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Brace Yourselves for the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)

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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.

Indian Nuclear Plant Leaking Before the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Red Flags Raised Over Radioactive Waste at Indian Point Plants

October 8, 2019 By Abby Luby

Left to right, John Sullivan, Marilyn Elie, Margot Frances, Manna Jo Greene and Jeanne Shaw, members of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, in front of an inflatable, life-size nuclear waste cask last week. Abby Luby Photo

The closure and dismantling of Indian Point plants 2 and 3 in 2020 and 2021, respectively, have raised red flags about the storage and handling of more than 1,700 tons of dangerous radioactive waste.

At a public meeting last Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) answered questions about the decommissioning process. About 90 people crowded into the Morabito Community Center in Cortlandt to ask Bruce Watson, NRC chief of the reactor decommissioning branch, about the regulatory agency’s oversight role during the plant closures.

For three hours, many were frustrated with the unreliable audio system that made it difficult to hear the speakers. A major concern was about Holtec International, a family-owned corporation based in Camden, N.J., slated to purchase, dismantle Indian Point and manage the irradiated nuclear fuel. Although Holtec has more than 30 years’ experience handling radioactive waste, it has come under scrutiny for fast-tracking decommissioning of nuclear plants.

Holtec proposes to dispose of the waste in as little as eight years; the NRC allows 60 years for the process.

“Holtec is a company with a record of bribery, lies and risk-taking. We know the NRC allowed the company into plants in New Jersey and Massachusetts even before objections by citizens’ groups were heard,” charged Richard Webster, legal director for Riverkeeper.

“Can you describe the NRC’s role in approving and selecting companies like Holtec for decommissioning?” asked Peekskill City Councilman Colin Smith during the meeting.

Watson replied that the agency is not privy to contractual details or sale agreements.

“Our sole responsibility is to ensure the applicant is licensed and has the technical and financial ability to own a particular plant,” he said.

When Smith asked for an estimated timeline for transporting the spent fuel rods, Watson said, “Congress promised to take care of high-level waste when they encouraged all these plants to be built. It’s in their ballpark to facilitate the disposal of the spent fuel. It’s way below my pay grade to make that kind of policy. I wish I had an answer for you.”

NRC’s oversight role with Holtec directly ties into the formation of Community Advisory Boards (CABs) as stipulated in a federal law under the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act. Watson indicated that the NRC would be checking in regularly with the progress of the decommissioning, but acknowledged that a heavier oversight role would be put on the Community Advisory Boards.

Many have questioned the authority of the newly formed local CAB, chaired by Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker with Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi serving as vice chair.

“We are all in this together,” said Puglisi in defense of the CAB. “We created a task force two years ago when we learned of the decommissioning and have been meeting monthly. We have a large membership including business people, environmentalists, school officials, chamber of commerce, county executives from Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange, along with state representatives.” Puglisi told the NRC to officially recognize the group as a Community Advisory Panel rather than a board.

Knickerbocker said the Community Advisory Panel was a diverse group with Indian Point supporters and critics.

“We are the eyes and ears and the voice for our community,” she said. “Our agenda is the safe decommissioning of Indian Point. This panel will drive the bus for decommissioning.”

The watchdog group Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC) has supported a funded Citizens Oversight Board comprised of impartial members, independent scientists, experts, first responders, plant workers, environmentalists and other informed stakeholders.

“The board should have a budget to hire experts and have appointed environmentalists and volunteers who hold monthly, open meetings,” said IPSEC member Marilyn Elie.

IPSEC maintains a CAB made up of local politicians who might have financial or economic agendas is problematic. IPSEC has drafted citizens’ oversight board legislation that is expected to be introduced to state, county and local lawmakers in January.

Assemblywoman Sandra Galef (D-Ossining) told Watson the NRC should fund the CAB.

“The NRC allowed the nuclear plants to be here, and now that they are being decommissioned, you should be sponsoring and funding the CABs using money in the federal government budget,” Galef said.

Although Indian Point units 2 and 3 generate about 2,000 megawatts of electricity, Con Ed no longer gets electricity from Indian Point. In 2017, the contract between Con Ed and Entergy expired and was not renewed, according to the utility. Up to that point, Indian Point supplied only 560 megawatts to Con Ed.

With competing solar and wind markets offering cheaper energy, Entergy’s high price for electricity has priced the company out of the market. Today, Entergy is closing its aging plants across the country.

An upcoming forum on decommissioning Northeast nuclear plants is scheduled for this Thursday, Oct. 10 from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at Hendrick Hudson Free Library in Montrose.

Save the Oil (Revelation 6:6)

Oil prices spike by a record 25% as Trump talks up huge production cuts and Saudi Arabia calls for OPEC meeting

New York (CNN Business) — Hopes are building for a truce in the brutal oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, setting off a record spike in the oil market Thursday.

President Donald Trump suggested massive production cuts could be on the way and Saudi Arabia called for an “urgent” meeting between OPEC, Russia and other unnamed nations to restore “balance” to the oil market.

Even though no date has been set for such a meeting — and no deal on cutting production has yet been announced — the oil market celebrated wildly.

US oil prices soared as much as 35% to $27.39 a barrel after Trump said on Twitter that he hopes and expects Saudi Arabia and Russia will slash output by between 10 million and 15 million barrels per day. Crude closed with a surge of 25% to $25.32 a barrel. That exceeds the previous one-day record that was set exactly two weeks ago.

