Sr. Bette Ann Jaster says the governor must make public the results of a risk assessment for a fracked-gas pipeline that runs by Indian Point. Video by Nancy Cutler/lohud Wochit
Protesters hold light candles as others wave their national flags during a protest against the Mideast plan announced by the U.S. President Donald Trump, at Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. Trump’s Mideast plan would create a disjointed Palestinian state with a capital on… (Associated Press)
Israeli army: Airstrikes launched on Gaza after rocket fire
By Associated Press
Posted 23 hours, 15 minutes ago
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said on Friday that it launched “wide-scale” airstrikes on militant targets in the Gaza Strip shortly after Palestinian militants fired three rockets into Israel, two of which were intercepted.
There were no reports of casualties or major damage from the exchange of fire overnight, which came amid heightened tensions after President Donald Trump released his Mideast plan, a U.S. initiative aimed at ending the conflict that heavily favors Israel and was rejected by the Palestinians.
Gaza has been relatively calm in recent months as Egyptian and U.N. mediators have worked to shore up an informal truce between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules the coastal territory.
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Hamas has curbed rocket fire and rolled back weekly protests along the frontier that had often turned violent. In return, Israel has eased the blockade it imposed on Gaza after Hamas seized power from forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority in 2007.
Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have rejected the Trump plan, which would allow Israel to annex all of its Jewish settlements, along with the Jordan Valley, in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians were offered limited self-rule in Gaza, parts of the West Bank and some sparsely populated areas of Israel in return for meeting a long list of conditions.
Hamas has vowed that “all options are open” in responding to the proposal, but is not believed to be seeking war with Israel. Palestinian militants have fought three devastating wars with Israel since the Hamas takeover.
Photo: Halan Akoy/VOA
Iraq’s Shia clerics to lead further anti-US demonstrations after Friday prayers
Anti-government protests are expected in Baghdad and a number of southern provinces of Iraq today despite the withdrawal of support by prominent Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr, who had previously called for a ‘million man’ march, reversed his decision on Friday. The move was supported by Iran, which has exerted increasing control over Iraq’s government since 2014. The protests, which mostly target domestic corruption and excessive American and Iranian influence, have left more than 500 dead and thousands injured since October.
In spite of al-Sadr’s change of heart, hundreds of protesters were active over the weekend and early this week, prompting intense government crackdowns by Iraq’s security forces.
While the largely peaceful protest movement has no main leadership and faces the increasing use of violence and intimidation tactics by the Iraqi government, the wide gap between the group’s objectives and the realities in Iraq does not suggest that protests will cease in the near future. With the loss of a powerful ally in al-Sadr, who has declared that he will not intervene on their behalf, protesters will likely face more aggressive government crackdowns.
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DEIRDRE SHESGREEN | USA TODAY
Updated 8:46 a.m. HST Jan. 30, 2020
WASHINGTON – The House voted Thursday to sharply limit President Donald Trump’s ability to launch a military strike against Iran and to repeal the 2002 law that authorized the Iraq war, which has been used as justification for other U.S. military operations.
Democrats said the two votes were vital to reining in what they see as a reckless and impulsive president, pointing to his decision to authorize a U.S. drone strike that killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 2.
Trump has taken the U.S. “to the brink of war with an assassination of a foreign leader, without any imminent threat demonstrated, only double-talk,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas. “It is time to put the brakes on his dangerous pursuits.”
Republicans warned the two House bills would tie the president’s hands at a perilous moment. And they applauded Trump’s decision to target Soleimani, saying the Iranian leader was a terrorist with American blood on his hands.
“The president’s not trying to start a war with Iran,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “In fact, he’s shown incredible restraint against Iran, after they shot down our drone” and attacked a Saudi oil field.
He said Democrats did not object when former President Barack Obama conducted “thousands of unauthorized strikes in Libya,” and said it was “hypocritical and dangerous” for Democrats to limit Trump’s powers to respond to “the very real and growing threats that Iran and its proxies pose.”
In the first House vote, lawmakers approved a bill that would block Trump from using any federal funds for “unauthorized military force against Iran.” The final tally was 228-to-175.
The House then passed a bill repealing the 2002 Iraq war authorization sought by then-President George W. Bush.
The Trump administration said the 2002 Iraq war law gave the president the authority to target Soleimani, who was killed while visiting Baghdad. While the 2002 law authorized the war against then-Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, it also identified Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations operating in Iraq as threats against the United States.
Democrats said it was outrageous to cite the Iraq war authorization as its legal basis for killing an Iranian military leader. Both the Trump and Obama administrations have also cited the 2002 law as justification for military strikes outside of Iraq – including in Yemen and Syria.
Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the 2002 measure has been “misused time and time and time again.” He said Thursday’s vote would send a clear message to Trump and future presidents.
“We’re saying today there’s no blank check for war,” Engel said.
