New York Subways at the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)

How vulnerable are NYC’s underwater subway tunnels to flooding?

Ashley Fetters

New York City is full of peculiar phenomena—rickety fire escapes; 100-year-old subway tunnelsair conditioners propped perilously into window frames—that can strike fear into the heart of even the toughest city denizen. But should they? Every month, writer Ashley Fetters will be exploring—and debunking—these New York-specific fears, letting you know what you should actually worry about, and what anxieties you can simply let slip away.

The 25-minute subway commute from Crown Heights to the Financial District on the 2/3 line is, in my experience, a surprisingly peaceful start to the workday—save for one 3,100-foot stretch between the Clark Street and Wall Street stations, where for three minutes I sit wondering what the probability is that I will soon die a torturous, claustrophobic drowning death right here in this subway car.

The Clark Street Tunnel, opened in 1916, is one of approximately a dozen tunnels that escort MTA passengers from one borough to the next underwater—and just about all of them, with the exception of the 1989 addition of the 63rd Street F train tunnel, were constructed between 1900 and 1936.

Each day, thousands of New Yorkers venture across the East River and back again through these tubes buried deep in the riverbed, some of which are nearing or even past their 100th birthdays. Are they wrong to ponder their own mortality while picturing one of these watery catacombs suddenly springing a leak?

Mostly yes, they are, says Michael Horodniceanu, the former president of MTA Capital Construction and current principal of Urban Advisory Group. First, it’s important to remember that the subway tunnel is built under the riverbed, not just in the river—so what immediately surrounds the tunnel isn’t water but some 25 feet of soil. “There’s a lot of dirt on top of it,” Horodniceanu says. “It’s well into the bed of the bottom of the channel.”

And second, as Angus Kress Gillespie, author of Crossing Under the Hudson: The Story of the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, points out, New York’s underwater subway tunnels are designed to withstand some leaking. And withstand it they do: Pumps placed below the floor of the tunnel, he says, are always running, always diverting water seepage into the sewers. (Horodniceanu says the amount of water these pumps divert into the sewer system each day numbers in the thousands of gallons.)

Additionally, MTA crews routinely repair the grouting and caulking, and often inject a substance into the walls that creates a waterproof membrane outside the tunnel—which keeps water out of the tunnel and relieves any water pressure acting on its walls. New tunnels, Horodniceanu points out, are even built with an outside waterproofing membrane that works like an umbrella: Water goes around it, it falls to the sides, and then it gets channeled into a pumping station and pumped out.

Of course, the classic New York nightmare scenario isn’t just a cute little trickle finding its way in. The anxiety daydream usually involves something sinister, or seismic. The good news, however, is that while an earthquake or explosion would indeed be bad for many reasons, it likely wouldn’t result in the frantic flooding horror scene that plays out in some commuters’ imaginations.

The Montague Tube, which sustained severe damage during Hurricane Sandy.

MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann

Horodniceanu assures me that tunnels built more recently are “built to withstand a seismic event.” The older tunnels, however—like, um, the Clark Street Tunnel—“were not seismically retrofitted, let me put it that way,” Horodniceanu says. “But the way they were built is in such a way that I do not believe an earthquake would affect them.” They aren’t deep enough in the ground, anyway, he says, to be too intensely affected by a seismic event. (The MTA did not respond to a request for comment.)

One of the only real threats to tunnel infrastructure, Horodniceanu adds, is extreme weather. Hurricane Sandy, for example, caused flooding in the tunnels, which “created problems with the infrastructure.” He continues, “The tunnels have to be rebuilt as a result of saltwater corroding the infrastructure.”

Still, he points out, hurricanes don’t exactly happen with no warning. So while Hurricane Sandy did cause major trauma to the tunnels, train traffic could be stopped with ample time to keep passengers out of harm’s way. In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all the MTA’s mass transit services to shut down at 7 p.m. the night before Hurricane Sandy was expected to hit New York City.

And Gillespie, for his part, doubts even an explosion would result in sudden, dangerous flooding. A subway tunnel is not a closed system, he points out; it’s like a pipe that’s open at both ends. “The force of a blast would go forwards and backwards out the exit,” he says.

So the subway-train version of that terrifying Holland Tunnel flood scene in Sylvester Stallone’s Daylight is … unrealistic, right?

“Yeah,” Gillespie laughs. “Yeah. It is.”

Got a weird New York anxiety that you want explored? E-mail, and we may include it in a future column.

The Chinese Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7:7)

Z7 (1)Why You Should Fear China’s Nuclear Weapons
It is all about deterrence.

by Mark B. Schneider

In 2006, China said that it was “progressively improving its force structure” of both nuclear and conventional missiles. This is exactly what has happened. This expansion of Chinese nuclear capability has occurred despite the fact that the U.S. drastically reduced its nuclear capabilities after 2001. China’s nuclear buildup must be viewed in the context of the largest and longest sustained military buildup in the post-Cold War world. What is very significant is that China began its military buildup after threats to China largely evaporated at the end of the Cold War.

