January 20, 2010New York City isn’t immune to earthquakes; a couple of small tremors measuring about 2.5 on the Richter scale even struck back in 2001 and 2002.But on August 10, 1884, a more powerful earthquake hit. Estimated from 4.9 to 5.5 in magnitude, the tremor made houses shake, chimneys fall, and residents wonder what the heck was going on, according to a New York Timesarticle two days later.The quake was subsequently thought to have been centered off Far Rockaway or Coney Island.It wasn’t the first moderate quake, and it won’t be the last. In a 2008 Columbia University study, seismologists reported that the city is crisscrossed with several fault lines, one along 125th Street. With that in mind, New Yorkers should expect a 5.0 or higher earthquake centered here every 100 years, the seismologists say.Translation: We’re about 30 years overdue. Lucky for us the city adopted earthquake-resistant building codes in 1995.1884 A Forewarning Of The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)
Professor Huang Jing is Dean at the Institute of International and Regional Studies, Beijing Language and Culture University.
While Joe Biden has won the U.S. election, it would be wishful thinking that there would be any dramatic improvement in relations between Washington and Beijing, which have deteriorated steadily since Donald Trump came to power.
After all, a presidential election — despite all its significance for U.S. politics — can hardly alter the now established bipartisan consensus that China is a strategic competitor, or even an adversary, of the U.S. Moreover, the pressure on China from a Biden Administration can be expected to be more persistent — and comprehensive — because the new president will have to blend cohesion with consistency when it comes to policymaking and at the same time coordinate the administration’s approach to China with the country’s allies.
But that does not mean the relationship between the two great powers will continue its free fall, not by any means. On the contrary, Biden provides Beijing with a valuable opportunity to stabilize the bilateral relationship from a global perspective.
First and foremost, there will be an overall de-Trumpism when it comes to foreign policy under a Biden presidency. Specifically, we can expect some fundamental changes in the major policy areas such as climate change, nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, COVID-19 pandemic control, international trade, and financial stability.
Nor would it be a surprise to see a Biden administration reconsider, or even reenter, the Paris Agreement on climate, the Iranian nuclear deal framework, and reorient its relationship with the World Health Organization, recalibrate its approach toward World Trade Organization, which has been virtually boycotted by Trump. A Biden administration might proactively reengage the world’s other major economies in Europe and Japan to negotiate a new trade and investment framework. In all these areas, China can, and should, find substantial common ground with the U.S.
Second, there is little doubt that Biden will forgo U.S. unilateralism. Not only because it has done substantial damage to U.S. global standing, but also because a multilateral approach is essential if the U.S. is to restore and maintain a solid alliance system under its leadership.
During Trump’s tenure, China’s leadership has repeatedly emphasized its adherence to multilateralism in foreign affairs. Now it is time to see whether the “multilateralism” Beijing has advocated is merely rhetoric or a substantial policy upon which China can initiate a new approach toward a new administration in Washington that also champions multilateralism in global affairs. After all, both the U.S. and China are irrevocably interconnected with the same world, despite the unfolding “strategic competition” between them. It is more likely that a multilateral approach toward global affairs will lead to more constructive communications between the two powers in international affairs.
It is time to see whether the “multilateralism” Beijing has advocated is merely rhetoric or a substantial policy. © AP
Third, the global economy is facing a substantial risk of a major financial meltdown — or a least a global recession — caused largely by the unprecedented quantitative easing triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic that has pumped trillions of dollars into the market to prevent an economic collapse. Here, Beijing and Washington can find solid common ground in maintaining global financial stability. And not just because China has the world’s largest foreign reserves and is the second-largest holder of U.S. Treasury bills. A financial meltdown would be catastrophic for both China — the largest trading power in the world — and the U.S., for which financial stability is critical to economic prosperity.
Fourth, it is in the interests of both China and the U.S. to build up a proper mechanism for crisis management, which barely exists nowadays, to deal with sensitive issues such as the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait to prevent lingering tensions from escalating into dangerous conflicts.
