The Sixth Seal Is Long Overdue (Revelation 6:12)

By MARGO NASH

Published: March 25, 2001

Alexander Gates, a geology professor at Rutgers-Newark, is co-author of ”The Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes,” which will be published by Facts on File in July. He has been leading a four-year effort to remap an area known as the Sloatsburg Quadrangle, a 5-by-7-mile tract near Mahwah that crosses into New York State. The Ramapo Fault, which runs through it, was responsible for a big earthquake in 1884, and Dr. Gates warns that a recurrence is overdue. He recently talked about his findings.

Q. What have you found?

A. We’re basically looking at a lot more rock, and we’re looking at the fracturing and jointing in the bedrock and putting it on the maps. Any break in the rock is a fracture. If it has movement, then it’s a fault. There are a lot of faults that are offshoots of the Ramapo. Basically when there are faults, it means you had an earthquake that made it. So there was a lot of earthquake activity to produce these features. We are basically not in a period of earthquake activity along the Ramapo Fault now, but we can see that about six or seven times in history, about 250 million years ago, it had major earthquake activity. And because it’s such a fundamental zone of weakness, anytime anything happens, the Ramapo Fault goes.

Q. Where is the Ramapo Fault?

 A. The fault line is in western New Jersey and goes through a good chunk of the state, all the way down to Flemington. It goes right along where they put in the new 287. It continues northeast across the Hudson River right under the Indian Point power plant up into Westchester County. There are a lot of earthquakes rumbling around it every year, but not a big one for a while.

Q. Did you find anything that surprised you?

A. I found a lot of faults, splays that offshoot from the Ramapo that go 5 to 10 miles away from the fault. I have looked at the Ramapo Fault in other places too. I have seen splays 5 to 10 miles up into the Hudson Highlands. And you can see them right along the roadsides on 287. There’s been a lot of damage to those rocks, and obviously it was produced by fault activities. All of these faults have earthquake potential.

Q. Describe the 1884 earthquake.

A. It was in the northern part of the state near the Sloatsburg area. They didn’t have precise ways of describing the location then. There was lots of damage. Chimneys toppled over. But in 1884, it was a farming community, and there were not many people to be injured. Nobody appears to have written an account of the numbers who were injured.

Q. What lessons we can learn from previous earthquakes?

A. In 1960, the city of Agadir in Morocco had a 6.2 earthquake that killed 12,000 people, a third of the population, and injured a third more. I think it was because the city was unprepared.There had been an earthquake in the area 200 years before. But people discounted the possibility of a recurrence. Here in New Jersey, we should not make the same mistake. We should not forget that we had a 5.4 earthquake 117 years ago. The recurrence interval for an earthquake of that magnitude is every 50 years, and we are overdue. The Agadir was a 6.2, and a 5.4 to a 6.2 isn’t that big a jump.

Q. What are the dangers of a quake that size?

A. When you’re in a flat area in a wooden house it’s obviously not as dangerous, although it could cut off a gas line that could explode. There’s a real problem with infrastructure that is crumbling, like the bridges with crumbling cement.There’s a real danger we could wind up with our water supplies and electricity cut off if a sizable earthquake goes off. The best thing is to have regular upkeep and keep up new building codes. The new buildings will be O.K. But there is a sense of complacency.

MARGO NASH

What will happen when the Sixth Seal hits

What if? What if a natural disaster strikes amid a pandemic?

Posted on April 1, 2020 by Temblor

By John C. Mutter, Ph.D., Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences and Professor of International & Public Affairs, Columbia University  

Given the timescales of the Earth’s natural spasms, and the course of the coronavirus pandemic, it will only be by luck that we will avoid an intersection. Somewhere an earthquake or a major storm will happen in a place where the nemesis is out of control. Then what?  

Citation: Mutter, J.C., (2020), What if? What if a natural disaster strikes amid a pandemic? http://doi.org/10.32858/temblor.082  

New York City, April 1: We’re now more than a week into our shelter-in-place/stay home orders, courtesy of the coronavirus. The thought occurred to me, and I know to others as well, that things could get a lot worse, especially if a natural disaster were to strike in the middle of the current crisis. I hate to sound like an alarmist, which as a rule I am not, but we need to wonder about the intersection of timescales.

Earthquakes, storms, floods and more

Natural disasters, depending on their type, occur on quite different timescales. Earthquakes, the big ones that really matter, have recurrence times that may be many hundreds of years. The next Tohoku earthquake may not happen for another thousand years or more. Smaller earthquakes, even big “smaller” ones of magnitude 7, say, occur more frequently.

Just after the Croatian government issued stay at home orders for the whole country due to the pandemic, a magnitude-5.5 quake shook the country, damaging Zagreb among other cities. Reports suggest that people ran outside their homes, trying to observe social distancing rules, but when you’re panicking from one disaster, it’s hard to remember rules for another disaster. A magnitude-5.7 quake struck Utah this month as well, scaring residents of Salt Lake City but thankfully not causing tremendous damages. A magnitude-6.5 struck a remote area of Idaho yesterday, causing no damage. These sizes of earthquakes are common. And really small earthquakes, like magnitude 1 and 2, happen all the time, we just don’t notice them. The reality is, that even though scientists do know average recurrence intervals, there is absolutely no telling exactly when and where an earthquake might strike.