China is extremely secretive about its nuclear forces. In 1982, Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, said that China should “…hide our capabilities and bide our time.” This may be a good description of Chinese policy when it comes to revealing its nuclear capability. Its objective would appear to be to hide its capabilities to achieve strategic surprise and minimize the risk of a U.S. response to its nuclear buildup. However, it is noteworthy that the Chinese state media and, to some extent, the Chinese government have been more open in revealing China’s nuclear capability for its non-strategic systems.

Despite Chinese secrecy, what is known is troubling. Chinese nuclear expansion must be viewed against the backdrop of Chinese territorial expansion in the South and East China Seas and the overall growth of Chinese military capability. The Chinese government promotes strong nationalism and communist ideology is still prevalent in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

According to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, “China, too, is modernizing and expanding its already considerable nuclear forces. Like Russia, China is pursuing entirely new nuclear capabilities tailored to achieve particular national security objectives while also modernizing its conventional military, challenging traditional U.S. military superiority in the Western Pacific.” Furthermore, the report says China, like Russia, has added: “…new types of nuclear capabilities to their arsenals, increased the salience of nuclear forces in their strategies and plans, and engaged in increasingly aggressive behavior, including in outer space and cyberspace.”
A 2017 National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP) report points out, “The Obama Administration estimated that China has several hundred nuclear weapons, but other estimates place the number much higher.”[6] The high estimates go up to several thousand. Irrespective of what the current number is, there are indications of a major force expansion. The NIPP report further noted, “The extensive length of China’s ‘Underground Great Wall’ (which the Chinese say is 5,000 km of deep tunnels), suggests that a larger force of nuclear-armed ICBMs may be planned.” In addition to protecting mobile ICBMs, these tunnels provide a place to hide them. The implication of this extensive network of deep tunnels for U.S. nuclear weapons requirements has been largely ignored. While the Obama Administration stated we needed “significant” counterforce capability, its subsequent programmatic decisions went in the opposite direction. Some of this has been changed by the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, but some of it has not. Thus, the U.S.’ ability to target these tunnels is limited because we have inadequate capability to destroy hard and deeply buried targets and it is actually declining.

According to the 2019 Defense Intelligence Agency report on “China Military Power”, “China is developing a new generation of mobile missiles, with warheads consisting of multi­ple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) and penetration aids…” Over the last decade, China has developed and deployed new nuclear DF-31 and the DF-31A mobile ICBMs, a MIRVed version of their DF-5 silo-based ICBM, the type 094 ballistic missile submarines carrying JL-2 SLBMs and H-6J cruise missile-carrying bombers. The reported range of the H-6J, 8,000-km, would make it a heavy bomber under the New START Treaty range definition. Additionally, the Chinese J-20 air-launched cruise missile is nuclear capable. Indeed, in December 2013, a story in the Chinese state media talked about China’s H-6K bombers launching nuclear-armed cruise missiles against U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan.

China has displayed its new reportedly MIRVed, DF-31AC a road-mobile solid-fuel ICBM at a military parade. Chinese state media also recently indicated that the large mobile heavily MIRVed DF-41 mobile ICBM is operational. The state-run Global Times wrote that it would give China “respect.” The DF-41 is generally reported to carry 10 nuclear warheads. Moreover, China has said it is developing a new nuclear-capable bomber, reportedly a stealth design.

The 2017 Pentagon report on Chinese military power says that in the early 2020s China will likely begin the construction of new type 096 submarines which reportedly will carry the new JL-3 SLBM. There are reports that the JL-3 will be MIRVed. A 2017 unclassified DIA report indicates China is now deploying “two, new air-launched ballistic missiles, one of which may include a nuclear payload.”

China’s Theater Nuclear Capability

A 2017 unclassified National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) report indicated there were 33 types of Chinese battlefield rockets, theater-range ballistic and cruise missiles. Various unclassified U.S. government reports have said the DF-26 IRBM, the DF-21 medium-range missile, including the carrier killer DF-21D, the new cruise missiles, China’s hypersonic glide vehicles, and an air-launched ballistic missile are nuclear capable. According to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report, China’s new DF-26 is “a nuclear-capable precision guided… intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of attacking land and naval targets.” The U.S. does not have this capability.

The Taiwanese Defense Ministry has said that the DF-11 short-range ballistic missile is nuclear capable. The new short-range Chinese DF-15 ballistic missile is also reported to be nuclear capable. Russian experts credit much of China’s conventional missile force with dual capability (nuclear and conventional).