Republicans warned that the U.S. faces continuing dangers in Iraq, noting the Islamic State terrorist group still operates in the country.
McCaul said he agreed the 2002 authorization should be updated to reflect the U.S. changed mission in Iraq. But, he said, simply repealing it “does not recognize the reality on the ground – that our counter-terrorism mission in Iraq is ongoing.”
The repeal measure passed by a vote of 236-to-166.
Both bills will face stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. Trump could also veto both measures. The president blasted the two measures on Wednesday.
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“With Votes in the House tomorrow, Democrats want to make it harder for Presidents to defend America, and stand up to, as an example, Iran,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Protect our GREAT COUNTRY!”
While the House debated the president’s war powers, the Trump administration announced new sanctions against the regime, as well as three waivers that will help Iran continue work on its civilian nuclear facilities.
Brian Hook, the State Department’s top Iran representative, said the U.S. would sanction Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, which oversees the country’s civilian nuclear program, and its chief officer.
At the same time, Hook said the U.S. would also renew three waivers allowing China, Russia and European companies to continue nonproliferation initiatives at an Iranian research reactor and other sites.
Conservatives criticized the Trump administration’s decision to grant the waivers.
“The Iranian regime continues to violate the limits of the nuclear deal, yet it continues to receive direct assistance from Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime, China, and other foreign countries who are contributing to its nuclear program,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.
Supporters said those waivers are designed to ensure Iran’s nuclear activities are for purely civilian purposes.
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Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., is the chief sponsor of a bill that would bar the Trump administration from using any federal funds for a military … MODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES
The Senate is also poised to debate Trump’s war-making powers, although perhaps not until the Trump impeachment trial has concluded.
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U.S. officials who praise Iraqi Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani while denouncing Iran’s supreme leader fail to grasp that the two clerical leaders have a shared interest in resisting outside threats.
On Jan. 17, as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most prominent Shiite leader in Iraq, was discharged from the hospital, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted three tweets—in English, Arabic, and Farsi—wishing him a speedy recovery and calling the ayatollah “a source of guidance and inspiration.”
The friendly approach toward Sistani was regarded as an attempt by Pompeo to portray U.S. support for the ayatollah, who the administration believes is countering Iranian influence in Iraq. This comes only weeks after Pompeo himself encouraged President Donald Trump to assassinate the Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani in an airstrike while the general was visiting Iraq.
It is no secret that Pompeo is a champion of exerting a maximum pressure strategy on what he calls “Khamenei’s kleptocracy,” in reference to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But his different and conflicting attitudes toward the two ayatollahs are yet another miscalculation on the part of the U.S. government in the tumultuous Middle East.
Just a day after the killing of Suleimani, Sistani sent an unprecedented letter to Khamenei expressing his condolences to Iran’s leader.
Sistani praised the extraordinary role that the martyr Suleimani played in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq.The letter is the first of its kind sent by Sistani to Khamenei in decades.
The subject of the letter—expressing condolences to Khamenei over the death of Suleimani—is noteworthy. Sistani has rarely issued a letter over the death of a non-cleric. This raises the question of what was so unique about Suleimani that made Sistani send a public letter to Khamenei. The answer lies in their shared belief in the necessity of an orchestrated, transnational effort to combat threats from outsiders. The perceived threat for the two ayatollahs comes both from fanatical militant groups like the Islamic State and from foreign intervention in the region. In their eyes, both have exacerbated regional instability over the past decade.
To tackle the former threat, Sistani took striking and definitive action in June 2014. As the threat of Islamic State encroachment on Baghdad was heightening, he issued a fatwa of jihad, obligating all Iraqis who were able to fight the terrorists to join the Iraqi security forces and to defend their homeland. This was almost a century after Ayatollah Sayyid Kadhim al-Yazdi’s fatwa against British forces who invaded Iraq in 1914, the last time a Shiite leader issued such a political edict.
His fatwa, nonetheless, paved the way for the foundation of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces. It was then that Suleimani and Iran’s Quds Force rushed to help Iraqis (Sunni, Shiite, and most notably Kurds) to organize the popular units in their fight against the Islamic State. Sistani’s goal was the protection of Iraq as the homeland of all Iraqis. Sistani seeks a sovereign and strong Iraqi state, which can safeguard the Shiite community but also Sunnis, Kurds, Yazidis, and Shabaks.
Sistani recognized the “extraordinary” and “unforgettable” role Suleimani played in achieving this goal in his letter.When it comes to foreign intervention, as a Shiite religious elite, Sistani cannot remain on the sidelines when Shiites in other countries, including Lebanon and Iran, are in danger. A case in point is when he liaised covertly with the United States to support a cease-fire during the 2006 war between the militant group and Israel.
