The Showdown with Iran (Daniel 7/8)

Editorial: U.S. moves closer to a showdown with Iran

The Post and Courier

Iran is making worrisome strides in bringing Iraq into its sphere of influence, with projects to link Iran and Syria with a highway and railroad through Iraq and a port in Syria. This poses a distinct new threat to Israel, a nation Iran has sworn to destroy.

President Donald Trump’s options for dealing with this dangerous development are limited. But if he cannot find a way to modify Iran’s behavior, the prospects of a major Middle East war will become a serious national security problem.

Mr. Trump’s decision on Monday to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, taken over protests from the Pentagon, is both a reaction to recent Iranian gains and an effort to convince Iraqi politicians of a cost if they support Iran’s armed proxies in Iraq. The designation allows the application of economic and travel sanctions to persons doing business with the IRGC, which has supplied arms and training to a number of Iraqi militias that are also active in Iraqi politics.

The New York Times reported last month that the Pentagon recommended against the decision on the grounds that Iran would respond by targeting the 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq as well as American forces elsewhere. On Monday Iran threatened to do just that, declaring the U.S. Central Command a terrorist organization.

A sign of Iran’s success in wooing Iraq (and squeezing its leaders with militias more responsive to Tehran than Baghdad) came in last month’s visit to Iraq’s capital by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. He signed a series of agreements with Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi expanding cooperation in energy, trade and the railway project.

We want to forge very close relations with Iraq,” President Rouhani said, and a member of his delegation was quoted in the Irish Times as saying Iraq offers Iran a way around U.S. economic sanctions.

During a return visit to Tehran last week, Mr. Abdul Mahdi was urged by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to get rid of U.S. troops in Iraq “as soon a possible.” That U.S. military presence is critical to the support of the remaining several hundred American troops in Syria.

A debate is underway in Iraq over the continued presence of U.S. troops. A pro-Iranian political party with a strong Iran-backed militia may have the balance of power in the Iraqi parliament.

As matters stand, the U.S. could be forced out of Iraq and Syria within months. Iran has carefully built its political base in Iraq, as it did in Lebanon between 1980 and 2007 when its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, emerged as the dominant political force. Iran is also firming its grip on Syria, and Syria has leased the port at Latakia to Iran.

Meanwhile, the United States says Iran is resuming preparations for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Last month the State and Treasury departments sanctioned more than two dozen Iranian individuals and companies connected to an Iranian military organization they accused of restarting work on nuclear weapons using front companies to buy prohibited materials from Russia and China.

These troubling developments are the fruit of a consistent long-range strategy by Iran to confront Israel with overwhelming force, a strategy the Obama administration, in pursuit of a narrow nuclear agreement, chose to ignore, leaving Mr. Trump with the awkward position he now faces in Iraq.

If Israel goes to a war footing against Iran — it is close to one now — the United States will be morally obliged to support it against Iranian-led forces that have the potential, when the projected rail and road links through Iraq to Syria are completed, to be far more formidable than anything Israel has yet faced. That time may not be far off.

NYC earthquake risk: the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

NYC earthquake risk: Could Staten Island be heavily impacted?

By Ann Marie Barron

Updated May 16, 4:31 AM; Posted May 16, 4:00 AM

Rubble litters Main Street after an earthquake struck Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A report by the U.S. Geological Survey outlines the differences between the effect of an earthquake in the West vs. one in the East. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – While scientists say it’s impossible to predict when or if an earthquake will occur in New York City, they say that smaller structures — like Staten Island’s bounty of single-family homes — will suffer more than skyscrapers if it does happen.

„Earthquakes in the East tend to cause higher-frequency shaking — faster back-and-forth motion — compared to similar events in the West,“ according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), published on its website recently „Shorter structures are more susceptible to damage during fast shaking, whereas taller structures are more susceptible during slow shaking.“

DIFFERENCES IN INTENSITY

The report, „East vs West Coast Earthquakes,“ explains how USGS scientists are researching factors that influence regional differences in the intensity and effects of earthquakes, and notes that earthquakes in the East are often felt at more than twice the distance of earthquakes in the West.

Predicting when they will occur is more difficult, said Thomas Pratt, a research geophysicist and the central and Eastern U.S. coordinator for the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program in Reston, Va.

„One of the problems in the East Coast is that we don’t have a history to study,“ he said. „In order to get an idea, we have to have had several cycles of these things. The way we know about them in California is we dig around in the mud and we see evidence of past earthquakes.“

Yet Pratt wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a high-magnitude event taking place in New York, which sits in the middle the North American Tectonic Plate, considered by experts to be quite stable.

„We never know,“ he said. „One could come tomorrow. On the other hand, it could be another 300 years. We don’t understand why earthquakes happen (here) at all.“

Though the city’s last observable earthquake occurred on Oct. 27, 2001, and caused no real damage, New York has been hit by two Magnitude 5 earthquakes in its history – in 1738 and in 1884 — prompting many to say it is „due“ for another.