Last but not the least, it’s important not to expect too much from a Biden administration, especially building up a clearly defined policy framework regarding China before the 2022 midterm elections. Biden’s immediate priorities will include promoting a national reconciliation in the aftermath of a deeply divided and highly emotional election, getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control, stimulating an economy still reeling from the pandemic, and consolidating the Democrats’ dominance by aiming for a substantial victory in the 2022 midterms.
Meanwhile, the new administration must focus on restoring U.S. leadership among its allies, which has been substantially damaged by Trump’s arbitrary unilateralism. Biden and his team understand that U.S. strength is rooted not just in American might, but in the US-led alliance system that has prevailed since the end of World War II.
There will be a time window for China’s leadership to signal some policy changes and initiatives toward the U.S., if Beijing really does believe that stabilizing the U.S.-China relationship is in China’s national interests. It is not unreasonable to assume that these changes and initiatives will be well received if they demonstrate Beijing’s determination to adhere to the policy of reform and openness at home, and its commitment to the established norms, principles and rules in international affairs.
As such, we can expect that US-China competition will henceforth be in steadier hands. After all, what really endangers world peace and stability, as well as the future of U.S.-China relations, is not a “strategic competition” between the two great powers, but the uncertainty resulting from a competition in which neither power follows the time-honored rules of game, but behaves arbitrarily only in terms of its own narrowly defined self-interest.
By Anton Troianovski and Andrew E. Kramer
Nov. 8, 2020, 1:53 p.m. ET
Celebrating Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s win on Saturday in Wilmington, Del., where he delivered a nationally televised address.Erin Schaff/The New York Times
MOSCOW — The morning after Joseph R. Biden Jr. became president-elect of the United States, the Kremlin published a congratulatory message from President Vladimir V. Putin.
It was a happy-60th-birthday greeting to a Moscow theater director.
Unlike his Western European counterparts, who quickly posted congratulations on Saturday, Mr. Putin had not issued a statement on the president-elect even as night fell in Moscow on Sunday. Four years earlier, the Kremlin rushed out a message for President Trump within hours of the American television networks calling the race on election night.
“Putin is a good soldier and does not wag his tail before his enemies,” a prominent pro-Kremlin analyst, Sergei A. Markov, said in explaining the difference.
The early signs indicate that Mr. Putin is preparing for a deeply adversarial relationship with America’s next president. While Mr. Trump never delivered on Russian hopes of rapprochement between Washington and Moscow, his America-first foreign policy dovetailed with the Kremlin’s desire to weaken the Western alliance and to expand Russian influence around the world.
Mr. Biden, by contrast, is a president-elect whom Mr. Putin already has many reasons to dread. Mr. Biden sees Russia as one of America’s biggest security threats, promises to rebuild frayed ties with European allies and, as vice president, worked actively to support pro-Western politicians in Ukraine, a country at war with Russia.
To Russia’s governing class, the 77-year-old Mr. Biden was the preferred candidate of an American “deep state” — a huge network of spies and diplomats that, in the Kremlin’s telling, worked to undermine Mr. Trump and his efforts to improve ties with Russia. And Mr. Biden, unlike Mr. Trump, seems to many Russians to be the sort of American politician they detest the most: someone ready to meddle around the world in the name of democratic ideals, rather than respecting spheres of influence and engaging with Moscow in hard-nosed talks.
President Trump with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Helsinki in 2018. While Russian hopes of rapprochement have not been realized under Mr. Trump, his skepticism toward Western alliances has worked to Russia’s advantage.Doug Mills/The New York Times
“There you have it, the notorious deep state that Trump had promised to get rid of,” Mikhail V. Leontyev, a commentator, intoned on the prime-time news in Russia on Saturday, describing Mr. Biden. “We wouldn’t give a toss about this if these guys didn’t try to get involved in all our business, and the probable winner has made it his mission to get involved in all the world’s business.”
