The Ramapo Fault and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Living on the Fault Line

A major earthquake isn’t likely here, but if it comes, watch out.

Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo

The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.

After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.

Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.

During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.

“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”

Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.

Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.

After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.

Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.

Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.

The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.

For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.

Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”

The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.

This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”

Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”

But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.

Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.

All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.

For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.

Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.

To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.

In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.

As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)

In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.

The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/hazus.htm).

Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.

Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.

This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.

For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at nycem.org.)

All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.

Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”

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For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.

In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.

Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”

Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.

This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”

A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.

“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”

Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in M

Trump Feeds the Nuclear Horns

Trump decides not to impose quotas on uranium imports

US President Donald Trump said, he will not impose quotas on importing uranium, backing away from a possible trade confrontation and breaking with a Commerce Department assessment that America’s use of foreign uranium raises national security concerns.

Uranium is a vital component for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, submarines and power plants, which prompted a months-long Commerce Department investigation into whether such materials fall under the national security umbrella. Mr Trump announced he was going to order a working group to use 90 days to make recommendations to increase domestic uranium production. The decision was a rare moment in which the Trump administration did not use the powers of the government to give American companies a trade advantage over international competition.

The administration had previously levied tariffs on foreign steel and aluminium, leading to retaliatory tariffs from Canada, Mexico, China and Europe.

The Pakistan Horn Relentlessly Grows (Daniel 8)

Pakistan relentlessly expanding nuclear and missile arsenal’

Rajat Pandit | TNN

Updated: Jul 16, 2019, 03:06 IST

An Indian defence ministry report said Pakistan army has further ‘consolidated’ its position as the ‘institution driving foreign security and defence policies’ under the Imran Khan government.

HIGHLIGHTS

Pakistan is “relentlessly” expanding its armed forces, especially nuclear and missile capabilities, despite being engulfed in a financial crisis, says the Indian defence ministry (MoD)

In its latest annual report, the MoD says Pak army has further “consolidated” its position as the “institution driving Pakistan’s foreign security and defence policies” after the Imran Khan government came to office in August last year

NEW DELHI: Pakistan is “relentlessly” expanding its armed forces, especially nuclear and missile capabilities, despite being engulfed in a financial crisis, even as it continues to “persistently target” India with state-sponsored cross-border terrorism, says the Indian defence ministry (MoD).

In its latest annual report, the MoD says Pak army has further “consolidated” its position as the “institution driving Pakistan’s foreign security and defence policies” after the Imran Khan government came to office in August last year.

The MoD’s assertion about Pakistan’s rapidly-growing nuclear and missile arsenals is in tune with international assessments that the country now has 140-150 nuclear warheads as compared to 130-140 of India.

With its expanding uranium enrichment and plutonium production facilities, Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile could realistically grow to 220-250 warheads by 2025 if the current trend continues, as per the Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists. Pakistan, of course, owes much of its progress in the nuclear and missile arenas to clandestine help from China and North Korea over the years.

Noting that there were global concerns regarding proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, which pose a “serious” danger to international security, the MoD said, “WMD terrorism will remain a potent threat as long as there are terrorists seeking to gain access to relevant materials and technologies for malicious purposes.”

The MoD report, turning to Pakistan army’s active support to anti-India terror outfits, said, “It has avoided taking action against jihadi and internationally proscribed terror outfits that target its neighbours.”

“Support to such groups persists. Such outfits continue to be encouraged to infiltrate into India under the cover of the massive cross Line of Control and cross-border firing in Jammu and Kashmir and other areas throughout the year,” it added.

Though there has been a 43% decrease in net cross-border infiltration into J&K so far this year, coupled with a recent decline in use of artillery and other heavy-calibre weapons in ceasefire violations, the MoD attributes it more to the “successful pre-emptive” aerial strikes against the “largest” Jaish-e-Mohammed training facility at Balakot in Pakistan on February 26 as well as other retaliatory measures rather than a genuine change of heart in Islamabad.

India will “continue to take robust and decisive steps to ensure its national security” till Pakistan takes “credible and irreversible steps” to dismantle the terror infrastructure as well as stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from territories under its control, said the MoD.

Even as Imran Khan’s austerity plans dictated by the International Monetary Fund has led to widespread resistance in his country, the MoD says: “The political situation in Pakistan continues to remain challenging with a severe deficit of inclusive and balanced economic development.”

“The country has been torn by ethno-regional conflicts, with the zone of conflict expanding from tribal areas on Pakistan-Afghanistan border to the hinterland. Religious extremism is also on the rise,” it added.

One of the Antichrist’s Men (Revelation 13:18)

Iran’s shadow warrior who sows chaos and discord in Iraq

Preachers of hate are unethical but smart. Deceit requires brains and minimum wit. But not all preachers of hate were created equal. Some are street smart and talkative, often making arguments that reveal their shallowness. To make up for their inadequate intellect, they outmuscle their rivals, lead militias, and spew hate that they copy from their superiors. Such hate preachers become guns for hire, even if they insist on wearing traditional garments and pretending that they are pious and knowledgeable clerics.

