Brace Yourselves for the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)


Brace Yourselves, New Yorkers, You’re Due for a Major Quake

A couple of hundred thousand years ago, an M 7.2 earthquake shook what is now New Hampshire. Just a few thousand years ago, an M 7.5 quake ruptured just off the coast of Massachusetts. And then there’s New York.

Since the first western settlers arrived there, the state has witnessed 200 quakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater, making it the third most seismically active state east of the Mississippi (Tennessee and South Carolina are ranked numbers one and two, respectively). About once a century, New York has also experienced an M 5.0 quake capable of doing real damage.

The most recent one near New York City occurred in August of 1884. Centered off Long Island’s Rockaway Beach, it was felt over 70,000 square miles. It also opened enormous crevices near the Brooklyn reservoir and knocked down chimneys and cracked walls in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Police on the Brooklyn Bridge said it swayed “as if struck by a hurricane” and worried the bridge’s towers would collapse. Meanwhile, residents throughout New York and New Jersey reported sounds that varied from explosions to loud rumblings, sometimes to comic effect. At the funeral of Lewis Ingler, a small group of mourners were watching as the priest began to pray. The quake cracked an enormous mirror behind the casket and knocked off a display of flowers that had been resting on top of it. When it began to shake the casket’s silver handles, the mourners decided the unholy return of Lewis Ingler was more than they could take and began flinging themselves out windows and doors.

Not all stories were so light. Two people died during the quake, both allegedly of fright. Out at sea, the captain of the brig Alice felt a heavy lurch that threw him and his crew, followed by a shaking that lasted nearly a minute. He was certain he had hit a wreck and was taking on water.

A day after the quake, the editors of The New York Times sought to allay readers’ fear. The quake, they said, was an unexpected fluke never to be repeated and not worth anyone’s attention: “History and the researches of scientific men indicate that great seismic disturbances occur only within geographical limits that are now well defined,” they wrote in an editorial. “The northeastern portion of the United States . . . is not within those limits.” The editors then went on to scoff at the histrionics displayed by New York residents when confronted by the quake: “They do not stop to reason or to recall the fact that earthquakes here are harmless phenomena. They only know that the solid earth, to whose immovability they have always turned with confidence when everything else seemed transitory, uncertain, and deceptive, is trembling and in motion, and the tremor ceases long before their disturbed minds become tranquil.”
That’s the kind of thing that drives Columbia’s Heather Savage nuts.

New York, she says, is positively vivisected by faults. Most of them fall into two groups—those running northeast and those running northwest. Combined they create a brittle grid underlying much of Manhattan.

Across town, Charles Merguerian has been studying these faults the old‐fashioned way: by getting down and dirty underground. He’s spent the past forty years sloshing through some of the city’s muckiest places: basements and foundations, sewers and tunnels, sometimes as deep as 750 feet belowground. His tools down there consist primarily of a pair of muck boots, a bright blue hard hat, and a pickax. In public presentations, he claims he is also ably abetted by an assistant hamster named Hammie, who maintains his own website, which includes, among other things, photos of the rodent taking down Godzilla.

That’s just one example why, if you were going to cast a sitcom starring two geophysicists, you’d want Savage and Merguerian to play the leading roles. Merguerian is as eccentric and flamboyant as Savage is earnest and understated. In his press materials, the former promises to arrive at lectures “fully clothed.” Photos of his “lab” depict a dingy porta‐john in an abandoned subway tunnel. He actively maintains an archive of vintage Chinese fireworks labels at least as extensive as his list of publications, and his professional website includes a discography of blues tunes particularly suitable for earthquakes. He calls female science writers “sweetheart” and somehow manages to do so in a way that kind of makes them like it (although they remain nevertheless somewhat embarrassed to admit it).

It’s Merguerian’s boots‐on‐the‐ground approach that has provided much of the information we need to understand just what’s going on underneath Gotham. By his count, Merguerian has walked the entire island of Manhattan: every street, every alley. He’s been in most of the tunnels there, too. His favorite one by far is the newest water tunnel in western Queens. Over the course of 150 days, Merguerian mapped all five miles of it. And that mapping has done much to inform what we know about seismicity in New York.

Most importantly, he says, it provided the first definitive proof of just how many faults really lie below the surface there. And as the city continues to excavate its subterranean limits, Merguerian is committed to following closely behind. It’s a messy business.

Down below the city, Merguerian encounters muck of every flavor and variety. He power‐washes what he can and relies upon a diver’s halogen flashlight and a digital camera with a very, very good flash to make up the difference. And through this process, Merguerian has found thousands of faults, some of which were big enough to alter the course of the Bronx River after the last ice age.
His is a tricky kind of detective work. The center of a fault is primarily pulverized rock. For these New York faults, that gouge was the very first thing to be swept away by passing glaciers. To do his work, then, he’s primarily looking for what geologists call “offsets”—places where the types of rock don’t line up with one another. That kind of irregularity shows signs of movement over time—clear evidence of a fault.

Merguerian has found a lot of them underneath New York City.

These faults, he says, do a lot to explain the geological history of Manhattan and the surrounding area. They were created millions of years ago, when what is now the East Coast was the site of a violent subduction zone not unlike those present now in the Pacific’s Ring of Fire.

Each time that occurred, the land currently known as the Mid‐Atlantic underwent an accordion effect as it was violently folded into itself again and again. The process created immense mountains that have eroded over time and been further scoured by glaciers. What remains is a hodgepodge of geological conditions ranging from solid bedrock to glacial till to brittle rock still bearing the cracks of the collision. And, says Merguerian, any one of them could cause an earthquake.

You don’t have to follow him belowground to find these fractures. Even with all the development in our most built‐up metropolis, evidence of these faults can be found everywhere—from 42nd Street to Greenwich Village. But if you want the starkest example of all, hop the 1 train at Times Square and head uptown to Harlem. Not far from where the Columbia University bus collects people for the trip to the Lamont‐Doherty Earth Observatory, the subway tracks seem to pop out of the ground onto a trestle bridge before dropping back down to earth. That, however, is just an illusion. What actually happens there is that the ground drops out below the train at the site of one of New York’s largest faults. It’s known by geologists in the region as the Manhattanville or 125th Street Fault, and it runs all the way across the top of Central Park and, eventually, underneath Long Island City. Geologists have known about the fault since 1939, when the city undertook a massive subway mapping project, but it wasn’t until recently that they confirmed its potential for a significant quake.

In our lifetimes, a series of small earthquakes have been recorded on the Manhattanville Fault including, most recently, one on October 27, 2001. Its epicenter was located around 55th and 8th—directly beneath the original Original Soupman restaurant, owned by restaurateur Ali Yeganeh, the inspiration for Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. That fact delighted sitcom fans across the country, though few Manhattanites were in any mood to appreciate it.