China has been testing hypersonic missiles for years. In 2018, Chinese state media claimed its hypersonic DF-17 boost-glide vehicle, with a range of 1,000-1,500 miles, can sink carriers. Initial operating capability for the DF-17 is reportedly expected in 2020. In December 2018, China reportedly tested the Starry Sky 2 Mach 6 powered hypersonic missile (it is also characterized as an aircraft, probably, inaccurately) which is reported to be nuclear capable.

Chinese Nuclear Testing and the Development of New Types of Nuclear Weapons

To modernize its nuclear forces, China continued high-yield nuclear testing through 1996. The purpose of Chinese nuclear tests in the 1990s was to “develop small, light warheads for the PRC’s new nuclear forces.” According to declassified intelligence reports, China’s nuclear tests in the 1990s were mainly involved with the development of new strategic and tactical nuclear weapons of advanced design. Significantly, Chinese officials have said China has developed new types of nuclear weapons after the end of the Cold War. Xue Bencheng, reportedly one of the most important scientists involved in the development of China’s neutron bomb, stated that the July 1996 Chinese nuclear test was “a great spanning leap” because it solved the problem of nuclear weapons miniaturization.

The House of Representatives’ Cox Committee, which extensively investigated Chinese theft of U.S. technology, concluded that, “If the PRC violates the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by testing surreptitiously, it could further accelerate its nuclear development.” It also concluded that China “…may be testing low yield nuclear explosive devices underground at its Lop Nur test site.” In May 2006, Chinese Defense Today also reported possible “low yield nuclear tests” after the declared end of nuclear testing. Covert Chinese nuclear testing could enhance Chinese capabilities to field advanced nuclear weapons.

Writing in 2002, Russian military journalists Vyacheslav Baskakov and Aleksandr Gorshkov maintained that China “…will succeed in making the shift from its current megaton-class nuclear ordinance to a level of hundreds and tens of kilotons, thereby increasing the effectiveness of available forces and weapons, flexibility of use in various circumstances and combat situations on both a strategic and tactical level.”

Moreover, the Cox Committee report stated:

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has stolen classified information on all of the United States’ most advanced thermonuclear warheads, and several of the associated reentry vehicles…..The stolen U.S. secrets have helped the PRC fabricate and successfully test modern strategic thermonuclear weapons. The stolen information includes classified information on seven U.S. thermonuclear warheads, including every currently deployed thermonuclear warhead in the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal. Together, these include the W-88 Trident D-5 thermonuclear warhead, and the W-56 Minuteman II, the W-62 Minuteman III, the W-70 Lance, the W-76 Trident C-4, the W-78 Minuteman III Mark 12A, and the W-87 Peacekeeper thermonuclear warheads. The stolen information also includes classified design information for an enhanced radiation weapon (commonly known as the ‘neutron bomb’)

What this means, as the Cox Committee pointed out, is that the stolen U.S. information and computer codes make it much easier for China to replicate the most advanced U.S. Cold War designs, including types that we unwisely eliminated at the end of the Cold War. This enhances the threat potential of reported covert Chinese nuclear testing.


China is expanding its nuclear capability which is what one would expect from a country that is preparing for a major war in Asia on the assumption it will have to fight the U.S. We face a very serious threat from China and its growing nuclear weapons capability is a key component. We may face a nuclear threat from China which is significantly greater than what most U.S. analysts will admit. If China plans to fight the U.S. it would be stupid to do so with an inferior nuclear force when it is now relatively easy for the Chinese to close the gap in nuclear weapons numbers and actually move ahead in the next ten years. China’s growing nuclear capability makes the confrontations that it is deliberately generating very dangerous.

Dr. Mark B. Schneider is a senior analyst at the National Institute for Public Policy and a former senior official in the Defense Department.

This article by Mark B. Schneider originally appeared at Real Clear Defense. This article first appeared in 2019.

Rockets Threaten from Outside the Temple Walls (Rev 11:2)

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel over the weekend. (Ariel Schalit/Associated Press)

May 6 at 6:49 PM

 The impoverished Gaza Strip has long been under strict Israeli border controls, including tight restrictions on anything that might be considered “dual use” and potentially put toward the production of weapons.

But experts who track the weapons arsenals of Hamas and Islamic Jihad estimate that they have managed to stockpile between 5,000 and 20,000 rockets. Over the weekend, the militant groups fired a tiny fraction of them toward Israel — nearly 700 rockets and mortars, according to the Israeli military — and the unusually ferocious barrage at times overwhelmed Israeli air defenses.

The key to the weapons’ effectiveness is not their sophistication in terms of range or precision but just the opposite. Many of the rockets are so cheap and easy to manufacture, in some cases requiring little more than metal casing and an explosive, that the groups have been able to accumulate them in significant numbers.

“This is more statistical weapons, which means it’s quantity and not quality,” said Boaz Ganor, director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. “When it’s not a precise missile, it’s quite easy to prepare a rocket if you don’t really care where it’s going to fall.”

