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.

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.

Damaging the Oil and the Wine (Daniel 7)

Image result for us syria troops

U.S. Sudden Syria Exit Leaves Angry Iraqi Kurds Looking To Iran: ‘Oil Thicker than Innocent Blood’

Tom O’Connor and Naveed Jamali

On 10/24/19 at 5:20 PM EDT


The United States’ sudden withdrawal from northern Syria has angered Kurds not only in this war-torn country, but in neighboring Iraq, where the ethnic minority has relied on Washington’s backing for decades, but may soon look elsewhere for support.

Faced with a fight between NATO ally Turkey and the Kurdish-led forces that backed the Pentagon against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), President Donald Trump chose to pull U.S. troops from the northern region. While Trump argued that the move was part of his long-sought goal of avoiding another open-ended conflict in Syria, he later announced he would maintain a military presence near the country’s eastern oil fields, much of which is located in regions with a traditional Arab majority.

As Newsweek first reported Wednesday, such a plan—pending White House approval—included the deployment of one half of an armored brigade combat team batallion, involving about 30 Abrams tanks. The Syrian Democratic Forces, the largely Kurdish militia backed by the U.S., would be asked to join the mission.

Responding to Newsweek’s report about these potential military moves, a senior Kurdish intelligence official told Newsweek: “It’s all about oil, it’s thicker than innocent blood.”

Upset over the U.S.’ latest moves and uncertain about Trump’s long-term commitments in the Middle East, Kurdish officials emulated to Newsweek that Iraqi Kurds may look to shore up ties with a new partner—Iran, a sentiment they were not alone in sharing.

“We are waiting for the USA to change its attitude,” Shirwan Mirza, an Iraqi Kurdish member of parliament affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), told Newsweek, adding that, if it did not, “then we are obliged to look for another friend in this area.” Asked if this could include neighboring Iran, Mirza responded, “That is right.”

A security guard is seen at the Iran-Iraq border crossing of Haji Omran on January 3, 2018, one day after two border posts were reopened between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran following a closure due to unrest related to a failed Iraqi Kurdish referendum for independence.SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. and Iran both have a history of working alongside Iraqi Kurds, an ethnic minority of up to 20 million mostly spanning parts of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, to achieve short-term goals while dismissing the group’s aspirations for self-rule. Both Washington and Tehran have long offered support to Kurdish forces against Iraqi governments prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion—a war many critics argued was fought over oil fields—as well as against ISIS, which itself managed to seize sizeable natural resources in both Iraq and Syria.

In Syria, however, the Pentagon backed the Syrian Democratic Forces without permission from the central government, an Iranian ally that the U.S. had tried to overthrow with the help of a separate local faction—a largely Islamist array of opposition groups still backed by Turkey. As Syria’s civil war raged on, the U.S., Iran and Turkey all came to back different, rival factions.

Ankara and Tehran have faced decades-long Kurdish insurgencies and the former has been especially active in its fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), linking it to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main faction of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkish forces and allied Syrian insurgents twice stormed the border to battle YPG units, pitting two U.S. partners against one another, and when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered a third, larger operation earlier this month, Trump decided that it was time to leave—immediately.

The U.S. pullout was so abrupt that, as Newsweek previously reported, Kurdish forces found out about it on Twitter, leaving little opportunity for a contingency plan. While the U.S. had previously gone to the lengths of downing a Syrian jet and bombarding a mixed Syrian-Russian militia force accused of attacking Syrian Democratic Forces positions, Trump determined that this battle was not for the U.S. to fight, leaving Syrian Kurds to cut a deal with the Syrian government and its other major ally, Russia, in order to fend off the Turkish-led attack.

Syrian Kurds were seen picketing exiting U.S. military forces and, across the border, Iraqi Kurds threw rocks and fruit at the incoming personnel. Mirza told Newsweek that Iraqi Kurds felt “very angry about the U.S. leaving northern Syria” and “worry about Turkey’s attempts” to launch incursions on Iraqi Kurdish soil as well.

“We want to live peacefully on our land,” he added.