While earthquakes generally have to be Magnitude 6 or higher to be considered „large,“ by experts, „a Magnitude 5, directly under New York City, would shake it quite strongly,“ Pratt said.

The reason has to do with the rock beneath our feet, the USGS report says.

OLDER ROCKS

In the East, we have older rocks, some of which formed „hundreds of millions of years before those in the West,“ the report says. Since the faults in the rocks have had so much time to heal, the seismic waves travel more efficiently through them when an earthquake occurs.

„Rocks in the East are like a granite countertop and rocks in the West are much softer,“ Pratt said. „Take a granite countertop and hit it and it’ll transmit energy well. In the West, it’s like a sponge. The energy gets absorbed.“

If a large, Magnitude 7 earthquake does occur, smaller structures, and older structures in Manhattan would be most vulnerable, Pratt said. „In the 1920s, ’30s and late 1800s, they were not built with earthquake resistance,“ he said, noting that newer skyscrapers were built to survive hurricanes, so would be more resistant.

When discussing earthquake prediction and probability, Pratt uses the analogy of a baseball player who averages a home run every 10 times at bat and hasn’t hit one in the past nine games: „When he’s up at bat, will he hit a home run? You just don’t know.“

And though it would probably take a magnitude of 7 to topple buildings in the city, smaller earthquakes are still quite dangerous, he said.

„Bookshelves could fall down and hit you,“ he said. „People could be killed.“ A lot of stone work and heavy objects fell from buildings when a quake of 5.8 magnitude struck central Virginia in 2011, he noted, but, fortunately, no one was injured.

To be safe, Pratt encourages New Yorkers to keep a few days‘ worth of drinking water and other supplies on hand. He, himself, avoids putting heavy things up high.

„It always gets me nervous when I go into a restaurant that has heavy objects high on shelves,“ he said. „It’s unlikely you’ll get an earthquake. But, we just don’t know.“

Gaza Has Become a Pawn in the Prophecy (Revelation 11)

Gaza Has Become a Pawn in the Middle East’s Great Game

Plagued with poor leadership, a hostile political climate, and outside forces repeatedly willing to use their economic wellbeing as a means to an end, it is little wonder why Gaza’s residents are becoming increasingly vocal in their dissatisfaction with their collective economic lot in life.

The eyes of the world have once again turned towards Gaza as recent clashes between the Israeli Defense Forces and Gaza militants and large marches are occurring at the border. Lost in the shuffle, however, are Gaza’s mid-March protests directed not against Israel, but instead held in opposition to tax increases imposed by the ruling Hamas government. These protests, referred to by participants as “The Revolt of the Hungry,” were met with violent crackdowns and sweeping arrests by Hamas. The demonstrations have been widely characterized by the media as a rebuke of Hamas’ governance and as a manifestation of the growing frustration over twelve years of the fundamentalist organization’s poor leadership.

While Hamas is certainly deserving of the criticisms levied against it, identifying Hamas’ economic mismanagement as the sole cause of the economic unrest in Gaza ignores multiple contributing factors which have sparked this crisis. Policies enacted by Israel, Egypt, the United States, and Fatah (which governs Palestinians in the West Bank) have impacted the Gaza Strip in ways that make such protests and the economic crisis that sparked them inevitable. Conditions in Gaza are unlikely to improve absent sweeping policy changes towards the Gaza Strip or an unlikely and permanent resolution to the ongoing feud between Fatah and Hamas, dooming Gaza’s populace to years of continued economic insecurity and social unrest.

Observers of Gaza should hardly be surprised that the territory’s poor economic conditions are a source of grassroots frustration. Gaza has a poverty rate greater than 80 percent, endured 52 percent unemployment in 2018, and 92 percent of Gaza’s residents suffer from “personal anxiety related to the overall economic conditions” in the beleaguered territory. Widespread electricity outages are commonplace, with residents averaging only a few hours of electricity per day. International financial institutions such as the World Bank have warned that greater economic calamity could still come, and to add insult to injury, the United Nations predicted a few years ago that Gaza’s deteriorating social and economic institutions would make the region unlivable by 2020.

Hamas’ emergence as a target of protesters’ ire is equally unsurprising, and the militant group certainly deserves its share of the blame for Gaza’s economic woes. Hamas has done little to encourage the development of private industry in Gaza and has dedicated far too many resources to waging its forever war against Israel in lieu of economic development. Earlier this year, Hamas rejected a $15 million donation from Qatar to help pay the salary of government employees, despite having to dramatically cut the salaries of its nearly forty thousand workers in recent years. Hamas is also beset with credible allegations of corruption which it seems unwilling to address, instead pursuing criminal charges against journalists who expose the mismanagement of government funds by Hamas officials. It was ultimately under Hamas’ leadership that this collapse took place, and their government was ill-prepared to properly address it.