Hamed al-Khaffaf, Sistani’s representative in Beirut and his son-in-law, revealed in an interview with one of us in August 2012 that at the time, following a request from Nabih Berri, the Shiite speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Sistani sent a dispatch to U.S. President George W. Bush through an Iraqi courier, reminding him about the regional consequences of postponing a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah. A couple of days later, despite previous objections, the United States voted in favor of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and called for a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.
His attitude toward Iran, which is a Shiite theocracy under the leadership of his fellow ayatollahs, is different. Although he is of Iranian descent, he has never publicly intervened in Iran’s domestic affairs. He never answered questions of his Iranian Shiite followers, the majority of his followers, whenever he was asked about domestic issues. On the contrary, he has frequently advised those Iranian elites who met with him to become united under the leadership of Khamenei.
There is no debate over the fact that religious authorities in Iraq and Iran hold different political views. Nevertheless, there are many reasons to believe that when either clerical establishment is threatened by outsiders, their collective priority will be to maintain unity. Indeed, mainstream Shiite ayatollahs believe that they must avoid any attempt to weaken clerical authority. As Iran is ruled by ayatollahs, for Sistani, no matter if he belongs to a different school of thought, any threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran is tantamount to casting aspersions on Shiite Islam.
Sistani’s letter makes clear that he was not, is not, and would never be an enemy of Iran, despite all the differences he may have with its leaders. And this is a blind spot for decision-makers in Washington.
Time and again, U.S. strategy toward the Shiite ayatollahs has proved to be ill-informed when it comes to their internal dynamics, priorities, and interests. This internal dynamic—the ayatollahs’ nonnegotiable support for Shiite clerical authority and its stature—is so important and an unvarying principle among them that it even prompted the stubborn Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to revisit his earlier positions.
Sadr’s rise coincided with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Then, in his early 20s, he openly criticized the Najaf religious authority, referring to it as a “silent school”—hence passive toward political events taking place in its surroundings. Sadr wanted Sistani to act as a revolutionary leader; he might have wanted to see an Iraqi version of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Yet the seemingly quiet Shiite leader, or marja, had a different agenda.From his perspective, the priority was the future of the Shiite community and its clerical authority in such a volatile time and area.Sistani was looking forward to the chance for Shiites to gain power in a democratic Iraq, though expressing on several occasions his dismay with the attitude of the Shiite political elites in power.
A former U.S. Air Force missile base on Long Island—set up to use nuclear-tipped missiles to shoot out of the sky Soviet bombers feared to be flying over or near Long Island to bomb New York City and other targets—may be designated a high-pollution New York State Superfund site.
Dr. James Tomarken, the commissioner of the health department in Suffolk County, which comprises the eastern half of Long Island, last month said his agency “was informed…by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that the former BOMARC Missile Base is being considered as a potentially inactive hazardous waste disposal site.” It “will be listed” as a state “Superfund site”—a designation which includes a provision for clean-up—“if it is determined that hazardous waste disposed on the property poses a significant threat to public health or the environment.”
“The BOMARC site, which comprises approximately 186 acres, is being investigated as the result of the detection” of several now banned or phased-out chemicals “in samples from both private wells and on-site groundwater monitoring wells,” said the department’s statement.
If there is chemical contamination at the site it would be far better than what would have happened if the nuclear-tipped missiles had actually been launched from the BOMARC base and exploded—this was the plan—very close by.
In the 1950s, the U.S. feared Soviet bombers might strike New York City and other major U.S. cities and other targets including military bases. New York City is 75 miles west of the BOMARC base. And, what was the Suffolk County Air Force Base was located two miles from it. On Long Island were manufacturing plants of two major manufacturers of military aircraft, the Grumman Corporation with plants in Bethpage and Riverhead, and Republic Aviation with a factory in Farmingdale.
The U.S. hatched a scheme to use nuclear-tipped antiaircraft missiles to fire at the Soviet bombers but these were early antiaircraft missiles unable to score direct hits. So, the plan was to have the nuclear warheads on the BOMARC and also U.S. Army nuclear-tipped Nike Hercules missiles detonate when the missiles reached a formation of Soviet bombers, blowing the formation apart—although also raining radioactivity down below.
In Suffolk County, too, along with the Air Force BOMARC base in Westhampton which is on the island’s south shore was an Army nuclear-tipped missile base in Rocky Point on the north shore at which Nikes Hercules missiles were deployed.
Other BOMARC and Nike Hercules bases were set up all over the U.S.
Chicago was encircled by Nike Hercules bases.
The nuclear warheads on the BOMARC (BOMARC for Boeing Michigan Aeronautical Research Center) and Nike Hercules missiles had massive power. The nuclear warheads on the BOMARCs had the equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the power of 13 kilotons. The Nike Hercules warheads ranged up to 30 kilotons.