In the most intense round of fighting since Israel’s 2014 war, four Israelis died under rocket fire from Gaza over the weekend, the first since that conflict. Twenty-five Palestinians were killed as Israel carried out airstrikes in response. Calm was restored early Monday as the result of what the Palestinian groups said was a cease-fire

Hamas, which now controls Gaza, began producing Qassam rockets in about 2001, during the second intifada. The rockets had a range of just two or three miles. By 2007, the range had been extended to about seven miles. The “Qassam 3” has a range of about 10 miles.

But some of the missiles can travel much farther. In March, the Israeli military said a Palestinian rocket that hit a house near Tel Aviv, injuring seven family members, had a range of 75 miles. It was homemade, the military said.

“What they need is very minimal,” said Yaakov Amidror, a retired major general and former Israeli national security adviser. “They have all the capacities inside.”

The machinery required to make the rockets has been smuggled in via Egypt, while Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah have provided the expertise, Amidror said.

The material needed to produce simple Qassam rockets costs just a few hundred dollars, according to Ganor. While more sophisticated rockets are pricier, the cost is a fraction of what Israel pays to defend against them. It spends tens of thousands of dollars for each interceptor missile for its Iron Dome defense system.

Al-Hadath, a newspaper based in the West Bank, uploaded video May 4 claiming to show rockets being fired from Gaza towards Israel. 

Israel’s military said that of the 690 rockets and mortars fired toward its territory over the weekend, at least 90 failed to make it across the border. Of those that did, 240 were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, which assesses whether a rocket is likely to strike open ground or needs to be intercepted. The system had 87 percent accuracy on attempted interceptions, with 35 rockets striking urban areas.

“The idea is to create panic, create chaos, and maybe hit something,” said Ganor.

Israel’s domestic security agency, the Shabak, said that efforts to smuggle higher-quality rockets into Gaza was stepped up after a three-week conflict between Israel and Hamas that began at the end of 2008. The agency said hundreds of these rockets, with a range of up to 25 miles, had been brought into Gaza as of 2010, largely through Sudan, Egypt and the tunnels that cross from the Sinai Peninsula into Gaza.

Since then, Egypt has tried to clamp down on smuggling across its border, making it harder for the militant groups to get these weapons.

Ian Williams, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and deputy director of that group’s Missile Defense Project, said that in the past, groups would smuggle either whole rockets into Gaza or parts of rockets and then assemble them. Williams said that domestic production is “usually enabled” by Iran, which has helped militant groups set up assembly shops, often underground to avoid detection, in Gaza.

Now groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have moved into entirely indigenous production, often manufacturing both the weapon and the explosives out of raw materials.

“They’re not of the same quality,” said Michael Herzog, a retired brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces who is now a fellow with the Washington Institute. He said that while some of the homegrown missiles have long ranges, they lack guidance systems for targeting.

Islamic Jihad, which is backed by Iran, unveiled a new rocket it dubbed the “Badr 3” during the escalation over the weekend, saying the weapon was used to target the city of Ashkelon. The Israeli military could not confirm the development.

Ganor said there was little information available on the Badr 3 but that groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both designated terrorist organizations by Israel and the United States, often unveil slightly tweaked versions of an old rocket type “to create fear and anxiety.”

Estimates of the arsenal’s size vary. Ganor said the Gaza factions could possess 15,000 to 20,000 rockets. Herzog, by contrast, said Hamas and Islamic Jihad each have about 6,000 rockets. Williams said that the number of rockets in Gaza may be as low as 5,000 total.

Before the 2014 conflict with Gaza, Israeli intelligence estimated there were up to 11,000 rockets total in the Palestinian territory, Herzog said, but Israeli military operations had helped reduce the amount by about two-thirds. The groups, however, have restocked.

“Now, most of their arsenal is short-range rockets,” he said, with a range of up to about six miles. He added that there were also hundreds of rockets, or even more than 1,000, that could reach up to about 18 miles, putting southern Israeli cities such as Beersheba and Ashkelon within range.

“They have a small arsenal of longer-range rockets — 75 to 100-plus kilometers — which are mostly locally manufactured,” Herzog said. “Maybe dozens, maybe a bit more than that.”

Herzog said that the biggest development in the latest clash appeared to be the wider use of short-range “Burkan” rockets with a much heavier payload — sometimes up to 100 kilograms.

Short-range weapons like this may prove to be a challenge for Israel again in the future, Herzog said, in part because the Iron Dome system is ineffective against missiles that travel less than 2.5 miles.

The Dangerous Stand Off Before the War with Iran

The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Mediterranean Sea on April 24, 2019.

Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jeffery Southerland/Released/US Navy

The growing, dangerous US-Iran standoff, explained

The Trump administration worries about Iranian attacks on Americans.

