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.

The Threat of Nuclear War Continues to Grow (Revelation 16)

The New Nuclear Dawn Threat of Atomic Weapons Grows as U.S., Russia and China Renew Arms Race

Seventy-five years after the dropping of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima, one nuclear non-proliferation after the other is lapsing. A new arms race is already taking shape between Russia, the United States and China.The testing of a nuclear bomb in the Nevada desert

Foto: The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

It’s not very difficult for an industrialized country to build a nuclear bomb. The technology is already available, and it’s astonishing that more countries haven’t done it so far.

The veto powers on the United Nations Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain – all have nuclear weapons, as do Israel, India and Pakistan. Beyond that, there’s North Korea and perhaps also soon Iran.

Many worry that the proliferation of nuclear weapons could spin out of control. But those worries apparently don’t go deep enough. Fears of nuclear war more or less disappeared after the Cold War and they haven’t returned since. The nuclear weapons of the world’s major powers seem to be in a state of slumber deep within their silos, like mythical creatures from a distant past. That impression, however, is deceptive.

In recent years, one disarmament treaty after the other has been dismantled, including the nuclear deal with Iran, the INF treaty banning land-based, medium-range weapons, the Open Skies Treaty, which guarantees countries mutual reconnaissance flights – all terminated by U.S. President Donald Trump. The New START treaty on strategically offensive weapons is also about to expire.

“We are returning to the days of the 1950s and 1960s, when each country decided for itself how many and what kind of weapons to deploy,” says Vienna-based disarmament expert Nikolai Sokov.

The Washington Post recently reported that Trump is considering conducting new nuclear tests in Nevada. The decommissioned test site there is still littered with craters left behind by around a thousand underground detonations – all traces of the Cold War. A new test would be a clear indication that, after three decades of silence, a new nuclear age is dawning.

Meanwhile, Moscow is also tinkering with devices that seem to come straight out of a Cold War science fiction film. Last year, seven people died when a nuclear-powered cruise missile apparently exploded during an attempted salvage operation in the White Sea. A nuclear mega-torpedo is also under development that could wipe out coastal cities with artificial tsunamis.

And in the shadow of the two major nuclear powers of U.S. and Russia, China is expanding its arsenal, unbound by the old arms control treaties.

The fact that, 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world is entering a new spiral of nuclear madness is a political disaster. Some 191 countries wanted to prevent this state of affairs, including the countries in possession of nuclear weapons. That’s what they promised when they signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has been in force since 1970. The treaty is full of good intentions and has served more or less as the cornerstone of nuclear arms control since it went into effect. Under the treaty, countries that are not already in possession of nuclear weapons agree to not pursue them for as long as it remains in effect. In return, the nuclear powers commit to reducing their arsenals. Doubts, though, have been growing for quite some time that the five recognized nuclear powers are prepared to stick to their part of the agreement.

That hasn’t been lost on Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs. “The move toward nuclear disarmament has stalled and is now in reverse,” she says.

The United States: Spend the Adversary into Oblivion

In April 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama gave an outdoor speech in Prague, against the magnificent backdrop of Prague Castle. It was a typical Obama appearance – he found just the right words and didn’t shy away from a bit of emotiveness and idealism.

“Today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama said. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year, in part for his vision of a nuclear weapons-free world.

Only a decade later, the world finds itself in the midst of the new arms race – and it didn’t just begin under Donald Trump’s watch.

Obama was successful in signing the New START treaty with then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, which reduces the number of warheads and delivery systems for strategic offensive arms. The move saved the disarmament measure initiated by Ronald Reagan in 1982 and contractually sealed in 1991 by his successor George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. New START replaced the START I treaty, which expired in 2009.

But to get it ratified by the Republican-controlled Senate, Obama had to promise a modernization program for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In reality, new weapons have been developed, including the American forces’ first nuclear “smart bomb.” The B61-12 model, weighing 350 kilograms (770 pounds), can strike its target with pinpoint accuracy using satellite navigation.

This February, the New START treaty is also set to expire, and members of the U.S. government have already ruled out an extension. With the end of New START, one of the last major barriers preventing an arms race between the two largest nuclear powers would disappear.

Negotiations over the issue are at least still ongoing — that’s one sliver of hope. Rose Gottemoeller, Obama’s chief negotiator for New START, is optimistic. Should Joe Biden be elected, she says, the chances of an extension are “nearly 100 percent.” She says that Trump also has an interest in maintaining the agreement for a short time because “stable conditions are required over the next decade” for the ongoing modernization of nuclear carrier systems.

She is also willing to grant Trump at least one diplomatic success. In the past, Moscow had set conditions for an extension of New START – in the area of missile defense, for example. But there is little mention of that now. Moscow wants to save the treaty, despite all the threatening gestures.

Meanwhile, the new arms race is continuing and Washington is committed to it. “We know how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion,” Trump’s special envoy for arms control, Marshall Billingslea, recently boasted. Just as Washington once knocked out the economically inferior Soviet Union, Russia and China could now be outdone, he said.

If Trump now wants to be celebrated by his followers for strengthening America’s nuclear power, he will merely be taking the baton from his predecessors. Next year, Trump wants to increase spending on nuclear weapons from $37.3 to $44.5 billion.

A further milestone in disarmament was the INF Treaty between Washington and Moscow. It bans all land-based medium-range weapons – the missiles that posed a threat to Europe in the 1980s.

But Russia defied the treaty by developing a land-based cruise missile with a range that exceeded that allowed by the treaty. The Obama administration was critical of Russia’s treaty violations and NATO partners, including Germany, believe the accusation to be credible. Washington withdraw from the treaty in February.

Russia: Feeling Ahead

Washington’s most powerful rival in the field of nuclear weapons is Moscow — and in that sense, nothing has really changed. In terms of gross domestic product (GDP), Russia may be a dwarf, at only one-twelfth the size of the U.S. But its nuclear arsenal remains impressive: It possesses about 6,000 warheads, of which 1,500 are deployable by land, from the sea or from the air. The Russian and American arsenals alone account for more than 90 percent of all nuclear weapons. And these arsenals have been updated.

“For the first time in the history of nuclear weapons,” Vladimir Putin announced, “we don’t have to catch up with anyone. On the contrary, the world’s other leading nations will have to first create the weapons that Russia already has.”

“It’s hard to tell who is ahead in the arms race — there are several races taking place at the same time,” says arms expert Sokov. “For cruise missiles, whether land-, sea- or air-based, Russia is lagging behind. As it is in missile defense, as well. Russia is leading in terms of hypersonic weapons. It is also ahead when it comes to means of evading a missile defense systems.”