Trump’s tweet followed a call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“If it happens, will be GREAT for the oil & gas industry!” the US president tweeted.

Saudi Arabia and Russia have been locked in an epic price war since early March, flooding the oil market with cheap crude just as demand is cratering because of the coronavirus pandemic. Crude has crashed to 18-year lows, crushing American oil companies and energy stocks.

‘Burden sharing’

Although Trump suggested the deep cuts would be coming solely from Saudi Arabia and Russia, there are signs that OPEC is looking for other countries, including perhaps the United States, to join in.

“We need to see burden sharing,” a source within the OPEC+ alliance told CNN Business’ John Defterios. “Not fair for two or three producers within OPEC+ to carry most of the responsibility.

Previous cuts by OPEC and its allies have given US shale producers room to capture market share. The United States recently surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer.

“The Saudis are absolutely crystal clear that they are not doing this alone. It’s not just a Saudi-Russia cut,” said Helima Croft, RBC Capital’s global head of commodity strategy. “They’re done with the situation where they cut and the US grows.”

Some US oil producers have urged officials in Texas to impose caps on the state’s oil production — a step that would run counter to the industry’s free-market ethos. The Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state’s energy industry, hasn’t exercised that power in more than 40 years.

Ryan Sitton, a commissioner on that regulatory body, said Thursday he had a “great conversation” with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak in which they discussed the need to remove 10 million barrels per day from global oil supply.

“While we normally compete,” Sitton said in a tweet, “we agreed that #COVID19 requires unprecedented levels of int’l cooperation.” He added that he will speak to Saudi Arabia’s energy minister soon.

Trump also tweeted that bin Salman had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, the Kremlin denied such a phone call had taken place, news that took some of the heat out of the huge spike in oil prices.

A truce between Saudi Arabia and Russia would aid an oil market that analysts estimate is oversupplied by around 25 million barrels per day. Demand for transport fuels in particular has been decimated by travel restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic.

‘Completely unrealistic’

The official Saudi Press Agency said in a tweet Thursday that the kingdom is seeking a meeting for members of the OPEC+ alliance, which includes Russia, “and another group of countries” in an attempt to try to reach a “fair solution to restore the desired balance of the oil markets.”

It’s not clear who would be part of that additional group of countries.

The tweet said the invitation is part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to support the global economy “and in appreciation of the US President’s request and the US friends’ request.”

Analysts expressed skepticism that Saudi Arabia and Russia would suddenly reverse course and slash production by nearly as much as Trump suggested.

“This is a completely unrealistic expectation,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData.

Smith pointed out that even the low end of Trump’s touted production cuts, 10 million barrels, amounts to virtually all of Saudi Arabia’s output.

“From a logic standpoint, from a political standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Big cuts by Russia would undermine its goal of drowning high-cost US shale producers in a sea of cheap oil.

The recent crash in oil prices to $20 a barrel will likely set off a wave of bankruptcies and job cuts in the US oil industry, including in many Republican-leaning states.

Demand, not supply, is the No. 1 problem

Production cuts by Russia and Saudi Arabia would ease a great deal of pressure in the oil market.

However, the primary cause of the oil crash is weak demand, not excess supply. The extreme restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus pandemic have caused an unprecedented collapse in oil demand. Highways are empty. Passenger jets have been parked. And factories are not operating.

US gasoline demand, the No. 1 swing factor for global oil demand, is plunging because most Americans have been forced to work from home.

IHS Markit estimates that US gasoline demand could collapse by more than 50% during the coronavirus response period. That would easily surpass the demand lost during the Great Recession.

All of this means that even if there is a truce between Saudi Arabia and Russia, prices may remain under pressure.

— John Defterios contributed to this article.

A Recipe For Nuclear Disaster At The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

US allowing longer shifts at nuclear plants in pandemic

AP Apr 2, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. nuclear plants will be allowed to keep workers on longer shifts to deal with staffing problems in the coronavirus pandemic, raising worries among watchdogs and some families living near reactors that employee exhaustion will increase the risks of accidents.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to temporarily allow longer worker shifts is one way the industry is scrambling to keep up mandatory staffing levels through what will be weeks or months more of the outbreak.

The shift extensions would allow workers to be on the job for up to 86 hours a week. Currently, they’re generally allowed to work up to 72 hours in a seven-day period. As part of the waiver, workers could be assigned to 12-hour shifts for as many as 14 days in a row.

Nuclear plant workers already are having their temperatures checked on arrival for each shift, and employers are studying options including having workers temporarily live at plants full-time.

Ho Nieh, the NRC’s director of reactor regulation, discussed the provision for longer work hours with utility industry executives and others on Thursday. Nieh said federal inspectors on and off site would monitor so that no plant works its employees to the point of bleariness. Regulators would approve, and if needed revoke, expanded shifts on a plant-by-plant basis, Nieh said.

But for Natalie Hildt Treat, a resident of Salisbury, Massaschusetts who is staying at home during the outbreak with her 5-year-old child and husband, the thought that workers at plants such as Seabrook Station, 6 miles away, could soon be grinding through repeated long shifts only added to her concerns.

“This is highly specialized work that needs a lot of attention and focus,” Treat, a nuclear safety activist, said by telephone. It’s a problem, she said, “if people are fatigued or sick.”

There are nuclear reactors in 30 states. In 12 states, nuclear plants provide 30 percent or more of their power. Like the coal industry, however, the U.S. nuclear power industry has struggled in the marketplace as prices of natural gas and renewable energy plunge.