Alex WardMay 7, 2019, 4:00pm EDT

The United States seriously fears an imminent attack on its troops by Iran or its proxies. Iran signaled it may restart parts of its nuclear program in direct defiance of a landmark 2015 deal.

If tensions between Washington and Tehran were already high in the Trump era, they just increased substantially.

Starting on Sunday, the Trump administration indicated it had credible intelligence that Iran and groups it supports in the Middle East might attack US personnel based there. Two days later, reports of Iran’s specific plans surfaced: They apparently intended to target US troops in Iraq and Syria, or use drones against Americans in a key waterway near Yemen.

A US defense official confirmed to me the existence of credible intelligence of specific Iranian threats, but wouldn’t expand further.

As a result, the Trump administration has sent a US aircraft carrier and bombers to the region in an effort to deter an assault.

Meanwhile, Iran is poised to announce on Wednesday that it will resume small parts of its nuclear program. That’s a big deal: The 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the US, as well as some European countries, put tight restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear efforts in exchange for sanctions relief. But on May 8, 2018 — exactly one year ago this Wednesday — President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement, saying it only paved Iran’s path to the bomb.

Iran abided by the deal even after Trump’s announcement, but now it seems the most predictable scenario has come true: Tehran wants to kick-start its nuclear program once again.

The USS Abraham Lincoln in the Mediterranean Sea on April 27, 2019.

Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Michael Singley/US Navy

This a fraught, delicate, and dangerous situation that could easily spiral out of control if not carefully managed in Washington and Tehran. Some experts are worried that cooler heads won’t prevail.

“Moments like these are when institutions should matter: leadership at the cabinet level, a serious policy-making process, intelligence standards, professional ethics. All those have been eroded by the Trump administration,” Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, tweeted on Monday.

The US says it has intelligence that points to an imminent Iranian attack on Americans

In a stunning Sunday statement, National Security Adviser John Bolton announced a military move by the US in response to what it says are Iranian threats. It’s worth reading his short message in its entirety:

In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force. The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.

Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan added his own warnings the next day, saying the decision to send those weapons to the Middle East “represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces. … We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation.”

Though it might seem sudden, an escalation like this was always possible.

US-Iranian relations, which have historically been pretty bad, tanked even further when America left the nuclear deal last year and reimposed tough sanctions on the country.

Last month, the Trump administration took things a step further when they decided to label the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — Iran’s hugely influential security and military organization responsible for the protection and survival of the regime — as a “foreign terrorist organization.” That’s the first time the US named any part of another government as terrorists.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a military parade during a ceremony marking the country’s annual army day in Tehran on April 18, 2019.

Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

It’s therefore not a surprise to some analysts that Iran is apparently considering retaliating in a severe manner. “To counterattack in response to pressure is a standard part of the Iranian playbook,” Maloney also tweeted on Monday.

Phillip Smyth, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me that major threats from Tehran’s proxies have continued since early 2018. “There have been maneuvers in the past that sent a signal to the Americans” of a worsening regional situation, he said.

But he noted that just because there are indications that an attack could happen doesn’t mean an Iranian proxy will launch one soon. “These guys are very smart and very patient with how they plan and execute,” he continued.

Still, the intelligence is worrying. “There has definitely been an uptick in threat reporting directed at the US embassy in Iraq,” an unnamed American official told Politico on Monday. “It’s more than we’ve seen in a long time, and it suggests the de facto moratorium on attacks on US facilities by Iranian sponsored groups is fraying.” The US currently has about 5,200 troops in the country.

This may explain why Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the top US military officer for the Middle East, requested additional military assets in the region after reading intelligence of Iranian provocations. Shanahan authorized the request, expediting the USS Abraham Lincoln’s preplanned trip to the Middle East along with B-52 bombers.

If it seems like gunboat diplomacy, it’s because it is. The hope is that the move — which brings the US and Iran closer to a military fight — isn’t the opening salvo in a broader war.

Iran’s nuclear announcement could make a bad situation worse

Iran is about to add more fuel to the fire.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to announce small steps to resume his country’s nuclear program. According to the New York Times, that will include conducting research on centrifuges that can make nuclear fuel, and curbing nuclear inspections from observers.

Those moves by themselves don’t really get the country closer to obtaining the bomb — but the timing is quite symbolic.

Iranian children build model centrifuges out of Styrofoam and glue in a competition beneath a banner reading “Nuclear scientists of the next generation” at a mass rally to mark the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution on February 11, 2014, in Tehran.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images

Rouhani’s decree will come exactly one year after Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, which experts say blocked Tehran’s path to the bomb for at least a decade — if not more. It also comes weeks after the US said it would impose sanctions on all countries that import Iranian oil, the regime’s main source of income. That was a big blow to Iran and to European nations that previously received waivers for such transactions to soften the aftereffects of leaving the nuclear accord.