As swing states counted votes in recent days, Russian state television increasingly adopted Mr. Trump’s assertion that the Democrats had stolen the election. A reporter in Washington for Russia’s state-run Channel 1 ridiculed the street celebrations of Mr. Biden’s victory as those of people “crying, hopping around and getting drunk.” On a Sunday-night news show, the host Dmitri Kiselyov said the election showed the United States to be “not a country but a huge, chaotic communal apartment, with a criminal flair.”
The vitriol on Kremlin-controlled television, and the lack of a quick congratulations for Mr. Biden, was notable given that Mr. Putin appeared to be trying to distance himself from Mr. Trump as Mr. Biden emerged as the clear favorite in recent months. Some Russian analysts and politicians had even speculated that new leadership in Washington could be a good thing for Moscow.
“There are increasingly few within the Russian elite who see Trump as an objective in himself,” Tatiana Stanovaya, a political commentator, wrote in an essay titled “A Farewell to Trump?” She added that there was “also a feeling of Trump fatigue,” even in the Kremlin.
Indeed, Mr. Putin chose this fall not to give Mr. Trump what would have been a prized foreign policy victory: a renegotiated New Start nuclear arms deal, the last remaining major arms control agreement between the countries.
Mr. Trump’s lead negotiator, Marshall Billingslea, went so far as to announce that the two leaders had a “gentleman’s agreement” for a renegotiated deal. Yet, within hours, a deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, called the Trump administration delusional. “Washington is describing what is desired, not what is real,” he said.
Instead, in a television interview last month, Mr. Putin lauded Mr. Biden as being prepared to extend the treaty. And in what may have been a backhanded compliment, he praised the Democrats as sharing leftist ideals with a party of which Mr. Putin was once a member: the Communists.
“We will work with any future president of the United States — the one whom the American people give their vote of confidence,” Mr. Putin said.
Marshall Billingslea, right, Mr. Trump’s lead negotiator in arms control talks, at a news conference in Vienna in June.Joe Klamar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The C.I.A. said earlier this year that Mr. Putin appeared to be interfering in the election on behalf of Mr. Trump. The Kremlin has denied meddling in American politics, and many analysts in Moscow noted that no fresh, substantiated allegations of Russian interference had emerged from the United States since Election Day.
Indeed, the notion that Mr. Trump’s departure from the White House could reduce American anger about Russian interference in the 2016 election appeared to be the biggest silver lining of Mr. Biden’s victory, some politicians and analysts said.
“It’s not that we believe in a sobering-up in Washington, but the key irritant might go away,” Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of the Russian Parliament, wrote on Facebook. “Wouldn’t that be a reason to resume talks on arms control, for instance? We are definitely ready.”
Mr. Biden could also benefit Russia by bringing the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran, an agreement to which Moscow is a party, another Russian lawmaker, Leonid E. Slutsky, said. In 2018 Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the deal, which President Barack Obama had helped broker among world powers to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Even as the Kremlin stayed mum on Sunday, Mr. Putin’s staunchest domestic opponent — the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny — offered well-wishes on Twitter to Mr. Biden and Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect. He also congratulated Americans on holding “a free and fair election,” an indirect sideswipe at the Putin government.
“This is a privilege which is not available to all countries,” Mr. Navalny, who is recovering after being attacked with a nerve agent in Siberia, wrote. “Looking forward to the new level of cooperation between Russia and the US.”
The Kremlin and its backers have long claimed, without evidence, that opposition activists like Mr. Navalny are the instruments by which America’s “deep state” implements its anti-Russian agenda. The Russian news media often says that the United States has engineered “color revolutions” across the former Soviet Union.
Mr. Markov, the pro-Kremlin analyst, said he expected Mr. Biden to increase support for Mr. Putin’s domestic opponents — perhaps foreshadowing a message of the Russian state media during Mr. Biden’s presidency.
“Financing for a color revolution against Putin, I believe, will sharply increase,” Mr. Markov said.