Very large cyclones occur more frequently. Somewhere in the world, a top magnitude cyclone brings calamity at least once a year. In the Atlantic basin, we are not in hurricane season, but nor’easters—extratropical cyclones that are winter phenomena, so-named for their predominant wind direction—are relatively common this time of year. They can bring biblical amounts of rain and snow. The March 1888 storm covered New York City with up to 1.4 meters (55 inches) of snow and brought the city to a halt. As nor’easter season winds down, hurricane season will start to ramp up—probably before the coronavirus pandemic dies down, and almost certainly before a vaccine is produced.

The great blizzard of March 1888 that buried New York City and much of New England in more than a meter of snow and killed more than 400 people was a nor’easter. Such storms are relatively common in springtime. What would happen if such a storm struck New York before the COVID-19 pandemic was over? Credit: public domain

We’re also entering prime tornado season for the middle and southern parts of the U.S. We’ve already seen several deadly tornado outbreaks, including in places where COVID-19 has taken a toll. One doctor who is treating COVID-19 patients lost his home to a tornado. It’s also flood season for much of the Midwest and landslide season for much of the West. Fire season too is not far away.

Natural hazards strike on their own timescales without regard for whatever else humanity is dealing with.

The coronavirus timescale

Now think about a different timescale—that over which the novel coronavirus will be defeated. Scientists know far less about that timescale than we do about natural hazards. From previous experience with SARS, a virus in the same family as the new coronavirus, scientists think it is likely to be months more. Estimates by my colleagues at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health suggest it might be summer of 2021 before a vaccine will be generally available.

What if?

So, seismologists, meteorologists and volcanologists around the world are holding their collective breaths. What, they wonder, would it have been like if the L’Aquila earthquake of 2009 in central Italy had occurred during a pandemic. It is just plain luck that it did not. The L’Aquila quake killed more than 300 people, even with hospitals fully available. What if another occurs now, before the pandemic is over in that country? Or what if one strikes Iran or China or Los Angeles in the middle of the pandemic? What if a storm like the 1888 nor’easter came to New York in the next few weeks before the pandemic was quelled? That’s entirely plausible. What if another Hurricane Katrina pummels New Orleans, Harvey hits Houston, Maria swamps Puerto Rico, Irma and Michael strike Florida? The list goes on and on. Throughout the world, questions of this sort can be asked over and over. Questions are many; answers are few.

You can’t evacuate New York City, or any other large city, and have everyone maintain their social distance, nor can first responders keep their distance from people they are attempting to rescue. You can’t shelter in the New Orleans Superdome and keep your social distance. These thoughts go on and on.

Hurricane Katrina survivors shelter at the Houston Astrodome after being evacuated from New Orleans in 2005. Disasters like Katrina reveal the differences between people with means and those without, and affect the classes differently. Pandemics like the coronavirus also affect the classes differently and disproportionately. Credit: Andrea Booher/FEMAFEMA photo/Andrea Booher

Given the timescales of the Earth’s natural spasms, and the course of the pandemic, it will only be by luck that we will avoid an intersection. Somewhere an earthquake or a major storm will happen in a place where the nemesis is out of control. Then what?

The poor get poorer

Then disaster will play out as disasters always do, but in an amplified way. Many poor people don’t own cars, so evacuating an oncoming storm (or pandemic) means crowding into a bus with 40 or more others, some infected, some not, who knows. Or it means just staying where you are in the hopes that the approaching disaster will not be as bad as predicted. Wear a mask on the bus if you have managed to acquire one. Or hope that they will be handed out to you by someone. I still haven’t found a mask yet, and I live in New York City, where you can usually buy anything. I wear a silk bandanna. Nor can I find any hand sanitizer.

COVID-19 transmits far more readily than the flu so it is inevitable that, at the very least, we should expect a spike in cases at a time when cases will be hard to treat because the emergency systems will be stretched just dealing with the usual trauma of a “regular” disaster. The privileged will pack their personal vehicles with essentials and drive away with a fine supply of food, and maybe even face masks and hand sanitizer. Some will drive not to a shelter but to a resort where the population density is quite small anyway, so the risk of infection is much less. Others will shelter in comfortable homes, with computers, high-speed internet and plenty of food. In effect, for this pandemic, just like for hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters, the poor will experience enhanced risk; the wealthy may experience inconvenience, but diminished risk.

The New York National Guard is setting up hospital “rooms” in the Javits Center to ease the hospital bed shortage in the city. Credit: U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Sean Madden

I am a professor at Columbia University. The only impact on my income is that we are to expect no raises this year. I can work from home on my iPad. All of Columbia’s teaching is now virtual. No instructors will be laid off. I have barely been out of my apartment for a couple of weeks. There are plenty of white-collar jobs that have been furloughed without pay as well—dentists and hygienists, for example; doctors who aren’t trained to treat COVID-19 cases but cannot see their other patients because of shelter-in-place rules; real estate agents—but in general, these people have safety nets.