So there are likely two main reasons Iran decided to make this move. First, Tehran sees no real benefit in staying in the deal anymore, and Iran’s leaders think they may as well restart their nuclear work. And second, it serves as a big middle finger to the Trump administration in the midst of its maximum pressure campaign.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran in reaction to the exit of America from the nuclear deal and the bad promises of European countries in carrying out their obligations will restart a part of the nuclear activities which were stopped under the framework of the nuclear deal,” an Iranian official told the state-run IRIB news agency on Monday.

It’s also possible that Iran will anger European governments that are participating in the deal if it restarts its nuclear work, thereby eroding any remaining trust in the accord.

All put together, it sure seems like the US and Iran won’t diffuse the situation anytime soon. That means it could conceivably get worse — and quickly.

Threatening the Iranian Nuclear Horn

Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in the capital Tehran on September 22, 2018. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

By Adam Turner

Monday, 06 May 2019 12:26 PM

Recently, the United States designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization. The U.S. decision was predicated on the fact that the IRGC “actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.”

Although it is unusual for the U.S. to designate the arm of a nation as a terrorist organization, this action was not unprecedented. The U.S. had already designated part of the IRGC, the Quds Force, for its sponsorship of terrorism.

Needless to say, the Iranian regime was not happy with this decision. Prior to the decision, Iranian officials warned of a “crushing” response should the United States go ahead with the designation.

After the designation was made, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei labeled it “a vicious move,” and the Iranian Armed Forces’ general staff, which oversees the IRGC, said it would “use all its means to fight” against the U.S.’ CENTCOM, which Iranian lawmakers promptly voted to declare was a terrorist organization. An IRGC commander also warned “Mr. Trump, tell your warships not to pass near the Revolutionary Guards boats.”

These threats produced the desired result among the foreign policy experts. Dennis Ross, who has worked for every American President from George H. W. Bush to Barack Obama, warned that “(the designation of the IRGC) is likely to produce an Iranian response. Most likely in Iraq, where the Iranians will push on the vulnerability of our presence both politically and militarily. The former, by pushing in the parliament legislation forcing the US to leave; the latter, by potentially having its Shia militia proxies attack American forces and by building their rocket presence in western Iraq.”

The only problem with this argument is that the Iranian’s and their terror allies already have a long history of making threats against the U.S., and, oftentimes, following through on those threats.

Starting in 1979, the Iranian regime began to sponsor demonstrations in Iran where crowds chanted “Death to America.” At least two times each year this occurs — every November, to commemorate the taking of the American hostages in 1979, and every February, to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the current Iranian regime to power.

And the Iranian regime was not making idle threats.

In the 1980’s, the IRGC created Hezbollah in Lebanon. Prior to 9/11, Hezbollah had the distinction of having killed more U.S. citizens than any other terror organization. Most significantly, in 1983, Hezbollah’s bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut murdered 241 American Marines and others.

In 1996, IRGC-sponsored terrorists detonated a load of 15 tons of explosives, killing 19 U.S. military personnel at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

In 2001, the IRGC played a role in the 9/11 attack. In 2004, a U.S. court held that the IRGC was liable for the deaths of 1,008 people whose families sued, because Iran provided assistance, including training, to the 9/11 hijackers.

From 2003 to 2011, the IRGC provided Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), including the more deadly Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs), and other equipment and training to Iraqi militias, which resulted in the deaths of at least 608 American soldiers. Many of these Iraqi militiamen are now part of the Popular Mobilization Forces that Iran is using to build its influence in Iraq.

Since 2011, there have been fewer Iranian sponsored attacks in Iraq against the U.S., although they have not ceased. In 2018, one of the Iraqi militias, trained and funded by Tehran, fired mortars into an area in Baghdad close to the U.S. embassy.

Also during this time period, but continuing through today, Iran, which had previously opposed the Sunni Muslim Taliban in Afghanistan, reversed course to support and train them. This assistance, which again includes IEDs and EFPs, has resulted in many U.S. deaths. Most disturbingly, Iran has put an actual bounty on the head of U.S. soldiers, paying Taliban fighters $1,000 for each one they kill. Thousands of Americans, both soldiers and contractors, have been killed in Afghanistan, although there is no estimate of the number of deaths caused by Iran.

Even when the Iranians were negotiating the Iran deal with the U.S. under President Obama, they did not cease their threats or aggression towards the U.S. A few weeks after the Iran deal, the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, tweeted a graphic of President Obama with a gun to his head. A few months later, Khamenei declared that the “U.S. is the embodiment of the enemy of the Islamic peoples and of Iran. It must be fought with military, cultural, economic, and political jihad, he said, adding that Islamic Iran is not interested in reconciling with it.”

