The Ramapo Fault and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

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Living on the Fault Line
A major earthquake isn’t likely here, but if it comes, watch out.
Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo
This chart shows the location of the Ramapo Fault System, the longest and one of the oldest systems of cracks in the earth’s crust in the Northeast. It also shows the location of all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in New Jersey during the last 50 years. The circle in blue indicates the largest known Jersey quake.
The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.
After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.
Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.
During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.
“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”
Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.
Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.
After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.
But no area on the East Coast is as densely populated or as heavily built-up as parts of New Jersey and its neighbors. For this reason, scientists refer to the Greater New York City-Philadelphia area, which includes New Jersey’s biggest cities, as one of “low earthquake hazard but high vulnerability.” Put simply, the Big One isn’t likely here—but if it comes, especially in certain locations, watch out.
Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.
Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.
The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.
For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.
Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”
The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.
The Ramapo Fault sits on the North American Plate, which extends past the East Coast to the middle of the Atlantic, where it meets the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in constant flux. The consequences of this intraplate setting are huge: First, as Gates points out, “The predictability of bigger earthquakes on…[such] settings is exceedingly poor, because they don’t occur very often.” Second, the intraplate setting makes it more difficult to link our earthquakes to a major cause or fault, as monitors in California can often do.
This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”
Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”
But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.
Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.
All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.
For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.
Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the  amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.
To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.
In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial  rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.
As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)
In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.
The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/hazus.htm).
Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.
Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.
This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.
“Any vulnerable structure on these weak soils would have a higher failure hazard,” Stanford says. And the scary truth is that many structures in New Jersey’s largest cities, not to mention New York City, would be vulnerable, since they’re older and built before anyone gave much thought to earthquake-related engineering and construction codes.
For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at nycem.org.)
All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or  auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.
Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”
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Planning for the Big One
For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.
In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.
Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”
Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.
This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”
A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.
“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”
Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.

The science behind the sixth seal: Revelation 6:12

The science behind the earthquake that shook Southern New England

Did you feel it? At 9:10 am EST Sunday morning, a Magnitude 3.6 earthquake struck just south of Bliss Corner, Massachusetts, which is a census-designated place in Dartmouth. If you felt it, report it!

While minor earthquakes do happen from time to time in New England, tremors that are felt by a large number of people and that cause damage are rare.

Earthquake Report

The earthquake was originally measured as a magnitude 4.2 on the Richter scale by the United States Geological Surgey (USGS) before changing to a 3.6.

Earthquakes in New England and most places east of the Rocky Mountains are much different than the ones that occur along well-known fault lines in California and along the West Coast.

Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts fall nearly in the center of the North American Plate, one of 15 (seven primary, eight secondary) that cover the Earth.

Earth’s tectonic plates

Tectonic plates move ever-so-slowly, and as they either push into each other, pull apart, or slide side-by-side, earthquakes are possible within the bedrock, usually miles deep.

Most of New England’s and Long Island’s bedrock was assembled as continents collided to form a supercontinent 500-300 million years ago, raising the northern Appalachian Mountains.

Plate tectonics (Courtesy: Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Fault lines left over from the creation of the Appalachian Mountains can still lead to earthquakes locally, and many faults remain undetected. According to the USGS, few, if any, earthquakes in New England can be linked to named faults.

While earthquakes in New England are generally much weaker compared to those on defined fault lines, their reach is still impressive. Sunday’s 3.6 was felt in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Hampshire.

USGS Community Internet Intensity Map

While M 3.6 earthquakes rarely cause damage, some minor cracks were reported on social media from the shaking.

According to the USGS, moderately damaging earthquakes strike somewhere in the region every few decades, and smaller earthquakes are felt roughly twice a year.

The largest known New England earthquakes occurred in 1638 (magnitude 6.5) in Vermont or New Hampshire, and in 1755 (magnitude 5.8) offshore from Cape Ann northeast of Boston.

The most recent New England earthquake to cause moderate damage occurred in 1940 (magnitude 5.6) in central New Hampshire.