A convoy of U.S. military vehicles arrives near the Iraqi Kurdish town of Bardarash in the Dohuk governorate after withdrawing from northern Syria on October 21. At least one U.S. soldier was seen wearing a patch of the YPJ, the female version of the YPG, in apparent solidarity with the Kurdish fighters left behind.SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

A number of U.S. commentators have expressed dismay toward the deal between Syrian Kurds and the Syrian government, along with its Russian ally, arguably now the region’s top powerbroker. An arrangement between Iraqi Kurds and Iran would likely prove even more troubling to the current U.S. strategy, which has sought to force adversaries into political submission via sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

Though their interests converged against fighting ISIS, Washington and Tehran have been at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted a West-sponsored monarchy and established a Shiite Muslim Republic that was almost immediately invaded by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

While the U.S. would later turn on Hussein, it initially offered its support to Iraq during this war, and Iraqi Kurds largely backed Iran, helping to set the stage for later hostilities between Kurdish forces and Baghdad and for the ongoing enmity between Washington and Tehran in the decades to come. A 2015 nuclear deal proved a landmark step toward bringing together the U.S. and Iran—along with China, the European Union, France, German, Russia and the United Kingdom—but the Trump administration abandoned this deal last year in hopes of economically draining what the president has called “the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism.”

The U.S.’ unilateral exit and subsequent sanctions against Iran have led to increased unrest in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region. Though Iran has largely acted in Iraq through various, mostly Shiite Muslim militias that have troubled ties to Kurdish forces, a possible realignment has been some time in the making, predating even the recent U.S. exit from Syria.

“The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and Iran have been trying to explore how the two sides can shore up their relations,” Nader Entessar, professor emeritus at the University of South Alabama, told Newsweek. “These attempts have started several months ago and before the recent U.S. exit from northern Syria.”

“The KRG has even encouraged the Iranian Kurdish opposition parties that are based in the KRG’s territory to reach out to the Iranian government. At least two rounds of meetings have already taken place between the representatives of Iranian Kurdish parties and Iranian officials in Norway,” he added. “Both the KRG and Iran are also keen on developing additional channels to boost their trade and cross-border economic relations.”

Though Tehran works alongside Ankara and Moscow as part of a trilateral peace process largely boycotted by Washington and mostly excluding Syrian Kurds, it was also Iran that came out most strongly against the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. The U.S. offered conflicting replies⁠—with Trump appearing to initially approve the operation before joining the Pentagon in condemning it—and Russia expressed mere reservations.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (3rd-L) is seen sitting alongside Qubad Talabani (2nd-L), Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdistan region, during a joint-trade conference between the Kurdistan region and Iran, in the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah on January 15.SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

A Trump administration delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others managed to secure a five-day ceasefire whose terms were later disputed by both warring parties, but it was ultimately Tuesday’s agreement between Russia and Turkey that appeared to offer a more lasting solution. A 20-mile “safe zone” would for the time being remain under Turkish-backed control and joint Russian-Syrian patrols would ensure the withdrawal of YPG units from the rest of the border at a depth of about 18-and-a-half miles, followed by a Russian-Turkish operation at just beyond six miles.

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With Turkey pushing for the resettling of Arab refugees by the border and the Syrian government gradually reasserting itself across other northeastern territories under the control of the mostly Kurdish autonomous administration, Trump has openly suggested a mass Kurdish migration to help protect oil fields in the east from ISIS.

“The Oil Fields discussed in my speech on Turkey/Kurds yesterday were held by ISIS until the United States took them over with the help of the Kurds. We will NEVER let a reconstituted ISIS have those fields!” Trump tweeted Thursday, adding that he “really enjoyed” his conversation with Syrian Democratic Forces commander Mazloum Kobane. “He appreciates what we have done, and I appreciate what the Kurds have done. Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!”

Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurds look on with frustration, worried that, while there may be no immediate signs of another shift in U.S. policy, Trump’s unpredictable nature could soon leave their own future in peril as long as they pegged their hopes to the backing of a power, as Trump put it, “7,000 miles away.” Their concerns came at a time when Iran was searching to build new regional relationships, such as its proposed “Coalition for HOPE” or Hormuz Peace Initiative, creating a potential path for new neighborly ties in a region prone to uncomfortable alliances.