Mr. Putin portrays himself as a defender of Russia against an encroaching West. A tougher Russia policy in the United States could play to his advantage, said Sam Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London.
“Conflict with the West and the United States in particular form an important part of Putin’s legitimacy,” Mr. Greene said.
Russia and the U.S. Election
Anton Troianovski has been a Moscow correspondent for The New York Times since September 2019. He was previously Moscow bureau chief of The Washington Post and spent nine years with The Wall Street Journal in Berlin and New York. @antontroian
Andrew E. Kramer is a reporter based in the Moscow bureau. He was part of a team that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for a series on Russia’s covert projection of power. @AndrewKramerNYT
As of 7 p.m. Sunday, the National Hurricane Center has the center of Tropical Storm Eta back over the warm water of the Atlantic with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. The storm is located 90 miles south of Miami.
A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for Southwest Florida. A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect from north of Bonita Beach to Englewood.
A Tropical Storm Warning means tropical-storm-force winds are expected somewhere within this area within the next 36 hours.
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for the coast of southern Florida from Deerfield Beach to Bonita Beach, and a Hurricane Warning is in effect for the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
A Hurricane Watch means hurricane-storm-force winds are possible somewhere within this area within the next 48 hours.
A Hurricane Warning means hurricane-storm-force winds are expected somewhere within the warning area.
The latest track brings Eta into the Florida Straits the rest of today where it’s expected to become a hurricane. By tonight, Eta will bend westward and cross near the Florida Keys, and to the south of Southwest Florida.
By Monday afternoon, Eta is forecast to be near the Dry Tortugas. After that, the forecast track is highly uncertain, with Eta expected to meander in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, with a slow northward drift through Friday.
In the meantime, with Eta expected to pass very close to SW Florida, direct impacts can be expected. The main threats are flooding rain and sporadic power outages, with the worst weather occurring Sunday night into Monday.
In terms of rainfall totals, we’re expecting widespread totals of 2-4 inches of rain across Southwest Florida, with isolated amounts as high as 5″ are possible. Localized street flooding is possible in low lying areas.
As far as wind is concerned, we’re calling for sustained winds of 30-40 MPH, gusting as high as 50 MPH. This can cause sporadic power outages, knock down trees & large branches, and blow around outdoor furniture and Christmas decorations. It wouldn’t be the worst idea to check your generator today.
Biden has pledged to rejoin Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with six powers, a deal that was agreed by Washington when he was vice president, if Iran also returns to compliance.
Iranian officials expressed mixed feelings after Joe Biden was projected as the winner in the US presidential elections, with the Islamic Republic’s president calling on Biden to “make up for past mistakes,” while the country’s supreme leader called the elections a “spectacle.”
In a tweet, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei once again referred to the US presidential elections as “a spectacle,” after the projected win was reported on Saturday night.
“The situation in the US & what they themselves say about their elections is a spectacle!” tweeted Khamenei. “This is an example of the ugly face of liberal democracy in the US. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is absolutely clear: the definite political, civil, & moral decline of the US regime.”
Iran’s president said on Sunday the next US administration should use the opportunity to compensate for President Donald Trump’s mistakes, Iranian state media reported.
“Trump’s damaging policy has been opposed … by the American people. The next US administration should use the opportunity to make up for past mistakes,” President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying.
“Iran favors constructive interaction with the world,” Rouhani said, adding that “the heroic resistance of the Iranian people proved that the policy of maximum pressure is doomed to failure.”Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Biden’s victory on Sunday, stressing that “the world is watching” and that “deeds matter most.”
“The American people have spoken,” tweeted Zarif. “And the world is watching whether the new leaders will abandon disastrous lawless bullying of outgoing regime—and accept multilateralism, cooperation & respect for law. Deeds matter most. Iran’s record: dignity, interest & responsible diplomacy.”
In a radio interview, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said that “the results of the US presidential election will not affect the principled policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” according to Mehr News.