The China Nuclear Horn and Nuclear Arms Control: Daniel 8

China and Nuclear Arms Control

Military vehicles carrying JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles drive past Tiananmen Square,October 2019. Thomas Peter / Reuters

Debates on the future of nuclear arms control have increasingly focused on two key aspects: how to address a more diverse range of weapon systems and how to include more parties beyond the US and Russia. The latter has predominantly meant China. Among the five recognized nuclear- weapon states under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), China is the only state that has increased its nuclear arsenal, albeit in small quantities. China has also been modernizing and expanding its types of delivery systems. Some of them can carry nuclear or conventional warheads, which increases the risk of inadvertent escalation in a crisis. Moreover, the nuclear dimension of the US-China relationship will inevitably grow as the strategic competition between Washington and Beijing intensifies on other fronts, notably in terms of a conventional arms race.

The Iranian horn will win the war

Iran will lose the battle, but win the war

Ranj AlaaldinTuesday, December 1, 2020

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, the architect behind Iran’s nuclear program, has raised the spectre of a major conflict in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration in January. Iran is under unprecedented pressure at home (facing economic reverberations of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign) and in the region (as Tehran struggles to protect its influence in key countries like Iraq and Syria). It has suffered a wave of airstrikes recently, including an attack this week that purportedly killed a senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) elite Quds Force near the Syria-Iraq border; in Iraq, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on an array of Iranian front companies.

Iran will survive these destabilizing events, though its leaders are convinced the administration (or some within it) sees the next two months as their last chance to settle a series of old scores with Iran. Far from pushing it to the brink, Tehran is still strongly positioned to pick up the pieces as the Trump administration makes its way out.

Iran’s dilemma

While Iran has believed the U.S. has sought its demise since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the notion of a major U.S. attack on the country or its allies has become increasingly palpable over the past year.

The assassination of Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi is seen as a signal of intent, coming just days after a covert Israeli-Saudi-U.S. meeting that reportedly took place in Saudi Arabia. It comes 10 days after reports suggested President Trump was close to attacking Iran directly before instead looking at ways to strike Iran’s assets and allies elsewhere. The leadership in Iran faces a perilous conundrum in a precarious environment.

Tehran has historically relied on the presence of U.S. forces in the region to reinforce its deterrence capabilities, but the Trump administration has suggested it may withdraw its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. This would diminish Iran’s ability to strike U.S. forces, and with that its ability to deter an attack. According to sources close to the Iraqi leadership, a number of militia leaders in Iraq, together with their patrons in Tehran, are convinced the Trump administration is seeking one last chance to settle its disputes with Iran, and that an attack will materialize if troops are withdrawn. These sources have noted that some militia heads have effectively either gone into hiding or have dramatically reduced their public engagements in anticipation of a potential decapitation campaign aimed at Iran-aligned groups in the region.

Iran could opt to absorb the blows or carry out limited (symbolic) retaliatory strikes. In Iraq, for example, its proxies may launch a barrage of rockets that cause limited damage. The idea is that this may deter its adversaries, but such a move risks paving the way for the U.S. and its allies to escalate their own response, while also creating second-order effects that could create a conflagration within Iraq.

Alternatively, Iran could initiate an expansive, pre-emptive attack against the U.S. and/or its allies out of concern of a U.S. first strike. Tehran would harness its proxy network to conduct a series of attacks in tandem and against a host of regional targets, including in the Gulf Arab states. These would be significant in their scale and magnitude, with the hope of staving off a major U.S. attack. But it could actually draw a major counter-strike from the U.S. and its allies, a major risk for Tehran. The regime in Tehran may feel pushed towards this option if there are further attacks on Iran or its allies in the coming days and weeks, a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq, and/or a wave of high-profile assassinations.

The strategic advantage

But Iran may still hold the strategic advantage. The U.S. and its allies have some difficult choices of their own to make. Aside from looking to torpedo U.S.-Iran rapprochement under the Biden administration, it’s hard to know what end game the Trump administration seeks. The regime could be weakened at home and in the region, and its proxy infrastructure could become dilapidated, but Iran can bank on two important realities.

Firstly, that U.S. allies in the Gulf, notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have no appetite for a major conflagration. They are in the line of fire. Iran’s rivals do not have the stomach to commit to a full-scale effort to force the regime’s downfall.

Secondly, Iran is uniquely positioned to repair and rebuild its regional proxy networks. This is comprised of complex and multi-layered inter-personal and inter-organizational links, and undergirded by a diverse range of power centers: In Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, Iran has established parallel institutions that are deeply entrenched, formidable, and durable amid weak state institutions and volatile security environments. It has established powerful militia groups that can coalesce around shared values and objectives that ultimately tie them to the Islamic Republic.