The October 2001 quake itself was small—about M 2.6—but the effect on residents there was significant. Just six weeks prior, the city had been rocked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers. The team at Lamont‐Doherty has maintained a seismic network in the region since the ’70s. They registered the collapse of the first tower at M 2.1. Half an hour later, the second tower crumbled with even more force and registered M 2.3. In a city still shocked by that catastrophe, the early‐morning October quake—several times greater than the collapse of either tower—jolted millions of residents awake with both reminders of the tragedy and fear of yet another attack. 9‐1‐1 calls overwhelmed dispatchers and first responders with reports of shaking buildings and questions about safety in the city. For seismologists, though, that little quake was less about foreign threats to our soil and more about the possibility of larger tremors to come.

Remember: The Big Apple has experienced an M 5.0 quake about every hundred years. The last one was that 1884 event. And that, says Merguerian, means the city is overdue. Just how overdue?

“Gee whiz!” He laughs when I pose this question. “That’s the holy grail of seismicity, isn’t it?”

He says all we can do to answer that question is “take the pulse of what’s gone on in recorded history.” To really have an answer, we’d need to have about ten times as much data as we do today. But from what he’s seen, the faults below New York are very much alive.

“These guys are loaded,” he tells me.

He says he is also concerned about new studies of a previously unknown fault zone known as the Ramapo that runs not far from the city. Savage shares his concerns. They both think it’s capable of an M 6.0 quake or even higher—maybe even a 7.0. If and when, though, is really anybody’s guess.

“We literally have no idea what’s happening in our backyard,” says Savage.

What we do know is that these quakes have the potential to do more damage than similar ones out West, mostly because they are occurring on far harder rock capable of propagating waves much farther. And because these quakes occur in places with higher population densities, these eastern events can affect a lot more people. Take the 2011 Virginia quake: Although it was only a moderate one, more Americans felt it than any other one in our nation’s history.

That’s the thing about the East Coast: Its earthquake hazard may be lower than that of the West Coast, but the total effect of any given quake is much higher. Disaster specialists talk about this in terms of risk, and they make sense of it with an equation that multiplies the potential hazard of an event by the cost of damage and the number of people harmed. When you take all of those factors into account, the earthquake risk in New York is much greater than, say, that in Alaska or Hawaii or even a lot of the area around the San Andreas Fault.

Merguerian has been sounding the alarm about earthquake risk in the city since the ’90s. He admits he hasn’t gotten much of a response. He says that when he first proposed the idea of seismic risk in New York City, his fellow scientists “booed and threw vegetables” at him. He volunteered his services to the city’s Office of Emergency Management but says his original offer also fell on deaf ears.

“So I backed away gently and went back to academia.”

Today, he says, the city isn’t much more responsive, but he’s getting a much better response from his peers.

He’s glad for that, he says, but it’s not enough. If anything, the events of 9/11, along with the devastation caused in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, should tell us just how bad it could be there.

He and Savage agree that what makes the risk most troubling is just how little we know about it. When it comes right down to it, intraplate faults are the least understood. Some scientists think they might be caused by mantle flow deep below the earth’s crust. Others think they might be related to gravitational energy. Still others think quakes occurring there might be caused by the force of the Atlantic ridge as it pushes outward. Then again, it could be because the land is springing back after being compressed thousands of years ago by glaciers (a phenomenon geologists refer to as seismic rebound).

“We just have no consciousness towards earthquakes in the eastern United States,” says Merguerian. “And that’s a big mistake.”

Adapted from Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake by Kathryn Miles, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Kathryn Miles.

Why New York City Will Be Shut Down At The Sixth Seal

Indian Point tritium leak 80% worse than originally reported

Published time: 10 Feb, 2016 22:12Edited time: 11 Feb, 2016 01:51

New measurements at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in upstate New York show levels of radioactive tritium 80 percent higher than reported last week. Plant operator insists the spill is not dangerous, as state officials call for a safety probe.

Entergy, which operates the facility 25 miles (40 km) north of New York City, says the increased levels of tritium represent “fluctuations that can be expected as the material migrates.”

“Even with the new readings, there is no impact to public health or safety, and although these values remain less than one-tenth of one percent of federal reporting guidelines,” Entergy said in a statement.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo raised an alarm last Saturday over the reports of groundwater contamination at Indian Point, noting that the company reported “alarming levels of radioactivity” at three monitoring wells, with “radioactivity increasing nearly 65,000 percent” at one of them.

The groundwater wells have no contact with any drinking water supplies, and the spill will dissipate before it reaches the Hudson River, a senior Entergy executive argued Tuesday, suggesting the increased state scrutiny was driven by the company’s decision to shut down another nuclear power plant.

“There are a number of stakeholders, including the governor, who do not like the fact that we are having to close Fitzpatrick,” Michael Twomey, Entergy’s vice president of external affairs, said during an appearance on ‘The Capitol Pressroom,’ a show on WCNY public radio.

The James A. Fitzpatrick plant is located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, near Oswego, New York. Entergy said it intended to close the plant once it runs out of fuel sometime this year, citing its continued operations as unprofitable.

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the Hudson river © wikipedia.org

‘65,000% radioactivity spike’: New York Gov. orders probe into water leak at Indian Point

“We’re not satisfied with this event. This was not up to our expectations,” Twomey said, adding that the Indian Point spill should be seen in context.

Though it has never reported a reactor problem, the Indian Point facility has been plagued by issues with transformers, cooling systems, and other electrical components over the years. It currently operates two reactors, both brought on-line in the 1970s.

In December, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed Entergy to continue operating the reactors, pending license renewal. The facility’s initial 40-year license was set to expire on December 12, but the regulators are reportedly leaning towards recommending a 20-year extension.

By contrast, Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine was only three years old when it exploded in April 1986. To this day, an area of 1000 square miles around the power plant remains the “exclusion zone,” where human habitation is prohibited.

The tritium leak at Indian Point most likely took place in January, during the preparations to shut down Reactor 2 for refueling, according to Entergy. Water containing high levels of the hydrogen isotope reportedly overfilled the drains and spilled into the ground.

According to Entergy, tritium is a “low hazard radionuclide” because it emits low-energy beta particles, which do not penetrate the skin. “People could be harmed by tritium only through internal exposure caused by drinking water with high levels of tritium over many years,” an Entergy fact sheet says.

Environmentalist critics are not convinced, however.

“This plant isn’t safe anymore,” Paul Gallay, president of environmental watchdog group

Riverkeeper, told the New York Daily News. “Everybody knows it and only Entergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission refuse to admit it.”

Iran Expands Her Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8:4)

The National

Iran may have been advancing its ballistic missile capabilities in a remote desert site in the country’s northeast, according to a group of US-based academics.