“Due to geographic proximity, historic and cultural ties, the KRG-Iran ties will improve over time,” Entessar told Newsweek.

Australia will build its own nuclear arsenal (Daniel 7)

Should Australia build its own nuclear arsenal? | The Strategist

Rod Lyon

ASPI releases today the second issue of its Strategist Selections series, pulling together a collection of 36 of my Strategist posts on nuclear strategy. I’m honoured to follow in the footsteps of Kim Beazley, whose collected posts formed the first issue, and hope that readers find value in the latest publication. The Strategist, ASPI’s commentary and analysis site, is now over seven years old, and a vast archive of more than 6,000 articles is there for the mining. I do not think the latest volume in the series could be more timely.

In recent months the question of whether Australia should build its own nuclear arsenal has received considerable attention. It’s a question that demands careful handling, not least because it’s an invitation to the incautious respondent to take a length of rope and hang themselves in the corner. And all too often, respondents do exactly that, burdening the argument for a domestic nuclear arsenal with poor judgement, strategic paranoia and moral insensibilities.

For many years the simple, formal answer to the question has always been the same: Australia is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it is not a repentant state. (Repentant states are those that signed the treaty but later came to regret their own hastiness.) That’s because the NPT generally represents the last major occasion on which states were asked to choose their nuclear identity.

The strategic commentariat has, over the years, been reluctant to challenge the choice Canberra made then. For good reason: Australia hasn’t confronted a serious strategic challenge since Richard Nixon’s opening to China, an event almost contemporaneous with the NPT. That’s why Hugh White’s recent book is novel. It explores the option of an indigenous arsenal essentially in 21st-century strategic terms.

So, should Australia build its own nuclear arsenal? I think the answer is, ‘Yes, if it needs to.’ That’s a big ‘if’—indeed, a series of big ‘ifs’: if the regional strategic environment becomes appreciably darker; if US extended nuclear deterrence is no longer available, or patently incredible; and, perhaps just as importantly, if there’s bipartisan Australian acceptance of the need for an indigenous arsenal.

The first ‘if’ poses a major challenge of assessment: how dark does the regional strategic environment need to be? The fact that the Australian mainstream is already broken over the ‘China threat’, despite China’s recent blatantly coercive behaviour, doesn’t bode well for its ability to reach a consensus on what might constitute the grounds for initiating a nuclear-weapons program.

I’d venture one, imperfect, benchmark: the environment would need to be sufficiently dark that an Australian nuclear-weapons program would be seen (by some countries at least) as a positive contribution to regional stability. It certainly would have to be dark enough for us to satisfy the ‘supreme national interests’ test of Article X of the NPT—the article covering withdrawal from the treaty.

The second ‘if’—extended deterrence—is already encountering some choppy waters, waters which Donald Trump’s presidency has roiled rather than calmed. True, the administration’s 2018 nuclear posture review comes closer to underlining the specific provision of a US nuclear umbrella to Australia than any of its predecessors. On page 22 of the main text, there’s a sentence that reads: ‘The United States has extended nuclear deterrence commitments that assure European, Asian, and Pacific allies.’ That’s an interesting separation of America’s usually hyphenated Asian and Pacific allies, and may reflect a deliberate attempt by Washington to reinforce its assurance to Australia.

Still, US extended nuclear deterrence was a doctrine invented for a different era; it faces genuine credibility issues in a more risk-tolerant world, especially if themes of nationalism and buck-passing continue to resonate in US strategic policy.

The third ‘if’ is just as awkward, and often overlooked. Australia, to use a rowing metaphor, hasn’t got its head in the boat in relation to an indigenous nuclear-weapons program. For Australian thinking about nuclear weapons to change, we’d probably have to be facing an existential threat. Only such a condition could generate the level of bipartisan agreement necessary to develop, build and deploy a serious nuclear force.

But, of course, if we were staring down the barrel of an existential threat, we’d probably want to have a nuclear arsenal to hand relatively quickly. And there’s the problem. Nuclear-weapons programs take time. In wintertime, many Canberrans are acutely conscious of how far their most remote hot-water tap is from their hot-water system, and the amount of time it takes for hot water to move through the house. But pursuing an indigenous nuclear-weapons program in Australia’s current circumstances would be worse: it would be the equivalent of turning on a tap in a house to which no hot-water system had ever been fitted.