Iran has excelled at executing a form of one-state, two-systems formula for conflict-ridden countries in the region. The state (e.g. in Iraq) is deliberately kept weak; Tehran does not seek to rebuild institutions in accordance with the conventional state-building norms and principles. For the West, for example, security sector reform would mean reconstructing conventional national armies that abide by international norms and laws. Iran, in contrast, opts for an approach centered around a host of armed non-state actors, and has no inclination to align such an approach with international norms and laws or encourage its allies to respect human rights. It establishes networks and institutions that parallel national institutions, keeping them weak. This opens the space for Iran to subjugate governing structures and political systems. Specifically, Iran creates or co-opts militias and informal authorities, allowing it to fill and exploit the gaps that emerge in fragile states. A key nexus is the Shiite faith: Iran builds social and religious networks centered on the Shiite faith and support for Iran’s theocracy. However, ideology is only one part of the equation.

Exploiting conflict and tumult

Iran does not simply opportunistically back or deploy proxies like other states do. Like its rivals and the U.S., Iran discards militias and drops its support if necessary; unlike its rivals, Tehran is unparalleled at inventing and re-inventing proxies. And Iran has a marked capacity to exploit divisions among local movements that challenge its interests. For example, Asaib ahl al-Haq, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite militias, was spawned from the Sadrist militia movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr, a movement that has historically contested Iran’s expansionism. Similarly, in Iraqi Kurdistan — following the 2017 Kurdish independence referendum — Iran divided the Kurdish leadership and mobilized its proxies into Kirkuk against the Kurdish Peshmerga. This was in large part as a result of a deal it struck with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which rules Iraqi Kurdistan as part of a coalition government led by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Iran gifts willing groups with money, weapons, and a patron that is ideologically aligned; where there may be no obvious ideological alignment, Iran’s other card is its impressive track-record for transforming its partners into formidable political forces. Iran’s partners actually prosper, whereas U.S. allies have been repeatedly defeated, subdued, and humiliated by Iran’s proxies. Arab Sunni groups backed by the U.S. in both Syria and Iraq have lost every major political and military conflict. Longtime U.S. allies, the Kurds, were defeated in October 2017 by Iran’s proxies in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, even with U.S. forces stationed in the city.

If the Trump administration’s objective is to destabilize Iran and inflict chinks in its armor, then this one-dimensional approach ignores the fact that Iran is exceptionally skilled at repairing and, where necessary, rebuilding its security infrastructure that insulates the regime from the short-term damage that its adversaries inflict. That said, a concerted effort on the part of the outgoing administration and Israel to inflict as many dents as possible in Iran’s regional and domestic security infrastructure in the run-up to January 20 could effectively create a new normal that plays out over the next four years.

The logic behind this would be two-fold: to ensure Iran does not have the luxury or the breathing space to restore its coercive capabilities, and to complicate a U.S. return to the nuclear agreement. Iran relies on exaggerated estimates of its military prowess and the mystique or aura of invincibility that surrounds some of its proxies, but these are diminished with each assassination, with severe implications for the authority and influence its proxies can exert in neighboring countries like Syria and Iraq that are essential to its long-term security.

Still, this approach may not yield the results Iran’s rivals would like. It fails to account for the second- and third-order effects of Israeli or U.S. strikes that enable sustained environments of repression and violent tumult in Iran’s neighborhood that the IRGC has a marked track-record for exploiting. It is in these environments that Iran shapes the contours of regional security dynamics.

At worst, Iran has to contend with the possibility that its rivals can and will decapitate the cohort of individuals that are central to its nuclear program and its foreign legion of proxies. But leaders in Tehran will take comfort in knowing that its adversaries will struggle to eliminate the institutions and networks underpinning Iran’s national security, both at home and in the region.

Why Pentagon needs to worry about nuclear war: Revelation 16

Why the Pentagon must think harder about inadvertent escalation

In a paradox worthy of the nuclear age, the conventional capabilities that have enabled the United States to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons have also increased the risk of misperception that could spark a nuclear war.

The United States now bases its war plans around using its exquisite conventional forces to sever the connections between an adversary’s leadership and its military forces. But in an escalating conflict on the Korean Peninsula, such operations could look to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un like an attempt at regime change — even if the United States did not seek to depose him — and thus induce him to gamble on nuclear use to try to terrify the United States into backing off.