Weapons researchers from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California identified a previously unknown testing site while reviewing recent Iranian state TV broadcasts.

They then analysed satellite imagery of the facility, unearthing evidence that the site may be actively used for researching rocket designs, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Although developing long-range missiles would not violate existing international agreements, it will likely draw the ire of the United States, and could discourage the EU from working towards a new nuclear deal, following the Trump administration’s exit from the 2015 agreement.

Iran’s missile programme – and its stock of such weaponry – is controlled by its Revolutionary Guard, which operates outside the authority of the government, answering directly to the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

When researchers initially identified the site, near Shahrud, northeast of Tehran, they believed it had only been used for a single missile test in 2013, as the Iranian authorities claimed. But when they examined images of the site over time, they noticed that the number of structures gradually increased, the Times reported.

They also noticed ground scars, indicative of missile exhaust blasts, a sign of final-stage testing of ballistics.

Between 2016 and 2017, the researchers also saw two craters appear in the satellite imagery a few kilometres away from the site, which they identified as a further sign of missile tests.

The Iranians, the researchers believed, had kept their research secret by working at night.

The Iranian regime denies they are developing long range ballistic missiles.

Tehran has been under sanctions imposed by UN resolution 2231, which called on the Islamic republic to refrain from ballistic missile activities including their development or testing.

Mr Khamenei, who as supreme leader has been Iran’s ultimate authority since 1989, maintains his country is entitled to develop ballistic capabilities for self-defence. Military officials, however, have said that they will not develop missiles with a range exceeding 2,000 km.

The new research could contradict that.

The report said analysis of the imagery suggests Iran may be developing long-range missile technology, beyond 2,000 km. Iran already possesses medium-range missiles capable of striking much of the Middle East, including Israel and many US bases.

The new research will be seized upon by supporters of US President Donald Trump.

Having pulled out of the nuclear deal early this month, his government has since imposed new sanctions on Iran. One of Mr Trump’s main criticisms of the agreement was that it it failed to address Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities.

While the report acknowledged that the evidence about long-range missiles was inconclusive, the researchers said recent moves by the Iranian regime could validate their theory, while Mr Trump’s exit from the nuclear deal could embolden the government in Tehran to further develop its missile programme.

According to Jeffrey Lewis, who led the research team, Iran may have have been limiting its weapons research up to now.

“The Iranians are choosing to restrain themselves for political reasons,” he told the Times. “If we tell them to go to hell, we’re not going to like what they do.”

Trump Preps for Nuclear War with Iran

Predictions are dicey things, and few human institutions are more uncertain than war. But several developments have come together to suggest that the rationale for using sanctions to force a re-negotiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is cover for an eventual military assault by the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia aimed at regime change in Tehran.

Sanctions Seem Designed to Fail

As clueless as the Trump administration is on foreign policy, the people around the White House — in particular National Security Advisor John Bolton — know that sanctions rarely produce results, and unilateral ones almost always fail.

Sanctions aimed at Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, and Libya did not dislodge any of those regimes and, in the case of North Korea, spurred Pyongyang into producing nuclear weapons. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi were eventually overthrown, but by American firepower, not sanctions (and with disastrous results).

The only case in which sanctions produced some results were those applied to Iran from 2010 to 2015. But that embargo was multi-lateral and included China, India, and one of Iran’s major customers, the European Union. When the U.S. unilaterally applied sanctions to Cuba, Iran, and Libya in 1996, the move was a conspicuous failure.

This time around, the White House has made no effort to involve other countries. The Trump plan is to use the power of the American economy to strong-arm nations into line. Back our sanctions, threatens the administration, or lose access to the U.S. market. And given that the world uses the dollar as its de-facto international currency, financial institutions may find themselves barred from using the Society for Worldwide Interbank Telecommunications (SWIFT), the American-controlled network that allows banks and finance centers to transfer money from country to county.

Those threats have not exactly panicked the rest of the world. China and India, which between them buy more than 1 million of the 2.1 million barrels of oil Iran produces each day, say they will ignore the sanctions. And according to Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign affairs minister, “The European Union is determined to act in accordance with its security interests and protect its economic investments.”

Adding up all the countries that will go along with the sanctions — including South Korea and Japan — will cut Tehran’s oil exports by 10 to 15 percent. That hurts, but it’s nothing like the 50 percent plus that Iran lost under the prior sanctions regime.

The War Party

In short, the sanctions won’t work, but were they really meant to?

It’s possible that the White House somehow thinks they will — delusion is a characteristic of the Oval Office these days — but other developments suggest the administration is already putting in place a plan that will lead from economic sanctions to bombing runs.

For starters, there’s the close coordination between the White House and Tel Aviv. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s April 30 speech shortly before Trump withdrew from the Iran agreement was tailored to give Washington a casus belli to dump the agreement. Virtually all of what Netanyahu “revealed” about the Iranian nuclear program was old news, already known by U.S., Israeli, and European intelligence services.

Four days before Netanyahu’s speech Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with his American counterparts and, according to Al Monitor, got a “green light” for any military action Tel Aviv might take against Iran.

The same day Lieberman was meeting with the Pentagon, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Saudi Arabia to end its campaign against Qatar because the Americans wanted the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to be united around a campaign against Iran.

Each of these moves seems calculated to set the stage for a direct confrontation with Iran involving some combination of the U.S., Israel, and the two most aggressive members of the GCC, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The latter two are currently waging a brutal war on the Iranian-supported Houthis in Yemen, racking up thousands of civilian casualties.

The Likely Fallout

It’s almost impossible to imagine what the consequences of such a war might be.

On paper, it looks like a cakewalk for the anti-Tehran axis. Iran has an antiquated air force, a bunch of fast speedboats, and tanks that date back to the 1960s. The military budgets of the U.S., Israel, and the GCC are more than 58 times those of Iran. But, as the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once remarked, the only thing one can determine in war is who fires the first shot.

Military might does not translate into an automatic win. After almost 17 years of war, the U.S. is still bogged down in Afghanistan, and it basically left Iraq with its tail between its legs. Indeed, the last time the American military indisputably won a war was in Grenada.

As for the GCC, in spite of more than two years of relentless warfare in Yemen, the monarchs are no nearer victory than they were when the war started. And in Lebanon, the Iranian-allied Hezbollah fought Israel to a stalemate in 2006.

While Iran doesn’t have much in the way of military force, it has 80 million people with a strong streak of nationalism who would certainly unite against any attacker. It would be impossible to “win” a war against Iran without resorting to a ground invasion.

But none of Iran’s antagonists have the capacity to carry that out. The Saudis have a dismal military record, and the UAE’s troops are stalemated in their campaign to take Yemen’s capital, Saana, from the rag-tag Houthi militia. The Israelis don’t have the troops — and, in any case, would never put them in harm’s way so far from home — and the Americans are not about to send in the Marines.