The Iraqi Qais Al-Khazali, a cleric who is also the leader of one of Iraq’s most notorious militias, is one such hate spewer who pretends to be a cleric, when in fact his claim to fame is working as the operative of one of the many Iranian clandestine networks that sow war and discord in Arab countries.

Aged 29, this graduate of geology accompanied Muqtada Al-Sadr — who had inherited the mantle of his father and one of Iraq’s foremost Shiite clerics Mohammed Sadeq Al-Sadr — to a meeting with Iranian operatives. They were promised arms and training, if they would take on US troops in Iraq, according to declassified US investigations with Al-Khazali. A few battles and months later, Al-Sadr realized that he had little reason to undermine a burgeoning sovereign Iraqi state. Al-Sadr disbanded his militia, the Mahdi Army, and transformed his organization into a political movement.

Politics is rarely the strong suit of people with modest intellectual skills and, without a militia, Al-Khazali might have lost his prominence. However, he did not lose his connection to his Iranian handlers, who sponsored his defection from Al-Sadr to set up a splinter group, the Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH) militia. Al-Khazali’s miltia played a central role in Iran’s two-pronged war in Iraq: One against US troops, the other against Iraqi Sunnis. Iran connected Al-Khazali to Musa Daduq, an operative from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah who helped to engineer a few of the most atrocious kidnappings and killings of US soldiers. Washington estimates that Tehran is responsible for the killing of 1,000 out of the 4,000 troops it lost in the Iraq War.

With US assistance, Iraqi government forces captured Al-Khazali in 2007 and jailed him for three years, when he was released in a prisoner exchange for a kidnapped British contractor.

Like Saddam, Al-Khazali’s propaganda is one of cult worship, with news about him participating in various activities and giving opinions about everything, opinions that are usually posted on his Twitter account, too.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Since then, Al-Khazali has been one of Iran’s most loyal militiamen in Iraq, so much so that he not only joined the Popular Militia Units (PMU), but also opened shop in Syria. Al-Khazali even appeared in Lebanon, checking out the border with Israel, in a flagrant offense against Lebanese sovereignty. But who’s keeping count in Lebanon anyway?

With Daesh almost annihilated, Al-Khazali has been left with little fighting and lots of time. He comes up with unsubstantiated accusations against Iraqi Sunnis, accusing towns such as Tarmiyah, to the north of Baghdad, of being a hotbed for Daesh fighters, calling for a military campaign against the predominantly Sunni town.

Al-Khazali has also been developing his brand. He has taken as his spiritual guide Kazem Al-Haeri, a firebrand Iraqi cleric who lives in Qom, in Iran.

“US President (Donald Trump) gives the countries of the Sheikhs of the Gulf a choice between funding his wars… and the demise of their governments,” Al-Haeri said in a statement. “This is the result of throwing themselves into the arms of the global arrogant powers after their loss of popular support,” Haeri added, claiming — without any substantiation — that Arab governments do not enjoy the popular support. “We also call on the Iraqi government not to be dragged into the lap of global arrogance in its economic, security and military contracts,” Al-Haeri argued, in a clear sign that the Iraqi cleric in Qom was unhappy with Baghdad’s warming relations with Gulf capitals.

In addition to toeing his mentor’s and Iran’s line about the “downtrodden” and about “global arrogance,” Al-Khazali echoes the official Iranian rhetoric, depicting an imaginary alliance between America, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, as the source of all evil in the region. At a conference in Tehran last year, Al-Khazali said that the Iraqi victory over Daesh was a victory over America, Saudi Arabia and Israel. That America offered extensive air cover and military advice on the ground in the battle against Daesh does not seem to register with Al-Khazali, or his audience. Hate speech, after all, is impossible without some spin and a ton of deceit.

On his militia’s website, Al-Khazali’s publicity seems to copy that of the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Al-Khazali calls himself Al-Sheikh Al-Amin, a play on words with Amin meaning both trustworthy and secretary general. Like Saddam, Al-Khazali’s propaganda is one of cult worship, with news about him participating in various activities and giving opinions about everything, opinions that are usually posted on his Twitter account, too.

Standing up to “cultural normalization with Israel,” Al-Khazali said in a sermon transcribed into Tweets, means “countering attempts to undermine Iraqi identity by spreading homosexuality in Iraq,” a line of reasoning that Al-Khazali seems to have come up with on his own and slipped into his speech, outside the Iranian-approved script. When speaking his mind Al-Khazali does not sound hateful, he sounds stupid.

• Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington bureau chief of Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, and a former visiting fellow at Chatham House in London. Twitter: @hahussain

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

The Threat of World War 3 (Revelation 16)

July 15, 2019

by Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

As Iran and the United States edge closer to war, while Europe scrambles to reduce tensions, the chorus of U.S. foreign policy and military experts and journalists criticizing the Trump administration’s tactics is also reaching a crescendo. Despite deep political divisions, on this issue there is broad agreement across the spectrum.

First, they remind the American public that the Iran war playbook is strikingly similar to the events that led us into the Iraq war. Sanctions, isolation, false claims of nuclear weaponry and fake ties to al-Qaeda were first order attempts at justifying an unjustifiable war in 2003. These allegations are now directed at Iran.

Second, the centerpiece of the anti-Iran war narrative is agreement that the Iraq war was a failure.

To recall: in 2002-03 the Iraq war was sold as a cake-walk, an easy means of toppling a violent dictatorship and replacing it with a liberal democracy, aligned with U.S. values and interests in the heart of the Middle East. It was meant to be a no-cost war, where Iraq, with its vast oil reserves, would pay the U.S. army’s costs and for the recovery of its national infrastructure.

The reality, of course, turned out differently. Thousands of U.S., British and other soldiers lost their lives or returned home, maimed, traumatized or suicidal. Meanwhile the occupation between 2003-2011 alone was executed so poorly that U.S. forces and their countless private contractors squandered some $1.06 trillion in taxpayer money but were unable to even restore basic electricity in many of Iraq’s major urban areas. Ongoing costs stemming from the Iraq and Afghan wars, including veteran services, could rise as high as $7 trillion. The U.S. treatment of prisoners and Iraqi civilians contributed to the rise of the Islamic State (IS or ISIS), which continues to plague the region despite its supposed demise.

To put it mildly, the original mission was categorically unaccomplished. Naturally, this makes Americans reticent about a new war, against a country with four times the land mass and double the population of Iraq.

But there are two problems with this narrative. First, what if the Iraq war had led to a stable democratic state? Would the more than one million Iraqis killed in the process be considered as acceptable collateral damage? Would that ‘success’ have galvanized the foreign policy community to support an Iran war now? Or would there be a modicum of concern about the inherent illegality and criminality of war? In Washington lore, senior figures in the Bush-Cheney administration are remembered for claiming that “boys go to Baghdad, but real men go to Tehran.”

The Iraq war was meant to be the appetizer. If indeed it had been a ‘cakewalk,’ there is little doubt that Iran was next on the menu, with likely many cheerleaders in the U.S. media and foreign policy establishment. 

Secondly and more worryingly is the undisputed notion in the U.S. that the Iraq War was a failure. The Bush administration sold it as a just war in the pursuit of freedom, liberation and justice for the Iraqi people, similar to current efforts regarding Iran. Certainly from a human standpoint and Iraq’s own perspective it was an abject failure. But viewed through the lens of regional geopolitics, the definition of failure and success change. Here’s the scenario to consider.

If Iraq had indeed been transformed into a credible liberal democratic state, with its oil revenue and human capital, the country would have become a major regional powerhouse. It is likely that such a state would have been a critical counter point to other regional states. For example, it could have pushed back and challenged the spread of Saudi Wahabbism. Even if it were strongly allied to the U.S., it would have been a watchful monitor of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and might have held it accountable on the international stage, forcing Europe and the U.S. to also implement the promise of the Oslo Accords. A democratic and dare I say secular Iraq would have also put a check on Qatar or the UAE’s military reach across the region. But Iraq as it today, a truly hobbled and broken state, not only poses no real threat, but its demise has enabled their ascent. For them, the Iraq war was successful. Saddam is gone, but nothing threatening has replaced him. America and its allies not only paid in blood and footed the bill, but they also became more reliant on Israel and the Gulf states. The formula was irresistible and it became their playbook for other countries.

In 2012, a full decade after the Iraq war, when the lessons and missteps were widely known, the Obama administration agreed to unleash the might of NATO onto Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, under the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” mandate. But Libya in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s downfall played out even worse than Iraq. The U.S. didn’t deploy its forces and no UN Peacekeepers were sent to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of Libya’s government. Instead, the world allowed the Gulf States to pours millions of dollars and weapons into the country to fund Islamist parties and extremist militias of varying hues. Libya is a rich country. If it had emerged as a stable democracy it would have been a force of moderation against Saudi Arabia, the sheikhdoms and Israel. It could have also had immense positive influence across Africa. But the promise of democracy or even stability was thwarted. Instead, like Iraq, it is a fractured and traumatized nation.

Much the same scenario befell Syria. Despite Bashar al-Assad’s violent oppression, the masses of Syrians mobilizing and marching in the streets did not want a war. But once again the unrelenting flow of funds and weapons from Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia fueled the fragmentation of the country. Yet again the current outcome suits these powers. Neither a credible democracy has emerged that could challenge the Gulf States, nor a radical Islamic state that could terrorize the world. Instead, Assad, the known devil, remains but is hobbled. For Israel, next door, this is as good as it gets.