Low-income workers will take the hardest immediate and long-term financial hit. They largely have jobs that cannot be done virtually, so they are far more likely to be laid off than wealthier people and often have little to no safety net. A sanitation worker cannot perform his duties virtually, and we surely want them to keep doing their jobs. Many restaurants are keeping their delivery service alive so that the restaurant can survive, and that keeps the kitchen staff and delivery people at least marginally employed, but not the waiters. Bus drivers, daycare workers and store clerks have lost their incomes, and for who knows how long. But even if poorer people had jobs that could be done from home, many don’t own computers or have high-speed internet.

The effect of lost weeks of schooling is much greater for poor students, who typically struggle with under-resourced home lives and parents who cannot homeschool for myriad reasons—time being the largest, but also language skills and technology. The technical term from Development Economics is “human capital development”: Poor kids will be standing still in this time away from school—however long it lasts. Wealthier people will hire tutors.

Without equal access to technology, poorer children often lose out on weeks of schooling during a disaster. Credit: AngryJulieMonday (CC BY 2.0)

In the aftermath of natural disasters like earthquakes, there is a similar sorting. Those living in the crowded cities of blue UN tarps in Port au Prince in 2010 were not the wealthy elite of Haiti. They had left in private jets or chartered planes. Cholera was, and often is, feared in a post-disaster setting in a poor country, although in reality it seldom happens. But there has not been much thought given to how to manage refugee camps in a time of pandemic. How can refugees packed into tents practice social distancing?

If the predictions of wise, well-informed people are correct, hurricane season will arrive before the virus is beaten. We can’t know if an earthquake or volcanic eruption will happen—they don’t have seasons, but simply thinking about timescales suggests a strong possibility that a serious earthquake could occur before we are free of this curse that keeps us at home, fretting about ourselves and the people we care for.

Disasters divide us

It’s the screenplay of a Hollywood movie, but it is real. Disasters don’t bring us together, they separate us.

What could we do? I have never wanted to be overtly political in these commentaries, but as a scientist who studies the effects of disasters on the poor, I can say that universal health care would be a great step forward. Universal salary insurance would be very helpful as well. The people who suffer the most have no safety net.

We could have paid more attention to what was happening in China and not acted like this was a “Chinese” virus so it could never hurt us. We could have paid attention when Italy exploded. We could have not done what all autocratic leaders do and dismissed the severity of the virus because that would suggest the government doesn’t have things under control—autocrats hate that. We could have realized that test kits and respirators would be needed in potentially huge quantities. We could have realized that ER beds would leap in demand.

We could have acknowledged this is a globalized world and not pretended that bad things that happen elsewhere can’t happen to us. We could have been more thoughtful and more humble. Maybe next time we can do better, and maybe we can have some safety nets in place for the most vulnerable, many of whom right now are the ones taking care of us.

Iran will activate proxies, up nuclear activities amid coronavirus

Iran could activate proxies, up nuclear activities amid coronavirus – The Jerusalem Post

As Iran struggles to contain one of the world’s worst outbreaks of coronavirus, some are voicing concern that the regime could use the crisis as cover to advance its nuclear program or attempt to deflect attention away from the country’s perceived dubious handling of the pandemic by ordering its proxies to wreak havoc across the Middle East.

“The Iranian regime is trying to turn [the health crisis] into an opportunity by putting [military] pressure on the Americans and at the same time gaining solidarity from the [international community] – all with the goal of getting [economic] sanctions eased,” Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior project manager at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and former director-general of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, told The Media Line.

He was speaking during a virtual conference organized by the JCPA, titled “Iran in Crisis: Corona, Sanctions, Uranium – Where is it Going?”

Indeed, air defense systems in Saudi Arabia over the weekend intercepted two ballistic missiles that were allegedly fired at Riyadh and the city of Jizan by Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen. It came after a rocket on Friday was launched from the Iranian-sponsored, Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip toward southern Israel, breaking a monthlong period of relative calm following repeated low-intensity military exchanges.

That, in turn, came just 48 hours after multiple projectiles slammed into Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, where both the parliament and the US Embassy are located. It was the latest in a series of attacks targeting US assets Iraq, including one earlier this month on Camp Taji that killed an American and a British soldier, along with a foreign contractor.

Washington responded with airstrikes against a pro-Iran armed group, Kataib Hizbullah, which was accused of perpetrating the assault.

Despite the apparent uptick in asymmetrical warfare, the JCPA’s Kuperwasser insisted that the pandemic posed a significant threat to the regime, “as many Iranians are upset with the government’s response to the outbreak…. It was more important for [the mullahs] to show how close relations are with Beijing even as other countries were closing their borders to flights from China.”

He further noted that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently blamed Iranian leaders for using financial relief received in accordance with the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal – a sum estimated at upwards of $150 billion – to increase funding to its proxies rather than buy medicines and equipment.