Most likely this would be a war of aircraft and missiles to destroy Iran’s military and civilian infrastructure. There’s little that Tehran could do to stop such an assault. Any planes it put up would be toast, its anti-aircraft weapons are obsolete, and its navy wouldn’t last long.

But flattening Tehran’s military isn’t winning a war, and Iran has other ways to strike back. The Iranians, for instance, have shown considerable skill at asymmetric warfare in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and Iran does have missiles of its own.

The real damage, however, will be the fallout from the war. The price of oil is already on the rise, and hostilities in the middle of one of the world’s largest petroleum repositories will likely send it through the roof. While that will be good for the GCC, high oil prices will put a dent into the economies of the EU, China, India, and even the United States.

What a war will almost certainly do is re-ignite Iran’s push to build a nuclear weapon. If that happens, Saudi Arabia will follow, and the world will be faced with several new nuclear powers in one of the most volatile regions of the world.

Halting the Inevitable

Which doesn’t mean war is inevitable.

The Trump administration hawks broke the JCPOA because they hoped Iran would then withdraw as well, giving the anti-Iranian axis an excuse to launch a war. Iranians are divided on this issue, with some demanding that Tehran accelerate its uranium enrichment program, while others defend the agreement.

Europe can play a key role here by firmly supporting the JCPOA and resisting the American sanctions, even if it means taking a financial hit. Some European firms, however, have already announced they will withdraw their investments.

The U.S. Congress can also help stop a war, although it will require members — mostly Democrats — to put aside their anti-Iranian bias and make common cause with the “stay in the pact” Europeans. This is a popular issue. A CNN poll found that 63 percent of Americans opposed withdrawing from the agreement.

It will also mean that the Congress — again, mainly Democrats — will have to challenge the role that Israel is playing. That will not be easy, but maybe not as difficult as it has been in the past. Israel’s brutality against Palestinians over the past month has won no friends except in the White House and the evangelical circuit, and Netanyahu has made it clear that he prefers Republicans to Democrats.

Lastly, Congress should cut the arms pipeline to the GCC and stop aiding the Saudis in their war on Yemen

If war comes, Americans will find themselves in the middle of an unwinnable conflict that will destabilize the Middle East and the world’s economy, and pour more of this country’s resources into yet another quagmire.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com

Al-Abadi May Return But Only Under the Antichrist

210506760Al Abadi may return but under Al Sadr’s turban

Mustapha Karkouti, Special to Gulf News


Whoever forms Iraq’s next government will run the country according to the vision of the rising political leader, Moqtada Al Sadr. Leading his new Sa’iroon (March On) alliance, the young Shiite politician has already gained the title of ‘King Maker’ not because his alliance has won most seats in the new Council of Representatives (Parliament), but for the courage and vision he has shown during the election campaign. Some of world affairs watchers began to liken his movement to that of President Emanuel Macron’s French La Republique En Marche party.

However, as the final election’s results are fully declared, the task ahead for Al Sadr is intrinsically colossal. The most strenuous obstacle he’ll be facing is to overcome the direct Iranian interference in running Iraq’s government. Before the election, Tehran had publicly announced it would not allow Al Sadr’s alliance to govern. Just as the counting of ballot boxes concluded, the commander of foreign operations of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), General Qasim Sulaimani, was holding talks with politicians in Baghdad to ensure that any new cabinet must enjoy Iran’s consent.

Sulaimani is a highly influential figure in Iraq and Tehran has become the de facto authority in the country after the power vacuum created by Barack Obama administration’s decision to pull out from Iraq almost eight years ago. Immediately after the election results were announced, Al Sadr tweeted: “Reform is victorious, and corruption is diminishing.” Many have interpreted the tweet as an indirect message the increasingly confident Al Sadr, to the Iranians and their Iraqi protegees.

Though Al Sadr is not expected to get involved into confrontation with the Iranians in his country, he is likely to play a balancing role in shaping up politics in Iraq for the next four years. He surely understands how vital Iraq is for the success of Iran’s enterprise in the region. Many believe that Iraq is, for Iran’s regional strategy, much more important than Syria, Lebanon or Yemen is. Al Sadr himself cannot become prime minister as he did not run in the election, but his bloc’s victory puts him in a position to have a strong say in negotiations during the next three months.

His alliance came first in the election as it captured 54 of the parliamentary 329 seats. This is 20 more seats than what the alliance had in 2014 election. the newly established Fatah bloc led by Hadi Al Amiri, well known for his close ties with Iran and personal loyalty to Sulaimani, came second with 47 seats. Al Amiri is the leader of the powerful Iran-backed “Popular Mobilisation Forces” (PMF), the largest militia in Iraq after the country’s national army. PMF is structured along Iran’s IRGC militia. The incumbent prime minister, Haidar Al Abadi’s Nasr (Victory) coalition, took third place with 42 seats.

The biggest loser in the election was Iran’s staunchest ally former prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, whose “State of Law” coalition’s representation in the new parliament fell from 92 to 25 seats. The fifth Shiite group is the National Wisdom Movement (Al Hikma) led by Imam Ammar Al Hakim, won 19 seats, down from 29 in last election. The non-sectarian list Al Wataniya (Nationalist), led by former prime minister, Eyad Allawi kept its 19-seat share in the new parliament. The two main Kurdish groups, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party (PUK), won 25 and 18 seats successively. The Sunni region political group “Muttahidoon” (Uniters) alliance led by Usama Al Nujayfi, won 14 seats down from 19.

Constitutionally, Iraq premiership goes to the Shiites, the Sunnis get the speaker post and the presidency goes to the Kurds.

Turning point

Iraq’s election could be a turning point for the country after 15 years of continuous state stagnation. Al Sadr success is a fresh air in Iraq’s political arena which might provide the necessary conditions to improve the performance of the country’s government. But Al Sadr, who established his leadership after leading two violent uprisings against US troops, was clearly side lined for years by Iranian-backed rivals.

Al Sadr is now facing an unprecedented situation where he may find himself in charge of deciding who would become the next prime minister in Iraq.”Share on facebookTweet this

That is why his latest success in the election is considered a challenge against his powerful Shiite opponents who have been in the seat of government for long time and who have been accused by large section of Iraqis — including Al Sadr himself — of widespread corruption. Al Sadr’s bloc, an unorthodox one of communists and secular individuals — including a Kurd candidate from Masoud Barzani’s KDP who ran in his list- made its ferocious opposition to any foreign intervention in Iraq clear, be it from Tehran or Washington.

However, post-election reality would make Al Sadr task acutely difficult. He has not only led a fierce campaign against the ruling elites, but he uniquely presented himself as an independent politician in contradiction with the country’s Shiite populace. He was openly critical of Iran’s role in Iraq’s politics, he called on Syria’s president, Bashar Al Assad to step down and he was meeting senior officials in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi when their confrontation with Tehran in Yemen was at its peak.