And once again, during those immediate post-deal years, the Iranian navy was increasingly aggressive against the U.S. Navy. U.S. forces operating in and around the Strait of Hormuz were often approached by Iranian warships and aircraft in an “unsafe or unprofessional manner.” According to the Navy, this happened 22 times in 2015, 36 times in 2016, and 14 times in 2017, before stopping in 2018. At one point, the Iranians even violated international law by grabbing two U.S. Navy ships and ten sailors until releasing them the next day. While in custody the sailors were, intimidated, humiliated and made to “apologize.”

Since 1979, the Iranian regime has been the leading state sponsor of terror, which hates and targets the United States and its interests. The Iranian regime created the IRGC to sponsor and fund this terror. By designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, the Trump administration is just recognizing that reality. This is a smart decision; it would have been ludicrous for the U.S. to refrain from designating the IRGC because it feared threats of terror and violence coming from a nation and its organ that is already threatening and attacking the U.S.

Adam Turner is the General Counsel and Legislative Affairs Director for the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Going to War with Iran

An F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA 25 launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 3. (US Navy via AP / Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Michael Singley)

Trump and Bolton Are Putting War With Iran on a Hair Trigger

The announcement that the Pentagon is sending a strike force to the Middle East caps a yearlong campaign of threats and intimidation.

By Bob Dreyfuss Today 3:11 pm

Is it Iraq all over again? Is President Donald Trump, egged on by two ultra-hawkish advisers in National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, seeking to launch an illegal, unauthorized war against a country in the Middle East after demonizing its leaders and making bogus charges about weapons of mass destruction? Just as President George W. Bush, led on by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, invaded Iraq using false charges that Baghdad had a secret stash of nuclear and chemical arms, over the past few weeks the White House has taken a series of provocative, unwarranted steps that have brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war.

That’s the conclusion of two Democratic senators, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Dick Durbin of Illinois, who were alarmed enough to write an op-ed in The Washington Post, in which they warned, “Sixteen years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we are again barreling toward another unnecessary conflict in the Middle East based on faulty and misleading logic.”

And as Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, Tehran is convinced that what he calls “the B Team”—Bolton, Bibi, bin Salman, and bin Zayed, the last three being Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and effective ruler of the United Arab Emirates—are determined to force regime change in Iran. “President Trump says that the pressure will bring Iran to its knees,” said Zarif.

“The other day, Secretary Pompeo was asked if he was planning a coup d’état in Iran. And you know what he said? Any diplomat, even if they’re planning a coup, would deny it! But he said, if I were planning a coup, I wouldn’t tell you. Sometimes people say what’s in the back of their mind,” Zarif added. (The exact quote, according to Axios, came in a speech by Pompeo to an Iranian-American group, in which he said, “Even if we [were], would I be telling you guys about it?”)

This week, Bolton announced that the United States was dispatching an aircraft-carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East, coupling it with bellicose language about sending “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime” and threatening “unrelenting force.” That unprovoked action follows a yearlong campaign of threats and intimidation aimed at Iran, after the administration’s withdrawal one year ago from the 2015 six-power nuclear accord signed by President Barack Obama. Since then, the United States has instituted tough new sanctions aimed at crippling Iran’s economy and cutting off its oil exports.

Over the past few weeks, the campaign of threats and what the White House calls “maximum pressure” has intensified. On April 8, in a highly provocative action, the State Department announced that it was labeling Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—Tehran’s main military arm—a terrorist group. Just as Bush manufactured false charges that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11, the Trump administration is painting the Iranian nation as a terrorist threat. “The IRGC will be added to the State Department’s FTO [foreign terrorist organization] list, which includes 67 other terrorist organizations including Hizballah, Hamas, [and] Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” read the announcement. “The IRGC FTO designation highlights that Iran is an outlaw regime that uses terrorism as a key tool of statecraft.” Never before in the two-decade history of the State Department’s terrorist listing has an entire nation’s armed forces been designated as an FTO. (You can read the whole declaration here.)

On April 22, the White House, accusing Iran of “spread[ing] mayhem across the Middle East,” announced that the United States was putting an end to the sanction waivers that allowed countries such as India, Turkey, and China to import oil from Iran, “intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero”—in other words, strangling the country’s lifeline. In its statement, the White House stressed that the United States, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—two of Iran’s regional enemies—would guarantee that whatever oil is lost from Iran would be made up by them. (You can read the statement here.)

Finally, just before announcing that it was sending the aircraft carrier and bomber wing to the Gulf, on May 3 the administration took a stunning new step aimed directly at the heart of the Iran nuclear accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). No longer, the White House said, would the United States permit Iran to enrich uranium or to “transfer enriched uranium out of Iran in exchange for natural uranium.” Both activities, along with many other provisions in the JCPOA, were explicitly tolerated under that accord. (You can read the State Department’s declaration here.) By its action, the United States is threatening to either force Iran to shut down its limited and highly regulated uranium enrichment program or to disregard those provisions of the JCPOA and move toward an unchecked enrichment regime. According to the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, that’s exactly what Iran might do: “enrichment at any volume and level.”

