sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A Brief Review

Since I have to hit the road to pay some bills, I thought that I'd leave you with a few thoughts about what's going on outside of the 24 hour news cycle (for the most part).

US/North Korea Summit

On 18 January, President Trump met with North Korean senior advisor Kim Yong Chol at the White House about a second summit. The second summit will be held in late February, with the date and the location yet to be announced. Press services reported that US and North Korean teams completed three days of intense talks on denuclearization in Stockholm, Sweden.

Sensationalism involving North Korea has been noted on an ongoing basis, particularly as it relates to their missile bases. I advise caution when you hear of some of these claims as set forth below. It's how these groups keep their funding.

The Beyond Parallel program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies once again claims it has discovered another North Korean missile base complex and posted annotated images of the various features at the complex. 

This is the group that accused North Korea of building “secret” missile facilities that are “undeclared” and “undisclosed” on 12 November 2018. It made identical accusations about the facility identified as Sino-ri and published them on 21 January. 

The annotated imagery of Sino-ri missile complex is informative and useful. The base hosts Nodong medium range ballistic missiles which can reach Japan. These are liquid-fueled and nuclear capable, but are older technology, developed from the Scud short range ballistic missile program.

The writeup persists in using the terms “secret” and “undeclared” and “undisclosed” to describe the facility. The adjectives slant the narrative by implying that North Korea is deceiving the US and that the US negotiations are failing. It has no requirement to inform the US about any military facilities. The complexes reported thus far may have begun construction when Kim Jong Un was a teenager.

North Korea is the most secretive state on earth. It is always engaged in deception at some level for a wide range of audiences and purposes. North Korean military engineers know how to make a facility so that it is not detectable by classified intelligence satellites. Aside from being a nation of miners, the leaders had Soviet assistance in their national maskirovka programs.

The North Koreans have access to commercial satellite imagery, the same as anyone else who can afford to buy it. If a commercial satellite detected the facility, it was never secret. Sino-ri is not a new missile base. Its missiles achieved initial operational capability by 1994.
As for the state of the US relationship with North Korea, the very idea of a relationship that involves exchanges of letters between the heads of government is almost astonishing in light of the condition of hostility that prevailed at the end of 2017. US, south Korean and North Korean forces were preparing for war. Talking is always better than shooting missiles and detonating nuclear weapons.  
The talks might go nowhere, but the expectation of a speedier process misjudges the enormity of the changes that Kim Jong Un has initiated. It strikes us as simplistic to think that attitudes developed from 70 years of indoctrination to instill hatred and suspicion of the US could flip-flop in less than a year. 
Syria-Israel

On 21 January, Prime Minister Netanyahu affirmed that Israel’s air strikes on Syria mainly targeted Iranian military positions or installations.
Netanyahu said, “We are operating both against Iran and against the Syrian forces that are abetting the Iranian aggression…We will strike at anyone who tries to harm us. Whoever threatens to eliminate us, bears full responsibility.”
Attacks on two consecutive days. On Sunday, 20 January, the Israeli combat aircraft attacked positions in Syria in retaliation for a rocket attack on the Golan Heights. Syria claimed it repelled these attacks.
On 21 January, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) made a statement that “The IDF is currently striking Iranian Quds targets in Syrian territory…. The IDF warns the Syrian Armed Forces against attempting to harm Israeli territory or forces.” The Israeli raids attacked a training camp, munitions storage depots and a site near Damascus International Airport.
This is the second week in which Israel officially announced its air attacks, breaking a longstanding policy of official silence. It is also the second week in which the Syrians failed to protect the Iranian sites. This time they also failed to defend themselves.

Prime Minister Netanyahu last week acknowledged an Israeli attack on what he called an Iranian arms cache in Syria, where Tehran provides Damascus with vital support. He told the cabinet Israel had carried out “hundreds” of attacks over the past years of Syria’s war to curtail Iran and Lebanese Hizballah.

Facing Knesset elections on 9 April, Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to maintain the perception that he is tough on Iran and other enemies. Nevertheless, the overall effect of Israeli air raids is not clear in that the raids appear to be more frequent. That implies that they are not stopping the Iranians from consolidating their position in Syria.

Iran

On 21 January, General Aziz Nasirzadeh (commander of the Iranian Air Force), said that Iran will “eliminate Israel from the Earth” in a fiery statement to the Young Journalist Club, a website supervised by state television.
“The young people are impatient and fully ready to battle the Zionist regime and make them vanish from the Earth,” Nasirzadeh said. “Our next generation with the knowledge necessary to learn their strengths are the promised ones who will destroy Israel.”
It's necessary for many of the regimes in the world to have an enemy. Even the US is guilty of that because if there is not the threat of imminent attack, how could the vast military industrial complex justify its existence? Iran blames the US and Israel for its woes at home, rampant unemployment, decaying infrastructure and the unavailability of a number of common household items. Without the enemy at hand, and the fear mongering that goes into that, the Ayatollahs couldn't keep control.

Russia-Ukraine

(Moscow Times) Russian President Vladimir Putin has granted access to specialists from Germany and France to monitor the Kerch Strait, according to statements by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Lavrov said German Chancellor Angela Merkel had asked Putin for permission to send German specialists to the strait "over a month ago" and later requested for French observers to join the mission.

A German diplomat said last week that the passage of ships in the Kerch Strait is "currently open" and that "this has been confirmed by all sides".

The parties appear to be in no hurry to establish the monitoring mission, but the Russian move undermines the alarmist statements about Russian intentions by Ukrainian President Poroshenko.

The fire in the Kerch Strait on 21 January was an accident involving commercial ships transferring fuel. 

Russia has made no move to release the three Ukrainian naval vessels or their crews which have been in Russian custody since 25 November.

The Ukrainians want to draw others (with their money and soldiers) into their conflict with Russia. Though the US has sent funds and defensive weapons in limited amounts, this is a no-win deal for the US and President Trump is smart enough to know that - as do European leaders.

France

The Yellow Vests protested again. On 19 January, around 84,000 "Yellow Vest" demonstrators marched in Paris and other French cities. That was the 10th straight weekend of anti-government protests. In Paris, the police pegged number of protestors at about 7,000, 1,000 fewer than last weekend.

The protests are still large, but they appear to have become less violent. As yet, the protest movement has not accepted overtures for talks with President Macron’s government.