It is clear to Russia that if is able to achieve parity with the U.S. in any way, then it will be in the field of nuclear weapons. In the view of the Kremlin, they are the guarantor of Russian sovereignty.

That helps to explain the vehemence with which Moscow is reacting to U.S. efforts to build a missile defense system. Ever since Washington moved in 2001 to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, which restricted missile defense systems, Moscow has been concerned about the threat it poses to strategic stability. In Putin’s eyes, the termination of the ABM treaty was the first step on the road to the current problems.

Reminiscent of a James Bond villain, Putin two years ago presented computer-animated videos depicting the new miracle weapons that Russian either already possessed or was in the process of developing. They include the Burevestnik nuclear-armed cruise missile with nearly unlimited range; the Poseidon nuclear torpedo, which can render coastal cities uninhabitable; the Sarmat, a heavy intercontinental missile that can strike the U.S. from the South Pole; and the Avangard, a hypersonic glide vehicle that can carry nuclear warheads. Officially, the Avangard glide vehicles are already in service. The Sarmat is scheduled for delivery in 2021. These weapons all have one thing in common: They can supposedly circumvent U.S. missile defense systems.

“The message was: We used to be behind, but now we’re ahead. We’re not afraid of the Americans and their missile defense,” says Alexei Arbatov, the head of the Center for International Security in Moscow.

It’s difficult to get a good read on Russia’s nuclear strategy. Is it defensive or offensive in nature? “Moscow threatens and exercises limited nuclear first use,” was the assessment of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a nuclear policy strategy paper prepared by the U.S. Defense Department in 2018 for the Trump administration. That argument has been used by Washington to justify the development of tactical nuclear weapons with low explosive power. But experts have their doubts about the accusation.

Putin, for his part, has officially ruled out the possibility of a pre-emptive strike. In June, the president established the “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence” in an effort to eliminate any doubts. “The Russian Federation considers nuclear weapons exclusively as a means of deterrence, their use being an extreme and compelled measure,” the principles state.

The document laying out the fundamental policy is a reiteration of what has effectively been Russia’s strategy since 2010: That nuclear weapons would only be used in response to a conventional attack, but only “when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” What that means, though, is an open question. “The document is ambiguous and incomprehensible even to experts,” Arbatov says, critically.

Finally, Putin’s position on existing arms treaties has also created uncertainty. The INF Treaty has effectively been destroyed by Russia’s alleged violation of the deal. Putin has also criticized it as “unilateral disarmament” on the part of the Soviet Union. “God alone,” he once said, knows why the leadership at the time signed such an unfavorable document.

China: The Great Unknown

Lop Nur, China’s former nuclear weapons test site, is located on the eastern edge of the Taklamakan Desert and is where China’s first atomic bomb, developed with help from Moscow, was detonated in 1964. The country went on to conduct 45 tests there by 1996. The site was even touted as a tourist attraction for a while.

China is proud of its nuclear program, but it still considers itself to be a second-league nuclear power. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that Beijing possesses only 320 nuclear warheads, about a 20th of the Russian and American arsenals. The institute further believes that none of those warheads is immediately deployable. Moreover, China has been pursuing a defensive nuclear doctrine that rules out a first strike since the 1960s, although that could be deceptive. “The truth is that we really don’t know whether China is a ‘minor nuclear power,’” says military expert Zhao Tong of the Carnegie Tsinghua Center, a think tank in Beijing. “China has never released an official number of its warheads, not even a rough number.” Zhao currently sees China in third place. “Most importantly,” he says. “China is a world power that is massively expanding its arsenal.”

This is particularly true of China’s arsenal of ballistic missiles, which is now the world’s largest and is not limited by any disarmament treaty. China is especially strong in the category of medium-range missiles, which have a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. “These regional systems are much more important than strategic intercontinental missiles,” says Zhao. “Because any serious conflict in which China could be involved will break out at the regional level – in the dispute over Taiwan, for example, or in the South China Sea.”

China is not bound by the INF Treaty between Washington and Moscow, and medium-range missiles now even form the backbone of Chinese defense doctrine. Most Chinese nuclear weapons are currently stored on land, where they can be destroyed, which is leading Beijing to increasingly lean toward submarine-based nuclear weapons.

China is also concerned about the increasingly powerful missile defense system developed by the U.S. When the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear program came to a head in 2017, South Korea agreed to deploy the American THAAD anti-ballistic missile defense system. Beijing protested because the high-power radar is also capable of spying deep into China. There have been calls to massively expand China’s deterrent capacity. Hu Xijn, editor-in-chief of the nationalist Global Times newspaper in Beijing, has proposed increasing the number of nuclear warheads to 1,000 as quickly as possible. Even the “No First Use” doctrine, which goes back to Mao Zedong, is no longer sacrosanct.

“The majority is still in favor of sticking with this strategy,” says Carnegie’s Zhao. “But in recent years, there has been a growing number of voices in the military who disagree.” China, he argues, has a “very cynical view” of power relations. The idea has always been that, “the weaker party is always dominated by the stronger party in the end.”

It is quite conceivable that China will double the number of its nuclear warheads in the coming years, including multiple warheads that can be installed on the strategic long-range DF-5 and DF-41 missiles. Beijing believes the time has come to close the gap with the U.S., to modernize its military – “and not to limit its capabilities under any circumstances, let alone reduce them.” That, however, is exactly what the U.S. is demanding. Washington wants to use public pressure to force Beijing to the negotiating table, though that hasn’t worked so far.

“To pull the Chinese into (New START) is, in theory, a good idea,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said at an online event in Washington. “In practice,” however, he said it would be “impossible” because “the Chinese have no incentive whatsoever to participate.”

The New Uncertainty

“During the Cold War, all the nuclear weapons that had been stockpiled added up to equivalent of 1.5 million Hiroshima bombs. Today, there are only 100,000 bombs left that are equivalent to Hiroshima,” says international security expert Arbatov. “But that is also enough to put an end to humanity.”

But it’s not only the number of atomic bombs that’s decisive – the number of nuclear powers is also growing. India and Pakistan have no plans to give up their arsenals anytime soon. Nor is North Korea likely to renounce the bomb under Kim Jong Un. Iran is also pressing ahead resolutely with its nuclear program.

For dictatorships, nuclear weapons can serve as a kind of life insurance policy. As long as they can threaten with the bomb, their opponents will think twice before intervening. And that serves only to complicate the situation.

Worse yet, the most important guarantor of peace has disappeared: the fear of nuclear war that makes compromises possible in the first place. “We have forgotten how to fear nuclear war,” says Sokov. “And the bad thing about that is that if people aren’t afraid of it, it will become inevitable.”