In the meantime—particularly since the war on Yemen began in 2015—the UAE’s de facto leader, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), has emerged as a regional player, exercising military muscle and pursuing expansionist aims. His ally, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), may be an international pariah after the Jamal Khashoggi assassination, but on regional matters—and especially regarding Iran—he is still a whisperer of war in the ears of the United States government. As for Israel, the story continues. A détente with the Saudis has emboldened the Netanyahu regime. Given the turmoil in the region, there are fewer eyes on Palestine, where Israel’s land grabs and attacks on people continue unabated.

With these benefits accruing at no cost to them, while their various regional foes have shrunk into insignificance, it is no surprise that these three Horsemen of the Middle East are the greatest cheerleaders of a potential U.S. war on Iran. But they understand the reticence of the U.S. in getting embroiled in a new conflict, so the trio’s playbook this time has been more sophisticated. On the geopolitical stage, they have championed the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA), which has led to the reimposition of U.S. sanctions as part of what the Trump administration calls its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has also been on a media spending spree, footing the bill for Persian language satellite TV stations such as ManoTo and Iran International. They beam directly into Iranian living rooms, juxtaposing nostalgic stories of the Shah’s era with stories of rising poverty and popular distress today. These stories conveniently sidestep the role of U.S. sanctions in causing and deepening that distress. They are trying to rile up a base of protest domestically.

Simultaneously, with financial and political incentives they have also co-opted Iranian diaspora opposition groups ranging from the reviled Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) to the more benign but beleaguered Reza Pahlavi, son of the former Shah. Pahlavi and his supporters are the ideal window dressing. They offer a tantalizing promise of a utopian non-violent Iranian uprising that culminates in a democracy.

As appealing as this is to Iranians the world over, in reality though, as with Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, the last thing that the Saudis, Emiratis, and Israelis want is a stable, democratic and wealthy Iran that could one day have the international clout to challenge their domestic and regional abuses. Their preferred outcome therefore is the Iraq war scenario—Iran crushed economically, politically, and militarily, and fragmented socially and geographically.

For Europe such a scenario would be disastrous for many reasons. There is the threat to its oil flows and the threat of a new tsunami of refugees on its borders. Iran also cushions Europe from the flow of heroin and other drugs originating in Afghanistan. If Iran’s security fails, those drugs and related organized crime would flood European markets.

But the U.S. is far enough away to withstand any such blowback. It also has many bones to pick with Iran, the biggest dating back to the pain and humiliation of the 1979 U.S. embassy hostage crisis. So a military attack to settle scores is tempting.

To get their war, the whisperers have to convince President Trump that it would be beneficial to his 2020 reelection bid. They will have to drown out the anti-war voices, by promising regime change but making the case that a weakened and chaotic Iran is actually the desired outcome. But the U.S. should be wary of these whisperers, for while it foots the bill and the world pays for unknowable and uncontainable consequences, the three will once again reap the rewards. Success or failure, like beauty, is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

How the Iraq Is Helping the Iran Horn Survive (Daniel 8)

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Baghdad, Iraq, May 7, 2019., cc Flickr US Department of State, modified, http://www.usa.gov/copyright.shtml

How Iraq Is Helping Iran Survive US Sanctions

Iran is attempting to ease the economic pain of US sanctions by developing closer economic ties with its neighbor Iraq, which could leave America’s fragile Middle East ally falling increasingly under Iranian influence.

Iraq sees itself as a regional economic hub, establishing good trading relations with all its neighbors, and has stressed that it does not want to be part of any international or regional axes. Yet Tehran’s growing commercial relations with Baghdad may strengthen the Iranians’ already significant political leverage.

Sweeping US sanctions against Iran imposed last year after Washington’s withdrawal from the international nuclear agreement – which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its atomic energy program – have caused considerable harm to Iranian finances.

The US was critical of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for failing to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and “malign influence” across the Middle East. But the Trump administration’s ability to pressure Iran into addressing these issues as part of a renegotiation of the nuclear deal may be hindered by gaps in its sanctions regime.

For Tehran, Iraq’s dependence on Iranian gas, electricity, refined petroleum products and non-energy exports generates revenue streams that help it to limit at least some of the economic damage resulting from American trade and investment restrictions. Washington cannot do much to reduce Baghdad’s reliance on its neighbor. Pressuring it to do so risks destabilizing the politically volatile country, just as it recovers from the devastation wrought by Islamic State.

America has little option but to continue extending sanctions waivers for Iraqi purchases of Iranian electricity and gas to supply its generators because of the poor condition of Iraq’s power-generation facilities. The US wants Baghdad to wean itself off Iranian energy, but Iraqi officials say it could take several years to find alternative sources. It may take just as long to fix the country’s electricity infrastructure.