Zarif, in a meeting with a small group of reporters on April 25, including one from The Nation, warned that Iran might withdraw from the JCPOA if it is pushed into a corner. “The nuclear deal has not produced any positive outcome,” he said. “So we will decide, the Iranian people will decide, about the future of this engagement. They have lost hope. They have lost faith in the utility of international engagement. And that is alarming.” Needless to say, were Iran to pull out of the JCPOA in response to Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo’s provocations or were it to resume unlimited enrichment of uranium, it would trigger an unrelenting series of war cries from “the B Team,” from the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. And the military option—that is, military strikes on the dozens of Iranian scientific and research facilities devoted to its nuclear program—would be back on the table.

By attempting to choke Iran’s economy, by designating the IRGC as a terrorist group, by targeting Iran’s legal enrichment program, and by making overt military threats, the United States is at once weakening the reform-minded and moderate forces in Iran, including Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani, and strengthening hard-liners—Iran’s own Boltons—including its ultraconservative clerics and some members of the IRGC, many of whom opposed the 2015 nuclear accord as too accommodating to the United States. Just last month, in what could be an ominous turn, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ousted the commander of the IRGC and named a new chief, a tough-minded veteran. The new commander, Hossein Salami, said as recently as February, “The whole world should know that when we talk about martyrdom, it does not mean that we stand still so that the enemy attacks us and kills us. If the enemy opts for a war, we will become fully offensive.”

Zarif is well aware that the United States might be seeking a pretext for war. In late April, at a meeting in New York with the Asia Society, he said, “It is not a crisis yet, but it is a dangerous situation. Accidents…are possible. I wouldn’t discount the B Team plotting an accident anywhere in the region, particularly as we get closer to the election.” Indeed, in announcing the deployment of the aircraft-carrier group to the Gulf, Washington warned that it was acting on intelligence that Iran or its proxies and allies—possibly Hezbollah, members of pro-Iran militias in Iraq, or others—were planning to attack US military forces or other US interests in the Middle East. That information, unconfirmed, reportedly was passed on to the United States by Israeli intelligence, according to Barak Ravid of Israel’s Channel 13. “Israel passed information on an alleged Iranian plot to attack U.S. interests in the Gulf to the U.S. before National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened Iran with ‘unrelenting force’ last night, senior Israeli officials told me,” said Ravid. Presumably, an attack on US forces anywhere in the region, even if it could only remotely be attributed to Iran, would give Bolton a reason to activate his threat of unleashing “unrelenting force.”

Anything, even Iran’s legitimate military activities, could provide Bolton with an excuse to go to war. According to a New Yorker profile of Bolton, as far back as last November he seemed to advocate bombing a missile test site in Iran after the country test-fired a medium-range missile.

All of this puts the conflict between the United States and Iran on a hair trigger. And it gives extremists, including independent actors, the ability to try to provoke a US-Iran war by, say, assassinating a US military officer or firing rockets into an American compound—even if Tehran has nothing to do with it.

Worryingly, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator and ally of Zarif and Rouhani, Hossein Mousavian, wrote recently not only that Iran might pull out of the JCPOA but also that it might leave the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), citing a recent statement from Zarif. Addressing IRIB, the Iranian state broadcaster, Zarif argued that one of Iran’s options in response to Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo might be to quit the NPT, saying, “The Islamic Republic’s choices are numerous, and the country’s authorities are considering them…and leaving [the] NPT is one of them.” And as Mousavian pointed out, were Iran to leave the JCPOA or the NPT or both, “the US-Israel axis would launch a heavy political propaganda campaign claiming that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the peace and security of the world.”

As Zarif made clear, Iran’s leaving the JCPOA can’t be ruled out, especially if hard-liners in Tehran get the upper hand. Despite the intense pressure being put on Iran, including the overt threat of regime change, Rouhani, Zarif, and even Khamenei are likely to try to avoid giving Washington the pretext it may be seeking to escalate the conflict. To get around the sanctions, Zarif and his team are likely to draw closer to China and Russia. “Our relations with Russia are better than at any time in the past,” Zarif said. Iran is also asking the Europeans to step up their resistance to America’s bullying. According to IRNA, the Iranian news agency, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi recently warned Europe that Iran’s patience is limited and that the European Union must not succumb to American efforts to shut down trade with Iran. “We have given enough time to make up for repercussions of the US withdrawal from the deal and now the time has come for action. We welcome the EU political stances, but political supports are not solely enough to save the deal,” he said.