Night Watch

North Korea: Update. News services reported that North Korea has begun fueling its three-stage rocket and should be ready to launch on Monday. If the rocket veers off course, every US and Allied navy is prepared to shoot it down.

Palestine State: Hamas' political leader, Khaled Meshaal arrived today in the Gaza Strip, his first visit. He kissed the ground on landing from Qatar. "There is a new mood that allows us to achieve reconciliation," Meshaal told the press in an interview last Friday from Qatar, where he has set up home since leaving Syria earlier this year. He will stay for a little more than 48 hours.

Hamas plans an open-air rally on Saturday to promote what it says was last month's victory against Israel and, at the same time, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the group's founding.

Comment: Hamas has emerged emboldened from the eight day conflict which ended in a truce that Meshaal negotiated under Egypt's auspices. The US Secretary of State was essentially an observer. Meshaal has since spoken of reaching out to other Palestinian factions.

Simply because Palestinians survived the devastating air assault by the modern Israeli air force, the Hamas leaders have become heroes and Arab leaders.

Qatar's role is worth watching. It is asserting an Arab leadership role that slights Saud Arabia. It also is challenging Iran's pretense to be a leader of the Islamic states. Qatar is a big winner from the eight-day war with Israel, along with Hamas.

Western powers maneuvered to deliver an international political victory to President Abbas and Fatah, in the UN vote to elevate the status of the Palestinian Authority at the UN. The Western aim was to counter the wartime success of Hamas, even while the US voted publicly against the change in UN status. The too-clever-by-half US strategy is a pathetic failure.

Hamas is the beneficiary of the UN vote, not Fatah. Palestinians are interpreting their acceptance as an UN observer state to be the result of Hamas leadership actions in Gaza's survival of the Israeli air attacks and the continuous rocket counter-fire into Israel.

Abbas has not gotten the credit that he and his Western backers expected. Now the situation is more intractable than ever. Hamas leaders, with their anti-Israel policy, judge they have an international mandate to lead all Palestinians and to destroy Israel. The Israelis and the US delivered Meshaal a leadership political windfall that he could never have engineered on his own. He did well to kiss the ground of Gaza.

Egypt: Tens of thousands of protestors demonstrated outside the Presidential Palace in Cairo. They breached the perimeter barrier without resistance by the Republican Guard. Video images showed Egyptian Army soldiers sitting on the fenders of their tanks, surrounded by protestors.

President Mursi made two minor conciliatory offers, but has relied more on threats to arrest protestors than on offers of compromise.

Comment: Protests have occurred every day since 22 November. Mursi's uncompromising approach to the protestors has been consistent -- he has made them angrier and expanded their ranks. Mubarak could not have handled this situation more ineptly than Mursi, who has used Mubarak's tactics poorly.

The Brotherhood can summon thousands of supporters to fight the anti-Mursi protestors. Egyptian farmers, utilities workers, professionals and bureaucrats also could rally to defend the President. Nevertheless, the electoral majority that voted for Mursi as president in June is not rallying to save his presidency after three weeks of protests.

The struggle in Cairo and Alexandria is between competing minority elites. In hindsight the Egyptian presidential elections look like an expensive and pointless extravagance. The politically active and determinative elites are the urban secularists and the Islamists. Everyone else just wants jobs, fuel and bread and cheaper prices.

Soldiers sitting on the fenders of tanks are an ominous portent about the Army's attitude towards defending the president. The Army allowed the protestors to breach the barriers. It does not seem disposed to save the president, provided buildings are not torched.

Mursi will not last as president if the Army does not save him. Everything still depends on the Army leadership, just as under Mubarak, at least for now.

End of NightWatch ###.

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Night Watch

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