How much radioactive fall-out would have descended on the areas where BOMARC and Nike Hercules bases were located depended on the winds and where the detonations of their nuclear warheads happened. The detonations would have occurred not far away for the BOMARC had a range of 250 miles, the Nike Hercules only 100 miles.
At the BOMARC base Westhampton were 56 missiles, each in its own building. The roofs of the buildings would open and the missiles launched. The was operational “from 1959 until it was decommissioned in 1964,” noted the health department statement. The site and its buildings were “turned over to Suffolk County.” On it today are a “law enforcement shooting range” and “a vehicle training course for emergency responders.” And some of the missile buildings are used by Suffolk County government for storage of records.
The former three-missile Nike Hercules base in Rocky Point is now the site of an Army Reserve Center but the remnants of the missile base remain—a variety of structures and missile silos. The Nike Hercules missiles were positioned underground in the silos. The Rocky Point missile base was operational from 1957 to 1974
The nuclear-tipped missiles are gone at the sites.
I wrote and presented a television program in 2010 for Long Island’s WVVH TV station on the two nuclear-tipped missile bases in Suffolk County. I titled it: “Avoiding Nuclear Destruction: By The Skin Of Our Teeth.” You can see the program on YouTube:
I did my “stand-up” in the TV program standing on top of one of the missile silos in Rocky Point. The Army OK’d my exploring and filming at the site. In Westhampton, I was accompanied by the Suffolk public works commissioner. The experience at both was eerie, chilling.
Last week, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its “Doomsday Clock” from “two minutes to 100 seconds to midnight.” Said the Bulletin: “The iconic Doomsday Clock symbolizing the gravest perils facing humankind is now closer to midnight than at any point since its creation in 1947….Humanity continues to face two simultaneous dangers—nuclear war and climate change…The international security situation is dire, not just because of these threats, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.”
Will apocalyptic destruction again be barely avoided—or will it not?
- The W76-2 is a small, tactical nuclear warhead designed to counter enemy tactical nuclear weapons.
- The warhead is actually derived from the existing W76 warhead, each of which is large enough to flatten a city.
- Arms control advocates warned that the new nuclear weapon was not needed.
The missile submarine USS Tennessee is the first to deploy with the W76-2 warhead.
Somewhere in depths of the Atlantic Ocean the USS Tennessee is carrying out a mission it’s carried out dozens of times: deter adversaries from launching a surprise attack on the U.S. But this time it’s carrying a new weapon, one designed to prove that Washington can retaliate against a tactical nuclear attack by launching one of its own.
The weapon is the W76-2 nuclear warhead. Normally, ballistic missile submarines such as the USS Tennessee go to sea with 20 Trident II D-5 submarine-launched missiles, each carrying 4-5 W76 or W-88 warheads. Each W76 warhead has an explosive yield of 90 kilotons, or 90,000 tons of TNT. That’s enough to flatten a city or industrial target: by comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was just 16 kilotons. Others D-5s carry the more powerful 455 kiloton W-88 warhead.
The U.S. has a fleet of 12 nuclear ballistic missile submarines like the Tennessee, with a handful at sea at all times. Their mission is to hide underwater, waiting for the signal that the U.S. has undergone nuclear attack. These submarines are designed to ride out an attack and then launch their missiles against the offender in a devastating counterattack. The idea is that no country would launch a surprise nuclear attack the U.S. unless it could assure itself that it would not suffer a retaliatory strike. Tennessee and her sister shipsguarantee retaliation, thus deterring the enemy from attacking.
The W76-2 is actually a typical W76 thermonuclear warhead modified to detonate at a lower explosive yield of just 5 kilotons—or 5,000 tons of TNT. The Pentagon believes Russia is mulling a strategy in which it might launch a tactical nuclear weapon in order to end a conflict on its own terms. This “escalate to de-escalate” strategy is designed to shock adversaries such as the U.S. or NATO, forcing them to either retaliate with a tactical nuclear weapon of their own or throw in the towel.
The logic behind the W76-2 is that it will provide the U.S. with the ability to counter a low-yield nuke with one of their own—one that can’t be shot down. This will, theoretically, prevent an adversary from launching a nuke—and maybe even starting the conventional war itself—knowing ahead of time that Washington is prepared ahead of time for a nuclear tit-for-tat.
The Federation of Scientists believes that USS Tennessee went on patrol sometime in late December 2019, which means it’s still out there right now. FAS also estimates that two of the Trident II D-5 missiles have a single W76-2 tactical nuclear warhead.
Is all this necessary? Maybe not. Arms control activists campaigned hard against the W76-2, arguing that it was not a necessary weapon system, but the Trump Administration pushed ahead to rapidly develop and field it. The Federation of American Scientists has posted an in-depth discussion of the technology, strategy, and politics of the new warhead.
For now, the W76-2 will probably go to sea with all future missile submarine patrols.