End in Sight for Assad

Posted: Dec 15, 2012 12:01 AM

China-Japan: Today Japan's Foreign Ministry summoned Chinese Ambassador to Japan Han Zhiqiang to lodge a protest after a Chinese Oceanic Administration maritime surveillance aircraft entered Japanese airspace near one of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Japan scrambled F-15 fighter jets from Okinawa to intercept the Chinese aircraft, but it departed the area before the fighters arrived. The Japanese Defense Ministry said the incident was the first known violation of Japanese airspace by a Chinese plane in more than 50 years.

Comment: Chinese government ships regularly violate the waters near the Senkakus. The Chief Cabinet Secretary said today that Chinese ships had violated the waters three days in a row.

Maritime surveillance aircraft also fly near the islands, but without penetrating Japanese airspace. This flight appears to be a deliberate escalation move by the Chinese that most likely will be repeated with increasing frequency. The Chinese aircraft obtained important information about Japan's air defense capabilities and fighter reaction time.

Russia-Syria: Concerning the situation in Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told a government advisory group in Moscow on 13 December, "The opposition's victory, regrettably, cannot be ruled out…. We need to face the truth. A current tendency is that the regime and the government keep losing control over an ever-growing territory.

Bogdanov also admitted that Russia is drafting plans to evacuate its citizens from Syria if necessary. He said even if the government changes hands, the fighting will continue.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with a Syrian opposition delegation on 14 December.

Comment: It is likely that the Russian statement was coordinated with the senior members of the Asad government, but it still is likely to undermine the morale of the remaining government forces. An increase in defections should be expected.

The Russian change of assessment is a strong political indicator that the end game for the Asad government has begun. It probably won't last long. The Russians, however, are warning that the security situation will remain unstable.

Lavrov apparently is trying to arrange the terms and timing for the evacuation of Russians in Syria and possibly members of the Asad government.

Syria: For the record. The Foreign Ministry denied reports that the government is using Scud missiles against rebels. The ministry said Thursday that the reports are nothing more than a conspiracy. No news service has reported a Syrian official reaction to the Russian statement.

Egypt: For the record. Islamist groups who support President Mursi have called for a million-man march on 14 and 15 December. The referendum on the new constitution is still set for 15 December.

End of NightWatch ###

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