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NightWatch: Iranians Mistakenly Set Off Bombs Meant for Israelis

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency announced the posthumous military promotion of the late Kim Chong-il.

The title of Generalissimo of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was awarded to the late Kim Chong-il in the DPRK.

A relevant decree of the Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea, the DPRK National Defence Commission and the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly was issued on Tuesday.

Kim Chong-il strengthened the Korean People's Army founded and led by Generalissimo Kim Il-song along the path of victory and glory, honorably defended the socialist country and the destiny of the nation and made immortal contributions to global peace and stability.

He turned the DPRK into a military power with his invincible Songun revolutionary leadership and led the stand-off with imperialism and the U.S. to victory, thus performing undying feats before the country and the revolution.

Comment: This award is directive in that it amounts to a national order to North Koreans to venerate Kim Chong-il as they venerate the father of the country. However, Kim Chong-il was not well liked and his public photos were often defaced with mustachios drawn with felt-tip pens - a capital offense. This action at this time suggests to NightWatch that loyalty problems persist over the family succession. While Kim Chong-il was not liked, Kim Jong-un is not even known.

Thailand-Iran-Israel: Thai authorities on 14 February arrested a 42-year-old Iranian man, the second suspect apprehended in connection with the Bangkok explosions, the city police commissioner said. The suspect was arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport as he was attempting to fly to Malaysia.

The bombs that exploded in a busy Bangkok street yesterday were intended for "foreign nationals" in Thailand, national police chief Priewpan Damapong said. He did not give further details, but said only that the targets were not Thais. The blasts injured five people including a bomb suspect carrying an Iranian passport who blew off his own legs.

Comment:  In the context of bombings and attempted bombings in India, Georgia and the Netherlands, the police statement implies that the Thai judge that Israelis were the intended targets and that the Bangkok bombs were part of the apparent Iranian retaliation operation. If so, the Iranians just showed their reach is nearly global, though their planning, training and effectiveness are not so good. Still the would-be bombers reached distant destinations and had sufficient local support to build bombs and move to targets. The local support system should be a high priority target in each country.

Turkey-Iran: Turkey has no plans to cut oil imports from Iran, Turkish and Saudi energy officials said on 14 February. Ankara signaled its intentions after high-level Turkish energy officials traveled to Riyadh recently and decided not to request additional supplies from Saudi Arabia, a Saudi Oil Ministry official said.

Comment: Geography favors Turkey's decision and supports the Erdogan government's policy of political fence mending with Iran. Some financial analysts have pointed out that the Turkish economy is more fragile than it appears on the surface and that Turkey cannot afford to cooperate in a scheme that would increase its energy costs.

India has taken a position similar to Turkey's regarding Iranian oil imports and has developed work-around mechanisms to pay for them. India also is working to replace some goods that Iran cannot now pay for by increasing its exports to Iran. Instead of paying for Iranian oil in rupees, India may pay in consumer goods and other exports.

Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood announced its willingness to form the next government, and even prepared a list of candidates for top government positions. According to a document published by Egyptian media this week, the next prime minister is likely to be the engineer Khairat Al Shater, deputy of the "General Guide" - the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. He will be joined in the administration by 16 ministers, who are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and who would hold portfolios including foreign affairs, housing, economy, tourism and health. According to the list, the education portfolio will go to the Salafi Al Nour party, if it agrees to join a coalition government.

The defense and military industry portfolio will be filled by a military representative, which will most probably be General Mohamed Al Assar, who is supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the media coverage. The interior affairs portfolio, which also includes home security, will go to someone who is not a member of the Brotherhood.

Comment: A sticking point is whether the military will submit to parliamentary control or oversight of the defense budget. The Brothers will back down on this demand rather than risk not forming the next government. If all goes as the Brotherhood plans, Egypt will be the only country to have an elected government led by the Muslim Brotherhood.  Fourteen months ago it was banned.

Egypt-US: The crisis in US relations with Egypt appears to be worsening. Egyptian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayzah Abu al-Naja fueled anti-US hostility by accusing the United States of funding non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt in order to contain the revolution and direct it toward the best interests of the United States and Israel as well.

"The 25 January revolution came as a surprise to the United States, and it went out of its control when it transformed into a popular revolution," Abu-al-Naja said. "That was when the United States decided to use all its resources and tools to contain the situation and push it in a direction that promotes US and Israeli interests… The United States funded the NGOs to create a state of chaos in Egypt…Israel and the United States cannot foment chaos and unrest inside Egypt directly, so the United States sought to use funds for the NGOs, especially US ones, to achieve this."

Comment: Abu-al-Naja made the remarks in a testimony before magistrates who are investigating the case of allegedly illegal foreign funding of NGOs. Forty-three activists, including 19 Americans, have been referred to a Cairo criminal court for their alleged involvement in banned political activity and illegal funding.

Al-Naja is a holdover from the Mubarak regime who has long opposed the activity of the NGOs, according to the New York Times. Al-Naja's interpretation of the purpose of US support for the Tahrir Square protestors is worth noting because official attitudes are evolving, though hers might not have.