“The hegemonic and bullying policy of the United States will not change with the change of the president in this country, but with the change of rulers, new methods and approaches may be adopted by Americans,” added Araqchi. “In order to secure its interests and to counter any new pressures or possible threats, it is natural that the Islamic Republic will adopt appropriate methods and solutions in accordance with new conditions of US administration.”
The deputy foreign minister refused to discuss the possibility of Biden returning to the JCPOA Iranian nuclear deal during the interview, saying “it is too early to talk about such [an] issue,” according to Mehr.
Biden has pledged to rejoin Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with six powers, a deal that was agreed by Washington when he was vice president, if Iran also returns to compliance.
Tensions have spiked between the longtime foes since 2018, when Trump exited the deal and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
In retaliation, Tehran has gradually reduced its commitments to the accord. But Iran’s clerical rulers have said those steps were reversible if Tehran’s interests were respected.
TEHRAN – Stephen Herzog, a research fellow at the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University, says Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy to strangulate Iran economically has failed as the Islamic Republic has “improved economic ties with China, Venezuela, and other states.” The research fellow at the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University also says, “Iran has significantly more enriched uranium than it did prior to the JCPOA.”
Herzog made the remarks in an interview with the Tehran Times just as it has become clear that Joe Biden had secured enough electoral votes to win the U.S. presidential elections.
The research fellow also predicts Iran would not go to “accept Biden’s word if it is possible for future U.S. presidents to exit the deal again with the stroke of a pen.”
“The United States must consider how to reassure Iran, whether legally or otherwise, that the JCPOA will remain in force in the future,” Herzog notes.
The following is the text of the interview:
Q: In 2019, the United States withdrew from a landmark arms control treaty with Russia, claiming it undermines its national security interests. Do you think the move implies a shift in U.S. strategy or just can be considered an impulsive decision by President Trump?
A: It’s true, in August last year, the Trump administration withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987. It prohibited the United States and Russia from maintaining nuclear- and conventionally-armed ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500–5500 kilometers that destabilized Europe during the Cold War.
While the administration correctly pointed to Russian missile tests violating the treaty, they made no attempt to save the agreement. This was a grave mistake, as the treaty had numerous benefits for international security, and disagreements could have been addressed.
However, I wouldn’t say withdrawal necessarily indicates shifting U.S. arms control strategy in the long run. Instead, it highlights stark differences between Trump and his election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump also left the Open Skies Treaty and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—known as the Iran Nuclear Deal—and removed U.S. signature from the Arms Trade Treaty. If re-elected, it’s likely Trump will allow the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia to expire. It’s the last remaining agreement limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. But in my view, Trump isn’t necessarily opposed to arms control, so much as he mistakenly believes only deals he makes are worthwhile. His diplomacy with North Korea that has achieved no progress toward denuclearization is one striking example.
On the other hand, Biden would attempt to return to these agreements and restore predictability and normalcy to U.S. foreign policy. On a practical level, this means that the U.S. back to international deals is much more likely if Biden defeats Trump in the election.
As Vice President under Barack Obama, when the JCPOA was negotiated, Biden strongly supports the deal, which is part of his campaign platform.
Q: Why does Israel oppose creating a nuclear-weapon-free zone in West Asia but at the same time accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons?
A: The consensus in open sources, as you suggest, is that Israel maintains an arsenal of approximately 90 nuclear weapons despite refusing to confirm or deny its nuclear status. Israel has also never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and agreed to forego developing such weapons. My understanding is that the Israeli government states that it would be willing to participate in a Middle East (West Asia) nuclear-weapon-free zone only as part of a broader regional peace deal that resolves its perceived security threats. Whether it is true or not, the Israeli perception seems to be that Iran and other states’ proposals to establish a zone aren’t serious and are just an effort to stigmatize Israel. Israel wants to link Iran, Egypt, and other proponents of regional nuclear disarmament to wide-ranging peace negotiations. Likewise, further participation in the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) would be productive steps forward.