Al Sadr is now facing an unprecedented situation where he may find himself in charge of deciding who would become the next prime minister in Iraq. The new prime minister would not be from Al Sadr list nor his alliance as the premiership position is mostly decided by the other Shiite groups of which Al Sadr’s is not a part. But this time round, Al Sadr as a winner in the election, is likely to use his input in naming the next prime minister. Al Abadi is so far the candidate to fill this position, but he is expected to be a ‘different Al Abadi’ from the Al Abadi who had governed the country during the last four years, i.e. less Iranian and more open to the rest of Iraq’s neighbours.

Like all leaders of the Shiite parliamentarian groups, Al Sadr is not necessarily anti-Iran, but he is comparatively a pragmatic leader who succeeded in forming a wide-ranging alliance based on the understanding that Iraq’s national interests come first. If he can maintain this vision he may keep Iran at arm’s length.

Mustapha Karkouti is a columnist and former president of the Foreign Press Association, London. Twitter: @mustaphatache

Babylon the Great in contact with the Antichrist (Revelation)

The surprise victory by Sadr’s political alliance Sairoon in a parliamentary election last week has put Washington into an awkward position. His Mehdi Army militia fought violent battles against U.S. troops after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

Despite their past enmity, Washington and Sadr, an Iraqi nationalist, agree on their opposition to Iran’s deep influence in Iraq, where it arms, trains and funds Shi’ite militias and nurtures close ties with many politicians.

Dhiaa al-Asadi, a top aide to the cleric, said U.S. officials had used intermediaries to initiate contact with members of his Sairoon alliance.

“They asked what the position of the Sadrist movement will be when they come to power. Are they going to reinvent or invoke the Mahdi Army or reemploy them? Are they going to attack American forces in Iraq,” he told Reuters.

But according to Asadi there was no question of another Mahdi Army, which Sadr said he disbanded in 2008.

“There’s no return to square one. We are not intending on having any military force other than the official military force, police forces and security forces,” Asadi said.

Sadr cannot be prime minister himself since he did not run in the election, but has been meeting the leaders of other blocs and setting conditions on his support for candidates for prime minister. He says he wants someone who rejects sectarianism, foreign interference and corruption in Iraq.

Sairoon’s success could turn out to be a setback for Tehran and a boon for the United States, which seems happy to forget its past gripes with Sadr.

“We remain open to meet and work with the government that is formed and given that Sairoon won the plurality of seats and they’ll certainly make up a part of this government,” said a U.S. official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The U.S. is eager and willing to meet with a variety of people who will be involved in the government and Sadr will be a player in that.”

The United States is believed to have some 7,000 troops in Iraq now, though the Pentagon has only acknowledged 5,200 troops. They are mostly training and advising Iraqi forces.

Sadr, long seen by Iraqi and U.S. officials as an unpredictable maverick, made his surprise comeback by tapping popular resentment towards Iran and anger the Tehran-backed political elite in Baghdad which some voters say is corrupt.

“His political views seem to vary, to put it kindly,” said another U.S. official involved in the effort to understand what Sadr is doing. “At this point, we don’t know what he really wants.”

The Sixth Seal Will Be On The East (Revelation 6:12)

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-5V31Wpa9PMM/TlVaIyeam2I/AAAAAAAASUw/t0AfnylzR0Q/s1600/article-2029335-0D8C51AE00000578-806_634x348.jpgNew Evidence Shows Power of East Coast Earthquakes

Virginia Earthquake Triggered Landslides at Great Distances

Released: 11/6/2012 8:30:00 AM

Earthquake shaking in the eastern United States can travel much farther and cause damage over larger areas than previously thought.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists found that last year’s magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Virginia triggered landslides at distances four times farther—and over an area 20 times larger—than previous research has shown.

“We used landslides as an example and direct physical evidence to see how far-reaching shaking from east coast earthquakes could be,” said Randall Jibson, USGS scientist and lead author of this study. “Not every earthquake will trigger landslides, but we can use landslide distributions to estimate characteristics of earthquake energy and how far regional ground shaking could occur.”

“Scientists are confirming with empirical data what more than 50 million people in the eastern U.S. experienced firsthand: this was one powerful earthquake,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Calibrating the distance over which landslides occur may also help us reach back into the geologic record to look for evidence of past history of major earthquakes from the Virginia seismic zone.”

This study will help inform earthquake hazard and risk assessments as well as emergency preparedness, whether for landslides or other earthquake effects.

This study also supports existing research showing that although earthquakes are less frequent in the East, their damaging effects can extend over a much larger area as compared to the western United States.

The research is being presented today at the Geological Society of America conference, and will be published in the December 2012 issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

The USGS found that the farthest landslide from the 2011 Virginia earthquake was 245 km (150 miles) from the epicenter. This is by far the greatest landslide distance recorded from any other earthquake of similar magnitude. Previous studies of worldwide earthquakes indicated that landslides occurred no farther than 60 km (36 miles) from the epicenter of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake.

“What makes this new study so unique is that it provides direct observational evidence from the largest earthquake to occur in more than 100 years in the eastern U.S,” said Jibson. “Now that we know more about the power of East Coast earthquakes, equations that predict ground shaking might need to be revised.”

It is estimated that approximately one-third of the U.S. population could have felt last year’s earthquake in Virginia, more than any earthquake in U.S. history. About 148,000 people reported their ground-shaking experiences caused by the earthquake on the USGS “Did You Feel It?” website. Shaking reports came from southeastern Canada to Florida and as far west as Texas.

In addition to the great landslide distances recorded, the landslides from the 2011 Virginia earthquake occurred in an area 20 times larger than expected from studies of worldwide earthquakes. Scientists plotted the landslide locations that were farthest out and then calculated the area enclosed by those landslides. The observed landslides from last year’s Virginia earthquake enclose an area of about 33,400 km2, while previous studies indicated an expected area of about 1,500 km2 from an earthquake of similar magnitude.

“The landslide distances from last year’s Virginia earthquake are remarkable compared to historical landslides across the world and represent the largest distance limit ever recorded,” said Edwin Harp, USGS scientist and co-author of this study. “There are limitations to our research, but the bottom line is that we now have a better understanding of the power of East Coast earthquakes and potential damage scenarios.”

The difference between seismic shaking in the East versus the West is due in part to the geologic structure and rock properties that allow seismic waves to travel farther without weakening.

Learn more about the 2011 central Virginia earthquake.