Anticipating the possible failure of the disarmament deal concluded in 1970 between nuclear and non-nuclear powers, a group of countries initiated the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty was adopted in a round of UN negotiations and puts nuclear weapons on par with biological and chemical weapons – prohibited weapons of war. So far, 40 countries have ratified the nuclear weapon ban treaty and it goes into effect once 50 nations have ratified it, a figure that observers believe could be reached in the next year.

At most, the ban treaty will influence the political debate. Legally, it has few consequences, since none of the nuclear powers have signed it. Not a single NATO member state is participating, either, and that includes Germany. Ultimately, the treaty is really just a symbol of good intentions at a time when the arms race has already long since restarted. At this point, getting rid of the bomb will be no easy feat.

Israel Minister Promises to Take Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Israel minister to i24NEWS: ‘We will take over Gaza again’

August 04, 2020, 07:08 PM

In an exclusive interview, Tzachi Hanegbi claims Israel will need to reinvade the Strip and take control

Israel will eventually have to invade Gaza and take over control of the Hamas-run enclave, Israel’s Community Affairs Minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, told i24NEWS in an exclusive interview. 

“We will eventually have to go all the way into Gaza and taker over, because one day it will be impossible to do so. One day there will be so many rockets and missiles fired from Gaza that the Israeli public won’t accept the status quo anymore” Hanegbi said. 

His comments came after a rocket was fired from Gaza at Israel on Sunday. And while Hanegbi assesses that invading the Gaza Strip is inevitable, he also acknowledged the heavy costs in doing so. 

“It’s going to be painful. Sometimes terrorist organizations lose it, out of delusion or frustration. And this is when you are left without any option. I wouldn’t initiate going all the way in. Even when we have to take over the Gaza Strip one day, we don’t want to control the lives of two million people,” Hanegbi said. 

Israel unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip in August 2005 “Disengagement.” Hamas took control of the Strip in 2007 after a bloody and violent coup against the Palestinian Authority.

If we did not pull out, we would not have this problem now, plus how, why did we let Iranian influence into Gaza etc, what a sick joke,? Right on our borders, this is not a defence tactics,? Putting our jewish life’s at risk. At the end of the day, it’s either. Them or us. Tehran won’t stop until it gets Jerusalem, we can’t wait until they are wearing backpacks with radiation and chemical packs, if we don’t act… We will lose. Israel, God forbid, there’s no peace process , never will be, we are in trouble, damed if we do, damed if we don’t act, get all press out when ready, cut mob. Phones etc, get on with the job, world hates us already, take our land back. Take out pts, Syria, lebonon, Southern Sinai, etc, we have that power, unless you lied to us Jews, Moscow won’t help??? Unless you have a masterpiece plan, this will get worse,?. Tit for tat, getting know where,??? Shalom, frustrated jew. Shalom, p. S, shalom was right blow up that Al ask, a. Mosque. Or dismantle, give to overseas. X

Shloymie DerfischAugust 04, 2020, 03:41 PM

The north in Lebanon isa Worse situation.

Antichrist’s Men not worried about Al-Kadhimi

Iraq’s powerful militias not worried about Al-Kadhimi

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi is set to visit Washington soon, although he does not yet have a date or an invitation, so he is scrambling to say all the right things in order to secure a meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Iraq is worse off than it was two weeks ago and this last week has propelled two items to the top of the list for Al-Kadhimi’s visit to the US: Kata’ib Hezbollah’s continued attacks on the US and Iraqis, and calls by Al-Kadhimi for early elections that Kata’ib Hezbollah and its allies in Iraq’s Council of Representatives won’t allow to happen.

The top agenda item for Trump is for Al-Kadhimi to do something about the militias that he supposedly commands as Iraq’s commander in chief. The militias that fall under the government’s security apparatus are attacking US personnel in Iraq, which are there to partner with the Baghdad government to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh. The militias have now become more of a threat to the US and Iraqis than Daesh.

Trump wants to know if the US has a partner in Iraq. The president is willing to pull US forces out of Iraq if this “partner” continues to disappoint. Republicans and Democrats are looking for a reason to end this experiment. And it won’t be without costs to Baghdad and Tehran.

Two actions by the Democrat-led House of Representatives point to a breakup if nothing changes. Democrats voted to cut funding for the US mission in Iraq by $145 million and Republican Rep. Joe Wilson was able to get two amendments passed that would ensure no US dollars go to any institution in Iraq where the militias have access to the funds — that would mean the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior would be most affected.

The US is in Iraq to deal with Daesh under a UN mandate but the biggest threat to American forces is from militias, which the Iraqi government pays and supposedly controls. Kata’ib Hezbollah is a designated terrorist group that attacks Americans, kills Iraqis, and is now threatening Al-Kadhimi with assassination. It vowed to hold the prime minister responsible for the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Kata’ib Hezbollah founder Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis — both killed simultaneously in a US drone strike in early January.

Al-Kadhimi has brushed off the threats to his life but is not willing to confront the powerful militia. Most Iraqis believe and the evidence points to Kata’ib Hezbollah as the militia responsible for killing the PM’s adviser and expert analyst Hisham Al-Hashemi last month. Some Iraq watchers say that it would put Al-Kadhimi in danger if he even hinted that Kata’ib Hezbollah was responsible for Al-Hashemi’s targeted assassination.

It is the parliament, not the prime minister, which will decide if there is to be electoral reform and early elections.

Michael Pregent

This is exactly why Al-Kadhimi has to take on the militias; an entity within the Iraqi security forces cannot openly threaten to kill the prime minister without repercussions. If that’s where we are at in Iraq — a place where the commander in chief cannot use the Iraqi security forces to take on a rogue militia beholden to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force — then the US should withdraw all support and place the Iraqi government in economic disfavor, while continuing to support traditional and new allies in greater Iraq.

Withdrawing US financial support for the Iraqi government and sanctioning Iraq’s institutions, where groups like Kata’ib Hezbollah funnel US dollars to Tehran, will impact Iran and its political parties in Iraq. The protesters are demanding Al-Kadhimi go after the militias. They want the US to end its support for the status quo. They want new elections in order to end Iran’s vote on what Iraqis do, and they want them now.

A key component of Al-Kadhimi’s interim status as prime minister is to call for new elections, arrest those responsible for killing Iraqi protesters, and rein in the militias beholden to Tehran. He has said the right things, but his actions and inaction are all that matter.

Let’s look at Iraq ahead of Al-Kadhimi’s US visit. Protesters are once again on the streets demanding free and fair elections, water and electricity, jobs, and an Iraq free of Iranian interference. Iraqi protesters are still being killed, tortured, kidnapped for ransom, disappeared, and detained by militias and the security forces. By design, the forces under the command of Iraq’s commander in chief are operating outside of his control.