It would be easier to build nuclear weapons if we had in place a stronger core of nuclear skills in our workforce, some capacity to produce fissionable materials, and a suitable delivery vehicle. (More ‘ifs’.) Australia has few of those assets. We have one research reactor at Lucas Heights. We have neither an enrichment capability for uranium nor a reprocessing facility for plutonium. And our best delivery vehicle, the F-111, has long since faded into history. If Australia was to attempt to proliferate, using only national resources, we’d likely face a 15-year-plus haul.

Working in partnership with others would allow us to shorten that timeframe. Indeed, in a post-NPT world we might even be able to buy an arsenal, or critical parts thereof, off the shelf—our usual path to acquiring high-technology military weaponry. But that seems an unlikely scenario.

Nuclear weapons cast long political shadows—which, indeed, is their primary purpose. But they’re also weapons of mass destruction, meaning a decision to proliferate should never be taken lightly.

Personally, I think there are enough large strategic variables already at play that we should be thinking now about an indigenous nuclear-weapons program in much the same way that we did between the 1950s and 1970s.

That is, we should be acting to minimise the lead time required for us to have such a capability, just in case we decide we do need it.

Russia Shows Her Nuclear Power (Daniel 7)

Russian nuclear subs launch ICBMs in military drill

Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 17 oversaw sweeping war games intended to test the readiness of the nation’s strategic forces for a nuclear conflict.

The drills featured practice launches of several intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as warships and strategic bombers firing cruise missiles at test targets — a massive checkup of the land, sea and air components of the nation’s nuclear triad.

The Defence Ministry said the Grom (Thunder) exercise involved five submarines, 12,000 troops, 213 missile launchers, 105 aircraft and 15 surface warships. Putin directed the maneuvers from the ministry’s headquarters.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the exercise was intended to check “the military’s capability to fulfill tasks in an armed conflict and a nuclear war.”

Russia has expanded the scope of its military drills in recent years amid rising tension with the West.

Relations plummeted to post-Cold War lows after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and the Kremlin described NATO’s drills near Russian borders as a demonstration of the alliance’s hostile intentions.

Briefing foreign military attaches about the drills before they started, Maj. Gen. Yevgeny Ilyin, the head of the Russian Defence Ministry’s international cooperation department, said they weren’t directed against any specific country, but noted that the maneuvers simulated a response to a buildup of tensions near the Russian frontiers.

“The maneuvers’ scenario envisages an escalation of the situation in conditions of a remaining potential for conflict alongside Russia’s borders that poses a threat to sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state,” Ilyin said.

The statement echoed the Russian military doctrine, which states that nuclear weapons could be used in response to a nuclear attack or an aggression involving conventional weapons that “threatens the very existence of the state.”

Earlier this year, the United States withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, citing Russian violations.

Russia denied the accusations, and Putin criticized the U.S. move, saying it undermined strategic stability. Russia also left the agreement, and Putin pledged his country wouldn’t deploy missiles previously banned by the INF Treaty to any area before the U.S.

During the latest military drills, Russia’s nuclear submarines launched intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and a land-based Yars ICBM was launched from the military’s launch facility in Plesetsk, northwestern Russia.

Kalibr cruise missiles were fired by warships in the Black and Caspian seas, while land-based Iskander cruise missiles were launched from the military’s firing ranges in the Southern and Eastern military districts.

As part of the maneuvers, Tu-95 strategic bombers also conducted practice launches of cruise missiles at firing ranges in the Arctic and on the far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, the Defence Ministry said.

The Antichrist Wants the US Out

US troops redeployed from Syria to Iraq cannot remain there


Iraq Military Says Troops From Syria Can’t Stay

Background Trump has ordered the bulk of US troops left in Syria out of the country to be redeployed in western Iraq: “Trump ordered the bulk of the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria to withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Kurdish forces that Turkey considers terrorists.The pullout largely abandons the Kurdish allies who have fought the Islamic State group alongside U.S. troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 U.S. troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.” US did not bother to ask permission from the Iraqi government The Iraqi government issued a statement on hearing about the move noting that the US never asked if the troops could stay. The could only transit through western Iraq on their way elsewhere, presumably the US. Esper said: “All U.S. forces that withdrew from Syria received approval to enter the Kurdish region [of Iraq] so that they may be transported outside Iraq.There is no permission granted for these forces to stay inside Iraq.”

