jihadis will regroup and find another Syrian town to camp in and help destroy. Non-combatant Syrians of all sects should get angry at being manipulated in this fashion. Western and Sunni Arab meddling is increasing significantly the civilian death count among Sunnis, but not much more.

Syria-Iran: In Tehran today, delegates from 29 states gathered to discuss ways to stop the fighting in Syria. What they said was less important than the fact that 29 states sent delegates.

Comment: US media and official spokespersons ignored the Tehran meeting. Nevertheless, the Iranians put the lie to US State Department pronouncements that Syria is isolated and has no friends.

It is confusing to consider that Iranian Shiites would side with Syrian Christians to support the al Asad government, but the US would side with the Al Qaida terrorists who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks to oppose the Asad government. The alliances make as much sense as those during the 100 years' war in Europe.

Egypt: Egypt agreed to a limited reopening of the Rafah border crossing into Gaza on 10 August to allow thousands of Gazans stranded in Sinai to return to Gaza, according to a Hamas Interior Ministry statement. The Palestinians can return to Gaza but no one will be allowed to leave Gaza to enter Egypt, according to the statement.

Bedouin militants attacked Egyptian outposts for a second day, today, but were repulsed.

Comment: The Egyptians and the Israelis seem to agree that the best Palestinians are those who are confined in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants have been identified by various news reporters as the trainers for the Bedouin fighters who attacked the Rafah border crossing point this week which resulted in 16 dead Egyptian soldiers.

The grievances of the Sinai Bedouin tribesmen, numbering some 400,000 people, against the Egyptian government are longstanding and serious. They have shared in none of the benefits of economic development on the Mediterranean or the Red Sea coasts. They have become more militant and aggressive in the past 18 months, because of the political confusion in Cairo. Many young men have become attracted to fundamentalist preaching by outside imams.

The Egyptian crackdown on the Bedouin militants/hotheads continues.

Libya: The National Transitional Council (NTC) handed over power to a newly elected national assembly in the Libya's first peaceful transition of power in its modern history. A senior member of the assembly said,

"The National Transitional Council hands over the constitutional duties for leading the state to the general national congress, which from now on is the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people."

Comment: The assembly will name a new prime minister, approve his cabinet, pass laws and steer Libya to full parliamentary elections after a new constitution is drafted next year.

A liberal coalition led by wartime rebel prime minister Mahmoud Jibril won 39 of the 80 party seats in the congress, while its Islamist rivals, the Justice and Construction Party - the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood won 17. The remaining 120 seats are in the hands of independent candidates whose allegiances are hard to pin down. They will require political tradeoffs in order to form a coalition government. Those tradeoffs might increase the influence of the Brotherhood.

Mali: Military intervention in northern Mail is inevitable due to the Islamists' defiance of mediation efforts and the installation of "sharia" in the region, according to a 9 August government statement. A leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa confirmed that the organization had cut off the hand of a local thief on 8 August in compliance with sharia. The region is controlled by terrorists and drug traffickers cloaked in a false religious veil, according to the statement.

Comment: The increased rhetoric about the deployment of an intervention force to reclaim northern Mali primarily is aimed at accustoming the northern jihadis and the southern Malians to expect to see the arrival of soldiers from other African states and the buildup of military power to defeat the terrorists who have seized power from the Tuaregs in northern Mali.

Greece: Update. The unemployment rate in Greece rose to 23.1 percent in May 2012, up from 22.6 percent in April, the Hellenic Statistical Authority said on 9 August. The rate of unemployment is only a percent or so below that of the US during the Great Depression.

Why are there not bread lines and other signs of catastrophic poverty in Greece? Feedback is invited.

End of NightWatch ###

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Night Watch

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