With the Antichrist, Iraqi Nationalism is on the Rise

A small vehicle drives past a poster of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City, east of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on May 14, 2018. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE—AFP/Getty Images

Iraq Just Got Its Own Version of Donald Trump


James Muldoon is a lecturer in political science at the University of Exeter, U.K., and is the editor of ‘Trumping the Mainstream: The Conquest of Democratic Politics by the Populist Right’

Alttahir is an Iraqi-born Middle-East expert based in London. She has worked on projects in Baghdad and Kabul.

He has been described as an impulsive, narcissistic egoist who lives in the shadow of his father. He’s also a populist, a political outsider who has hurtled to political power thanks to a surprise election win. This is not a description of U.S. President Donald Trump, but rather of cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, whose political coalition recently won Iraq’s parliamentary election.

The election on May 12 was the first since the defeat of the Islamic State militant group and the failed Kurdish bid for independence from Iraq last year. These two successes for Baghdad raised expectations among the country’s political establishment of victory at the polls.

The final results announced early Saturday gave Al-Sadr’s bloc 54 seats, more than any other group but still falling short of a majority in the 329-seat Parliament. (Now begins the complex process of building a coalition government.) The success of the militant-turned-populist preacher—who ran on an ‘Iraq First’ style campaign—represents a fundamental shift in Iraqi politics and is cause for grave concern among ordinary citizens who have suffered years of dictatorship, sanctions and consecutive wars. The average Iraqi living outside Baghdad still can’t reliably switch on a light or run a shower, let alone find a job with a living wage paid on time or attend a decent school.

Al-Sadr’s electoral victory is indicative of the Iraqi people’s rejection of self-serving Western intervention in the country. While the West has been preoccupied with gaining political influence, a real opportunity has been squandered to foster a culture of democracy and respect for human rights. The Iraqi people are now fed up with a lack of progress on addressing poverty, corruption and the need for essential services.

The parallels between Trump and Al-Sadr are uncanny. Take the circumstances of their election. Like the American president, Al-Sadr has been elected as a populist, nationalist candidate who ran as an anti-establishment champion of the common man. He framed his political opponents as out-of-touch, Western-influenced elites, removed from the everyday struggles of average Iraqis.

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr celebrate the results of the parliamentary election at the Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, on May 13, 2018.

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr celebrate the results of the parliamentary election at the Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, on May 13, 2018. Murtadha Sudani—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

However, in Iraq, the election had record-high abstentions and a voter turnout of just 44.52 percent, the lowest since the first multiparty elections of 2005. The lower than expected turnout is another sign of people’s frustrations with the government and the democratic process.

Al-Sadr has benefited from this rising wave of discontent with Baghdad’s broken political system. Much like Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp,” Al-Sadr vowed to reduce corruption, fight foreign interference and deliver political and economic reforms for ordinary Iraqis. Ironically, both anti-establishment figures embody the characteristics of the “elite” they claim to oppose. Just as Trump is, in fact, a well-connected billionaire, Al-Sadr descends from one of the most influential political families in Iraq and has been a fixture of Iraqi politics for the past decade.

Al-Sadr has also made questionable alliances, embracing the Iraqi Communist Party and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, angering Iran and the U.S. This reveals an opportunistic mindset similar to that demonstrated by Trump in his foreign policy decisions.

But unlike Trump, Al-Sadr is a confirmed warlord. His Mahdi Army, now revived as the Peace Companies, has been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in recent Iraqi history. Al-Sadr also exists in a far more fragile political system, more vulnerable to instability and collapse. His electoral victory represents a backward slide for democracy in Iraq and the stability of the Middle East.

The past 10 years of Muqtada Al-Sadr’s influence over Sadr City, an administrative district in Baghdad, provide some indication of the possible future direction of Iraqi politics. Most troubling is his willingness to use violence to achieve his goals and his disregard for the democratic process. He opposed the U.S.-backed Interim Governing Council established after Saddam Hussein’s fall and attempted to establish a rival government. He has previously questioned the efficacy of peaceful protest and has urged his followers to terrorize his enemies.

The sincerity of Al-Sadr’s attempt to rebrand himself as a nationalist unifier will only be visible with time. As a conservative religious cleric, he has been largely opposed to women’s participation in politics and his followers have been violently intolerant of the LGBT community. The protection of minorities would be in question, since his Mahdi Army has played a key role in fueling Iraq’s sectarian conflicts. His continued success may embolden Shiite factions to oppress Sunni and Christian minorities.

On the international front, Al-Sadr’s victory mirrors the rise of populist and authoritarian leaders across the globe. His surprise win poses a grave danger to the respect for human rights and democratic culture. And it’s a worrying sign for moderates and progressives hoping for a more secular and pluralist Iraq.

Building up the Nuclear Horns in the Middle East (Daniel 7/8)


President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal and his offer to help Saudi Arabia build nuclear reactors raise the question of just how wild a nuclearized Middle East might get. The dangers of a regional arms race are real. If Iran resumes its nuclear weapons program, the Saudis will certainly pursue their own — and Algeria, Egypt, and Turkey might well follow.

Fortunately, the worst is hardly inevitable. But avoiding it will require deference to energy economics (which, in the Middle East, favor nonnuclear over nuclear forms of energy) and promoting rules against enriching uranium and reprocessing spent reactor fuel (the keys to nuclear weapons development).

Iran could get a bomb within a year. We already know it worked on a 10-kiloton bomb design. As for enriching weapons-grade uranium, Tehran could likely revamp its existing fleet of centrifuges to produce enough for its first bomb in eight to 10 months.

Then, there is the unspoken option of culling plutonium from spent fuel generated from its power reactor at Bushehr. Assuming Iran currently lacks a small, crude chemical separation plant (which could be hidden within a moderate sized warehouse), Tehran could build one from scratch in as little as six months. (The design for such a plant was made public 40 years ago.) Such a plant could process one bomb’s worth of plutonium in about a week and a bomb’s worth per day after that. Given Tehran’s past work on weapons design, it’s reasonable to assume that Iran would have a working implosion device on the ready and could prepare plutonium or highly enriched uranium to place into the device’s core relatively quickly.

Recent analysis also shows that even if Iran used “reactor-grade plutonium” from its power reactor at Bushehr, it could produce a compact  9- to 12-kiloton weapon, (which would accord with Iran’s earlier effort to perfect a 10-kiloton missile warhead) ) using 1950s weapons technology. If Iran unloaded Bushehr’s fuel before it was fully burned, as it did in 2012, it could build even more powerful weapons still.

Tehran, though, is unlikely to sprint toward such bomb options if for no other reason than that Trump has warned it against doing so; the mullahs know that a rush to build a bomb could lead to U.S. military strikes. Iran also would like to keep China, Russia, Britain, and the European Union on its good side. Getting a bomb or rushing to build one would risk all this.

Iranian nuclear or military provocations could prompt Riyadh to develop a nuclear weapons capability as a hedge.

Iranian nuclear or military provocations could prompt Riyadh to develop a nuclear weapons capability as a hedge.