The US at present still has about 5,000 troops in Iraq as part of Operation Resolve designed to train, advise and assist the Iraqi military to fight remnants of ISIS. Esper’s remarks are a change from those last week when he said that the troops withdrawn from Syria would stay in Iraq bases and could possibly be used to strike at ISIS in Syria. Those plans had obviously not been cleared with the Iraq government. Many in Iraq critical of US presence As a recent article notes : “…there’s a strong union of Iranian and Iranian-backed military and political powers that is actively trying to push the United States out. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Qassem Suleimani, who is close to the Fatah Iraqi political faction, is determined to do so. The party of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is usually at odds with Suleimani but is in agreement on this issue, has said all foreign troops must go, not just the Americans.

The situation is made more controversial because although the exact number of US troops in Iraq are not known it is suspected to be well above the cap that had been set. Extra troops would raise the number even further above what had been agreed.

There is simply no way the Iraqi government of Abdul Mahdi could weather the arrival of even hundreds of more US troops to Iraq. The quicker the transit the better as far as the Iraqi government is concerned. If the US tries to retain the troops in Iraq for any length of time there may be pressure to evict all US troops from Iraq.

A Brewing Confrontation Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

A Brewing Israel-Gaza Confrontation

The series of recent security incidents and military escalations along the border between the Gaza and Israel reveals that Hamas weakening security hold in Gaza. The past few months have seen a series of rocket attacks exceptional in scale compared to previous years including infiltrations and armed clashes on Gaza’s eastern border. The most significant of these occurred on March 25, when a long-range rocket fired from southern Gaza struck a house in Tel Aviv, injuring seven members of an Israeli family. The deadliest military confrontation as of yet occurred on May 5, when Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other factions fired over 600 rockets at Israel. In response, Israeli forces bombed more than 300 targets in the Gaza Strip. The skirmish only halted after Egypt and the United Nations intervened to mediate a ceasefire.

Hamas appears to be using rockets and other military options as a way to negotiate and strike a balance between the Palestinian and Israeli sides. The hope is to possibly force Israel to hold back its forces as Hamas sues for a truce, a situation that could launch new negotiations. The Islamist movement has accused Israel of breaching previous agreements, especially in regard to easing the harsh humanitarian conditions in Gaza and permitting Qatari aid to enter. Complicating these efforts, however, is the fact that Hamas is partially losing control of some militant groups. In August, skirmishes occurred when four armed men belonging to a militant group were killed while attempting to cross the border into Israel. The Israeli army announced that it had thwarted a major attack and that the number of militants and weapons in their possession indicated that it was an organized group opposed to Hamas. According to some Palestinian reporters, the four fighters were Salafis who recently left Hamas.

The current escalation is an outcome of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, which marked a ferocious war in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, causing considerable material and moral damage on both sides. Despite the heavy losses on the Palestinian side, the crisis eroded Israel’s strong deterrence. The outcome of the negotiations between the Palestinian factions and Israeli forces was a “quiet in exchange for quiet.” International humanitarian organizations, especially the United Nations, prioritized establishing a humanitarian deal to meet the population’s basic needs. Consequently, the Israeli government, having failed to militarily deter Hamas in Gaza, attempted to weaken it by tightening the blockade while simultaneously allowing minimum humanitarian access. Israel applied this new approach with the tacit approval of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

This promised a more permanent ceasefire and a state of calm. But Hamas exploited the relatively calm conditions to develop the capabilities of its military wings (i.e. the Martyrs Detachments, Izz al-Deen Al-Qassam) until early 2018. Moreover, Hamas imposed its security control by monitoring the border via a military operation called “field control.” They also supervised the activities of other Palestinian factions and their armed wings, the most important of which are the Al-Quds Brigades, the Abu Ali Mustafa detachment, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the Salah al-Din Brigades.