Al-Kadhimi has demanded investigations into the violence used against protesters and, on two occasions, has detained militia members using Iraq’s special forces, only to release them within 48 to 72 hours. Their release came after immense pressure from Tehran, Kata’ib Hezbollah and the Fatah alliance led by the Badr Organization’s Hadi Al-Amiri.

The prime minister is in a predictable position: He has no power to do anything against those that put him in power. Iran has had control of Iraq’s parliamentary system since the 2018 elections. It had loose control with the Dawa Party under Nouri Al-Maliki, but this was solidified with the militias that came to power in 2018, when Fatah came in ahead of then-Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s Nasr party.

Abadi, commander in chief during the Daesh campaign, lost out on the credit for defeating Daesh to the militias commanded by Soleimani through Al-Muhandis and Al-Amiri. Ironically, the moniker “Our guy in Baghdad” has been given to Al-Kadhimi by Tehran, Riyadh, and, yes, Washington.

The 2018 elections gave political parties tied to Tehran control of the Iraqi Council of Representatives. Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Sairoon alliance may have come in first, but Tehran was not concerned as it has always demonstrated an ability to push Al-Sadr to support its position. Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition and Al-Amiri’s Fatah corralled Al-Sadr, Abadi and Ammar Al-Hakim of the Hikma party to form the largest bloc in parliament — the bloc known as Al-Bina’a.

The militias wear suits in the Council of Representatives; they have control and they have primacy. It is the parliament, not the prime minister, which will decide if there is to be electoral reform and early elections. The militias supported Al-Kadhimi for a reason: They are not worried about him as they have all the power.

Both the US and Iraqis want free, fair and early elections, but Iran does not. Iraqis are willing to die for freedom from corrupt political and religious parties that prioritize Tehran’s concerns above theirs. The US needs to acknowledge the sacrifices made by those Iraqis wanting sovereignty from Iran by shedding a spotlight on the atrocities committed by the militias and the Iraqi security forces.

Washington and Baghdad also both want Al-Kadhimi to take on Iran’s militias, while Iran does not. Gone are the weak arguments that taking on Iran’s proxies will rally Iraqis round the flag in support of the militias. This line of reasoning is old, tired and was debunked with the deaths of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis. Iraqis did not rally round the flag; instead they demanded more militia leaders be targeted by the US.

The US must demand Al-Kadhimi take on the militias that are threatening its troops and Iraq’s sovereignty. And the White House must demand that Al-Kadhimi holds free, fair and early elections. In both cases, Iran has a stronger position than the US. Iran has a say through its militias’ penetration of Iraq’s political and security apparatus. The US does, however, have economic leverage that could decimate Iraq’s economy and end Tehran’s use of Iraq as an economic life support system.

Al-Kadhimi must use a trusted group within the Iraqi security forces that is willing to take on the militias, arrest their leaders and, most importantly, keep them in custody despite the pressure from Iran and its Iraqi partners. This will grow his support in Iraq and give him leverage against Fatah in the Council of Representatives. If Al-Kadhimi does not take action, the US must make it a costly decision for the Iraqi government.

Al-Kadhimi has two options: Tilt Iraq away from Iran or be treated like Iran. And the US also has two options: Stay blind to Iran’s takeover of Iraq or listen to the Iraqi people who want to help it get Iraq right.

• Michael Pregent, a former intelligence officer, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

The Nuclear Risk at Indian Point (Revelation 6:12)

Aerial view of the Indian Point nuclear power plant along th
UNITED STATES – FEBRUARY 19: Aerial view of the Indian Point nuclear power plant along the banks of the Hudson River in Westchester County. (Photo by Susan Watts/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

New York AG: Indian Point deal ‘very risky,’ asks feds to let state intervene

New York Attorney General Letitia James wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to listen to thestate’s concerns with the pending deal to sell Indian Point to Holtec International in New Jersey.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday called the deal to sell the Indian Point nuclear power plant “very risky” and urged federal safety regulators to consider the state’s concerns before moving ahead.

James filed a petition to intervene in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s hearings on Entergy’s plan to transfer ownership of the 60-year-old power plant to a subsidiary of Holtec International when Indian Point shuts down next year.

“Putting the decommissioning of Indian Point in the hands of a company with no experience and uncertain financial resources is very risky,” James said Wednesday. “I am committed to ensuring that New York is granted full participation in this application proceeding and all other decision-making related to Indian Point’s decommissioning.”

Among James’ concerns is a $200 million shortfall in trust fund money that will be used to decommission or dismantle the plant’s three reactors.

The funds currently hold $2.1 billion, but Holtec says the decommissioning effort, estimated to take 12 to 15 years, will cost $2.3 billion.

“Because the license transfer application does not show that adequate decommissioning funding will be available at the time of permanent shutdown,it does not comply with applicable NRC rules and may not be approvedas submitted,” the petition states.

In a statement, Holtec spokesman Joe Delmar said the company welcomed input from the state and others in the approval process.

“We look forward to an opportunity to further discuss with local officials and others Holtec’s plan for the safe, efficient and prompt decommissioning of Indian Point, which can be completed decades sooner than if Entergy performed the work,” Delmar said.

Holtec, based in Camden, New Jersey, has been a presence in the nuclear power industry for decades, mostly in the manufacture of the steel and cement canisters used to store spent fuel.

In recent years Holtec joined a handful of companies created to decommission the growing number of nuclear power plants that have announced plans to shut down. The company promises to cut decades off a job Entergy said would likely take decades.

“Holtec and its team have decades of experience safely decommissioning nuclear power plants and managing high level radioactive material at locations in the U.S. and other countries,” Delmar added. “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has previously determined that Holtec has the financial and technical qualifications to perform decommissioning safely, and has approved license transactions at other U.S. nuclear power plants.”

Skeptics have voiced their concern that decommissioning companies could jeopardize safety in the haste to get the job done, siphoning away trust fund money while sticking ratepayers with the tab for cost overruns.

Holtec’s plan calls for removing spent fuel assemblies from reactors and storing them in canisters on the Buchanan site until the federal government designates a permanent repository for storing the nation’s nuclear waste.

Holtec has asked the NRC to allow it an exemption that will allow the company to use approximately $632 million of the trust fund to manage spent fuel on the site.

Its decommissioning proposal said most of the plant’s large parts will be removed by truck and rail and delivered to sites that take in low-level radioactive waste. But, it says it is considering moving some of the parts by barge down the Hudson River — a plan opposed by environmental groups.

The first of Indian Point’s two working reactors is slated to be shut down in April.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer praised James’ action.