Indeed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir both are on record saying that if Iran acquires a nuclear weapons capability, Saudi Arabia will do whatever it takes to “do the same.” This could mean a number of things.

Iranian nuclear or military provocations could prompt Riyadh to develop a nuclear weapons capability as a hedge.

Riyadh could call on China, which sold the Saudis nuclear-capable missiles, or Pakistan, whose bomb program the Saudis funded, to base their nuclear weapons on Saudi soil. China and Pakistan could do this legally under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty so long as the nuclear weapons remained under Chinese or Pakistani control.

The Saudis, however, would surely prefer to maintain control themselves, which gives rise to the possibility of China or Pakistan helping Riyadh acquire the means to enrich its own uranium. This could be done by sharing information that would allow the Saudis to get the parts and plans needed to complete a plant of their own.

Based on an analysis of past centrifuge enrichment programs, the Saudis might perfect a plant in one to three years and produce their first bomb’s worth of uranium a year or so later at a cost of only tens of millions of dollars. As for perfecting a nuclear weapons design, this would likely be accomplished in parallel as has been done in nearly every other bomb program.

Alternatively, Riyadh might buy a 1,000-megawatt reactor from one of the major nuclear suppliers — the Korea Electric Power Corporation, Westinghouse, EDF, Rosatom, or China — bring it online; build a crude, small reprocessing plant; and separate plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel. Judging from the recent nuclear experience of the United Arab Emirates, completing a large power reactor might take roughly a decade. If the Saudis made good on their promise to build a smaller South Korean-designed 100-megawatt electrical power reactor and decided to construct a small reprocessing plant, Riyadh could conceivably have its first batch of plutonium for use in weapons in as little as five years.

The worry, then, would be that others might follow. Egypt has long operated a large Argentine-designed research reactor capable of producing more than a bomb’s worth of plutonium each year and has tinkered with reprocessing. Both Turkey and Egypt have begun construction of several large, Russian-built VVER pressurized-water reactors. Turkey is also developing a series of indigenous nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

If Egypt develops a weapons option, some fear that its traditional rival, Algeria, would then play catch-up. For decades, Algiers has operated a large research reactor that has generated tons of spent reactor fuel containing what could potentially be many bombs’ worth of plutonium. It also has hot cells — small labs that allow the safe handling of radioactive materials, which can be used to separate plutonium from the other hot spent reactor fuel waste products.

Finally, there’s Israel, which already has an estimated nuclear arsenal of 100 to more than 300 warheads. Its production reactor near Dimona has been operated to produce tritium to keep the yield of Israel’s weapons boosted (tritium has a half-life of 12.3 years, so the weapons periodically must be “topped off”) and plutonium to fuel its nuclear weapons. It also operates centrifuges to enrich uranium for its nuclear weapons program. The Dimona reactor is more than a half-century old, but Israel hopes to operate it for another two decades.

The Middle East is a darkening nuclear neighborhood. Nonetheless, any pitched regional nuclear rivalry is several years away and can be avoided.

The Middle East is a darkening nuclear neighborhood. Nonetheless, any pitched regional nuclear rivalry is several years away and can be avoided.

The Middle East is a darkening nuclear neighborhood. Nonetheless, any pitched regional nuclear rivalry is several years away and can be avoided.

First, apart from Iran’s Bushehr plant, there are no power reactors yet operating in the Middle East, and without them, it’s difficult to justify enriching or reprocessing. Turkey’s massive Russian project is slouching ahead but just lost 49 percent of its financing. Japan financially pulled out of Turkey’s other planned nuclear project.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s planned Russian plant near Dabaa won’t be cheap: Cairo will have to shell out many billions of dollars to repay the Russians. Given Egypt’s economic woes, the plant may never be built. Finally, there’s Saudi Arabia, which optimistically announced it might spend more than $80 billion building reactors by 2040. Riyadh, however, will have difficulty balancing its current budget unless the price of oil reaches and stays at or above $85 to $87 a barrel. It has already drawn heavily from its financial reserves and is having difficulty selling shares of its key asset, the state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco. The pace of Saudi nuclearization may be slow.

Second, nuclear power in the region is increasingly uneconomic. All of these countries have access to growing reserves of cheap natural gas and renewable energy sources, the costs of which are declining dramatically in the region.

All of these countries have access to growing reserves of cheap natural gas and renewable energy sources, the costs of which are declining dramatically in the region.

These include wind and solar power, which, along with other renewables, provide power 24/7 at rates lower than nuclear. Meanwhile, as poor as the economic case for nuclear power may be in the Middle East, the financial case for enriching uranium or reprocessing spent fuel is weaker still.

All of these countries have access to growing reserves of cheap natural gas and renewable energy sources, the costs of which are declining dramatically in the region.

Fears that these dangerous nuclear activities could be used to make nuclear weapons is why Washington initially refused the UAE civilian nuclear assistance in 2009 until it abandoned enriching and reprocessing. Trump officials have wisely intimated that similar demands may be holding up Riyadh’s signature on a U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperation deal. The White House and Congress should hold firm on these demands, as well as the renewal of U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation with Egypt (up for renewal in 2021) and Turkey (up for renewal in 2023).

These demands also should feature, as Secretary Pompeo has made clear, in any future deal with Iran — getting Tehran to forswear enriching and reprocessing as the UAE did. Israel ought to be encouraged to adopt them as well. Finally, Washington needs to work with others to promote nonnuclear energy cooperation wherever it makes economic sense rather than continue to push nuclear energy in countries where it doesn’t.

This may seem ambitious — but the stark alternative in the Middle East is chaos.

Iran Will Soon Go Nuclear (Daniel 8:4)


Iran Says Europe’s Support For Nuclear Deal Isn’t Enough After America’s Withdrawal

“We have to preserve this agreement so we don’t have to negotiate a new agreement,” the EU’s energy chief said.

TEHRAN (Reuters) – The European Union is not doing enough to preserve the benefits for Iran from the 2015 international nuclear pact following the withdrawal of the United States, Iran’s foreign minister told the EU’s energy chief on Sunday.

Miguel Arias Canete, European Commissioner for energy and climate, said Tehran wanted the 28-nation bloc to act fast to preserve its oil trade with Iran, and to consider making direct euro-denominated payments for Iranian oil to Iran’s central bank, bypassing the U.S. financial system.

“With the withdrawal of America …. the European political support for the accord is not sufficient,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told Arias Canete in Tehran, Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported.

Since President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that he would pull the United States out of the deal, the U.S. Treasury said Washington would reimpose a wide array of Iran-related sanctions after the expiry of 90- and 180-day wind-down periods, including sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil sector and transactions with its central bank.

The EU leaders have pledged to try to keep Iran’s oil trade and investment flowing, but conceded that would not be easy.

“We have to preserve this agreement so we don’t have to negotiate a new agreement,” Arias Canete told Western journalists after two days of meetings with Iranian officials in Tehran.

“Our message is very clear. This is a nuclear agreement that works.”

Under the deal, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. With the threat of new U.S. sanctions looming over them, some foreign firms have already started signaling their intention to pull back from Iran.

The announcement of the possible withdrawal by major European companies from their cooperation with Iran is not consistent with the European Union’s commitment to implementing (the nuclear deal),” Zarif was quoted as saying.

He appeared to be referring to announcements by several large European companies last week suggesting their activities in Iran would end or be curtailed because of the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.

A top adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday cast doubt on whether European nations could be trusted to save the agreement.

“The contradictions in the words of European authorities are suspicious. We hope that our government officials will be able to secure the necessary guarantees in their negotiations, as one cannot rely on those who vacillate and speak contradictory words,” IRNA quoted Ali Akbar Velayati as saying.

Following the withdrawal of Washington, Iran said it would remain in the deal only if Tehran achieved its goals – namely being protected from sanctions on key sectors of its economy such as oil – in cooperation with other signatories of the pact.

EU investment in Iran, mainly from Germany, France and Italy, has jumped to more than 20 billion euros since the lifting of sanctions in 2016, in projects ranging from aerospace to energy.

But to improve its oil-reliant economy, Tehran needs to attract $100 billion in foreign investment to boost its oil industry and major western investors have stayed away from Iran, partly because of the remaining U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“The announcement, in cascade, of European companies that will not keep investing in Iran are making the things much more complicated at the moment,” Arias Canete said.

“So what he (Zarif) is asking the European Union is that we have to have concrete solutions in order to implement the European Union commitments, which is something that we fully recognize.”

The options being considered by the EU to keep Tehran in the nuclear deal include new credit lines for Tehran, increased energy cooperation and implementing EU laws to block European companies from caving in to U.S. sanctions.

Arias Canete said Iranian officials were keen to mitigate the impact of U.S. sanctions under a proposal for EU governments to make direct euro-denominated payments for Iranian oil to Iran’s central bank, bypassing the U.S. financial system.

“The EU will consider it,” he said, adding that the EU needed to deliver fast on preserving oil trade with Iran.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Potter, William Maclean)

Continuing Despair Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11:2)

Despair haunts Gaza as blockade remains after bloody protests

With crossings closed, some travellers have been waiting months for exit permits

Oliver Holmes in Gaza

Sun 20 May 2018 02.00 EDT

Last modified on Sun 20 May 2018 03.09 EDT

In a stuffy basketball stadium in southern Gaza, the stands are packed. Young people, the elderly and families sit on blue and yellow plastic seats, their eyes fixed on the court.

But there is no game, and these people are not fans but hopeful travellers. The crowds carry suitcases with them and have been waiting to leave, some of them for months.

In the middle of the cavernous room, an official sits at a wooden table with a list of people who have been approved that day to exit into Egypt. When he calls a name, that person can join a bus heading across the border.

A 60-year-old woman said she had been attempting to get permission to leave from the Egyptian authorities for a year and four months. Although a Palestinian, she has lived for the past three decades in Germany, where she has citizenship, but came back for what she hoped would be a short visit to her parents.

“I registered to travel [out of Gaza] a week after I arrived. This is the first time I’m on the list,” said Mufida, holding up her German passport. “No one’s name has been called out today,” she added.

Mufida, who asked to give only her first name, received a call last week that she had a permit to leave but would need to wait for her name to be called. For four days she has waited at the stadium. Rumours swirl that several thousand dollars in bribes will get you across, but Mufida smiled and said she did not have the cash. “Nobody should come back here,” she said. Her seven children are waiting for her in Germany.

A decade-long blockade on Gaza, the tiny strip of land surrounded by Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean, has led to the collapse of its economy and the enclave is regularly referred to as an open-air prison. It had been hoped that close to two months of protests, sparked by anger and desperation, would lessen this crisis for two million Palestinians. Since late March, tens of thousands have gathered weekly along the frontier with Israel to demonstrate against the conditions they live under.

Amid an international outcry and calls for investigations, Israeli fire has killed more than 110 people and thousands of others have been shot, mostly in the legs, according to health officials.

The movement peaked on Monday, when an estimated 40,000 descended on the frontier, many throwing stones towards Israeli forces stationed on sandbanks behind the fence. There were attempts to breach the perimeter, although none succeeded, and many more of the wounded were shot dozens of metres back from the fortified fence, including paramedics.

Monday’s gatherings were focused on dismay over the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on the same day. And the protest organisers have called the movement the “Great March of Return”, demanding refugees and their descendants – two-thirds of Gaza’s residents – be allowed to return to homes lost in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

But the primary goal was ending the blockade, according to Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University. “That is the number-one aim of the protest, even if the slogan is the Great March of Return,” he said. “The most important thing for the protest was to break the siege, to live in freedom and dignity, to live a better life.”

Israel says it is forced to control access to the territory for security reasons, although the UN sees the blockade as collective punishment.

A Palestinian protester in clouds of tear gas. Photograph: Mohammed Saber/EPA

Egypt, which accuses Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, of smuggling out fighters and weapons, only periodically opens the strip’s southern Rafah crossing. Trucks carrying cement and wood were seen there last week, and Cairo said the exit would remain open for the month of Ramadan – the longest uninterrupted period since 2013.

The past few days have seen roughly 500 people cross per day, although thousands remain on lists. Travel is mostly restricted to patients and students enrolled in universities abroad, as well as dual citizens.

Israel, however, has not significantly changed access at its crossings. It says Palestinians ransacked one crossing, although it later sent some medical supplies into Gaza through it. Hamas rejected the truckloads of aid, calling it a propaganda stunt. Another four trucks filled with medical supplies from Jordan were allowed to cross on Friday, the UN said, although access remains severely restricted.

The protests have failed to elicit much support in Israel, where the bloodshed has been framed in large part as a response to a potential security threat to Israelis. One Israeli soldier has been injured since protests began. A poll conducted this month found 83% of Jewish Israelis believed the army’s open-fire policy was justified.

Israel’s government blames Hamas for the deaths of people killed by Israeli forces, saying it has pushed civilians into the line of fire. Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman called Hamas a “bunch of cannibals”.

Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation Israeli human rights group run by military veterans, said most of Israeli Jewish society had “sadly enough, bought into the talking points of the government”.

“It was really devastating to see the response of mainstream Israel, so to speak, on this,” he said.

Voices of outrage have been largely muted and sidelined. Small protests across the country condemning the army’s use of live fire have barely reached the low hundreds. “There was a voice of dissent. It’s a minority, but it’s there,” Shaul said. “There is a voice and we are proud of it, but we are a minority.”