The NRC closely regulates total staffing and staff hours as a condition of reactors’ continued operation. Fatigue has often been deemed a factor in accidents at nuclear plants, as in the former Soviet Union’s 1986 Chernobyl disaster, where key plant staffers had worked multiple shifts.

In the United States in recent days, nuclear plants are reporting some of the first coronavirus cases among their workers.

Over the weekend, the NRC said it would consider on a plant-by-plant basis 60-day exemptions that would let plants keep workers on the job for up to 86 hours in a seven-day period, including up to 12 hours a day for 14 days straight. No plant had received a work-hour waiver as of Thursday, regulators said.

With the expanded hours, managers could shift nuclear plants from five or six crew rotations a day to two — a day shift and a night shift, of 12 hours, Thomas Basso, the senior director of regulatory affairs at the industry’s Nuclear Energy Institute, told regulators Thursday.

That way, plants could minimize exposures and risks of infection among workers, Basso said, increasing the chances of keeping enough workers healthy however long the pandemic lasts.

“The industry will only ask for these exemptions provided safety is ensured,” said Jennifer Uhle, a vice president of the nuclear industry group.

But Edwin Lyman, a nuclear power expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists watchdog group, called proposals like Basso’s “alarming.”

“I hope that the NRC will conduct due diligence on industry claims that the best way to reduce the potential for COVID-19 spread among its personnel is to force them to work fourteen 12-hour days in a row,” he said in an email. He called that solution likely “untenable.”

If a plant fails to keep up minimum staffing requirements in the pandemic, regulators could order it to shut down, something that has happened rarely, if ever, to an operating plant, regulators said.

Besides the kind of crew consolidation Basso described, individual nuclear plants also are looking at the possibility of bringing former plant operators back into service. Another option is sequestering crews on site — keeping workers fed and bunked down at the plants during the pandemic, NEI spokeswoman Mary Love said.

At the Tennessee Valley Authority’s three nuclear facilities in Tennessee and Alabama, crews on Thursday were again checking the temperature of each arriving worker and having each fill out a health questionnaire, every day, spokesman Jim Hopson said.

Managers had restricted movement within parts of the sites, and put cleaners on extra hours inside, Hopson said. Sequestering crews remained one of the options, if things get worse, he said.

——

Travis Loller contributed from Nashville, Tenn.

Trump Warns the Iranian Nuclear Horn

Trump warns Iran of ‘heavy price’ in case of attack on US troops

Trump, without offering details, warns against possible ‘sneak attack’ against US troops in Iraq.

1 Apr 2020

US President Donald Trump speaking during a news conference in the White House in Washington, DC, US [Tom Brenner/Reuters]

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned Iran and groups linked to Tehran against attacking US troops or assets in Iraq, citing a possible “sneak attack” but giving no other details.

“Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on US troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

It was not immediately clear what information Trump was referring to in his tweet, which was posted after he was scheduled to have a 12:00pm (16:00 GMT) intelligence briefing.

A top Iranian military aide had earlier cautioned the US of consequences of “provocative actions” in Iraq, Iranian news agencies reported.

“We advise US politicians and military to take responsibility for the consequences of their provocative actions (in Iraq),” General Yahya Rahim Safavi said, quoted by the semi-official news agency Tasnim. “Any US action will mark an even larger strategic failure in the current president’s record.”

Rahim Safavi made the comments hours before Trump’s tweet.

At odds for decades, the US and Iran have seen relations deteriorate further in the nearly two years since Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 multilateral nuclear deal and reimposed US economic sanctions on Tehran.

Iran’s president said on Wednesday that, with the advent of the coronavirus, the US had missed a historic opportunity to lift sanctions on his country, though the penalties had not hampered its fight against the infection.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the possibility that Washington might consider easing sanctions on Iran and other nations to help fight the epidemic, but gave no concrete sign it plans to do so.

“The United States lost the best opportunity to lift sanctions,” Hassan Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting. “It was a great opportunity for Americans to apologise … and to lift the unjust and unfair sanctions on Iran.”

The coronavirus has killed more than 3,000 people in Iran with confirmed infections close to 48,000, making it the worst-hit country in the Middle East and prompting China and the United Nations to urge the US to ease sanctions.

“Americans could have used this opportunity and told the Iranian nation that they are not against them,” Rouhani said. “Their hostility (towards Iranians) is obvious.”

Trump has adopted a “maximum pressure” policy on Iran aimed at persuading Tehran to negotiate a broader deal that further constrains its nuclear programme, limits its missile programme and curbs its use of proxy forces in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

Washington has offered humanitarian assistance to its longtime foe. But Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rejected the offer.

People wearing protective clothing carrying the body of a victim who died after being infected with the new coronavirus at a cemetery just outside Tehran, Iran [Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo]

Although Iranian authorities have said US sanctions had hindered its efforts to curb the outbreak, Rouhani said, “the sanctions have failed to hamper our efforts to fight” against the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are almost self-sufficient in producing all necessary equipment to fight the coronavirus. We have been much more successful than many other countries in the fight against this disease.”

Several countries, including the United Arab Emirates, China, the UK, France, Qatar and Turkey, have sent shipments of medical supplies, including gloves and surgical masks, to Iran.

In the first transaction conducted under a trade mechanism set up to barter humanitarian goods and food after Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Germany said on Tuesday that France, Germany and the UK had exported medical goods to Iran.