Regarding Iran’s regional adventurism, Kuperwasser believes that, overall, the dual health and economic crises have induced the country’s leadership to assume a more defensive posture in places such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Moreover, he predicted that mass protests, which for months had rocked the latter two Iranian satrapies before people were forced from the streets into their homes, would, at some point, resume – thereby further diminishing Tehran’s grip over Baghdad and Beirut, in particular.

“The regime is facing setbacks in the region. A lot is falling apart and there are limited possibilities [to try to mitigate the damage], perhaps the most important being in the nuclear realm,” Kuperwasser explained.

“Iran is moving forward very quickly to accumulate enriched uranium and could begin producing it at [weapons-grade] levels. The regime – if it wants – is something like four to six months away from having enough fissile material to manufacture a first nuclear device,” he contended.

Iran has been the Mideast nation hardest hit by the coronavirus. As of Monday afternoon, authorities there had confirmed more than 41,000 cases of COVID-19 – the illness caused by the pathogen – and over 2,700 resulting deaths.

The circumstances last week prompted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call on his US counterpart, Donald Trump, to lift sanctions that some argue are hampering Tehran’s ability to combat the virus.

Rouhani qualified that his government would not accept any humanitarian aid offered by the White House, calling the overture “the biggest lie in history.”

Tensions between the two countries have been high since President Trump in May 2018 withdrew Washington from the nuclear accord aimed at slowing Iran’s nuclear progress, and re-imposed crippling financial penalties on the mullahs.

“Analyzing President Trump’s options moving forward must be done within the context of the [November] election. He is keeping in mind his [political] base, which is divided into two groups when it comes to foreign policy,” said Dr. Michael Doran, senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute who previously served as a director in the National Security Council during the George W. Bush Administration.

“The first group is comprised of more traditional Republicans,” he told The Media Line, “who believe in a strong America both at home and abroad – in countering the US’s enemies while supporting allies. It is not ‘neoconservatism,’ [whose proponents] advocate remaking the world by democratizing the Middle East. Trump himself has a strong instinct to just sort of ‘get the hell out’ of the region.

“Then there is the libertarian wing,” Doran continued, “which basically does not understand at all what the US is doing in the Middle East and is opposed to any military activity.”

According to Doran, who participated in the JCPA’s virtual conference, President Trump has thus hesitated to act in any manner that could be construed by political opponents as “march to war,” something the Iranians have internalized.

They have developed a strategy of escalating tensions through their proxies while [simultaneously] working with the Europeans and Democrats in the US to present the White House’s policy [as dangerous],” he said.

Whereas Doran thinks that President Trump has concluded that making concessions to Tehran would constitute a “defeat,” he nonetheless highlighted a seeming contradiction in the administration’s approach.

“With respect to deterrence, some officials held this idea that by [eliminating Iranian Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani in a January drone strike in Baghdad] there would be no need to engage in day-to-day operations [against Iran and its underlings] such as those that Israel must [undertake] vis-à-vis Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“But as we saw earlier this month, an Iranian-aligned group killed two Americans [on a military base in Iraq],” Doran emphasized.

Prior to the pandemic, the Islamic Republic also appeared headed for a clash with the European parties to the nuclear accord, as well as with the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Britain, France and Germany in January triggered the nuclear agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism in response to Iranian violations. The reconciliation process had only started when the full picture of the devastating ramifications of the coronavirus began to crystallize, leading to the postponement of negotiations.

Additionally, the IAEA had been pressuring Iran to answer questions about a controversial warehouse in the capital, where traces of uranium were found. It is the same facility from which Israeli Mossad agents in early 2018 stole a treasure trove of documents allegedly proving that the Islamic Republic had conducted military research and tests geared toward developing a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA had also complained that its inspectors were being barred from accessing two additional sites where the mullahs have been accused of advancing the military dimensions of their atomic program.

Due to coronavirus-related restrictions in Iran, some fear that the IAEA will, at least in the short-term, have less oversight over Tehran’s actions.

In this respect, Iran already last summer began openly, and defiantly, expanding its nuclear activities, with some experts postulating that the country currently has enough low-enriched uranium to build a weapon.

Though the stockpile would first need to be refined to 90% purity, the pandemic has caused nations to temporarily close their doors to Iran.

And, as a corollary, perhaps windows into the Islamic Republic’s nuclear-related machinations.

The New Cold War Policy (Revelation 16)

Fitting Hypersonic Weapons into the Nuclear Arms Control Regime

Cameron Tracy

| April 1, 2020, 4:00 pm EDT

Former President Barack Obama signed the instrument of ratification of the New START Treaty in the Oval Office on Feb. 2, 2011. The only active treaty limiting the deployment of US and Russian nuclear weapons, New START does not explicitly restrict hypersonic missiles. With the February 2021 renewal deadline fast approaching, the US and Russia should work together to ensure no lapse in their decades-long tradition of mutual restraint. White House Archives

I recently compared the capabilities of hypersonic weapons—an emerging missile technology that sends warheads gliding through the atmosphere at high speeds—to existing ballistic missiles. Despite the hype surrounding this new technology, the challenges of hypersonic flight severely limit their performance. Reporting on the various advantages hypersonic missiles might offer is often overblown.

