South Korea: For the record. South Korea launched a satellite into space from its own soil for the first time Wednesday. The rocket blasted off from the Naro space center near the southwestern coastal village of Goheung. Science officials told cheering spectators minutes later that the rocket delivered an observational satellite into orbit. The BBC reported the satellite collects climate data and already is in communications with the ground station.
Comment: South Korea has launched at least ten satellites using foreign launch vehicles and launch pads. Attempts to launch a satellite from South Korea failed in 2009 and 2010.
The South has at least stayed even with the North in space achievements, if not moved ahead. The South Korean program is transparent to outsiders and its satellite is actually in communication.
China-North Korea: South Korean news service Yonhap reported that cross-border traffic between China and North Korea has slowed significantly because of tighter Chinese enforcement of customs checks at the Dandong crossing point..
According to the report, "As the result of stringent checking, 60-70 percent of products are not being cleared for lack of proper documentation."
Comment: Tighter border controls appear to be China's first step to exert economic pressure on the North Korean leaders to persuade them against conducting additional tests or engaging in provocations that threaten regional stability. China threatened last week to begin reducing assistance to the North if the North conducted another nuclear test.
The Chinese escalation ladder is long and painful for North Korea. China is the North's primary, if not only, source of crude oil; its primary trading partner; its major source of all kinds of aid; its major investor and its only ally.
The North Korean leaders are rediscovering an old truth about dealing with China. Accepting Chinese aid and investment means becoming vulnerable to Chinese pressure and influence. That is why Kim Il-sung adopted the chuche (self-reliance) national doctrine.
The Allies, on the other hand, are witnessing that China does have significant leverage on North Korea, a fact that Chinese leaders have denied for decades.
Syria-Israel: The Syrian General Command and the Armed Forces issued a statement that,
"Israeli warplanes violated our airspace at dawn today and directly shelled one of the scientific research centers assigned to boost resistance and self-defense levels in Jamraya area in Rif Dimashq (Damascus governate) ….
The statement claimed the Israeli aircraft attacked a military research center north of Mount Hermon near the Lebanon border, but in Syria. The Syrians denied reports that a convoy was attacked.
The US government confirmed that the Israelis destroyed a Syrian convoy that was heading for Lebanon. Local security officials claimed the convoy was delivering an SA-17 surface-to-air missile firing unit to Hezbollah.
Comment: The SA-17 is a medium-range Russian-made anti-aircraft missile. A rack of four missile launchers is mounted on the chassis of a tracked armored vehicle. Its radar can engage 24 targets simultaneously. Syria purchased three SA-17 batteries from Russia four or five years ago. Two batteries were delivered and deployed along the Lebanon border in early 2012. The third was used for training.
Hezbollah's acquisition of the SA-17 would have provided a significant increase in air defense capabilities against the Israeli Air Force. Thus, the Israelis have tracked this system in Syria as a matter of highest priority and prevented such a transfer.
Syria only would transfer them to Hezbollah to prevent their capture by an opposition fighting group. For Israel, transfer of this system to Hezbollah or capture by a Sunni Syrian Islamist group is equally unacceptable.
Israel has identified sophisctated weapons transfers to Hezbollah as a red line whose crossing would evoke a military response. Israel has just reminded its neighbors, allies and enemies that it will act when its red lines are crossed.
Mali: French troops landed at and secured the airport in Kidal, in eastern Mali. The French are patrolling the town in cooperation with separatist Touareg MNLA rebels, who moved into Kidal after the Islamist fighters of Ansar al Dine abandoned it.
French Foreign Minister Fabius said that France intends to withdraw its troops from Mali quickly and transfer security to African troops. However, in Kidal, the Touaregs said they will work with the French, but not the Malian troops,whom they accuse of having committed crimes against the civilian population.
Comment: The French are determined to avoid mission creep, but just the act of capturing Kidal has injected them into tribal politics. In the final analysis, the parlous state of the French economy most likely will ensure the French adhere to a strict withdrawal schedule.
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