“Thanks to Attorney General James for having the backs of Westchester residents by making sure Holtec has a viable plan in place and is held accountable,” Latimer said. “All of Westchester County, from Cortlandt to Yonkers, stands to be greatly impacted by the Indian Point decommissioning process and this move by the Attorney General brings the resources and expertise of the State to this high-stakes proceeding.”

State and federal lawmakers who represent communities around Indian Point said the state’s input was needed to make sure the decommissioning is done safely.

“Nuclear energy has been produced on this site for nearly 60 years, so contamination of the environment is a distinct risk if dismantling the reactors is mishandled,” state Sen. Pete Harckham said.

Consequences of the German Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Nuclear bomb in Germany would kill hundreds of thousands, Greenpeace warns | Euronews

By  Alice Tidey

In this April 22, 1952 file photo a gigantic pillar of smoke with the familiar mushroom top climbs above Yucca Flat, Nev. during nuclear test detonation.   –   Copyright  AP Photo

A nuclear bomb detonating in Germany would instantly kill hundreds of thousands of people, Greenpeace has said, calling on the US to withdraw the small arsenal of atomic weapons it currently has in the country.

The environmental non-profit released a study it had commissioned simulating the impact of a nuclear weapon exploding in Germany on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

“Mass killings such as the one caused by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima must never happen again,” Greenpeace Germany’s spokesman for nuclear disarmament Christoph von Lieven said in a statement.

“The Federal Government must ensure that US atomic bombs are withdrawn from Buchel with the US soldiers,” he added.

Washington announced last week that it would start withdrawing nearly 12,000 of the 36,000 US troops currently stationed in Germany over the coming weeks.

A threat to Germany’s security

Greenpeace’s NUKEMAP study calculated the impact of various strengths of nuclear bombs in several locations: Berlin, the seat of the country’s political power; Frankfurt, the country’s financial centre; and Buchel, a municipality in south-west Germany where several US atomic bombs are stored at an airbase.

The strength of an atomic bomb is measured in kilotons (kt) and megatons (mt) which means that a nuclear weapon with a detonation energy of one kiloton generates the same amount of energy as 1,000 tons (1 Kt) of TNT.

The first-ever nuclear bomb, used on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, was codenamed “Little Boy” and had a strength of 12.5 kt. The one dropped over Nagasaki three days later, codenamed “Fat Man”, had a value of 22 kt.

NUKEMAP found that a 20 kt bomb exploding in Berlin would instantly kill 145,000 people, with an additional 120,000 dying from the radioactive fallout and a further 50,000 passing away from cancer.

A 550 kt bomb — commonly found in Russia’s nuclear arsenal — dropped over Frankfurt would instantly kill half a million people, while 300,000 more would die from radioactive fallout and 160,000 would succumb to cancer at a later date.

In Buchel, the impact of a 170 kt explosion was assessed as multiple weapons of this strength are stored at the airbase. NUKEMAP estimated that 130,000 people would immediately lose their lives, 107,000 would be killed by radioactive fallout and 80,000 from cancer.

Von Lieven argued that “the bombs in Buchel threaten the security of people in Germany and Eastern Europe.”

“Germany must no longer be a potential aggressor and a possible target for a nuclear attack,” he went on.

In another Greenpeace study conducted by pollster Kantar and released last month, 83 per cent of the 1,008 German respondents said they favoured the US withdrawing the bombs kept in Buchel.

Nine countries, 13,800 warheads

Between 90,000 and 160,000 people are believed to have died int he first few months following the Hiroshima bombing, according to the Centre for Nuclear Studies at Columbia University. Another 60,000 to 80,000 are thought to have died in Nagasaki.

Most figures are best estimates as the devastation unleashed by the explosions and uncertainty over the actual population before the bombings make it difficult to have an accurate estimate.

The world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons was estimated at 13,865 at the beginning of 2019 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Only nice countries have atomic warheads. These are China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, the US. Washington and Moscow each have more than 6,000 nuclear warheads.

The Plagues and Famine of the Fourth Seal (Revelation 6)

Photo: Reuters

Locusts continue to plague nations on 3 continents

July 31, 2020 — News Tags: Coronavirus, COVID-19, Desert locusts, East Africa, Iran, Iran Nuclear Dispute, Iran-U.S., Israel News, Israel Now, Latin America, locust swarms, Middle East, UN Food & Agriculture Organization, US Sanctions on Iran

Nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America are relentlessly combatting the worst infestation of desert locusts in decades.

Israeli authorities remain vigilant against the threat posed by the pests, while confident that the nation’s advanced technology and preparedness would successfully eradicate any swarms soon after their detection.

In a brief overview starting in Latin America: grains powerhouse Argentina is getting hit by a second swarm of locusts arriving from neighboring Paraguay, Argentina’s Senasa agricultural health inspection agency said earlier this week – putting farmers on notice about possible crop damage. The new swarm is concentrated in the province of Formosa in north-east Argentina, on the Paraguay border. The area is not part of Argentina’s main Pampas grains belt, but it could hurt crops if the low temperatures of the Southern Hemisphere winter do not keep the swarm from spreading too far southward. “The swarm detected in Formosa advanced in a southern direction,” Hector Medina, a coordinator at Senasa, told Reuters, adding that “The wind allowed it to move quickly and is expected to approach Rio Bermejo, so the alert is extended to Chaco province.”

Brazil declared a phytosanitary state of emergency in Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina due to the risk of an outbreak of the Schistocerca cancellata plague caused by the cloud of locusts flying through Argentina, made up of thousands of the species that arrived in the country from May 11 from Paraguay, traveling at a daily speed of up to 150 kilometers per day.

Turning to East Africa, and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has just publicly thanked the government of Canada for a substantial contribution toward helping to battle infestations of crop- and pasture-devouring desert locusts in the region, as well as for having been among the first nations to respond with donations that now amount $1.5 million. Earlier this month, the European Union injected an additional $17 million. Other funding for the effort to contain desert locust and diminish the upsurge’s food security impacts has also been received from the Governments of Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America, the African Development Bank, the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Union, the Louis Dreyfus Foundation, the Mastercard Foundation, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Bank Group.

The FAO noted that so far, “nearly half a trillion locusts are estimated to have been killed in the Horn of Africa and Yemen in control operations since January and one million tons of crops – enough to feed nearly 7 million people – have been spared from devastation.”

But “despite the success of control operations spanning 500 000 ha (hectares), heavy rains during this spring season created ideal conditions for reproduction and the potential destruction caused by the new-generation swarms which could still provoke a humanitarian crisis as new swarms strike Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen,” said the FAO, adding that “Survey and control operations are in progress in all countries.

Locusts move in swarms of up to 50 million, can travel 90 miles a day, and lay as many as 1,000 eggs per square meter of land. The locust outbreak in East Africa “is the worst to strike Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years – for Kenya, in 70 years.