Still, hypersonic weapons could be a game-changer when it comes to nuclear arms control policy. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the only active treaty limiting the deployment of US and Russian nuclear weapons, does not explicitly restrict hypersonic missiles—an omission that turns out to be intentional (see below). Either nation could conceivably take advantage of this gap in the treaty’s coverage to expand their nuclear-capable missile forces, unfettered by the carefully constructed arms control regime that protects global nuclear stability.

Fortunately, this perilous scenario can be easily averted, so long as the United States and Russia take steps to ensure that arms control policy keeps pace with emerging missile technologies.

New START’s hypersonic gap

New START sets limits on the deployment of US and Russian nuclear forces. Because these nations possess the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons, it constitutes the bedrock of modern nuclear arms control.

The treaty’s core provisions were carefully crafted to address the complexities of nuclear weapons technology. It does not directly limit the number of nuclear warheads either nation may possess, as these are difficult to track and account for. Rather, it focuses on the nuclear warhead delivery systems—ground-launched missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and heavy bomber aircraft—by which these destructive payloads can be carried intercontinental distances. New START limits the number of these systems each nation may possess (up to 800) and deploy (up to 700), as well as the number of warheads that can be mounted on them (up to 1,550).

Most contemporary hypersonic missiles consist of “boost-glide” systems launched by ground-based rockets. For this class of armament, New START applies specifically to  “a weapon delivery vehicle that has a ballistic trajectory over most of its flight path.” Ballistic trajectories are determined by a projectile’s initial velocity and the force of gravity, which pulls the object down as it travels (in atmospheric flight, air resistance will play a role as well). This results in a simple, arcing flight path. Ballistic missiles follow such flight paths, with the exception of brief periods immediately after launch and before impact.

Hypersonic weapons follow flight paths distinct from those of ballistic missiles. Once accelerated to high speeds, they take advantage of aerodynamic forces to generate lift, gliding through the atmosphere like an airplane. Since these gliding vehicles spend most of their flights on non-ballistic trajectories, they are not captured by New START’s specific phrasing.

Yet the treaty’s coverage is a complicated issue. The only intercontinental-range hypersonic system deployed to date, Russia’s Avangard, is currently mounted on a rocket also used for their intercontinental ballistic missiles, to which New START does apply. So, while not explicitly covered, the Avangard is currently subject to de facto limits. While better than nothing, these limits could be easily circumvented if either nation chose to deploy hypersonic weapons on a new type of rocket, one that is not also used for ballistic missiles. This indirect coverage makes for a precarious situation when it comes to nuclear weaponry.

Exclusion by design

This omission of hypersonic weapons from New START’s coverage was intentional. At the time the treaty was formulated in 2009-2010, the United States was in the midst of a push to develop its first hypersonic missiles, and sought to ensure that the agreement would not hinder these new weapons.

According to James Miller, then the Principle Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, this US position was “made clear in the New START treaty negotiations” with Russian counterparts. He later told Congress he was “confident” that these weapons “would not be accountable as ‘new kinds of strategic offensive arms,’ for the purposes of the treaty” and would thus not be subject to limitations.

In ratifying New START, the Senate made clear that the US interpretation of the treaty precluded “any prohibition on the deployment of such systems.” Furthermore, plans to launch hypersonic weapons on the new Minotaur IV rocket, distinct from those used for US intercontinental ballistic missiles, would have circumvented the de facto limitations discussed earlier. In other words, when it came to New START, hypersonic weapons were off the table.

In contrast, Russian negotiators were incensed by what they saw as a ploy to shirk limitations by substituting a new type of weapon for the ballistic missiles around which the treaty was designed. Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov stated at the time that they “find unacceptable the unilateral American interpretation of the treaty” under which prospective US hypersonic missiles “shall not be regarded as new types of strategic offensive weapons covered by the treaty.”

Despite this discord, the issue mattered little for most of New START’s ten-year term, since neither nation had managed to develop a successful hypersonic missile.

A new start for hypersonic arms control

Yet, as New START approaches its ten year renewal deadline, the contours of this policy conflict have shifted. The United States does not, as it might have once expected, hold a monopoly on hypersonic weaponry. Russia reports that its hypersonic, nuclear-armed Avangard, first announced by President Putin in 2018, entered service in late 2019 (although further testing may be required prior to full-scale deployment). In contrast, US hypersonic missile programs remain years away from deployment.

Concerned about what this might mean for national security, US officials have recently undergone a dramatic reversal of opinion with respect to the inclusion of hypersonic missiles in arms control agreements. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper now perceives an urgent need to “capture the new Russian strategic weapons” in an updated New START.

Fortunately, Russia has held to its stance that hypersonic weapons should be subject to the same bilateral limitations as are regular intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. In 2019 Vladimir Leontiev, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, said “there are no big problems with Avangard…because it is an optional warhead for an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] of the corresponding type, to which the treaty applies, too. The Avangard will enter the treaty very smoothly.” Shortly thereafter, Russia provided US inspectors access to the missile, just as they do for regular intercontinental-range ballistic missiles under New START’s protocols.