She might be a holdover, but her current crusade is popular and suggests that the Mubarak holdovers are trying to remain in positions of power by identifying themselves with popular causes, specifically anti-American hostility. This seems to include Army leaders promoted by Mubarak. (Note: There are multiple spellings of the Minister's name. NightWatch uses a spelling translated from Arabic by native speakers.)

Curiously, in June 2011, President Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan also blamed NGOs for the June 2010 riots in which 430 people died and which brought her to power. If there is a pattern, it is the pattern of revolutions since at least the French Revolution after which their leaders became highly conservative to ensure their survival.

Openness to progressive outside ideas often collapses when a new government takes over. That means that whoever might replace the Asad government in Syria, for example, is likely to be open to ideas of democracy and pluralism before coming to power, but may be expected to stop liberal western political organizing and awareness raising initiatives after it gains power.

This backlash towards self-preservation is so well established in the literature on revolutions and government changes, including recent examples, that NGOs and their backers always should develop contingency plans for a more restrictive atmosphere in the post-revolutionary period.

Egypt-US: For the record. Top Muslim Brotherhood official Essam el-Erian said that a cut in aid would violate the US-brokered 1979 peace agreement with Israel and could lead to changes in the terms of the peace treaty. El-Erian warned that the US should understand that "what was acceptable before the revolution is no longer." A month ago, el-Erian assured the US that a Brotherhood-led government would honor Egypt's commitments to the US and Israel. A Gallup poll taken before the NGO investigations and released last week found that 71% of Egyptians oppose taking US aid.

Greece: Update. Greek banking authorities reportedly are concerned that Greece will not attract enough private investors in a debt restructuring to avoid technical default. Greece is expected to present its case for a voluntary debt swap after a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on 15 February. Meanwhile, EU ministers are displeased because not all Greek political parties signed the austerity measures. The conservative New Democratic Party is one of the holdouts.

The riots stopped and the cleanup is underway, but some businesses in Athens have closed. Greek authorities reported the country's GDP declined 7% in the last quarter of 2011.

Comment:  Every party that cares expects Greece to default at this point. Thus, when it happens, its ripple effects on markets are likely to be tolerable. At least that appears to be the EU strategy… or hope.

European Union-Spain: The European Union will likely take action against the Spanish government for delaying austerity measures, three EU officials said. The sources said the European Commission believes the Spanish government overstated deficit figures for 2011 and that Spain is not properly addressing financial problems expected in 2012.

Comment: Spain appears to be the next target for EU pressure. Portugal is not. EU officials said Portugal has complied with all the EU directives. A super government appears to be emerging, based on take-it-or-leave-it financial pressure.

Thailand: Update. The Iranians who were arrested after mistakenly setting off explosives in Bangkok on Tuesday planned to attack Israeli diplomats, Thai police chief Prewpan Dhamapong said on 16 February. Dhamapong said that Thai authorities know for sure that Israeli diplomats were targets and that the targets were specific.

Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities have arrested an Iranian man also suspected of being involved in the Bangkok bombings. Royal Malaysian Police Inspector General Tan Sri Ismail Omar said the suspect was detained late on 15 February at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Malaysia is prepared to extradite the suspect to Thailand, after completing interrogation and receiving the expected Thai request.

Feedback: A brilliant and well-informed Reader reported that the individual arrested at Schiphol airport in the Netherlands earlier this week is a Russian national of questionable mental stability, but not a bomber and not connected with the Iranian operation. Thanks for the feedback.

Cyprus-Israel: Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an agreement on 16 February for emergency use of Cypriot airspace by Israeli aircraft. News services reported the agreement would allow the Israeli air force and navy to use airspace and waters around Cyprus to protect energy resources and to establish an Israeli base on Cyprus. Netanyahu and Christofias both denied these reports and insisted the agreement is only for peaceful purposes.

Comment: This is the first visit to Cyprus by an Israeli prime minister. Multiple news commentaries noted that Cyprus traditionally has been cool to Israel because of Israel's past close military and political relations with Turkey. Thus, the down turn in Turkish ties over the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, among other issues, has rebounded into a new relationship with Cyprus.

The Israelis and Cypriots have a legitimate need to be able to protect offshore oil and gas exploration. During Netanyahu's visit, Turkey threatened to bar Cyprus from exploring in waters that Turkey also claims.

A potential advantage for Israel is that the new arrangement could afford Israeli pilots opportunities for more long distance flight training, which would be needed to prepare for an attack against Iran. The press coverage of the new agreement suggests observers should expect to see Israeli combat aircraft at Cypriot airfields and training in Cypriot airspace.

On arrival in Nicosia, Netanyahu made a point of mentioning Iran's nuclear threat, as he put it, accusing Iran of being the most dangerous country on earth. Taken together, the circumstances, statements and fact of a military agreement leave no doubt that this initiative is part of the Israeli strategy for dealing with Iran.

End of NightWatch

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