The most recent FAO Desert Locust Watch report determined that spring-bred swarms are shifting north to the summer breeding areas. Even though there has been a notable decline in immature swarms in northwest Kenya due to control operations and migration to Ethiopia, there are still some swarms present in parts of Samburu and in Turkana near the Uganda border. Immature swarms in Ethiopia are mainly present in the Somali region and also, to a lesser degree, in parts of Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions. In Somalia, immature swarms are present on the northern plateau where some of them have started to become mature. Survey and control operations are in progress in the three countries. In Sudan, low numbers of solitarious mature adults are present between Eritrea and North Kordofan while mainly immature adults are present further north in the Nile Valley. Small-scale breeding will start shortly in areas of recent rainfall. So far, there are no reports of swarms arriving from NW Kenya, and intensive surveys are in progress.

The situation remains calm in West Africa. Solitarious adults are present in the summer breeding areas in southern Mauritania, central and northern Niger, and in western and eastern Chad where egg-laying will occur shortly in areas of recent rainfall. While the threat of a swarm invasion continues to decline, it is necessary to maintain strict vigilance, preparedness, and thorough monitoring.

In the Arabian Peninsula, local infestations of solitarious adults are present in the southwest in Saudi Arabia, near Najran. Yemen continues to be of particular cause of concern because of the continuation of good rains and breeding in interior areas where hopper bands and swarms are forming. Survey and control operations are in progress in some areas. The locusts have compounded an already dire hunger situation after five years of war that has also been impacted by coronavirus restrictions, reduced remittances, floods and significant underfunding of this year’s aid response. U.N. warnings in late 2018 of impending famine prompted an aid ramp-up after which the World Food Program fed up to 13 million a month. Resurgent violence in recent weeks between warring parties, despite U.N. peace efforts, is also killing and injuring civilians. In Oman, control operations are in progress against hopper groups and bands that formed on the southern coast near Salalah while solitarious adults are present in adjacent areas of the interior.

Summer breeding is underway along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border. In India, numerous adult groups and swarms are laying eggs over a wide area of Rajasthan between Jodhpur and Churu while hatching and band formation from earlier laying have occurred further south from Phalodi to Gujarat.

Pakistan is especially prone to locust attacks because it is situated on the migratory route of locusts coming from the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Oman. Hopper groups and bands are present in the Nagarparkar area of Pakistan in Tharparkar of southeast Sindh. Adult groups are scattered throughout Cholistan and other parts of Tharparkar that will lay eggs shortly.

Last year, Pakistan suffered its worst attack of locusts since 1993, for which the country was largely unprepared. Officials from the Ministry of Food Security and Research say swarms coming from the Horn of Africa could be 400 times more than those that came last year.

Pakistani authorities warned that immediate steps needed to be taken to thwart huge swarms of desert locusts expected to reach Pakistan later this month from the Horn of Africa.

“The situation today is that, within the next few days or weeks, these swarms from the Horn of Africa, especially from Somalia, may arrive in South West Asia. South West Asia means Iran, Pakistan, India,” Federal Minister For National Food Security And Research, Fakhr Imam told a meeting of the National Locust Control Centre (NLCC) last  Friday (July 24).

According to statements from NLCC, 1051 joint teams of Pakistan army, Agriculture Ministry and Food Department have conducted surveys in over 43,9312.21 square kilometers of the affected areas of the country and carried out fumigation operations in 10,720.49 kilometers of land. Around 8000 military personnel, and 9 aircraft, are taking part in the locust control operations.

Meanwhile, in Iran, the Mehr News Agency headquartered in Tehran and owned by the Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization (IIDO), reported that the Islamic Republic’s Embassy’s representative in Pakistan, Somayeh Karimdoost, criticized “problems in bilateral cooperation to cope with the challenge of desert locust attacks, the called for strengthening regional cooperation to deal with desert locust.”

She went on to say that the “swarms have already devastated crops and it is feared that they can cause greater damage,” but that “interference is creating hurdles in the implementation of the bilateral mechanism.”

Karimdoost called on the FAO and the World Food Organization of the United Nations to play a more effective role in assisting countries affected by desert locusts and facilitate cooperation between them. She maintained that “Iran has made every effort to control locust attacks and help its neighbors to prevent the damage caused by this problem,” before going on to level veiled criticism at the United States’ sanctions program against her nation, saying that a continuation of “such coercive behavior” would have “a negative impact on the region especially the neighboring states of Iran” in dealing with the locust challenge.

Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Sayyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini previously stated that Washington’s punitive campaign against Tehran, aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions, “significantly reduced the resources allocated to dealing with desert locusts.”

Overall, the most recent FAO update has assessed a decline in Iran’s locust numbers. According to the organization’s GIEWS Country Brief: Iran (Islamic Republic of) 20-July-2020 FOOD SNAPSHOT: there has been a slightly above‑average cereal harvest forecast in 2020, but that further increases in food inflation following currency devaluation are likely over a detrimental effect on household incomes due to COVID‑19 containment measures, combined with economic slowdown and rapid currency devaluation.

Pertaining to the desert locust, the report noted that even though the pest is common in Iran, “breeding conditions in 2020 were particularly favourable due to abundant rains in the country. Seven provinces (Sistan and Baluchistan, Hormozgan, Bushehr, Fars, Khuzestan, Kerman and South Khorasan) in the southern part of the country, stretching from eastern Islamic Republic of Iran on the border with Pakistan to the southwestern border with Iraq, were affected. As of June 2020, seasonal infestations were declining due to control operations and migration to Indo‑Pakistan summer breeding areas. More than 400 000 hectares were treated since January 2020, with almost one‑third of the treatment carried out in May 2020.”

Economic analysis revealed that “In 2019/20 (April‑March), the overall economy contracted by 7%. Growing 3%, agriculture was the only expanding sector and it contributed to about 8 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

Among other findings, “The food and beverages price inflation index in Khordad 1399 (corresponding to 22 May‑21 June 2020) was recorded at 14.9% on a yearly basis, driven by the devaluation of its currency, up from 10.7% in Farvardin 1399 (22 March‑21 April 2020), but below 74.1% in mid‑2019.

The general inflation registered 22.5% in Khordad 1399, up from the 19.8% in April 2020, but below 50.4% in July 2019” – with the GIEWS Country Brief on Iran concluding that “The sanctions severely limit the export earnings.”