Still, Hamas cannot solely shoulder the blame for Gaza’s economic crisis—indeed, there are many actors playing at least as large a role in the ongoing collapse of Gaza’s economy. Most easily identifiable is Israel, whose decade-long blockade of Gaza has strangled its economy, resulting in GDP losses above 50 percent. Repeated attacks by Israel, frequently initiated in retaliation to rockets launched from Gaza into Israeli territory, have damaged homes, businesses, and economic infrastructure. Israeli airstrikes have destroyed essential water infrastructure and the blockade has slowed the delivery of the materials needed to repair the damage, resulting in 97 percent of Gaza’s water being undrinkable. As long as Israel and Hamas remain in conflict, the economic status quo is likely to continue in Gaza, creating serious impediments to business growth and meaningful private investment in the territory.

However, Gaza’s economy has also been significantly weakened by the actions of fellow Palestinians. Fatah, which previously controlled Gaza before losing it in a conflict with Hamas in 2007, is attempting to strangle Gaza’s economy in hopes that doing so will break Hamas’ hold over the territory and force them to implement a 2017 reconciliation agreement giving Fatah civilian control over Gaza. This strategy has led Fatah’s leadership to repeatedly slash salaries for its thousands of employees in Gaza, close border crossings, delay social service payments, and briefly refuse to foot the bill that Gaza owes to Israel for its electricity payments. Fatah ultimately hopes to increase its authority over Gaza in the coming years and has proven willing to allow Gaza’s economy to fall into disrepair in order to incite public dissatisfaction with Hamas’ leadership.

Egyptian actions towards Gaza have further damaged their economy. Hamas’ initial response to the Israeli blockade was to utilize a series of tunnels into Egypt to move goods in and out of Gaza, helping to preserve existing markets for Palestinian businesses, create opportunities for Gazans to purchase foreign goods, and generate significant revenue for Hamas through the taxation of the tunnel trade. While Egypt tolerated this underground economy under the leadership of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the ascension to power of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2014 saw the Arab Republic crack down on this illicit trade. Egypt’s ensuing destruction of the underground tunnels brought with it the destruction of a major source for consumer goods as well as taxation revenue that could be used to fund Hamas’ growing payroll and avoid unpopular tax increases.

Finally, the United States also bears some responsibility for the Gaza’s current economic crisis. In 2018 President Donald Trump ended America’s support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), an organization that provides essential humanitarian aid and social services to Palestinians in Gaza. The United States was previously the organization’s largest donor having given $364 million in 2017, and its departure has left the agency struggling to fulfill its commitment to 1.3 million people in Gaza who rely on UNRWA to provide them with education, healthcare, and vital social services. America’s decision to terminate support for UNRWA has placed Gaza’s already vulnerable population in even more dire straits, and it has become clear that Hamas was woefully unprepared to manage a functioning economy in a world without American financial support.

The United States and Israel both desire to see Hamas weakened in Gaza to the point of obsolescence, an understandable aim considering that both states have designated Hamas as an international terrorist organization. However, there is little evidence to suggest that this strategy is working. Hamas remains more popular in Gaza than its political rivals, and while “The Revolt of the Hungry” does show mounting frustration with the group’s economic mismanagement, these demonstrations still pale in size and intensity compared to protests directed against either Israel or Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Gazans have not forgotten the rampant corruption and incompetence that led to the Abbas government falling from power in 2007, and many recoil at the prospect of seeing Abbas’ authority in Gaza grow at the expense of Hamas. There is no viable political alternative to Hamas in Gaza, and absent an unexpected push towards implementing the existing Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement, Gaza will remain under its stewardship as it slides further into abject poverty.

Gaza appears caught in an endless economic death spiral from which the prospects for recovery in the foreseeable future seem dubious. Hamas will remain in Gaza and continue its campaign against Israel, which will result in greater punitive economic punishment. Lost in the shuffle are those who continue to suffer most from these circumstances: the people of Gaza. Plagued with poor leadership, a hostile political climate, and outside forces repeatedly willing to use their economic wellbeing as a means to an end, it is little wonder why Gaza’s residents are becoming increasingly vocal in their dissatisfaction with their collective economic lot in life. Hamas certainly bears its share of responsibility for the conditions that led to the “Revolt of the Hungry,” but the actions of Israel, Fatah, Egypt and the United States all helped to make this economic crisis an inevitability, and one that is unlikely to go away any time soon.

Matt Reisener is a program associate at the Center for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters

Rumbling Before the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

An earthquake was felt off the coast of Long Island Apr. 9 2019. (Shutterstock)

Earthquake Strikes 140 Miles From New York City

The epicenter was less than 40 miles off Long Island.

Updated Apr 9, 2019 1:44 pm ET

NEW YORK – An earthquake sent tremors across the seafloor just miles off the New York coast Tuesday, Apr. 9, scientists said.

The magnitude 3.0 quake was recorded at 6:22 a.m. 37.9 miles southeast of Southampton on Long Island – which is about 100 miles from New York City – according to a report from the United States Geological Survey.

According to the Richter Scale, anything between a 3.0 and 3.9 is considered to be a “minor” tremor.

Early reports showed that three people on the island – two in Sayville and one in Rocky Point – reported feeling the earthquake, according to USGS.

There were no reports of the tremors being felt in NYC. You can submit your own “Felt It” report here.