As US eases sanctions on Iran, how much quicker could it produce a nuke?

If US eases sanctions on Iran, how much quicker could it produce a nuke?

The coronavirus crisis could be an opportunity for Trump to cite unique and changed circumstances to show flexibility and claim that he did not blink in the two-year game of chicken with Iran.

Sanctions and Iran can be one of the most confusing subjects on the planet.

The US on Tuesday announced that it would continue limited waivers from sanctions so that the EU, Russia and China can continue to provide humanitarian aid and nonproliferation items to the Islamic Republic.

This changed nothing.

The bigger question is whether, due to the coronavirus crisis escalating a humanitarian nightmare in Iran, the US might roll back some of the additional sanctions it has imposed on Tehran since May 2018.US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo showed the first sign of flexibility on this issue in nearly two years after the Trump administration has been taking increasing heat from the UN, the EU and others for rejecting calls to roll back sanctions as Iran’s death toll from corona shoots through the roof.

Until now, the Trump administration has fought off these calls, saying that any additional trade or funds it would allow for Iran would go to the regime, the nuclear program and terrorism – not to the sick and poor general public.

What if the Trump administration changes its tune on the issue, with Pompeo’s statement as a trial balloon?

All along Trump has wanted a deal with Iran, as long as he could claim some kind of improved deal and present it as better than what his predecessor Barack Obama achieved with Iran in 2015.

The coronavirus crisis could be an opportunity for Trump to cite unique and changed circumstances to show flexibility and claim that he did not blink in the two-year game of chicken with Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

IF THE US were to reduce sanctions pressure, how much faster might the Islamic Republic be able to achieve breakout capability?

First, the 12-month breakout period has been eviscerated.

Saying it was responding to US sanctions, Iran started in May 2019 to publicly violate the 2015 nuclear deal’s limits.

By March 3, even the IAEA, which tries to stay on Tehran’s good side, was reporting that Iran had exponentially increased its enriched uranium stock – passing the volume of low-enriched uranium needed for a nuclear weapon.

Depending on your politics and looking at best- or worst-case scenarios, Iran is now viewed as being between three to six months from being able to weaponize that low-enriched uranium.

In predicting how much faster Iran might be able to move toward a nuclear weapon if the US eases sanctions, a key question would be which sanctions were being eased and in exchange for what.

There was a round of non-oil related sanctions in August 2018, a much more damaging round of oil-related sanctions in November 2018 and an ending of broader waivers of sanctions for eight countries in May 2019.

Since then there have been additional layers of sanctions piled on.

In fall 2019, France proposed the US restore broader waivers (the waivers approved on Tuesday were very narrow and related only to humanitarian issues) or the US roll back oil sanctions by half in exchange for Iran returning to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal’s restrictions.

While both the US and Iran rejected this compromise, might it be back on the table now?

If so, the first two items for the US to try to achieve in negotiations would be for Iran to reduce its new enrichment of uranium and uranium stock back down to the 300 kilogram limit, while exporting the excess uranium that has it above the 1,000 kilogram line necessary for a bomb.

Or would Iran be trying to hold out for the US to roll back sanctions with no concessions on its part to return to compliance with the nuclear deal?

In the first scenario, where both sides compromise, the Islamic Republic’s clock for obtaining a nuclear weapon might even be pushed back.

In the second scenario, where the US makes one-sided concessions to Iran due to the corona crisis, there are three possibilities.

One is that Khamenei does not proceed forward, viewing the US concessions as a sign of good faith that he does not want to squander.

A second possibility is that Khamenei views the concessions as a sign of weakness and barrels forward and closer to a nuclear bomb.

In a third scenario, the additional funds Iran gets lead to additional funding of terrorism by its proxies, but do not lead to a drive to get closer to a bomb.

The third possibility is the most likely one because the Islamic Republic risks littlewhen it activates its proxies, whereas once it is clearly dashing to breakout for a nuclear weapon, its leaders know they must worry about an Israeli preemptive strike and possibly even one from the US.

Further, Tehran can continue to enrich uranium at a low level and increase its stock, presenting this as an achievement, while at the same time avoiding enriching uranium to higher levels which would set off Israeli and US alarm bells.

So probably a partial reduction in sanctions due to the coronavirus would not lead Iran to rush faster toward a nuclear bomb.

If anything, The Jerusalem Post has learned, the corona crisis has likely slowed down some of Iran’s nuclear activities, because all echelons of the Iranian government have been impacted.

The bigger question, aside from the humanitarian issue, is will a concession now positively influence Tehran toward less conflict, or negatively lead it to believe the US has weakened in its long-term determination over the issue?

Iran Warns Babylon the Great

Aide to Iran’s Khamenei cautions against U.S. “provocative actions” in Iraq

ReutersApril 1, 2020, 12:24 PM MDT

April 1 (Reuters) – A top military aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cautioned the United States on Wednesday of consequences of “provocative actions” in Iraq, Iranian news agencies reported.

“We advise U.S. politicians and military to take responsibility for the consequences of their provocative actions (in Iraq),” General Yahya Rahim Safavi said, quoted by the semi-official news agency Tasnim. “Any U.S. action will mark an even larger strategic failure in the current president’s record.”