The critical importance of Iranian energy was underlined last summer when Iraq’s failure to pay its bills prompted Iran temporarily to shut off supplies, leaving many Iraqis with limited air conditioning as temperatures soared. The suspension contributed in part to rioting in the oil-rich yet impoverished Basra region, where locals also protested over corruption and the lack of drinking water and jobs.

Overall, bilateral trade between the two countries is growing. Valued at $12 billion, three quarters comprised Iranian exports for the period March 2018 to March 2019 – a year-on-year increase of 36 per cent. The sanctions-induced fall in the value of the rial has contributed to the rise by making Iranian goods cheaper.

Tehran is hopeful that bilateral trade could increase to $20 billion in the coming years. Iraq is Iran’s second-biggest non-oil export destination after China, with Iranian merchants reportedly seeing Iraq as potentially replacing Dubai as a conduit through which their international trade could be channelled. Indeed, the Iraqi president Barham Saleh has spoken of his country becoming “the heart of a new Silk Route to the Mediterranean.”

Planned Iraqi-Iranian projects aimed at boosting commercial links include the setting up of industrial parks along their borders; the development of the Naft Shahr and Khorramshahr natural gas fields; the dredging of Shatt al-Arab waterway to facilitate shipping and provide clean water for Basra province; and the linking of the Iraqi and Iranian railway networks as part of a wider plan to enable Iran to transport goods to Syria and its Mediterranean ports.

In order to ensure economic cooperation does not run the risk of violating American sanctions, the two countries are reportedly setting up a non-dollar payment system similar to Europe’s special purpose vehicle, INSTEX, established to allow European companies to do business in Iran without incurring US penalties. Iranian conservatives are said to be pressing their government to rely more on Iraq than the Europeans. Tehran appears to be losing hope in the latter engaging, with good reason – the risks of being penalized by the US are too high for many.

Washington is no doubt monitoring Iran-Iraq business ties closely for sanctions infractions, recently penalizing a Baghdad-based company for allegedly trafficking hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-backed Iraqi militias.  Last year, an Iraq-based bank was sanctioned for alleged involvement in the funneling money on behalf of the IRGC to Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Iraq does not want to put its relations with the US at risk by serving as a sanctions-busting front for Iran, notably informing the Iranians that the planned joint railway project must be under Iraqi supervision and cannot be used to break the US embargo.

Yet the Iraqi government may struggle to curb commercial links with sanctioned entities in Iran given that the pro-Tehran Fatah Alliance, representing Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, the Popular Mobilisation Units, which played a critical role in defeating ISIS, is the second-largest group in the Iraqi parliament. Significantly, a spokesman for Fatah condemned the US decision in April to sanction the IRGC.

For the US, there is also the risk that if it were to escalate its conflict with Iran, Tehran might enlist its allies in Iraq to trigger a proxy war against American interests, unraveling efforts to stabilize the country. In May, as tension between Washington and Tehran rose over attacks on Saudi oil tankers and energy infrastructure, non-essential US diplomatic staff in the country were evacuated. Days later, a rocket hit a government compound in the center of Baghdad where foreign government offices, including the US embassy, are based.

Iraqi politicians are divided over the country’s ties with Iran. Fatah’s rival is Sairoon, part of the largest coalition in parliament, led by the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is vehemently opposed to both American and Iranian influence in the country. But given the strong likelihood that US sanctions against Tehran will deepen, Iran will probably look to expand its economic ties with Iraq to offset the impact of the embargo. And given the poor state of its economy, Baghdad would be in no position to resist.

At present, the Iraqi government is trying to remain as even-handed as possible in its dealings with the US and Iran, though in time greater reliance on the latter may tip the balance of power in Iraq in favor of pro-Iranian factions, especially if the US penalizes more Iraqi companies for breaking the Iran embargo and restricts, or ends, its sanctions waivers.

Yigal Chazan is the head of content at Alaco, a London-based business intelligence consultancy. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect Geopoliticalmonitor.com or any institutions with which the author is associated.

Babylon the Great Loses the Support of the Iranian People

Inside Iran: What Iranians think of stand-off with US – BBC News

Inside Iran: Iranians on Trump and the nuclear deal

As tensions rise between Iran, the US and its allies, the BBC has been given rare access to Iran.

Iranians remain furious that US President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal last year and has imposed crushing sanctions on the country.

BBC correspondent Martin Patience, along with cameraman Nik Millard and producer Cara Swift, have been in Tehran and the holy city of Qom, talking to Iranians about the escalating crisis.

While in country, recording access was controlled – as with all foreign media the team was accompanied by a government representative at all times.

