North Korea: Update. Commercial imagery shows North Korea is close to completing its restoration of the graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon. The group 38 North judged this reactor could be operational within 2 months, depending on the availability of fuel rods for the core. This is the reactor used to supply materials for reprocessing as weapons-grade plutonium for North Korean nuclear weapons.
It also is making steady progress on the experimental light water reactor that is under construction. This reactor is a year or more from operational status. This will supply material for uranium enrichment.
Comment: The activity at Yongbyon is evidence of high national priority. That stems from the new law on the nuclear industry and the new party line that calls for simultaneous economic and nuclear weapons development.
Pakistan: Update. On Saturday, the new National Assembly members took their oaths of office. Today they elected the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the assembly. Nawaz Sharif submitted his nomination papers for the position of prime minister. The election of the prime minister will take place on Wednesday, 4 June. The cabinet should be installed by the evening of the 4th.
Turkey: Protests occurred in Istanbul and other cities for a fourth day. Prime Minister Erdogan blamed them on an extremist fringe and on outside meddling. After decrying the protests, he departed for Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
Meanwhile the public workers unions confederation announced a two-day warning strike on 4 and 5 June in support of the protestors.
Comment: The main casualty of the protests is the government's carefully cultivated image of Turkey as a model of a successful Islamic democracy with a capitalist economy. The union that announced the warning strike is one that is not favored by the Erdogan government. That explains its support for the protests while much larger unions remain on the sidelines.
Syria announced a travel warning that Syrians should avoid traveling to Turkey because it is too dangerous.
Syria: Government and Hizballah forces continued attacks against al Qusayr on the Lebanon border. Several news services reported that government and Hizballah forces also are preparing to begin operations to recover those parts of Aleppo under the control of rebel groups.
Comment: The number of Hizballah fighters deployed in Syria is not known. However, news service interviews during the past week reported up to 2,000 at al Qusayr and from 2,000 to 4,000 near Aleppo.
At Aleppo the government forces might be welcomed in some neighborhoods as rescuers. Neighborhoods under control of jihadist fighting groups have had to conform to a fundamentalist form of Islamic observance based on Sharia.
The numbers of Hizballah fighters in Syria are significant for a non-state militia force. However, the numbers are not large relative to the impact Hizballah fighters have had in changing the momentum of the fight in the government's favor. The modest increase in fighters has had an asymmetrical effect.
After two years of fighting that impact merits further examination. The opposition fighting strength appears to have remained relatively static, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the population is Sunni Arab.
Occasional interviews with rebel fighters have provided no details of recruitment and training programs or of a steady flow of replacements. The only groups that seem to have grown and which have been reported in open sources are the jihadists who have received fighters from Tunisia and Libya and other Arab states. Lately, even these groups do not appear to be growing in strength..
Some groups complain they lack weapons. Distribution and steady supply of ammunition seem to be greater challenges for the pro-Western groups, compounded by a lack of fire discipline. On the other hand, the jihadist groups seem better supplied. Whatever the case, there just does not seem to be that many people fighting and few groups are working together.
In Aleppo recent visitors who traveled from Turkey reported that jihadist groups compete with each other for control of neighborhoods. The city has become balkanized. The groups controlling their enclaves seem settled, for a so-called civil war.
After more than a year, government forces still control 40% of the city, rebel fighters told the visitors. The government has concentrated on protecting Shiite neighborhoods in and around Aleppo, with evident success. These will be the launching points for the coming offensive to retake Aleppo.
The modest numbers of fighters seem to reinforce the judgment of the more perceptive and careful reporters that much of the press coverage about the ground fighting is exaggerated for propaganda purposes.
Lebanon: Update. Clashes resumed in Tripoli again, between Sunni and Alawite groups, resulting in four deaths. No updates on the clash in the Bekaa Valley have been reported.
End of NightWatch
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