The coronavirus pandemic deepened Iran’s fiscal deficit and balance of payments, prompting the government in May to slash four zeros and replace the national currency with the Toman at an equivalency to ﷼ 10,000 Iranian Rial (IRR). “The Central Bank of Iran maintains a dual tier exchange rate system. The fixed rate of IRR 42,000 per US dollar is used to finance the imports of essential goods, such as food and medicine, although reports indicate that in the current fiscal year (starting from 20 March 2020), the practice was discontinued for rice. For other transactions, the current official exchange is IRR 22,2763 per US dollar. As of 13 July 2020, USD 1 was trading for IRR 234,000 on the free market exchange, up from IRR 171,000 on 21 June 2020,” reads the report.

Precautionary measures to prevent spread of COVID-19 in March (although somewhat eased in April) were found to have had “a detrimental effect on the incomes, particularly of casual labourers” when “combined with the economic slowdown and the rapid currency devaluation.” In addition to required physical distancing, quarantine for returnees, bans on gatherings, educational activities, social and religious events; several economic steps were also taken.

COVID‑19 relief and recovery measures declared by presidential decree in March amounted to more than 10% of Iran’s GDP. A moratorium on tax payments for a period of three months (7% of the GDP) was implemented, in addition to the establishment of credit facilities for affected businesses (4.4%) in terms of loans with a 12% rate and a repayment period of two years; additional funding of the health sector (2%) and cash transfers to vulnerable households (0.3%). Three million Iranians in the lower income bracket were qualified to receive payments between IRR 2 million to IRR 6 million in four stages, depending on the size of the household. Other measures included increased support to the unemployment insurance fund (0.3%) and new low interest rate loans to vulnerable families.

In early March 2020, the Central Bank also allocated funds (equivalent to 0.06% of the GDP) to import medicine, while also coordinating an agreement with commercial banks to postpone loan repayments that had been due in February for another three months, and granting temporary penalty waivers for clients with non‑performing loans. The Central Bank also expanded the infrastructure for contactless payment via QR codes and digital wallets to limit exposure to the coronavirus through the circulation of banknotes.

The Rising Saudi Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Saudi Arabia has built yellowcake uranium processing plant: WSJ

Remote desert plant was built with China’s aid, paper quotes Western officials as saying, raising proliferation worries.

The yellowcake uranium enrichment plant was built near the remote Saudi Arabian city of Al Ula, according to Western officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal newspaper [File: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters]

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with help from China, has built a facility for the extraction of uranium yellowcake, a potential precursor to fuel for a nuclear reactor, in a remote desert location near the small city of Al Ula, the Wall Street Journal newspaper reported citing Western officials with knowledge of the site.

The facility, which has not been publicly acknowledged, has raised concern among United States and allied officials that the kingdom’s nascent nuclear programme is moving ahead, and Riyadh is keeping open an option to develop nuclear weapons, according to the report.

Disclosure of the yellowcake processing facility is likely to elevate concern in the US Congress about Saudi nuclear ambitions and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s 2018 pledge that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

The Saudi Energy Ministry “categorically” denied to the Wall Street Journal the country has built a uranium ore milling facility, but acknowledged contracting with Chinese entities for uranium exploration within Saudi Arabia.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, did not respond to a request by the Wall Street Journal for comment. Iran has denied it is interested in developing nuclear weapons. Iranian officials did not respond to a request for comment, the paper reported.

Yellowcake is processed from naturally occurring uranium ore and can be further enriched to create fuel for nuclear power plants and, at very high levels of enrichment, nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia’s has signed agreements with China National Nuclear Corp and China Nuclear Engineering Group Corp following a 2012 pact between Riyadh and Beijing to cooperate on the peaceful development of nuclear energy.

The Saudis have raised concerns about a potential nuclear arms race in the Gulf region by pressing ahead with construction of a research reactor and inviting companies to bid on building two civilian nuclear power reactors without agreeing to oversight and inspection by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency.

A US congressional committee issued a report in May 2019 warning the administration of President Donald Trump was allowing US companies to offer Saudi Arabia nuclear technologies without first obtaining non-proliferation guarantees the know-how would not be used to eventually produce a weapon.

In February 2019, government whistle-blowers had alerted the US House of Representatives that the Trump administration was bypassing Congress to greenlight future sales of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, without non-proliferation safeguards, thus potentially laying the ground for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Saudi production of yellowcake would be cause for alarm in the US arms control community.

The suspected acquisition of yellowcake was among the concerns raised by the US with Iraq in the run-up to the 2003 US invasion that was pre-texted on Saddam Hussein’s alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

At the time, President George W Bush accused Iraq of trying to buy yellowcake from Niger even though CIA intelligence indicated no such transaction ever took place. The discrepancy triggered a US scandal during the Bush presidency.

China Helps Build the Saudi Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

China reportedly helped Saudi Arabia build secret nuclear site

By Steven NelsonAugust 5, 2020 | 11:51am


General view of the city al-Ula, Saudi Arabia. Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters

Chinese companies recently helped Saudi Arabia construct a secret uranium extraction facility, according to a report.

The absolute monarchy, and a US ally, stealthily constructed the “yellowcake” processing plant in northwestern Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing Western officials.

Saudi Arabia has the world’s second-largest oil reserves but openly plans to pursue nuclear energy. The shadowy pursuit of uranium, however, raised concern about possible nuclear weapons ambitions.

“Where is the transparency? If you claim your program is peaceful, why not show what you have?” Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the paper.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, said in 2018 that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

The use of Chinese assistance comes as the Trump administration seeks to isolate and punish China for eliminating Hong Kong autonomy and concealing data on COVID-19 before it emerged as a global pandemic.

President Trump has defended bin Salman and has said the alliance serves US interests.

Last year, Trump defied members of both political parties to veto legislation that would withdraw the US from the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen’s civil war.

The China National Nuclear Corp. and the China Nuclear Engineering Group Corp. are believed to have worked on the Saudi nuclear project.

“My guess is that one of the reasons to go to the Chinese is that it doesn’t come with the same controls that coordination with the United States does,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

The Saudi Energy Ministry told the Journal it “categorically denies” claims it build the extraction facility.

Researchers are delirious about nuclear weapons control (Revelation 16)

Researchers: help free the world of nuclear weapons

Seventy-five years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a new treaty offers renewed hope for a nuclear-free world.

04 August 2020


Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow (pictured, centre, receiving the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) has written to world leaders this week urging them to step up disarmament efforts.Credit: Lise Aserud/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The start of August marks an inauspicious anniversary for science, that of the first — and, so far, only — use of nuclear weapons in war.

Seventy-five years have passed since the bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on 6 and 9 August 1945, which killed in the region of 200,000 people. The risk of nuclear conflict remains, and nuclear weapons exist in alarmingly large quantities. At present, the world’s nuclear arsenal — 90% of which is in the United States and Russia — includes an estimated 1,335 tonnes of highly enriched uranium and 13,410 warheads.