The hills provide respite from the heat and the pollution that choke Tehran

Even in the sweltering summer months, you can still see snow on the towering peaks of the Alborz mountains that form the stunning backdrop to the Iranian capital.

Tehran’s wealthiest suburbs cling to the slopes, which provide respite from the heat and the pollution that choke this city of almost nine million people.

At the weekends, many Iranians – young and old – take to the trails with their rucksacks and hiking sticks to leave the city behind them. But even up in the clean mountain air there is no escape from the US sanctions.

• What do Iranians think of US sanctions?

• How reinstated sanctions have hit Iranians

• Is the Iran nuclear deal finally dead?

„Who’s not suffering?“ asks one man rhetorically. As if to make the point, he shows me his climbing clip, hanging from his belt. It now cost four times what it did a year ago.

Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran last year after he unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.

The US president said the previous deal was too generous to Iran and gave the country a free hand to develop ballistic missiles and meddle in the Middle East.

Mr Trump wants to use „maximum pressure“ to force Iran back to the negotiating table. Many fear it could lead to conflict.

Iran is furious. It feels betrayed by the US and abandoned by European countries that still support the deal – the UK, France and Germany.

America’s decision has strengthened the hardliners here who say that Washington should never have been trusted in the first place. That mistrust of the US (and the UK) runs deep in Iran, after both countries orchestrated a coup that ousted Iran’s democratically elected prime minister in 1953.

Hadi (right) says the US sanctions have united Iranian liberals and conservatives

„We Iranians have a very long history, and we’re always standing up against difficulties,“ says Hadi, who runs one of the small cafes that offer refreshments to passing hikers.

His cafe is half-built, there is a tarpaulin for a roof, but he invites me inside for tea and fruits – cherries, apricots and watermelon.

Hadi says that the Americans thought the sanctions would lead to rioting and the Iranian government would have no choice but to compromise.

But he says the sanctions have done the exact opposite uniting both liberals and conservatives across the country.

„We have national unity here, and the more difficult the situation the more united the people become.“

The BBC’s James Landale went to Tehran’s Grand Bazaar see what people think of the stringent sanctions

Away from the mountains and down below in the hazy fog of Tehran’s sprawling southern suburbs is where sanctions are being felt hardest.

It is a maze of narrow alleyways and homes piled on top of each other. This is where Iran’s working classes live.

They were already on the margins before sanctions but the past year has tipped many of them over the edge.

Food prices have more than doubled and because the economy is slumping many are struggling to find work and make ends meet.

„I’m not sure what Donald Trump gains by hurting us,“ said Zohreh Farzaneh, a mother-of-three who folds clothes for living. She makes about $2 (£1.60) a day.

She says the sanctions have plunged her family into poverty and that she can no longer afford meat for family or an inhaler for her asthma.

She’s sending her 11-year-old son to a charity so that he can get at least one decent meal a day. The humiliation that she feels at having to ask for help pains her.

„We thank god that we have a piece of bread and cheese to eat,“ she told me. „At least we have peace in Iran – there’s no war.“

Every Iranian I spoke to on this 10-day trip believed it was unlikely there would be a war with the United States, despite tensions escalating after the US blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and Iran shot down of a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran’s former Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Sheikholislam said that was because it war was in neither country’s interest.

„There is not going to be a war. Of course, it’s possible somebody will make a mistake. But we do not want a war.

„And I believe that Mr Trump understands a war is not in his favour because a war against us means dead American soldiers – and he is not ready to make a funeral in Washington DC,“ Mr Sheikholislam said.

Hiking is a popular pastime for many Iranians

Back on the mountain, I keep pushing higher up the trail, passing a stream gushing with crystal clear water.

I met a young woman, Nasim, who was hiking with a group of friends.

I asked her what she thought of President Trump. She laughed. She raised her hands, palms turned upwards, gesturing that she didn’t know what to say.

But then what she said surprised me.

„Maybe it would even be better for us if a war happens,“ she said.

I asked: Why would someone want war?

„It might actually lead to a change in our ruling system. It might lead to a better situation. But if it’s going to lead to a civil war then no, it’s not going to be good at all,“ she replied.

• Iran nuclear crisis in 300 words

• Why do the limits on uranium enrichment matter?

• The nuclear fuel cycle

In 2009, people like Nasim, took to the streets in protest after the disputed re-election of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It was dubbed the „Green Revolution„, after the colour used by one of the defeated opposition presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been held under house arrest since then.

The authorities cracked down hard on the mass protests and insist there is no powerful opposition movement in Iran.

But this is a country of many political opinions.

You have the hardline religious conservatives, as well as liberals – and probably a majority of Iranians who just want to keep their heads down. It’s these divisions that President Trump believes he can exploit.

Make no mistake, it’s the hardliners who run this country.

But when Iran is confronted by America, most Iranians, conservative or liberal, will put their country first.

Could This Be the Modern Lusitania?