Regarding Israeli accusations about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the administration of Benjamin Netanyahu’s so-called “atomic archive” disclosures was deeply unpersuasive. All they did was confirm what the international community knew long ago: there is currently no ongoing military nuclear activity in the Islamic Republic.
I do not believe that Iranian leaders are seeking nuclear weapons, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recently determined that Tehran does not have the fissile material to make even a single nuclear bomb. Yet, Iran has taken a number of steps away from the JCPOA in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s withdrawal. My sense is that Iran is trying to show Washington the costs of leaving the deal by pursuing reversible actions such as increasing the number of centrifuges at the Fordow and Natanz facilities and enriching uranium above 3.67% content of isotope uranium-235.
But unfortunately, Iran’s signaling was not being assessed by the Trump administration as a reason to return to the deal. Instead, it’s persistently seen as evidence that Tehran cannot be trusted and must be targeted with further sanctions and military threats.
Q: Iranians were showered with missiles during Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran in the 1980s, but Tehran was not given weapons to defend itself. Now, why is Iran’s defensive missile program being demonized?
A: What happened to Iranians at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s missiles, chemical weapons, and landmines was a tragedy. So many civilians suffered in inexcusable violations of human rights. Iraq’s use of missiles against Iranian cities in the 1980s shows that these are deadly, offensive weapons.
Today, Iran continues to test and improve a great diversity of ballistic and cruise missiles with various ranges. The Islamic Republic has used its missiles in recent years in attacks across Iraq and Syria (against ISIS). There are also questions raised by Europe and the U.S. about why, if Iran needs missiles purely for its regional defense, it has built delivery systems that are now capable of reaching much of Europe.
The Iranian government, to prove that its missile program as defensive, should publish a “white paper” strategy document informing interested parties around the world about its conceptions of deterrence and defense, as well as the circumstances under which Iran would consider using missiles. Transparency of this nature would help to avoid misperception and inadvertent escalation. It would also provide a clearer understanding of Iranian views that might tailor future international dialogue to achieve peace.
Q: Is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the official name for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, “the worst deal ever negotiated” as Trump described it?
No, it is very far from “the worst deal ever negotiated.” The JCPOA is a historic deal that provides Iran with a pathway toward integration into the global economy and the pursuit of civilian nuclear energy. Meanwhile, it contains an intrusive layered verification regime under IAEA oversight that ensures Iran isn’t developing nuclear weapons. The Iran nuclear deal was a victory for all parties involved and a step toward peace in the Middle East (West Asia) and beyond.
Trump’s desire to destroy the deal because of its association with Obama is well-known. In fact, Trump’s efforts to “stop Iran from getting the bomb” have been abject failures. Iran has significantly more enriched uranium than it did prior to the JCPOA and a reduced breakout time. Meanwhile, the “maximum pressure” campaign to economically isolate Iran hasn’t worked, as the Islamic Republic has improved economic ties with China, Venezuela, and other states. Attempts to reinstate the conventional arms embargo and snapback sanctions have also failed.
I believe a Biden presidency will revitalize the JCPOA.
But this is far from guaranteed, as it will be difficult for any U.S. leader to return to the deal so long as Iran is qualitatively and quantitatively expanding its centrifuge enrichment program. If Iran can step back from these advancements, I expect the JCPOA to return in full force. However, Iran isn’t just going to accept Biden’s word if it’s possible for future U.S. presidents to exit the deal again with the stroke of a pen. It will be essential for the
United States to consider how to reassure Iran, whether legally or otherwise, that the JCPOA will remain in force in the future. Iranian officials should clearly explain what would be acceptable as reassurance.
If Trump is reelected, I expect a continuation of the failed policy of “maximum pressure,” perhaps through increased U.S. secondary sanctions on foreign firms transacting with Iran. To make a deal with Trump, Iran will need to negotiate over the nuclear and missile programs, as well as its support of groups the United States has labeled as terrorist organizations. But Trump and his advisors will have to end “maximum pressure” and treat Iran as an equal partner at the bargaining table. Obviously, under a second Trump presidency, the survival of the JCPOA will be in question. Until a new agreement can be reached, it will be incumbent on Iran and its European parties to maintain the JCPOA. This would require Iran to scale back its nuclear developments. Adherence to the JCPOA offers the best path to peace.