The generation of scientists that created nuclear weapons carried with them a heavy burden of responsibility.Some would go on to become committed disarmament campaigners. Others helped to shape a series of important conferences and agreements, starting with the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), whose aims include preventing non-nuclear-armed countries from developing or acquiring weapons technology.

But 50 years of nuclear diplomacy has made one thing clear: the nuclear nations are not ready to give up their weapons just yet. Progress has been made in reducing stockpiles, but these countries are simultaneously investing in updating their arsenals to last well into this century.

So what could persuade the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea to begin fully dismantling their stocks, and to agree never again to develop nuclear weapons?

One idea, which has been in gestation for some years, could be about to have its break-out moment. A new agreement, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), is expected to become international law next year — and scientists have a chance to play a part in helping it to succeed.

Nuclear weapons: arms-control efforts need China

An urgent task will be to establish a new global network of researchers with knowledge on different aspects of nuclear science and technology. The treaty has yet to establish a formal scientific advisory mechanism. Some research groups, notably the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University in New Jersey, have been advising the treaty’s founders on various facets of nuclear science, such as how to accurately verify that stockpiles have been permanently dismantled1. But a more-permanent arrangement, whereby researchers from different countries can offer — and respond to requests for — advice will be needed. Because relations between Russia and the United States have worsened, the many formal and informal networks of nuclear scientists that once existed between these countries are now “practically non-existent”, says former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz, co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a think tank based in Washington DC. A new global network will be essential to ensuring the safety of nuclear arsenals, because a lack of communication increases the chance of accidents and misunderstandings, heightening the risk of nuclear weapons being used.

Breakneck progress

The TPNW was agreed in 2017 by 122 non-nuclear countries, mostly in the global south, but also including two European Union member states. The strategy in creating this treaty was conceived a decade earlier by researchers and campaigners at the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy in London; the Australian affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War; the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, based in Geneva, Switzerland, and New York City; and Japan’s Hibakusha, the survivors of the 1945 nuclear attacks.

Together, they built a larger coalition called the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and worked with scientists, United Nations diplomats and humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross2. Some 40 countries have already incorporated the treaty into their national laws, and processes are under way for this to happen in more national parliaments.

Once 50 countries have signed it into law, the TPNW will have the status of an international law. At that point, it will become difficult for individuals (including scientists), as well as companies (including banks), from the treaty’s member countries to play any part in the development and deployment of nuclear-weapons technologies, says Rebecca Johnson at the Acronym Institute, who is one of the architects of the new treaty. But scientists who work on disarmament technologies will not be affected — they are much needed.

The treaty came about for a number of reasons. To begin with, the non-nuclear nations realized that they had to find a way to influence nuclear policy from beyond the shadow of the nuclear states. There seemed to be little justice in countries with nuclear weapons being the ones to decide the rules for the majority who wish for a nuclear-free world.

How a small nuclear war would transform the entire planet

Representatives of the bigger nuclear powers have often argued that they have earnt the right to be the world’s nuclear guardians, because they are stable countries with the most advanced nuclear science and technology — both essential ingredients in ensuring that stockpiles are safe and secure. But, in recent years, the argument that these countries can be trusted to look after the security interests of the rest of the world has become less credible.

Non-nuclear countries have grown increasingly alarmed as, in 2018, the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, and, in 2019, the United States and Russia suspended the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

And so, in addition to working with the existing nuclear agreements — in which the nuclear states have a veto — non-nuclear countries negotiated the new treaty through the United Nations General Assembly, under which every country has one vote.

At the same time, the non-nuclear states were able to boost their cause by drawing on some of the latest findings from researchers studying a potential ‘nuclear winter’ — the severe global cooling predicted to follow a nuclear war. Recent research has shown that a relatively small nuclear war between India and Pakistan could cause crops to fail in dozens of countries, devastating food supplies for more than one billion people3. Other research reveals that a nuclear winter would drastically alter ocean chemistry and cause serious harm to reefs and other marine ecosystems4.

Crucially, the treaty’s designers deliberately organized the preparatory process so that female researchers and diplomats were present in significant numbers — which is not usually the case in existing nuclear agreements. As a result of this commitment to knowledge, equality and diplomacy, ICAN was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

A new centre of gravity

The big question is to what extent the TPNW will make a difference to the actions of nuclear states. None has signed, but they will all be affected, in part because the treaty prohibits companies and individuals from signatory countries from assisting in weapons development. And because the TPNW is an intergovernmental agreement, nuclear-weapons countries will need to send delegates to its meetings, whether or not they agree with it.

The TPNW is a historic achievement with a lot riding on its young shoulders. It will still take decades to achieve a weapons-free world, but every journey needs to begin somewhere. Altering the balance of decision-making so that it is shared more equally between the nuclear states and the international community is that necessary first step.

Nature 584, 7 (2020)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-02274-9


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Israel Launches Counteroffensive Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Israel Launches Counteroffensive Against Hezbollah, Hamas

Jack BeyrerAugust 4, 2020 1:40 PM

National Security

Israel waged counterstrikes on Tuesday in southern Syria and the Gaza Strip following aggression from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syrian military forces, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Israel Defense Forces deployed a contingent of helicopters, fighter jets, and drones against Syrian military installations purposed for observation, intelligence gathering, and communication. This attack came a day following a thwarted Hezbollah attack in a contested area in the Golan Heights, in which four terrorists were killed by IDF responders.

Former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said Hezbollah planned the attack as revenge for previous skirmishes. “It seems [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah tried his luck from the Syrian front,” Yadlin wrote on Twitter.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah has a storied relationship with Syria and the Assad regime, along with a documented history of cooperation during the Syrian Civil War. Both Syria and Hezbollah harbor resentment towards Israel and have had few qualms about the use of violence.

“Hezbollah needs to know that it’s playing with fire,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week. “Any attack against us will be answered with great force.”

Meanwhile, Israel acted with dispatch on its southern border against terror group Hamas on Monday. IDF forces bombed Hamas sites on the Gaza Strip hours after a rocket was launched towards southern Israel.

Tit-for-tat operations in Gaza are nothing new. Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system intercepted more than 470 shells last year from Gaza-based terrorist rockets—an 85 percent success rate, according to the IDF. On Monday, American defense firm Raytheon announced its partnership with Israeli contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to build a similar missile defense system in the United States.

With such strong defenses, Israel hopes to nudge Gaza towards a less militaristic posture.

“[Hamas] must stop manufacturing rockets and use pipes to build proper water and sewage infrastructure for their children,” said Brigadier General Eliezer Toledano. “They must stop sowing launchers and harvest rockets and sow wheat and harvest grain.”