UAE oil tanker disappears in Iranian waters in the Strait of Hormuz

The Panama-flagged, Japanese owned oil tanker Kokuka Courageous, which the U.S. Navy says was damaged by a limpet mine, is anchored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, during a trip organized by the Navy for journalists, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Fay Abuelgasim/AP)

July 16 at 8:40 AM

 A United Arab Emirates oil tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz stopped in Iranian waters and switched off its transponder more than two days ago, according to shipping tracking data, amid heightened tensions over a spate of incidents involving commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf.

The Panama-flagged Riah stopped transmitting its position late Saturday and was last shown off the coast of Iran’s Qeshm island in the Strait of Hormuz. It was unclear Tuesday what happened to the tanker, which was on its way to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates before diverting sharply toward Iranian waters and slowing to a halt, tracking data showed.

A UAE government spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Since May, at least six vessels have been attacked near the strait, the world’s most important oil chokepoint, in incidents that the United States has blamed on Iran. Britain said last week that Iranian naval forces attempted to block a British oil tanker traversing the strait but were repelled by a navy frigate escorting the ship.

Iran has denied involvement in the incidents but also threatened to retaliate against British shipping interests after an Iranian oil tanker was seized off the coast of Gibraltar earlier this month.

The vessel, Grace 1, was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil and was suspected of seeking to travel to the Syrian port of Baniyas in violation of European Union sanctions, authorities in Gibraltar said. Gibraltar is a British territory.

“The vicious British government committed piracy and attacked our ship,” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a speech Tuesday. Iran “will not leave such acts without a response,” he warned.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain would help facilitate the Grace 1’s release if Iran could provide guarantees that the ship’s cargo would not go to Syria. Iran has said that it is not subject to E.U. sanctions.

The confrontation comes as Europe struggles to keep Iran in a nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015, following a U.S. withdrawal from the pact last year.

The agreement curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for major sanctions relief, including from the United States. The Trump administration violated the accord and reimposed sanctions on Iran in the fall, prompting Tehran to scale back its own commitments under the deal, Iranian officials said.

European nations have urged Iran to reverse recent moves to breach the agreement, including boosting uranium enrichment levels beyond a limit set by the deal. Iran says it will continue to reduce its obligations to the nuclear pact in 60-day intervals until Europe compensates Tehran for economic losses suffered as a result of U.S. sanctions.

Also Tuesday, Iran’s judiciary confirmed the arrest of French Iranian scholar Fariba Adelkhah, the latest dual national to be detained by Iranian security forces. French President Emmanuel Macron called on Tehran on Monday to explain why Adelkhah, 60, was arrested.

“What has happened worries me a great deal,” Macron told reporters during a visit to Belgrade, Agence France-Presse reported.

“I have expressed my disagreement and asked President [Hassan] Rouhani for clarification,” he said.

Hamas Threatens Israel From Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Hamas rebuffs leader’s call for worldwide attacks on Jews – The Seattle Times

The Associated Press

Originally published July 15, 2019 at 8:12 am

Hamas rebuffs leader’s call for worldwide attacks on Jews

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The militant Hamas group is distancing itself from a leader who called for the slaughter of Jews worldwide.

In a statement Monday, the Islamic movement said recent remarks by Fathi Hammad, a member of its politburo, “don’t represent the movement’s official positions.”

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, said Hammad’s remarks conflicted with its amended charter that restricted Hamas’s conflict to the Israeli occupation, “not the Jews or their religion,” according to the rare statement.

Speaking to demonstrators in Gaza on Friday, Hammad called for attacks on “every Jew on the globe.”

The United States and European Union list Hamas as a terrorist organization.

The group’s original 1988 charter called for “struggle against the Jews.” But in 2017, Hamas issued a new version without mentioning the Jewish people, saying their struggle was against Israel.

Quakeland: New York and the Sixth Seal

Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake

Roger Bilham

Given recent seismic activity — political as well as geological — it’s perhaps unsurprising that two books on earthquakes have arrived this season. One is as elegant as the score of a Beethoven symphony; the other resembles a diary of conversations overheard during a rock concert. Both are interesting, and both relate recent history to a shaky future.

Journalist Kathryn Miles’s Quakeland is a litany of bad things that happen when you provoke Earth to release its invisible but ubiquitous store of seismic-strain energy, either by removing fluids (oil, water, gas) or by adding them in copious quantities (when extracting shale gas in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or when injecting contaminated water or building reservoirs). To complete the picture, she describes at length the bad things that happen during unprovoked natural earthquakes. As its subtitle hints, the book takes the form of a road trip to visit seismic disasters both past and potential, and seismologists and earthquake engineers who have first-hand knowledge of them. Their colourful personalities, opinions and prejudices tell a story of scientific discovery and engineering remedy.