Still, this inclusion is based on Avangard’s sharing of a rocket with Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. If, for example, Russia decided to field this hypersonic vehicle on a new rocket, the resulting missile would not be explicitly subject to New START’s limitations.

Keeping pace with technological change

While it does not currently address hypersonic weapons in full, New START serves as a cornerstone in the architecture of nuclear arms control, enhancing global security. With the February 2021 renewal deadline fast approaching, the United States and Russia should work together to ensure that there is no lapse in their decades-long tradition of mutual restraint.

The advent of hypersonic weaponry introduces a new complication to the arms control landscape. Fortunately, New START is a flexible treaty. It includes specific provisions for dealing with emerging weapon systems via its Bilateral Consultative Commission. And, as Russia has demonstrated, hypersonic weapons can be incorporated into existing arms control protocols.

With the United States and Russia suddenly in agreement on the need to limit the deployment of hypersonic missiles, now is an ideal time to explicitly and transparently address these weapons under the New START framework. Doing so would ensure that nuclear arms limitations remain robust, even as tensions flare. With the clock ticking on renewal, neither nation can afford to let a hypersonic arms race get in the way of a proven instrument of global security.

Posted in: Missiles and Missile Defense, Nuclear Weapons Tags: arms control, hypersonic, missiles, new start, nuclear weapons

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The Antichrist Is Courting Irrelevance in Iraq

Moqtada al-Sadr Is Courting Irrelevance in Iraq

March 31, 2020, 9:59 PM MDT

(Bloomberg Opinion) — Four years ago, when Moqtada al-Sadr called for an end to violence against Iraq’s LGBT community, the Shiite cleric-politician had seemed a step ahead of his followers. In reverting to homophobic form this week, speculating that the coronavirus pandemic was the result of same-sex marriage, he is demonstrating how far behind he has fallen.

Like most countries in the Middle East, Iraq is inhospitable to homosexuals. But few places in the country were as hostile as the giant Baghdad slum that bears Sadr’s surname and is his political stronghold: In Sadr City, clerics loyal to him gave viciously anti-gay sermons, and his Mahdi Army routinely hunted down and murdered homosexuals.

So Sadr’s statement in the summer of 2016 surprised and delighted human-rights groups. Here was a former religious fanatic evolving into a secular statesman! Having endured a spell on the sidelines while Iran-backed Shiite parties dominated Baghdad politics, Moqtada had reinvented himself as a centrist — or at least the closest simulacrum imaginable in the highly sectarian theater of Iraqi politics.

Positioning himself equidistant from Iran and the U.S., he played up his credentials as an Iraqi nationalist. The defunct Mahdi Army was revived and recast as Saraya as-Salam, or “Peace Companies” dedicated to fighting the Islamic State.

Serious Iraq scholars welcomed the transformation. Perhaps a kinder, gentler Moqtada al-Sadr could reform Iraq, by wielding his son-of-the-soil authenticity against malign foreign influences, especially those coming from Tehran. Iran, responding to his political resurgence, doubled down on its own political puppets and proxy militias. The former were led by Hadi al-Amiri, the latter by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Both men answered to the Islamic Republic’s top puppet-master, Qassem Soleimani.

Since Soleimani, Muhandis and Amiri were among the primary targets of the popular protest movement that erupted in the Iraqi public square last fall, Sadr’s siding with the protesters was only natural. Those who led the October Revolution, as it came to be known, welcomed his help, especially after they came under attack from security forces and militias loyal to Tehran. Sadr’s Peace Companies, in their distinctive blue hats, provided what little protection the protectors could muster against enemies wielding sniper rifles and batons.

Sadr was able to use the anger in the streets as a political weapon against Iran’s puppets in Baghdad. When the protests forced the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, Sadr was able to keep Iran from hand-picking a malleable replacement. As both sides of the Shiite political divide settled down for a long face-off, the Iraqi nationalist seemed to have a slight edge over the Iranian loyalists.

Then, on Jan. 3, came the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani and Muhandis. It was a blow for Amiri, who only a few days before had orchestrated a storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. But Sadr was unable to capitalize on his political rival’s vulnerability.

Instead, zigging when he should have zagged, he broke with the October Revolution and cast his lot with Tehran. He ordered his supporters to abandon the movement. His Peace Companies, pausing only to take off their blue hats, began to trash the squares where the protests had been centered.

The reasons for Sadr’s about-face are unclear. Some Iraq-watchers suggest he saw the deaths of Soleimani and Muhandis as an opportunity to seize the resulting political space —but reckoned he could only achieve this with Iran’s help. His militia are not in the same fighting league as Tehran’s proxies.

Equally, Sadr may have calculated that he needed to demonstrate his own clout, independent of the protest movement. After Amiri exploited the Soleimani and Muhandis funerals, Sadr called his followers to stage anti-U.S. demonstrations in mid-January.