In addition the blockade resulted in a severe financial crisis. Neither Hamas nor any of the separate Palestinian institutions or factions have been able to pay the salaries of employees and members. As a result, purchasing power has diminished, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, and popular frustration with the different factions and public institutions has grown. As a result new armed factions and groups opposed to Hamas’ control have been on the rise. The most important of which are the Army of the Nation, the Army of Islam, the Mujahideen Shura Council, a Salafi-Jihadi Group called the Mujahideen Brigades, a Salafi movement known as the Sabreen movement, and a Shiite movement calling itself the Tawhid Brigade. Another group, Ansar Allah, a radical Salafist movement that follows the ideology of ISIS has also sprung up. In 2016, Hamas was able to neutralize militant groups by conducting large-scale arrests amongst their members and limiting their fighting capabilities. However, these groups’ military activities and members have increased in recent years. According to some security sources, this process has been underpinned by fact that some of these groups are receiving external support.

In an attempt to change the rules of engagement with Israel, Hamas—along with the most influential factions (especially Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front and the Liberal Movement) and the Popular Committees—formed a ‘popular movement’ in March 2018. Led by the High Committee for Palestinian Return Marches, organized protests and disrupted IDF activities on Gaza’s eastern border. Tens of thousands of Gazans participated in weekly peaceful marches, which Israeli forces attacked. The IDF feared the protesters might cross Israel’s borders and reach bordering Israeli settlements and towns. Nevertheless, the end result was a tightening of the siege on Gaza, and an attempt to wind back the material and logistical support for the Palestinian factions, especially Hamas. In addition, the Israeli army cracked down on the military tunnels supplying the factions through the eastern border, which Hamas had established during the 2014 war. The Israeli army was compelled to start construction of a reinforced concrete and steel wall sixty-five kilometers in length and, in places, dug more than twenty meters into the ground with the sensors to detect any sounds from tunneling. In addition, the upper wall reached a height of six meters with observation towers and cameras linked to a centralized control system.

The Israeli and Palestinian sides seem reluctant to reengage in open military confrontation for several reasons. Major considerations for Israel include Palestinian factions—notably Hamas—possessing rockets with great destructive power and the capacity to reach deep into Israeli territory and cause expectedly high physical and human damage. The Israeli government is convinced that merely weakening Hamas’ political and military strength is better than seeking a new political alternative that may not effectively control security Gaza the way Hamas has. Moreover, Israeli forces do not want to engage in a war of attrition that could lead to the reoccupation, control, and direct management of Gaza.

As for the Palestinian armed factions, and especially Hamas, there is similar reticence about reverting to open military confrontation with the IDF. Of primary concern is the fragility of the humanitarian situation and the already extreme limitations on Hamas’ ability to meet the population’s basic needs. This is particularly the case since the effects of the destruction of the past wars remain in place. Any future confrontation could be even more severe and could lead to the destruction of the remaining infrastructure. Since the prospects for easing the blockade are bleak without Israeli approval, this is especially worrying. Palestinian factions consider their modest military potential in exchange for the enormous destructive power of the IDF, which could lead to massive destruction and paralysis in Gaza. Hamas is also concerned that it has lost support from other Arab and Islamic actors, with some Arab States wanting to end Hamas’ authority in Gaza.

Despite these concerns, there remains an increasing chance of an open and expanded military confrontation. Such an outcome could reduce IDF casualties on the border and curb the penetration of armed factions. In the 2014 war, Hamas was able to kill several Israeli soldiers and capture others by utilizing the tunnels to reach Israeli military posts beyond the border. The chance for war will increase if Palestinian factions continue to maximize their military power and possess weapons that threaten Israeli security. This is particularly the case for militant groups opposing Hamas’s rules and military figures within Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who are dissatisfied with the existing humanitarian and political situation.

Dr. Hani Albasoos is a Palestinian writer, political analyst and a professor in the Political Science Department of Sultan Qaboos University, Oman.

Too Late to Stop the First Nuclear War (Revelation 8)

Kashmir is seething — and somebody needs to step in before it’s too late | The Independent

Amid the world’s focus on a Ukrainian quid pro quo, the Brexit endgame and the unconscionable treatment of the Kurds, a conflict grows beneath the radar with potential consequences that could dwarf these historic issues. Kashmir is seething.

