Night Watch

European Union-Syria: Update. The European Union announced that it recognized the new Syrian opposition National Coalition as the "legitimate" government of Syria.

Comment: The move primarily is a statement of political support because diplomatic recognition is the responsibility of each of the 27 members.

Syria: Leaders of 13 Syrian opposition groups inside Syria rejected the new National Coalition leadership as its representative and authoritative public outlet.

"We reached a consensus on the establishment of a just Islamic state and the rejection of any foreign plan from coalitions or councils imposed on those of us inside Syria, no matter which side intervention comes from," a spokesman said in a read statement.

Comment: The attempt by Western governments to forge a more inclusive and moderate Syrian opposition leadership appears to have failed. The new so-called leadership group has no greater ability to control fighting groups than did its predecessor.

More importantly, the leaders of the 13 fighting groups clarified that their intention is to install an Islamist state that is hostile to foreign meddling. To the extent possible, open source information indicates the 13 are genuine fighters, not émigré Syrian politicians.

Turkey-Israel:  While addressing a conference in Istanbul on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan delivered a strong verbal attack against Israel. He said those who associate Islam with terrorism close their eyes in the face of mass killing of Muslims, and turn their heads from the massacre of children in Gaza. "For this reason, I say that Israel is a terrorist state, and its acts are terrorist acts."

On Tuesday, 20 November, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit Gaza as part of an Arab League initiative. Ankara is pushing for an immediate truce. Davutoglu is expected to echo Erdogan's tough rhetoric against Israel, while working to find a solution to the crisis.

Comment: Any conflict between Israel and Palestinians confronts the Erdogan government with a quandary because of Turkey's historically close relations with Israel. Those ties have become strained over Turkish support for efforts to defy and break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The core of Turkey's dilemma is Erdogan's goal of restoring a Turkish leadership role in the solution of Muslim grievances. If Turkey supports Israel instead of Hamas, Erdogan is a quisling. If Turkey supports Hamas against Israel too energetically, Erdogan risks appearing to be a lackey of Iran, which arms Hamas in Gaza. It also risks complicating Egyptian mediation efforts.

Turkey's objective is to carve out some neutral space in which to assert leadership. None of the parties appear open to Turkish intervention, but Hamas is likely to welcome outside political support from any Islamic state.

Israel-Gaza Strip: IDF Spokesman Brigadier General Mordekhay said the scope of rocket firing at Israel is decreasing. According to Mordekhay, the terrorists launching the rockets have withdrawn from the open areas in the Gaza Strip to the centers of the cities.

He noted that in the last few days the IDF has hit many hundreds of rocket launchers and dozens of tunnels used for smuggling purposes, adding that the HAMAS command and control echelons have been degraded. The IDF spokesman clarified that the IDF forces are prepared to carry out any instruction given by the political echelon

News services, citing IDF statements, reported at least 121 rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip on 19 November, which is down from 156 on 18 November and 230 on 17 November.

Comment: News service reports indicate Hamas has fired more than 900 rockets since 14 November and Israeli aircraft have made more than 1,000 air strikes. No Fajr-5 long range rockets have been fired at Tel Aviv or Jerusalem in the past two days.

As of this Watch, 102 Palestinians have been killed and 720 injured. Three Israelis have been killed and 70 injured. Compared to the amount of ordnance fired in the past six days, the casualties remain low.

Israel is taking great pains to avoid civilian casualties, including dropping pamphlets warning of imminent attacks. The Palestinians are firing unguided rockets into Israel, about a tenth of which have hit Palestinians, according to Israeli military press statements.

Israel: The IDF has called up 40,000 reserve soldiers of the 75,000 approved by the cabinet. Many of them belong to infantry and tank units. They reportedly are making final preparations for a ground intervention in Gaza, should it be ordered.

Talks to achieve at least a short term ceasefire are taking place in Egypt, but apparently without significant progress. If a cease-fire with Hamas is not reached, Israel Defense Forces will expand its operations within hours, not days, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio on 19 November.

Meanwhile, Israel opened one or more border crossing posts to allow humanitarian aid convoys into Gaza.

Comment: Israeli analysts interpret the lack of long range rocket attacks against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv plus the downward trend of daily totals of rocket attacks as positive signs that the air campaign is successful and that the Palestinian Arab leaders in Gaza are sincere in wanting a ceasefire.

If the Israeli interpretation of the rocket firing trends is accurate, a ceasefire is likely this week.

Special Comment: Feedback from brilliant Readers conveys concern that Israel is presented as justified in its retaliation and not as the instigator of the latest round of attack exchanges.

In the NightWatch experience, causality takes about 20 years to determine with any confidence. Survival in the neighborhood requires that the intelligence and special operations forces of all parties constantly are at work all the time. Thus, escalation is always a political decision, often related to political maneuverings and calculations in Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Iran or Israel that cannot be known from open source channels.

Both sides of this conflict are fighting as they must or can. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others Palestinian groups have no weapons to attack Israel except rockets. As for Israel, the day it fails to fight asymmetrically, that is the day it submits to national suicide. Asymmetrical tactics have nothing to do with justice.

Conflicts often bring clarity to political struggles. The US has unequivocally backed Israel's right of self-defense, which implies endorsement of the Israeli interpretation of events. However, a look into the exchanges of attacks in September and October and earlier clouds the determination of who shot first.

For NightWatch that question is less interesting than what comes next. This is the first major combat action between Arabs and Israelis since the Arab Spring uprisings changed governments in Tunisia, Egypt and, arguably, Libya. New Arab governments will be judged on their reaction to it.

It contains ominous portents because Hamas would have been reluctant, if not unable, to engage Israel in this fashion were Mubarak still in power in Egypt. It has rallied Muslims of all sects and ethnicities, and as far away as Malaysia and Indonesia to denounce Israel and state their support for the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza.

Thus one ripple effect of this fighting is that it shows that hostility to Israel can unite Muslims across national, ethnic and sectarian divides. The emergence of pro-Islamist governments in previously secular states always has contained the potential for the emergence of a greater threat to Israel than has been the case in many decades.

Another ripple effect is that the US outreach to Muslim countries has been undermined by the decision to take sides, supporting Israel as acting in self-defense. Arabs do not agree with that view of events and will distrust US diplomats in the future. Some Arab commentators have criticized the US for not restraining Israel.

A third ripple effect is that the Israel-Gaza crisis has displaced the Syria crisis as the headline news item around the world. International attention on Syria has been refocused on Gaza. The fight in Syria is less consequential than the fighting in Gaza because the Gaza fight risks regional conflict in ways Syria does not.

This does not appear to be accidental and appears to benefit Iran. At this point, however, Iranian instrumentality in provoking a proxy fight between Hamas and Israel remains only a working hypothesis.

End of NightWatch for 19 November.

NightWatch is brought to you by Kforce Government Solutions, Inc. (KGS), a leader in government problem-solving, Data Confidence® and intelligence. Views and opinions expressed in NightWatch are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of KGS, its management, or affiliates.

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Night Watch

NightWatch is an internationally acclaimed nightly newsletter that tracks and assesses threats to US national security. It has an edgy, executive style unlike any other summary of its kind.
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