Whatever his reasons, the break with the protesters will likely prove a mistake. Even before the coronavirus epidemic ended street politics, his appeal had visibly weakened: The anti-U.S. demonstrations never matched the numbers or the energy of the October Revolution.

Without the street’s backing, Sadr’s leverage in parliament is much reduced. He failed to get Mohammed Tawfik Allawi’s candidature for the prime ministership past the veto of the Iran-backed faction. Sadr is now said to be supporting Adnan al-Zurfi, who has also hit the wall with Tehran.

While Iran benefits from having Sadr in its tent — or at least pleading to be allowed in — its political interests in Iraq are already well served; the ragtag Peace Companies are of little use to Tehran. It is unlikely to value Sadr above Amiri — a man so loyal, he fought on Iran’s side in the 1980-88 war with Iraq. Nor is the mercurial cleric-politician a candidate to fill the shoes of Muhandis.

In short, having abandoned a large section of his natural constituency and unable to build a new one in Tehran or Baghdad, Sadr is flailing for political relevance. His homophobic statement is a manifestation of this desperation.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Bobby Ghosh is a columnist and member of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board. He writes on foreign affairs, with a special focus on the Middle East and the wider Islamic world.

Iran’s continued lies over coronavirus will lead to a nuclear breakout

Will Iran’s continued lies over coronavirus lead to popular unrest or nuclear breakout?

Hudson Institute senior fellow Michael Doran doesn’t foresee any changes, at least until after the U.S. presidential elections in November, saying “until then, we are frozen in place.”

BY ISRAEL KASNETT

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends the Great Conference of Basij members at Azadi stadium in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 4 2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

(March 31, 2020 / JNS) The Iranian people’s trust in its government is at an all-time low. When Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane in January, the regime lied in an attempt to cover it up. Then, when the coronavirus first made its appearance in Iran, again the regime lied. Now, Iran has the highest coronavirus death toll in the region, and the regime continues to lie about the numbers of those infected and the fatalities, while imprisoning dissenters.

Will the regime’s continued lies and neglect of its own people lead to unrest?

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) conducted an online conversation to discuss Iran as the epicenter of the coronavirus in the Middle East and its efforts to continue its nuclear activities. Indeed, according to Maysam Behravesh, in a recent article in Foreign Policy, “It’s indisputable that Iran … is one of the pandemic’s epicenters.”

Michael Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, said he believes that the coronavirus could create the foundations for popular unrest and regime change in Iran.

Segall explained that with the backdrop of sanctions and lack of income from oil, together with internal feuds within the regime, the crisis in Iran is deepening.

“Last year was a tough year for Iran,” he said. “They were unable to recover from one crisis, and now they find themselves in another crisis. The coming year will be a crossroad for the regime.”

‘Khamenei doesn’t care about how many people die’

However, according to former Iranian Housing Minister Djavad Khadem, regime change in Iran is not possible “because the regime has the support of its base, and this base will take whatever measures necessary to prevent that from happening.”

Adding to the notion that Iran’s leaders are lying, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of spreading conspiracy theories, alleging that the United States is responsible for creating the virus and infecting the world.

But the people of Iran see through the regime’s lies.

“People have given up on the regime and mistrust it,” said Khadem. “Khamenei can only be saved by his base, not the general population.”

According to Khadem, Khamenei also “has an inferiority complex” regarding his predecessor, the  Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei.

“Khomenei was always against the idea of giving up Iraq and giving in to America. So Khamenei’s thinking is, ‘If I resist America, I go down as a bigger man than Khomenei.’ ”

“He doesn’t care how many people die,” said Khadem, “because this is the best way to divert attention from the other problems in Iran. He sees them as martyrs. His aim is to resist American pressure at all costs.”

Khadem also believes that U.S. sanctions will not bring Iran to its knees because the current situation forces the Iranian people into submission and prevents them from protesting. “The Iranian people will not go out into the street unless they are sure they have food for six months,” he said.

“This is the fundamental problem that Americans do not understand,” he explained. “You cannot bring hungry people into the streets. History has shown when you are down, you are quiet. When you are strong, you are up. As long as the sanctions and pressure continue, there is no chance the people will protest.”

Hudson Institute senior fellow Michael Doran offered his perspective from the U.S. point of view, and said that for U.S. President Donald Trump, the Nov. 3 presidential elections are crucial in defining his options.

Trump doesn’t want to take any step that can be painted by his opponents, especially during the election season, as a step that will lead to war,” said Doran. “The Iranians understand this.”

He pointed out that Khamenei escalated the situation through proxies on the military front, while aggressively working with the Europeans and American Democrats to present Trump’s policies as a march to war.

Now, the Iranians are using the coronavirus crisis to launch a new information campaign against the U.S. administration’s policy,” said Doran.

As a case in point, Pompeo recently posted a video showing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying that the purpose of Iran’s public-relations campaign to end U.S. sanctions due to the coronavirus pandemic is really about enriching the regime.

Doran also stated that Israel and America must work to expose the connection between China and Iran.