Israel has been known for its expertise in counter-insurgency and using hi-tech aircraft, like the F-35 jet, to confront enemies across the Middle East. Israel’s power was concentrated on land with its Israel Defense Forces investing in the best air defenses and new combat vehicles. Now that may be changing as Israel takes delivery of its new Sa’ar 6 corvette ships. These four new 2,000 ton vessels, which will be delivered from Germany over the next year, will give Israel new firepower at sea and the ability to protect its emerging gas fields off the coast.
In a recent statement the commander of the Israeli Navy, Maj. Gen. Eli Sharvit: Said that “the mission of defending Israel’s exclusive economic zone and strategic assets at sea is the primary security mission of the Israeli Navy. These assets are essential to the operational continuity of the State of Israel, and having the ability to protect them holds critical importance.” The gas exclusive economic zone stretches over an area twice the size of Israel. Gas fields off the coast, near Lebanon and Gaza, both could be threatened by missiles. Israel confronted a surprise missile threat like this in 2006 when Hezbollah targeted the INS Hanit.
More recently reports indicated Hezbollah may have access to the Russian-made Yakhont missile or a variant. The group already has stockpiled some 150,000 missiles and rockets with Iran’s support. It is also developing precision-guided munitions. The threat of missiles at sea is well known, especially after the Houthis targeted ships off the coast of Yemen and after militants in Gaza struck an Egyptian ship in 2015. Anti-ship missiles can pose a major threat to modern navies. During the Falklands war in 1982 Argentinian Dassault-Breguet Super Etendard planes air-launched Exocet missiles that struck several British ships. During the Iran-Iraq war in 1987, the USS Stark was hit by a missile as well.
For this reason, Israel is putting to sea advanced ships with stealth technology and the latest in Israel’s Adir phased array radar, as well as numerous interceptors designed to protect it from missile threats. Many of the combat systems on the Sa’ar 6 ships will be new or recent designs and more than ninety percent will come from Israel’s defense companies. For instance, Rafael Advanced Defense systems reportedly supplies the C-Gem offboard active decoy, which defends against missile threats. Elbit Systems electronic warfare suite will be incorporated along with IAI’s Barak missiles and the sea version of Israel’s Iron Dome. Israel has made rapid advances in all this technology over the last several years, attempting to keep up with the threats emerging from Iran and Hezbollah Lebanon. For instance, Israel announced it had tested a new ship-to-ship missile in September. The missile represented a partnership between IAI and Israel’s research and development division within the Ministry of Defense. At the time Israel said, “the new missile system offers enhanced offensive precision capabilities, has longer range, possesses improved offensive flexibility and is better equipped to engage advanced threats.”
On November 11, the Israeli Navy will receive the new ship but it will still be in Kiel in Germany where it was laid down at Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems. It will then sail to Israel. Israel’s navy says that “Upon the arrival of the corvette to Israel and after the operationalization and installation of battle systems, of which the vast majority are Israeli-designed systems, INS Magen will start its operational service in the Navy and will lead the defense of the Israeli economic exclusive zone and maritime strategic assets.”
The name of the ship and the program, “Magen,” comes from the Hebrew term for “shield.” This is because the ship is a shield for the gas platforms and off-shore infrastructure Israel is investing in. This will include a new gas pipeline to Cyprus and Greece, according to a recent agreement. It is also part of Israel’s increased role in the eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which was established this summer. Israel is increasingly a naval ally of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece. As tensions have increased between Turkey and Greece, Ankara has also laid claim to rights to the Mediterranean stretching to Libya, which puts it astride the potential pipeline. An Israeli ship was harassed by the Turkish navy in December 2019 as Ankara pushed its demands in the Mediterranean. The IDF has assessed that Turkey could be a future challenge and reports in British media have indicated the Mossad also sees Turkey as an emerging threat.