Since August, 8 million Muslim Kashmiris have been isolated from the rest of the world, with reports of nearly a million Indian troops, thousands of arrests, and widespread torture. The internet has been cut off; mobile telephone service, cut off for months, has only recently and partially been restored.

On October 22, nearly three months into this crisis, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells told a House Committee that the Department has raised concerns with the Indian government regarding the detention of local residents and political leaders, including three former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir. “We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks,” she said. Wells welcomed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement that terrorists from Pakistan who carry out violence in Kashmir are enemies of both Kashmiris and Pakistan, but continued to hold Pakistan accountable for cross-border operations by Pakistani extremist groups. She stated that a dialogue between India and Pakistan is contingent on Pakistan taking sustained and irreversible steps against militants and terrorists in its territory.

Imran Khan wants international cooperation to solve the vexing problem of Kashmir. India wants to maintain the status quo, squeezing the region through military occupation and trying to enforce an information black-out. Modi refuses to talk to Pakistan until extremis is somehow eliminated. And the United States, famous for its “no pre-conditions” approach, is supporting pre-conditions that it knows India will never agree have been met. This is a disaster for human rights in Kashmir and potentially for the region and the world.

Kashmir has been a flashpoint since the time that India and Pakistan were created in 1947, when the United Nations called for a plebiscite for the Muslim-majority population to determine whether they wanted to join India, Pakistan or become an independent nation.  India never permitted the plebiscite to occur and Kashmir remains divided more than 70 years later. India and Pakistan have since fought two wars over Kashmir.

All this might be another one of many stories of frustrated self-determination, but Kashmir is different. For decades, the region has been seen as the most likely flashpoint for a nuclear exchange. India and Pakistan are hostile neighbors, both of whom are armed with nuclear weapons. When Imran Khan speaks of nuclear risk, it is not hyperbole to get the world’s attention.

With meticulous planning then mass arrests and ‘torture’, how Kashmir’s autonomy was lost

Senior US military officers and policy-makers have been conducting “war games” for years to figure out how the US can deal with global hotspots and prevent war, especially nuclear war.  The officials are divided into various nations. These are responsible, serious officials at the top of the Pentagon and civilian power structures. None of them wants to be seen as having responsibility for a nuclear exchange and virtually every hot situation ends with a pragmatic solution. Except one: India and Pakistan.

More than 20 years ago, Thomas Ricks wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “a mock war in the Asian subcontinent is one of the most common games played by senior US military officers and other government officials. The usual scenario for a new India-Pakistan clash begins with the two nations at a crisis point over Kashmir.” Invariably, the exercise ends in a nuclear exchange. He quotes a retired Air Force official, Sam Gardiner, who has run approximately 25 such exercises: “Usually the escalation to nuclear weapons happens within the first 12 ‘days’ of the war game.”

The Indian government, under Modi, massively upped the stakes between the two nations by abrogating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in August. This Article gave significant autonomy to Kashmir, including allowing the region its own Constitution.

The elimination of Article 370 protection has been accompanied by a massive military presence and an internet blackout as well as a curfew. Mainstream politicians have been arrested and the media has been shut down. More than 3,000 people have been detained, including children.

The Indian Supreme Court has ordered an investigation of detention of children being illegally detained by security forces. Vital supplies and medication are not getting through. To be sure, the Kashmiri reality has been complex and violent and there have been periodic attacks by extremists over the years. But that is not what has prompted nor can it justify nearly a million soldiers locking down 8 million people under awful conditions.

A geopolitical crisis has become a humanitarian crisis as well. After years of corrupt and ineffectual government, punctuated by coups, Pakistan has a forward-thinking prime minister in Imran Khan committed to the rule of law and peaceful diplomacy. The challenges he faces are immense. And fresh from a huge mandate for his Hindu nationalist party, Modi has chosen to stick his finger in Pakistan’s eye.

The crisis in Kashmir empowers the extremists in both countries — and the countries involved should be talking to each other, with international assistance. To require Pakistan to take unspecified irreversible steps as a pre-condition dialogue is a formula for no dialogue and further violence. The rest of the world must intervene — not to tilt toward India or Pakistan or toward Hindus or Muslims, but to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe which could lead to something far worse.