Rahim Safavi made the comments hours before U.S. President Donald Trump said that Iran or its proxies planned a sneak attack on U.S. targets in Iraq and warned they would pay a “very heavy price” but gave no details. (Reporting by Dubai newsroom)

Iranian Hegemony Returns to Iraq (Daniel 8:3)

Iran’s Quds Force Commander in Baghdad for 1st Time since Soleimani Killing

Wednesday, 1 April, 2020 – 17:30 –

Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani. (AP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force Esmail Ghaani arrived in Baghdad this week for the first time since the killing of his predecessor, Qassem Soleimani, in a US air strike near the Iraqi capital in January.

Iraqi officials confirmed he had arrived on Monday to try and unify Iraq’s fractured political leaders as stiff opposition by one major bloc thwarts the chances the country’s latest prime minister-designate can form a government, reported The Associated Press.

Ghaani’s arrival at Baghdad airport came amid a days-long curfew to stem the spread of the coronavirus that has halted inbound and outbound flights.

The four officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Soleimani, along with Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was killed Jan. 3 in a Washington-directed airstrike outside Baghdad airport. The attack led to deteriorating US-Iraq relations and prompted Iraqi lawmakers to call for the withdrawal of U. troops in a non-binding resolution.

After arriving, Ghaani left the airport under tight security in a three-vehicle convoy.

Soleimani was known to make frequent trips to the Iraqi capital to forge unity during times of political paralysis. But many officials are doubtful Ghaani can establish consensus in Iraq’s deeply fractured political scene, given his poor command of Arabic and lack of personal relationships with key figures.

“This is his first test to see if he can succeed in uniting the Shiite position, as Soleimani was doing,” said a senior Shiite political official, speaking on condition of anonymity to comment freely about the visit, which has not been publicly announced.

Ghaani’s trip coincides with a burgeoning crisis in Iraq as Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi faces resistance from certain political blocs amid a deepening fragmentation across the political spectrum. Meanwhile, plummeting oil prices and the financial toll of the coronavirus pandemic have badly damaged the country’s economy.

Previous premier-designate Mohammed Allawi withdrew his candidacy citing political obstruction.

The Fatah bloc in parliament, which came in second after Sairoon in the May 2018 election, vehemently opposes Zurfi. Headed by Hadi al-Ameri, it is composed of parties with affiliated militias under the Popular Mobilization Forces, some of which are Iran-backed.

The Sairoon bloc, led by populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, initially supported Zurfi’s candidacy.

Ghaani has met with Shiite leaders including Ameri, State of Law head Nouri al-Maliki, head of al-Hikma Movement Ammar al-Hakim, as well as President Barham Salih, the officials said.

The Sixth Seal Is Long Overdue (Revelation 6:12)

By MARGO NASH

Published: March 25, 2001

Alexander Gates, a geology professor at Rutgers-Newark, is co-author of ”The Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes,” which will be published by Facts on File in July. He has been leading a four-year effort to remap an area known as the Sloatsburg Quadrangle, a 5-by-7-mile tract near Mahwah that crosses into New York State. The Ramapo Fault, which runs through it, was responsible for a big earthquake in 1884, and Dr. Gates warns that a recurrence is overdue. He recently talked about his findings.

Q. What have you found?

A. We’re basically looking at a lot more rock, and we’re looking at the fracturing and jointing in the bedrock and putting it on the maps. Any break in the rock is a fracture. If it has movement, then it’s a fault. There are a lot of faults that are offshoots of the Ramapo. Basically when there are faults, it means you had an earthquake that made it. So there was a lot of earthquake activity to produce these features. We are basically not in a period of earthquake activity along the Ramapo Fault now, but we can see that about six or seven times in history, about 250 million years ago, it had major earthquake activity. And because it’s such a fundamental zone of weakness, anytime anything happens, the Ramapo Fault goes.

Q. Where is the Ramapo Fault?

 A. The fault line is in western New Jersey and goes through a good chunk of the state, all the way down to Flemington. It goes right along where they put in the new 287. It continues northeast across the Hudson River right under the Indian Point power plant up into Westchester County. There are a lot of earthquakes rumbling around it every year, but not a big one for a while.

Q. Did you find anything that surprised you?

A. I found a lot of faults, splays that offshoot from the Ramapo that go 5 to 10 miles away from the fault. I have looked at the Ramapo Fault in other places too. I have seen splays 5 to 10 miles up into the Hudson Highlands. And you can see them right along the roadsides on 287. There’s been a lot of damage to those rocks, and obviously it was produced by fault activities. All of these faults have earthquake potential.

Q. Describe the 1884 earthquake.

A. It was in the northern part of the state near the Sloatsburg area. They didn’t have precise ways of describing the location then. There was lots of damage. Chimneys toppled over. But in 1884, it was a farming community, and there were not many people to be injured. Nobody appears to have written an account of the numbers who were injured.

Q. What lessons we can learn from previous earthquakes?

A. In 1960, the city of Agadir in Morocco had a 6.2 earthquake that killed 12,000 people, a third of the population, and injured a third more. I think it was because the city was unprepared.There had been an earthquake in the area 200 years before. But people discounted the possibility of a recurrence. Here in New Jersey, we should not make the same mistake. We should not forget that we had a 5.4 earthquake 117 years ago. The recurrence interval for an earthquake of that magnitude is every 50 years, and we are overdue. The Agadir was a 6.2, and a 5.4 to a 6.2 isn’t that big a jump.

Q. What are the dangers of a quake that size?

A. When you’re in a flat area in a wooden house it’s obviously not as dangerous, although it could cut off a gas line that could explode. There’s a real problem with infrastructure that is crumbling, like the bridges with crumbling cement.There’s a real danger we could wind up with our water supplies and electricity cut off if a sizable earthquake goes off. The best thing is to have regular upkeep and keep up new building codes. The new buildings will be O.K. But there is a sense of complacency.