This shift in naval strategy, although it is not tailored to relate to Turkey, gives Israel more eight at sea and a more relevant navy that can operate further from shore. Previously Israel relied on small patrol boats to deal with terror threats from Gaza, as well as a handful of missile boats. It also commissioned a half dozen submarines since the late 1990s. Now Israel will have fifteen surface vessels, the four Sa’ar 6 ships, three Sa’ar 5 ships and eight missile boats. The decision to build the Sa’ar 6 was made in 2013 and represents a major investment in the navy. The last time Israel put new surface ships to sea in such a build-up was in the 1990s. The Sa’ar 6 is supposed to be the backbone of the navy for thirty years. Combined with the Dolphin-class submarines, it will give the Israeli navy the latest technology for naval warfare.
Israel’s navy held a briefing and put out an explainer about the new ships in early November. The navy says that the ships will defend the gas fields up to several hundred kilometers offshore and that they can not only be on station at the rigs for a significant period of time but can also do other missions. “The ability to carry mid-size helicopters, such as the Seahawk: The new Seahawk helicopters that will be used by Sa’ar 6-Class Corvettes will be powerful, and able to operate over long ranges and extended periods of time. In this fashion, the ships will be able to provide a comprehensive defensive envelope.”
The understanding of the threat Israel faces has grown in recent years. Israel once had to confront convention armies, fighting the Soviet-armed Egyptians and Syrians in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1990s the threat shifted more to counter-insurgency. Now the threat has moved to what Israel calls the “third circle,” a term used for Iran. Israel incorporated this understanding into its new Momentum plan. That means Israel is reducing some of its older units, making its armored corps and infantry more “multi-dimensional” and relying on communications, artificial intelligence and algorithms to bring the most amount of information to frontline troops to give them more lethality in times of conflict. That is designed to land a knock-out blow on an enemy.
Israel is also training more with the United States using the F-35, of which Israel is acquiring at least fifty of the advanced aircraft for several squadrons. The goal of Israel’s current operations, called the Campaign Between the Wars, is to reduce the Iranian threat and Iranian entrenchment in Syria and prolong the period before the next war. At sea, that means dealing with potential missile threats from places like Lebanon. Only one missile getting through Israel’s defense net can harm the gas platforms. That necessitated ships of the type Israel is putting to sea, and also knitting them in to Israel’s advanced early warning systems on land. This means confronting “blue water” and “brown water” threats, at sea and closer to land.
Israel receives most of its trade from the sea. It’s two Mediterranean ports, Haifa and Ashon, now account for around 43 percent and 53 percent respectively, with the Red Sea port of Eilat taking in only four percent of the country’s trade. New relations with the UAE and new pipeline deals could change some of that situation. Changing Israel’s strategy meant assigning ships to the three gas fields and taking into consideration that one ship might always be at port or on other missions. It also means having better naval-air connectivity, and multiple layers of defense. This basically means extending the Iron Dome and David Sling and other defense system umbrellas to the sea.
Recent attacks by Iran, such as the drone and cruise missile swarm used to attack Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq in September 2019, point to the kinds of threats that Israel must consider. The Sa’ar 6 will have around 80 personnel on board and Israel is also hoping to have a quarter of the personnel on the new ships be female. In recent years, Israel’s navy increased the number of women in the service. It is thus a technological and societal leap for the country.
The ship was custom-designed so that it has the stealth capabilities and room to install the weapon systems Israel wants. This is an upgrade of existing corvette-class ship models. Many navies today are racing to put to sea better ships, especially as the naval arms race continues in the Pacific and elsewhere. Not all the plans for new types of ships, such as the American Zumwalt-class destroyers or the littoral combat ships like the USS Independence, have proven successful. Israel hopes its updates will be a model that does perform well.