Miles poses some important societal questions. Aside from human intervention potentially triggering a really damaging earthquake, what is it actually like to live in neighbourhoods jolted daily by magnitude 1–3 earthquakes, or the occasional magnitude 5? Are these bumps in the night acceptable? And how can industries that perturb the highly stressed rocks beneath our feet deny obvious cause and effect? In 2015, the Oklahoma Geological Survey conceded that a quadrupling of the rate of magnitude-3 or more earthquakes in recent years, coinciding with a rise in fracking, was unlikely to represent a natural process. Miles does not take sides, but it’s difficult for the reader not to.

She visits New York City, marvelling at subway tunnels and unreinforced masonry almost certainly scheduled for destruction by the next moderate earthquake in the vicinity. She considers the perils of nuclear-waste storage in Nevada and Texas, and ponders the risks to Idaho miners of rock bursts — spontaneous fracture of the working face when the restraints of many million years of confinement are mined away. She contemplates the ups and downs of the Yellowstone Caldera — North America’s very own mid-continent supervolcano — and its magnificently uncertain future. Miles also touches on geothermal power plants in southern California’s Salton Sea and elsewhere; the vast US network of crumbling bridges, dams and oil-storage farms; and the magnitude 7–9 earthquakes that could hit California and the Cascadia coastline of Oregon and Washington state this century. Amid all this doom, a new elementary school on the coast near Westport, Washington, vulnerable to inbound tsunamis, is offered as a note of optimism. With foresight and much persuasion from its head teacher, it was engineered to become an elevated safe haven.

Miles briefly discusses earthquake prediction and the perils of getting it wrong (embarrassment in New Madrid, Missouri, where a quake was predicted but never materialized; prison in L’Aquila, Italy, where scientists failed to foresee a devastating seismic event) and the successes of early-warning systems, with which electronic alerts can be issued ahead of damaging seismic waves. Yes, it’s a lot to digest, but most of the book obeys the laws of physics, and it is a engaging read. One just can’t help wishing that Miles’s road trips had taken her somewhere that wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.

Catastrophic damage in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1964, caused by the second-largest earthquake in the global instrumental record.

In The Great Quake, journalist Henry Fountain provides us with a forthright and timely reminder of the startling historical consequences of North America’s largest known earthquake, which more than half a century ago devastated southern Alaska. With its epicentre in Prince William Sound, the 1964 quake reached magnitude 9.2, the second largest in the global instrumental record. It released more energy than either the 2004 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off Japan; and it generated almost as many pages of scientific commentary and description as aftershocks. Yet it has been forgotten by many.

The quake was scientifically important because it occurred at a time when plate tectonics was in transition from hypothesis to theory. Fountain expertly traces the theory’s historical development, and how the Alaska earthquake was pivotal in nailing down one of the most important predictions. The earthquake caused a fjordland region larger than England to subside, and a similarly huge region of islands offshore to rise by many metres; but its scientific implications were not obvious at the time. Eminent seismologists thought that a vertical fault had slipped, drowning forests and coastlines to its north and raising beaches and islands to its south. But this kind of fault should have reached the surface, and extended deep into Earth’s mantle. There was no geological evidence of a monster surface fault separating these two regions, nor any evidence for excessively deep aftershocks. The landslides and liquefied soils that collapsed houses, and the tsunami that severely damaged ports and infrastructure, offered no clues to the cause.

“Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about present-day vulnerability.” The hero of The Great Quake is the geologist George Plafker, who painstakingly mapped the height reached by barnacles lifted out of the intertidal zone along shorelines raised by the earthquake, and documented the depths of drowned forests. He deduced that the region of subsidence was the surface manifestation of previously compressed rocks springing apart, driving parts of Alaska up and southwards over the Pacific Plate. His finding confirmed a prediction of plate tectonics, that the leading edge of the Pacific Plate plunged beneath the southern edge of Alaska along a gently dipping thrust fault. That observation, once fully appreciated, was applauded by the geophysics community.

Fountain tells this story through the testimony of survivors, engineers and scientists, interweaving it with the fascinating history of Alaska, from early discovery by Europeans to purchase from Russia by the United States in 1867, and its recent development. Were the quake to occur now, it is not difficult to envisage that with increased infrastructure and larger populations, the death toll and price tag would be two orders of magnitude larger than the 139 fatalities and US$300-million economic cost recorded in 1964.

What is clear from these two books is that seismicity on the North American continent is guaranteed to deliver surprises, along with unprecedented economic and human losses. Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about the present-day vulnerability of US infrastructure and populations. Engineers and seismologists know how to mitigate the effects of future earthquakes (and, in mid-continent, would advise against the reckless injection of waste fluids known to trigger earthquakes). It is merely a matter of persuading city planners and politicians that if they are tempted to ignore the certainty of the continent’s seismic past, they should err on the side of caution when considering its seismic future.