MARGO NASH

What will happen when the Sixth Seal hits

What if? What if a natural disaster strikes amid a pandemic?

Posted on April 1, 2020 by Temblor

By John C. Mutter, Ph.D., Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences and Professor of International & Public Affairs, Columbia University  

Given the timescales of the Earth’s natural spasms, and the course of the coronavirus pandemic, it will only be by luck that we will avoid an intersection. Somewhere an earthquake or a major storm will happen in a place where the nemesis is out of control. Then what?  

Citation: Mutter, J.C., (2020), What if? What if a natural disaster strikes amid a pandemic? http://doi.org/10.32858/temblor.082  

New York City, April 1: We’re now more than a week into our shelter-in-place/stay home orders, courtesy of the coronavirus. The thought occurred to me, and I know to others as well, that things could get a lot worse, especially if a natural disaster were to strike in the middle of the current crisis. I hate to sound like an alarmist, which as a rule I am not, but we need to wonder about the intersection of timescales.

Earthquakes, storms, floods and more

Natural disasters, depending on their type, occur on quite different timescales. Earthquakes, the big ones that really matter, have recurrence times that may be many hundreds of years. The next Tohoku earthquake may not happen for another thousand years or more. Smaller earthquakes, even big “smaller” ones of magnitude 7, say, occur more frequently.

Just after the Croatian government issued stay at home orders for the whole country due to the pandemic, a magnitude-5.5 quake shook the country, damaging Zagreb among other cities. Reports suggest that people ran outside their homes, trying to observe social distancing rules, but when you’re panicking from one disaster, it’s hard to remember rules for another disaster. A magnitude-5.7 quake struck Utah this month as well, scaring residents of Salt Lake City but thankfully not causing tremendous damages. A magnitude-6.5 struck a remote area of Idaho yesterday, causing no damage. These sizes of earthquakes are common. And really small earthquakes, like magnitude 1 and 2, happen all the time, we just don’t notice them. The reality is, that even though scientists do know average recurrence intervals, there is absolutely no telling exactly when and where an earthquake might strike.

Very large cyclones occur more frequently. Somewhere in the world, a top magnitude cyclone brings calamity at least once a year. In the Atlantic basin, we are not in hurricane season, but nor’easters—extratropical cyclones that are winter phenomena, so-named for their predominant wind direction—are relatively common this time of year. They can bring biblical amounts of rain and snow. The March 1888 storm covered New York City with up to 1.4 meters (55 inches) of snow and brought the city to a halt. As nor’easter season winds down, hurricane season will start to ramp up—probably before the coronavirus pandemic dies down, and almost certainly before a vaccine is produced.

The great blizzard of March 1888 that buried New York City and much of New England in more than a meter of snow and killed more than 400 people was a nor’easter. Such storms are relatively common in springtime. What would happen if such a storm struck New York before the COVID-19 pandemic was over? Credit: public domain

We’re also entering prime tornado season for the middle and southern parts of the U.S. We’ve already seen several deadly tornado outbreaks, including in places where COVID-19 has taken a toll. One doctor who is treating COVID-19 patients lost his home to a tornado. It’s also flood season for much of the Midwest and landslide season for much of the West. Fire season too is not far away.

Natural hazards strike on their own timescales without regard for whatever else humanity is dealing with.

The coronavirus timescale

Now think about a different timescale—that over which the novel coronavirus will be defeated. Scientists know far less about that timescale than we do about natural hazards. From previous experience with SARS, a virus in the same family as the new coronavirus, scientists think it is likely to be months more. Estimates by my colleagues at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health suggest it might be summer of 2021 before a vaccine will be generally available.

What if?

So, seismologists, meteorologists and volcanologists around the world are holding their collective breaths. What, they wonder, would it have been like if the L’Aquila earthquake of 2009 in central Italy had occurred during a pandemic. It is just plain luck that it did not. The L’Aquila quake killed more than 300 people, even with hospitals fully available. What if another occurs now, before the pandemic is over in that country? Or what if one strikes Iran or China or Los Angeles in the middle of the pandemic? What if a storm like the 1888 nor’easter came to New York in the next few weeks before the pandemic was quelled? That’s entirely plausible. What if another Hurricane Katrina pummels New Orleans, Harvey hits Houston, Maria swamps Puerto Rico, Irma and Michael strike Florida? The list goes on and on. Throughout the world, questions of this sort can be asked over and over. Questions are many; answers are few.

You can’t evacuate New York City, or any other large city, and have everyone maintain their social distance, nor can first responders keep their distance from people they are attempting to rescue. You can’t shelter in the New Orleans Superdome and keep your social distance. These thoughts go on and on.

Hurricane Katrina survivors shelter at the Houston Astrodome after being evacuated from New Orleans in 2005. Disasters like Katrina reveal the differences between people with means and those without, and affect the classes differently. Pandemics like the coronavirus also affect the classes differently and disproportionately. Credit: Andrea Booher/FEMAFEMA photo/Andrea Booher

Given the timescales of the Earth’s natural spasms, and the course of the pandemic, it will only be by luck that we will avoid an intersection. Somewhere an earthquake or a major storm will happen in a place where the nemesis is out of control. Then what?