“There is a need to contain China and to highlight the Chinese-Iranian relationship, and use the coronavirus crisis as a way of harming that relationship,” he said. “Anything we can do to put pressure on those channels would be really good.”

For now, Doran said the Trump administration does not appear to have any inclination to heed the Iranian call for sanctions relief, saying “the tool which they see as most successful is this ‘maximum pressure’ economic tool, combined with a certain amount of deterrence.”

Nevertheless, as JNS has reported, the United States just renewed waivers allowing foreign firms to work at Iranian nuclear sites.

Doran doesn’t foresee any changes, at least until after the U.S. elections. “Until then, we are frozen in place,” he said.

Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate’s Research Division and now a senior scholar at the JCPA, agreed with Khadem that Iran doesn’t care about its people, adding that the regime demonstrated this by placing more emphasis on maintaining good relations with China than on taking care of the Iranian people.

Kuperwasser ended the conversation by adding that Israel wants to see more pressure on Iran, and is “fully behind what Trump is doing right now.”

According to him, Iran will consider several options, including going nuclear, if it feels it has no way out.

“Everyone is worried, but no one does anything about it,” said Kuperwasser. “The IAEA, the Europeans, the Americans are furious, Israel is shouting, but no one is doing anything about it.”

“This is dangerous,” he warned, saying if Iran perceives itself as being backed into a corner and sees no one is ready to fight, it may make a dash for the bomb.

“If they manage to get to this endpoint,” he added, “it is a game-changer.”

Babylon the Great Prepares for War with Iran

US deploys patriot system in Iraq to tackle ‘another potential Iranian attack’ after missiles hit

Anadolu11:44 PM | March 31, 2020

US Deploys Patriot System in Iraq to Tackle ‘Another Potential Iranian Attack’

On 10 March, General Kenneth McKenzie, chief of the US Central Command, said in an apparent reference to the Patriot interceptors, that the Pentagon is in the process of delivering its “air defence systems” to Iraq.

The Middle East Eye news outlet quoted unnamed sources as saying on Monday that the US military had deployed its Patriot missile defence system to the Ain al-Asad base in the western Iraqi province of Anbar.

According to the sources, the system is currently being assembled amid reports that the Pentagon plans to send two more Patriot batteries to an undisclosed location in Iraq. Baghdad has not yet commented on the matter.

The reported deployment comes after General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on 10 March that the American military is sending its air defences to Iran, a few months after an Iranian missile attack on the Ain al-Asad base.

“We are in the process of bringing air defence systems, ballistic missile defence systems into Iraq – particularly to protect ourselves against another potential Iranian attack”, he said, in an apparent nod to the Patriot interceptors.

The statement followed Defence Secretary Mark Esper saying in late January that the US was working on delivering Patriot systems to Iraq in the wake of Iran’s missile attack, but that Washington needed “permission” from the Iraqi government to do so.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley confirmed at the time that the US was “working with the Iraqi government” on the issue, adding that “the mechanics of it all” still needed to be worked out.On 8 January, Iran launched several dozen missiles at US military bases in Iraq, hitting the Erbil Airbase in the country’s north and the Ain al-Asad Airbase west of Baghdad.

Iran reportedly provided advance warning to Iraq, which in turn presumably briefed the US forces stationed in the country, allowing them to take shelter in prepared bunkers. Although the missile strikes did not kill any US troops, they did cause substantial damage to base infrastructure.

The strikes came in response to the US assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds force, on 3 January, when a drone attack authorised by President Trump hit the Iranian general’s car at Baghdad International Airport.

The commander’s killing further exacerbated Washington-Tehran tensions, which have been simmering since the White House’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reinstatement of the US’ anti-Iran sanctions in May 2018.

Iraq’s parliament, for its part, voted to expel the estimated 5,000 US troops stationed in the country following Soleimani’s assassination, but US officials have repeatedly ruled out a total withdrawal.

READ MORE: US deploys patriot system in Iraq to tackle ‘another potential Iranian attack’ after missiles hit US troops

White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said that the US would exit from Iraq “on its own terms”, while President Trump demanded that the country pay the US back for a multi-billion-dollar airbase, threatening Baghdad with sanctions which he said would make those placed against Iran  “look pale in comparison”.

2 missiles fired on US troops intercepted in Iraq

Missile defense batteries have intercepted a rocket attack on the Ain al-Assad base in the west of Iraq, which hosts U.S. troops, an Iraqi army source said on Tuesday.

The Iraqi officer who spoke to Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity said that Patriot missiles intercepted two ockets launched towards the Ain al-Assad base west of the al-Ramadi city.

On Monday, Washington deployed Patriot missile defense batteries in bases hosting U.S. troops in Iraq, in Ain al-Assad base and Harir base in Erbil.

Recently, U.S. soldiers in Iraq came under rocket attacks that Washington blames on Iranian-backed militias in the country.

So far, the Baghdad has not commented on the Patriot defense batteries’ deployment.

Following the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, the Iraqi parliament in January demanded the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq.