Quakeland: New York and the Sixth Seal

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.

Iraqi parliament clears way for the Antichrist

Iraqi parliament approves premier’s resignation after deadly protests

By By Kadhem Al-Attabi and Ali Hussein

Dec 02, 2019 | 3:00 AM

BAGHDAD The Iraqi parliament on Sunday accepted Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi’s resignation

After weeks of violent anti-government protests in the country that left hundreds dead.

The assembly will ask the country’s President Barham Salih to name a new prime minister, state television al-Iraqiya reported, quoting parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi.

According to the Iraqi constitution, the head of state has to task a nominee of the largest bloc in parliament with forming the new government.

But the Marching Forward bloc, which has the biggest number of seats at the 329-strong assembly, said it had abandoned this right, according to Iraq’s independent news portal Alsumaria.

“The alliance has given up this right for demonstrators,” added the bloc backed by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The move aims at responding to protesters’ demand for a government of technocrats.

Iraqi governments have been formed along political and sectarian lines since the 2003 invasion that deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Critics say the system contributes to corruption and incompetence in state institutions.

On Friday, Abdel-Mahdi said he would step down, bowing to a key demand from protesters.

Abdel-Mahdi, who took office in October last year, also asked parliament to promptly install a replacement to defuse tensions in the country, which has been gripped by violent protests for the past two months.

Street protests have roiled Iraq since early October, with demonstrators calling for the resignation of the government, the dissolution of parliament and an overhaul of the country’s political system.

At least 380 people, mostly protesters, have since been killed in the capital Baghdad and the southern provinces, according to the semi-official watchdog, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.

Iraqi authorities had issued an arrest warrant against a military chief for ordering a deadly clampdown on anti-government rallies in the southern province of Dhi Qar, a judicial body said on Sunday.

The Supreme Judicial Council, Iraq’s highest judicial authority, said an investigative commission issued an arrest warrant against Gen. Jamil al-Shammari, who was in charge of security in Dhi Qar, Iraq’s official news agency INA reported.

The panel also ordered a travel ban on al-Shammari, who was removed from the post on Thursday.

Last week, at least 32 people were killed in clashes between security forces and protesters in Dhi Qar, according to witnesses.

The parliament on Sunday tasked its defense and security committee with heading to Dhi Qar and Najaf another volatile southern province.

Later Sunday, clan chiefs in Najaf headed to the province’s capital of the same name in an attempt to end a standoff between protesters and security forces there, witnesses said.

Dozens of protesters are besieging a shrine in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, demanding the release of fellow demonstrators they say are being detained inside a complex housing the shrine, the witnesses added.

Elsewhere in southern Iraq, dozens of anti-government protesters stormed the headquarters of the Karbala province, prompting police to fire tear gas to disperse them, they added. No casualties were reported.

The demonstrations are the largest in Iraq since December 2017, when Baghdad declared the liberation of all territory previously under the control of Islamic State extremists.

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Iran is Enabling the Iraqi Horn With Nukes

Image result for short range missiles iran

Reports: Iran is secretly transporting missiles into Iraq that may have nuclear capability

Phil Shiver

Iran has been taking advantage of recent political unrest in Iraq by secretly stockpiling short-range missiles inside the country, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

The buildup is part of Iran’s widening effort to assert dominance in the Middle East and could pose a threat to American troops as well as allies in the region such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, U.S. sources told the Times.

Both Iraq and Iran have been gripped by deadly protests in recent months, with more than 1,000 people reported dead as a result of protests in Iran. But public unrest has not seemed to slow Iranian leadership down from engaging in what the Times calls a “shadow war.”

Iran has been attacking countries in the Middle East of late but disguising the origin to diminish the chances of counterattacks. Iran’s stockpiling of short-range missiles in Iraq also serves as a strategic deterrent. If Iran were to face an attack, it could potentially strike back with the missiles stored outside its borders.

The missiles have an estimated range of 600 miles and are capable of reaching Jerusalem from outside Baghdad.

The missiles might be nuclear-capable

The same day that the news broke, a letter was released from the French, German, and British ambassadors to the United Nations alleging that Iran now has nuclear-capable missiles.

According to CNN, in the letter, “the ambassadors listed four examples of activity indicating nuclear-capable missiles, adding that ‘Iran’s developments of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and related technologies is inconsistent’ with a UN resolution restraining the country from doing so.”

The U.N. resolution the letter cited endorsed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of in 2018 but which is still supported by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia.

The letter cited footage of a flight test for a new Shahab-3 ballistic missile — which has a range of about 600 miles — equipped with a maneuverable re-entry vehicle that makes it “technically capable” of delivering a nuclear weapon.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has denied the allegation on social media.

These moves come amid a growing presence of U.S. military in the Middle East. About 14,000 troops have been sent to the region since May, and reports Wednesday said that the Trump administration is considering sending 14,000 more, though the Pentagon has denied the claim.

Iranian Horn may have killed more than 1,000 in recent protests

Iranian forces may have killed more than 1,000 in recent protests, official says

A Message from TIME20 hours ago

More than 1,000 people may have been killed by security forces in Iran amid recent protests, a senior state department official said Thursday, one day after authorities in the Islamic Republic acknowledged that demonstrators have been shot and killed in the unrest.

Brian Hook, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, told reporters at the State Department that American officials have seen a video of one incident in which the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps had mowed down at least 100 people with machine-gun fire. He said the U.S. had received and reviewed video of that incident in the city of Noshahr.

In this one incident alone, the regime murdered as many as 100 Iranians and possibly more,” Hook told reporters

Amnesty International believes at least 208 people were killed in the protests and security force crackdown that followed. Other groups, such as the France-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, claim that 1,029 have been killed in protests across 189 cities.

Iran disputes Amnesty’s figures but so far has refused to release any nationwide casualty or arrest figures. Hook, who cited unspecified reports on Thursday and did not provide any evidence of the death toll, said Iranian forces may have killed upwards of 1,000 people in response to the protests.

“We have seen reports of many hundreds more killed in and around Tehran,” he said. “And, as the truth is trickling out of Iran, it appears the regime could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens since the protests began.” The dead include 13- and 14-year-old children, he said.

In this Nov. 20, 2019, file photo, people walk past buildings that were burned during recent protests, in Shahriar, Iran, some 25 miles southwest of the capital, Tehran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the Associated Press, and there was no immediate comment on state media in Iran.

On Wednesday, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say over all state matters in the Islamic Republic, said that those detained in recent gasoline price protests should be treated with “Islamic mercy.”

The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as responding to a report on the unrest from the country’s Supreme National Security Council.

“The faster these cases are considered, the better and those who are suspected of being close to any group should be dealt with in a way that is closer to Islamic mercy,” Khamenei said, according to IRNA.

Amnesty International says at least 208 people in Iran have been killed amid protests over sharply rising gasoline prices and a subsequent crackdown by security forces. The country has yet to release any nationwide statistics about the unrest last month. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

The demonstrations began Nov. 15 after the government raised minimum gasoline prices by 50 percent to 15,000 Iranian rials per liter. Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes, according to the Associated Press.

The country is also in the midst of widespread economic discontent in the wake of President Trump imposing crushing sanctions in May 2018 after unilaterally withdrawing the United States from the nuclear deal. That decision has seen Iran begin to break limits of the deal, as well as a series of attacks across the Mideast that America has blamed on Tehran.

The unrest that erupted last month was the bloodiest in Iran since the time of the Islamic Revolution. The 2009 Green Movement protests that followed a disputed presidential election drew millions to the streets but saw far less killing.

After the violence erupted last month, Khamenei claimed that acts such as setting a bank on fire was “what thugs do.”

But in comments made on Wednesday, Khamenei appeared to soften his stance, saying that citizens killed in the protests “without playing any part in instigating them” should be considered martyrs and their families should receive government stipends. Those “killed in shootouts with security forces” also should have their backgrounds examined, he said.

Authorities should “console those families that have never had any criminal backgrounds,” IRNA said, paraphrasing Khamenei.

In addition to the hike in gas prices, Iranians have seen their savings chewed away by the rial’s collapse from 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear accord to 127,000 to $1 today under the renewed U.S. sanctions. The cost of daily staples also has risen, making the removal of any government subsidy making life affordable for Iran’s people wildly unpopular.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani pushed for the gasoline-price hike, saying they’d use the money for a new support program for Iran’s poor.

However, after the unrest, Rouhani himself tried to describe himself as surprised by the timing of the implementation of the gasoline hike.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Antichrist To Pick The Next PM … Again

Anti-government protesters in Baghdad. The protest movement has no leader to put forward © AFP via Getty Images

Iraq faces familiar impasse in hunt for new prime minister

Protests and fractured politics complicate selection of Abdul Mahdi’s successor

Iraq needs a new prime minister following the resignation of Adel Abdul Mahdi but so far no one seems to want the job.

Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the country’s biggest parliamentary bloc, has said he does not want to nominate a candidate. The nebulous protest movement that brought down Mr Abdul Mahdi’s government has no leader to put forward. And those establishment figures mooted as possible successors since the prime minister stepped down last week have been quickly dismissed by the public.

Selecting a prime minister under the political system installed in Iraq following the US-led removal of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 has always been difficult. Parliamentary elections have never delivered a majority to any one party and the largest group must build support for a governing coalition by trading cabinet positions. After elections in 2018, it took six months and the tacit endorsement of both Iran and the US to select Mr Abdul Mahdi. This time, experts said, it is expected to be even harder.

“I don’t see anyone in his right mind would want to be prime minister in Iraq for the next few months,” said Abbas Kadhim, director of the Atlantic Council’s Iraq Initiative.

Any new prime minister will face a furious anti-establishment protest movement which, after 16 years of largely ineffective government, is calling for wholesale change.

“Our main problem is the parties and the system and the wrong management mechanism of the state,” said Moussa, a 29-year-old activist from the southern province of Nasiriya that last week suffered the worst day of the violence in two months of protests. The anti-government movement was not just about removing “a corrupt minister or PM”, he said.

Whoever will be prime minister will be [Iran’s] friend. Iran is one step or more ahead of the US in that case

Abbas Kadhim, Atlantic Council

At least 400 people have been killed since October as security forces have responded to the demonstrations with a brutal crackdown. The protesters say they are fed up with government corruption and foreign influence. They are demanding changes to the election law, which they believe is skewed to benefit the existing political parties, a new electoral commission, and fresh elections.

Against the backdrop of public rage, Mr Sadr’s Sairoon political group, the self-declared largest parliamentary bloc, has said it does not want to participate in any negotiations to select the next prime minister.

According to Dhiaa al-Asadi, political adviser to Mr Sadr, Sairoon is stepping back because it “believes that the political parties are still insisting on choosing the prime minister themselves, which is in contrast to what people are calling for.” Mr Asadi said Mr Sadr will back whichever candidate protesters appear to support.

But gauging public support for any potential leader will be near impossible given the lack of any formal leadership structure around the demonstrations, analysts said.

Familiar figures from Iraq’s political scene, including former oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Olom and outspoken member of parliament Izzat al-Shahbandar, have been floated as potential successors in the past few days but do not meet the protesters criteria for fresh leadership.

The result is likely to be a drawn-out political impasse and “a very cruel winter for Iraq” if Baghdad’s elites fail to compromise and protesters stay on the streets, said the Atlantic Council’s Mr Kadhim.

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Iranian officials are already reported to be visiting Iraqi political leaders as they try to hash out deals. But perceptions of Iranian interference will do little to build broad-based support for a new leader. Iran brokered the deal that brought Mr Abdul Mahdi to power and then became a focus of the protest movement’s anger when demonstrators attacked Tehran’s diplomatic outposts in the cities of Najaf and Karbala.

“The involvement of Mr Soleimani is making things more complicated,” said a senior Iraqi official, referring to Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite overseas unit. “It looks like there is no brain in Iraq, just Soleimani,” he said.

Washington and Tehran have vied for influence in Iraq for decades but analysts say Iran now commands greater sway. “Whoever will be prime minister will be [Iran’s] friend,” said Dr Kadhim. “Iran is one step or more ahead of the US in that case.”

Sairoon’s Mr Sadr is currently in Iran, undertaking a period of religious study in the holy city of Qom, though the Iraqi leader has publicly distanced himself from the government in Tehran.

His adviser, Mr Asadi, said he was still watching events in Iraq closely. Mr Sadr’s absence from the process “doesn’t mean he will not have a veto if these names are not acceptable to the protesters”, he said.

Additional reporting by Asmaa al-Omar

Why Hamas Continues Trampling Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Following a three-week respite, Hamas is planning to renew Friday protests along the Gaza-Israel border starting Dec. 6. At the same time, head of the Hamas political bureau Ismail Haniyeh is in Cairo this week, invited for talks with Egypt’s intelligence services. A Palestinian Islamic Jihad delegation that includes senior officials of its political and military wings as well as its secretary-general, Ziad Al-Nakhalah, who arrived from Lebanon, is also in Cairo. The ongoing talks on an Egyptian-mediated “arrangement” with Israel will be conducted from now on in the presence of representatives of both strong organizations in Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. A photo of Haniyeh and Nakhalah in Cairo shows them smiling and clutching each other’s hands like long-lost relatives.

The cordial meeting hosted at its headquarters by Egyptian intelligence, which is sponsoring the negotiations over a deal with Israel on Gaza, took place against the backdrop of tensions between the two major Gaza organizations. Following Israel’s Nov. 12 killing of Islamic Jihad northern Gaza commander Bahaa Abu el-Atta, Islamic Jihad retaliated with hundreds of rockets at Israeli targets, but Hamas sat out the brief, violent skirmish. Hamas also scrapped the weekly protests it has been organizing on the Gaza border with Israel since March 2018. Israel interpreted the calm along the border and the Hamas decision to refrain from rocket fire as indications that the group’s leadership was serious about wanting a deal with Israel, despite domestic criticism, and hoped for further progress in the talks that have been going on for over a year.

Although the political crisis in Israel is holding up completion of the deal and its implementation, Israel has taken measures in recent months to ease its blockade of Gaza and build trust with Hamas. For example, it has approved more extensive shipments of raw materials and food into the enclave through its Kerem Shalom crossing. At the same time, preparations are in advanced stages for the installation of power lines from Israel. Israel is even allowing several thousand Gaza residents to work in Israel, most of them on farms and a minority in construction.

So why has Hamas decided to renew the border protests and risk an escalation with Israel even as the deal is taking shape ahead of its completion? Khalil Al-Hayya, the deputy of Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, provided the explanation. In a Dec. 3 interview with the Palestinian Al-Youm television station, which is considered close to Islamic Jihad, Hayya was asked about Haniyeh’s talks in Cairo. “We are in negotiations and at the same time we have our finger on the trigger,” he answered. The interviewer did not back off and instead said mockingly, “But the negotiations you are conducting will have a price; you are in fact making economic peace with Israel.” The interviewer’s disparagement and cynicism hit a nerve with Hamas, precisely echoing frequent criticism by the organization at the Palestinian Authority (PA), saying Israel was not offering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a peace deal in return for ceding territories, but rather a humiliating economic peace that has Israel buying off the Palestinians while occupying their lands.

Hamas leaders fear a surge of harsher domestic criticism against them once some sort of deal with Israel is completed and announced. They know they will be accused of selling out Gaza for a pittance and giving up the armed struggle against Israel in return for an agreement of surrender that does not lift Israel’s 12-year siege of the enclave. Their concern is well-founded. The Palestinian media in the PA have been lashing out at Haniyeh’s visit to Cairo, accusing Hamas of not only kicking the Fatah movement out of Gaza in a coup it engineered in 2007 but also of now crawling to Israel to achieve an agreement designed first and foremost to ensure its continued hold on power.

In a bid to fend off the expected criticism, or at least tone it down, Hamas plans to renew the border protests right away. It is hoping to convey the message that any understandings reached with Israel were not born out of weakness or surrender, but rather from a position of strength. Haniyeh, a charismatic and articulate speaker, will presumably know how to portray any understanding and arrangement with Israel as a victory for the “resistance” (“muqawama” in Arabic), proving to the Zionists that the Palestinian people cannot be cowed. However, this is something he will only be able to argue when the Gaza protesters flock to the border fence and clash with Israeli troops. Ultimately, these demonstrations are what led Israel to seriously address the harsh humanitarian reality in Gaza and move toward a deal with Hamas, which has yielded significant relaxation of the embargo.

By renewing the demonstrations, Hamas also seeks to signal Israel in the clearest of fashions that it does not have time for games. The organization wants to push Israel into some form of deal right away in order to obtain further relief from the siege. If Israel keeps dragging its feet, the relative calm along the border will be disrupted and demonstrators will head for the fence.

Absent an Israeli government that can make weighty decisions as long as it is in caretaker mode, completion of a so-called “arrangement” between Hamas and Islamic Jihad with Israel appears far away. That is why the Hamas leadership has changed its terminology, and instead of talking about an “arrangement” it is now referring to the deal as “a long-term cease-fire.”

In his interview with Palestine Al-Youm, Hayya insisted there would not be any deal unless Israel agreed to a maritime passage for Gaza. That was also the message conveyed to Egypt and to UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov. At this point, Israel is unable to promise a thing, as previously mentioned. A security source who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said Hamas “realizes that before talking about a seaport or anything significant in terms of lifting the Israeli blockade, trust has to be built between the sides.” That can only happen after an extended period of calm and adherence to agreements by both sides.

The phrase “long-term cease-fire” could be publicly acceptable in Israel even during the country’s seemingly endless election cycles — just as long as calm is preserved in Gaza and Israel. That is, in fact, the current situation: a cease-fire with a finger on the trigger and negotiations at the same time. For now, nothing more can be achieved.

Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

Eldar has published two books: “Eyeless in Gaza” (2005), which anticipated the Hamas victory in the subsequent Palestinian elections, and “Getting to Know Hamas” (2012), which won the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Military Literature. He was awarded the Ophir Prize (Israeli Oscar) twice for his documentary films: “Precious Life” (2010) and “Foreign Land” (2018). “Precious Life” was also shortlisted for an Oscar and was broadcast on HBO. He has a master’s degree in Middle East studies from the Hebrew University. On Twitter: @shlomieldar

 

Pakistan Prepared to Nuke India (Revelation 8 )

Kyle Mizokami

The National Interest

Key point: South Asia is one of the world’s most dangerous nuclear-weapons zones.

Sandwiched between Iran, China, India and Afghanistan, Pakistan lives in a complicated neighborhood with a variety of security issues. One of the nine known states known to have nuclear weapons, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and doctrine are continually evolving to match perceived threats. A nuclear power for decades, Pakistan is now attempting to construct a nuclear triad of its own, making its nuclear arsenal resilient and capable of devastating retaliatory strikes.

Pakistan’s nuclear program goes back to the 1950s, during the early days of its rivalry with India. President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto famously said in 1965, “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.”

The program became a higher priority after the country’s 1971 defeat at the hands of India, which caused East Pakistan to break away and become Bangladesh. Experts believe the humiliating loss of territory, much more than reports that India was pursuing nuclear weapons, accelerated the Pakistani nuclear program. India tested its first bomb, codenamed “Smiling Buddha,” in May 1974, putting the subcontinent on the road to nuclearization.

Pakistan began the process of accumulating the necessary fuel for nuclear weapons, enriched uranium and plutonium. The country was particularly helped by one A. Q. Khan, a metallurgist working in the West who returned to his home country in 1975 with centrifuge designs and business contacts necessary to begin the enrichment process. Pakistan’s program was assisted by European countries and a clandestine equipment-acquisition program designed to do an end run on nonproliferation efforts. Outside countries eventually dropped out as the true purpose of the program became clear, but the clandestine effort continued.

Exactly when Pakistan had completed its first nuclear device is murky. Former president Benazir Bhutto, Zulfikar Bhutto’s daughter, claimed that her father told her the first device was ready by 1977. A member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission said design of the bomb was completed in 1978 and the bomb was “cold tested”—stopping short of an actual explosion—in 1983.

Benazir Bhutto later claimed that Pakistan’s bombs were stored disassembled until 1998, when India tested six bombs in a span of three days. Nearly three weeks later, Pakistan conducted a similar rapid-fire testing schedule, setting off five bombs in a single day and a sixth bomb three days later. The first device, estimated at twenty-five to thirty kilotons, may have been a boosted uranium device. The second was estimated at twelve kilotons, and the next three as sub-kiloton devices.

The sixth and final device appears to have also been a twelve-kiloton bomb that was detonated at a different testing range; a U.S. Air Force “Constant Phoenix” nuclear-detection aircraft reportedly detected plutonium afterward. Since Pakistan had been working on a uranium bomb and North Korea—which shared or purchased research with Pakistan through the A. Q. Khan network—had been working on a uranium bomb, some outside observers concluded the sixth test was actually a North Korean test, detonated elsewhere to conceal North Korea’s involvement although. There is no consensus on this conclusion.

Experts believe Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile is steadily growing. In 1998, the stockpile was estimated at five to twenty-five devices, depending on how much enriched uranium each bomb required. Today Pakistan is estimated to have an arsenal of 110 to 130 nuclear bombs. In 2015 the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center estimated Pakistan’s bomb-making capability at twenty devices annually, which on top of the existing stockpile meant Pakistan could quickly become the third-largest nuclear power in the world. Other observers, however, believe Pakistan can only develop another forty to fifty warheads in the near future.

Pakistani nuclear weapons are under control of the military’s Strategic Plans Division, and are primarily stored in Punjab Province, far from the northwest frontier and the Taliban. Ten thousand Pakistani troops and intelligence personnel from the SPD guard the weapons. Pakistan claims that the weapons are only armed by the appropriate code at the last moment, preventing a “rogue nuke” scenario.

Pakistani nuclear doctrine appears to be to deter what it considers an economically, politically and militarily stronger India. The nuclear standoff is exacerbated by the traditional animosity between the two countries, the several wars the two countries have fought, and events such as the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, which were directed by Pakistan. Unlike neighboring India and China, Pakistan does not have a “no first use” doctrine, and reserves the right to use nuclear weapons, particularly low-yield tactical nuclear weapons, to offset India’s advantage in conventional forces.

Pakistan currently has a nuclear “triad” of nuclear delivery systems based on land, in the air and at sea. Islamabad is believed to have modified American-built F-16A fighters and possibly French-made Mirage fighters to deliver nuclear bombs by 1995. Since the fighters would have to penetrate India’s air defense network to deliver their payloads against cities and other targets, Pakistani aircraft would likely be deliver tactical nuclear weapons against battlefield targets.

Land-based delivery systems are in the form of missiles, with many designs based on or influenced by Chinese and North Korean designs. The Hatf series of mobile missiles includes the solid-fueled Hatf-III (180 miles), solid-fueled Hatf-IV (466 miles) and liquid-fueled Hatf V, (766 miles). The CSIS Missile Threat Initiative believes that as of 2014, Hatf VI (1242 miles) is likely in service. Pakistan is also developing a Shaheen III intermediate-range missile capable of striking targets out to 1708 miles, in order to strike the Nicobar and Andaman Islands.

The sea component of Pakistan’s nuclear force consists of the Babur class of cruise missiles. The latest version, Babur-2, looks like most modern cruise missiles, with a bullet-like shape, a cluster of four tiny tail wings and two stubby main wings, all powered by a turbofan or turbojet engine. The cruise missile has a range of 434 miles. Instead of GPS guidance, which could be disabled regionally by the U.S. government, Babur-2 uses older Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) and Digital Scene Matching and Area Co-relation (DSMAC) navigation technology. Babur-2 is deployed on both land and at sea on ships, where they would be more difficult to neutralize. A submarine-launched version, Babur-3, was tested in January and would be the most survivable of all Pakistani nuclear delivery systems.

Pakistan is clearly developing a robust nuclear capability that can not only deter but fight a nuclear war. It is also dealing with internal security issues that could threaten the integrity of its nuclear arsenal. Pakistan and India are clearly in the midst of a nuclear arms race that could, in relative terms, lead to absurdly high nuclear stockpiles reminiscent of the Cold War. It is clear that an arms-control agreement for the subcontinent is desperately needed.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the DiplomatForeign PolicyWar is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami. This article first appeared last year.

Image: Reuters. 

Trump warns of a ‘major event’

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Trump says it will be hard to unify country without a ‘major event’

By — Yamiche Alcindor

Politics Jan 30, 2018 4:37 PM EST

Hours before his first State of the Union, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he wants to unite the country amid “tremendous divisiveness” and hopes he can do so without a traumatic event affecting Americans.

Trump spoke about creating a more united country during a lunch with a number of television news anchors. Trump said the United States has long been divided, including during the impeachment of former president Bill Clinton. Trump also said that Americans usually come together during times of suffering.

“I would love to be able to bring back our country into a great form of unity,” Trump said. “Without a major event where people pull together, that’s hard to do. But I would like to do it without that major event because usually that major event is not a good thing.”

The president also said the country’s divisions date back to both Republican and Democratic administrations, citing the scandals that led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House in 1998.

“I want to see our country united. I want to bring our country back from a tremendous divisiveness, which has taken place not just over one year, over many years, including the Bush years, not just Obama.” he said.

Trump went on to say that uniting people would also be hard because of issues like health care, because some people want “free health care paid by the government” and others want “health care paid by private, where there’s great competition.”

The comments came as the president was putting the finishing touches on his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.

According to a White House official, Trump’s speech will be about 50 minutes long, and was written with help from H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor, Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary, Gary Cohn, the chief economic advisor, Stephen Miller, the senior policy advisor, and Ross Worthington and Vince Haley, who are both speechwriters.