The poor get poorer

Then disaster will play out as disasters always do, but in an amplified way. Many poor people don’t own cars, so evacuating an oncoming storm (or pandemic) means crowding into a bus with 40 or more others, some infected, some not, who knows. Or it means just staying where you are in the hopes that the approaching disaster will not be as bad as predicted. Wear a mask on the bus if you have managed to acquire one. Or hope that they will be handed out to you by someone. I still haven’t found a mask yet, and I live in New York City, where you can usually buy anything. I wear a silk bandanna. Nor can I find any hand sanitizer.

COVID-19 transmits far more readily than the flu so it is inevitable that, at the very least, we should expect a spike in cases at a time when cases will be hard to treat because the emergency systems will be stretched just dealing with the usual trauma of a “regular” disaster. The privileged will pack their personal vehicles with essentials and drive away with a fine supply of food, and maybe even face masks and hand sanitizer. Some will drive not to a shelter but to a resort where the population density is quite small anyway, so the risk of infection is much less. Others will shelter in comfortable homes, with computers, high-speed internet and plenty of food. In effect, for this pandemic, just like for hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters, the poor will experience enhanced risk; the wealthy may experience inconvenience, but diminished risk.

The New York National Guard is setting up hospital “rooms” in the Javits Center to ease the hospital bed shortage in the city. Credit: U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Sean Madden

I am a professor at Columbia University. The only impact on my income is that we are to expect no raises this year. I can work from home on my iPad. All of Columbia’s teaching is now virtual. No instructors will be laid off. I have barely been out of my apartment for a couple of weeks. There are plenty of white-collar jobs that have been furloughed without pay as well—dentists and hygienists, for example; doctors who aren’t trained to treat COVID-19 cases but cannot see their other patients because of shelter-in-place rules; real estate agents—but in general, these people have safety nets.

Low-income workers will take the hardest immediate and long-term financial hit. They largely have jobs that cannot be done virtually, so they are far more likely to be laid off than wealthier people and often have little to no safety net. A sanitation worker cannot perform his duties virtually, and we surely want them to keep doing their jobs. Many restaurants are keeping their delivery service alive so that the restaurant can survive, and that keeps the kitchen staff and delivery people at least marginally employed, but not the waiters. Bus drivers, daycare workers and store clerks have lost their incomes, and for who knows how long. But even if poorer people had jobs that could be done from home, many don’t own computers or have high-speed internet.

The effect of lost weeks of schooling is much greater for poor students, who typically struggle with under-resourced home lives and parents who cannot homeschool for myriad reasons—time being the largest, but also language skills and technology. The technical term from Development Economics is “human capital development”: Poor kids will be standing still in this time away from school—however long it lasts. Wealthier people will hire tutors.

Without equal access to technology, poorer children often lose out on weeks of schooling during a disaster. Credit: AngryJulieMonday (CC BY 2.0)

In the aftermath of natural disasters like earthquakes, there is a similar sorting. Those living in the crowded cities of blue UN tarps in Port au Prince in 2010 were not the wealthy elite of Haiti. They had left in private jets or chartered planes. Cholera was, and often is, feared in a post-disaster setting in a poor country, although in reality it seldom happens. But there has not been much thought given to how to manage refugee camps in a time of pandemic. How can refugees packed into tents practice social distancing?

If the predictions of wise, well-informed people are correct, hurricane season will arrive before the virus is beaten. We can’t know if an earthquake or volcanic eruption will happen—they don’t have seasons, but simply thinking about timescales suggests a strong possibility that a serious earthquake could occur before we are free of this curse that keeps us at home, fretting about ourselves and the people we care for.

Disasters divide us

It’s the screenplay of a Hollywood movie, but it is real. Disasters don’t bring us together, they separate us.

What could we do? I have never wanted to be overtly political in these commentaries, but as a scientist who studies the effects of disasters on the poor, I can say that universal health care would be a great step forward. Universal salary insurance would be very helpful as well. The people who suffer the most have no safety net.

We could have paid more attention to what was happening in China and not acted like this was a “Chinese” virus so it could never hurt us. We could have paid attention when Italy exploded. We could have not done what all autocratic leaders do and dismissed the severity of the virus because that would suggest the government doesn’t have things under control—autocrats hate that. We could have realized that test kits and respirators would be needed in potentially huge quantities. We could have realized that ER beds would leap in demand.

We could have acknowledged this is a globalized world and not pretended that bad things that happen elsewhere can’t happen to us. We could have been more thoughtful and more humble. Maybe next time we can do better, and maybe we can have some safety nets in place for the most vulnerable, many of whom right now are the ones taking care of us.

Iran will activate proxies, up nuclear activities amid coronavirus

Iran could activate proxies, up nuclear activities amid coronavirus – The Jerusalem Post

As Iran struggles to contain one of the world’s worst outbreaks of coronavirus, some are voicing concern that the regime could use the crisis as cover to advance its nuclear program or attempt to deflect attention away from the country’s perceived dubious handling of the pandemic by ordering its proxies to wreak havoc across the Middle East.

“The Iranian regime is trying to turn [the health crisis] into an opportunity by putting [military] pressure on the Americans and at the same time gaining solidarity from the [international community] – all with the goal of getting [economic] sanctions eased,” Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior project manager at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and former director-general of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, told The Media Line.

He was speaking during a virtual conference organized by the JCPA, titled “Iran in Crisis: Corona, Sanctions, Uranium – Where is it Going?”

Indeed, air defense systems in Saudi Arabia over the weekend intercepted two ballistic missiles that were allegedly fired at Riyadh and the city of Jizan by Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen. It came after a rocket on Friday was launched from the Iranian-sponsored, Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip toward southern Israel, breaking a monthlong period of relative calm following repeated low-intensity military exchanges.

That, in turn, came just 48 hours after multiple projectiles slammed into Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, where both the parliament and the US Embassy are located. It was the latest in a series of attacks targeting US assets Iraq, including one earlier this month on Camp Taji that killed an American and a British soldier, along with a foreign contractor.

Washington responded with airstrikes against a pro-Iran armed group, Kataib Hizbullah, which was accused of perpetrating the assault.

Despite the apparent uptick in asymmetrical warfare, the JCPA’s Kuperwasser insisted that the pandemic posed a significant threat to the regime, “as many Iranians are upset with the government’s response to the outbreak…. It was more important for [the mullahs] to show how close relations are with Beijing even as other countries were closing their borders to flights from China.”

He further noted that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently blamed Iranian leaders for using financial relief received in accordance with the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal – a sum estimated at upwards of $150 billion – to increase funding to its proxies rather than buy medicines and equipment.

Regarding Iran’s regional adventurism, Kuperwasser believes that, overall, the dual health and economic crises have induced the country’s leadership to assume a more defensive posture in places such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Moreover, he predicted that mass protests, which for months had rocked the latter two Iranian satrapies before people were forced from the streets into their homes, would, at some point, resume – thereby further diminishing Tehran’s grip over Baghdad and Beirut, in particular.

“The regime is facing setbacks in the region. A lot is falling apart and there are limited possibilities [to try to mitigate the damage], perhaps the most important being in the nuclear realm,” Kuperwasser explained.

“Iran is moving forward very quickly to accumulate enriched uranium and could begin producing it at [weapons-grade] levels. The regime – if it wants – is something like four to six months away from having enough fissile material to manufacture a first nuclear device,” he contended.

Iran has been the Mideast nation hardest hit by the coronavirus. As of Monday afternoon, authorities there had confirmed more than 41,000 cases of COVID-19 – the illness caused by the pathogen – and over 2,700 resulting deaths.

The circumstances last week prompted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call on his US counterpart, Donald Trump, to lift sanctions that some argue are hampering Tehran’s ability to combat the virus.

Rouhani qualified that his government would not accept any humanitarian aid offered by the White House, calling the overture “the biggest lie in history.”

Tensions between the two countries have been high since President Trump in May 2018 withdrew Washington from the nuclear accord aimed at slowing Iran’s nuclear progress, and re-imposed crippling financial penalties on the mullahs.

“Analyzing President Trump’s options moving forward must be done within the context of the [November] election. He is keeping in mind his [political] base, which is divided into two groups when it comes to foreign policy,” said Dr. Michael Doran, senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute who previously served as a director in the National Security Council during the George W. Bush Administration.

“The first group is comprised of more traditional Republicans,” he told The Media Line, “who believe in a strong America both at home and abroad – in countering the US’s enemies while supporting allies. It is not ‘neoconservatism,’ [whose proponents] advocate remaking the world by democratizing the Middle East. Trump himself has a strong instinct to just sort of ‘get the hell out’ of the region.

“Then there is the libertarian wing,” Doran continued, “which basically does not understand at all what the US is doing in the Middle East and is opposed to any military activity.”

According to Doran, who participated in the JCPA’s virtual conference, President Trump has thus hesitated to act in any manner that could be construed by political opponents as “march to war,” something the Iranians have internalized.

They have developed a strategy of escalating tensions through their proxies while [simultaneously] working with the Europeans and Democrats in the US to present the White House’s policy [as dangerous],” he said.

Whereas Doran thinks that President Trump has concluded that making concessions to Tehran would constitute a “defeat,” he nonetheless highlighted a seeming contradiction in the administration’s approach.

“With respect to deterrence, some officials held this idea that by [eliminating Iranian Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani in a January drone strike in Baghdad] there would be no need to engage in day-to-day operations [against Iran and its underlings] such as those that Israel must [undertake] vis-à-vis Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“But as we saw earlier this month, an Iranian-aligned group killed two Americans [on a military base in Iraq],” Doran emphasized.

Prior to the pandemic, the Islamic Republic also appeared headed for a clash with the European parties to the nuclear accord, as well as with the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Britain, France and Germany in January triggered the nuclear agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism in response to Iranian violations. The reconciliation process had only started when the full picture of the devastating ramifications of the coronavirus began to crystallize, leading to the postponement of negotiations.

Additionally, the IAEA had been pressuring Iran to answer questions about a controversial warehouse in the capital, where traces of uranium were found. It is the same facility from which Israeli Mossad agents in early 2018 stole a treasure trove of documents allegedly proving that the Islamic Republic had conducted military research and tests geared toward developing a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA had also complained that its inspectors were being barred from accessing two additional sites where the mullahs have been accused of advancing the military dimensions of their atomic program.

Due to coronavirus-related restrictions in Iran, some fear that the IAEA will, at least in the short-term, have less oversight over Tehran’s actions.

In this respect, Iran already last summer began openly, and defiantly, expanding its nuclear activities, with some experts postulating that the country currently has enough low-enriched uranium to build a weapon.

Though the stockpile would first need to be refined to 90% purity, the pandemic has caused nations to temporarily close their doors to Iran.

And, as a corollary, perhaps windows into the Islamic Republic’s nuclear-related machinations.