In a war against Russia, meanwhile, the United States might try to protect its satellites by attacking the radars that Russia uses to track space assets. Such radars, however, are also used to detect attacks on Russia’s nuclear forces, thus giving Moscow the ability to launch those forces before they are destroyed. As a result, Moscow might wrongly conclude that attacks on those early-warning radars were the opening salvo of a U.S. campaign to destroy its nuclear forces. Again, a nuclear war could be the result.

Concerns about so-called inadvertent escalation have now reached Congress. As part of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress requested that the undersecretary of defense for policy prepare a report “detailing the Department’s efforts to develop and implement guidance to ensure that the risks of inadvertent escalation to a nuclear war are considered within the decision-making processes with regard to relevant Department activities.”

The Pentagon’s newly released response is titled “Managing Risks of Nuclear Escalation.” Note the (presumably deliberate) absence of the word “inadvertent” in the title. This document is deeply concerned with one particular escalation risk: that the United States’ nuclear-armed adversaries — Russia, China and North Korea — may underestimate U.S. resolve or capabilities. This danger is real, but it has a flipside: that an adversary may assess U.S. war aims to be more ambitious or expansive than they actually are.

Even if one views the United States as the “good guy,” an honest assessment of escalation risks needs to understand the potential perceptions of both sides. The report does not even try to do this.

It rightly notes, for example, the need for U.S. military forces to be survivable, but fails to recognize that stability hinges on mutual vulnerability: that is, in a war between two nuclear-armed states, the risks of an unintentional nuclear escalation are lowest when both sides are convinced that their nuclear forces are highly survivable.

The report’s myopia is again reflected in its final section, which espouses the potential value of dialogues with adversaries, and rightly chides China, Russia and North Korea for various failures to engage. The U.S. interest in increasing “understanding,” however, appears to be monodirectional. Russia, for example, is chastised for seeking “primarily to reduce U.S. power,” yet Moscow’s concerns over the potential for U.S. homeland missile defenses to negate its nuclear deterrent go unaddressed — signaling to Moscow that the United States is uninterested in accepting outcomes short of primacy. The irony here is that even though such defenses are not designed to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, and are not capable of doing so reliably, there is scant interest in Washington for even attempting to address Russian concerns.

Going forward, defense planners should reject the idea that the onus falls exclusively on America’s adversaries to take steps to address the risk of inadvertent escalation. The reality is that both the United States and its adversaries may behave in ways that increase the chance of nuclear war’s occurrence. U.S. defense decision-makers have an interest in mitigating this danger by factoring inadvertent escalation risks into decisions about acquisitions, planning, strategic communications, and crisis and conflict management to reduce the risk of U.S. operations generating unintended but highly escalatory threats to an opponent’s regime or nuclear forces.

To be fair, despite the recent report, there are some signs that the Pentagon is growing more aware of the risks of inadvertent escalation. In 2019, for instance, the Defense Department’s report on Chinese military power acknowledged for the first time that “adversary attacks against Chinese conventional missile forces-associated C2 centers could inadvertently degrade Chinese nuclear C2 and generate nuclear use-or-lose pressures.” Notably, the unnamed “adversary” here is the United States.

This observation was not followed by any guidance for American war planning — indeed, policy advice was beyond that report’s purview. But such insights must inform defense planning.

Most importantly, the Pentagon should reflect on how the United States might seek to credibly signal restraint in a crisis. Conveying that the United States does not seek to eliminate China’s or Russia’s nuclear forces or to topple the North Korean regime may mean the difference between de-escalation and unlimited nuclear escalation.

Ankit Panda is a Stanton senior fellow with the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where James Acton co-directs the program and holds the Jessica T. Mathews chair.

Hamas aims precision cruise missiles from outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Hamas aims precision cruise missiles at Israel

Israeli leaders are accused of covering up Iran-backed militant group’s new possession of advanced missiles and cluster bombs

by Stephen Bryen December 1, 2020

A war of words broke out in Israel’s Knesset, or Parliament, between Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel Our Home”) party, and parliamentarian Shlomo Karai, from the leading Likud (“Unity”) party.

At issue was the alleged leak of security information on new weapons in the hands of Hamas, the militant Islamic Palestinian nationalist movement that has run the Gaza strip since 2007. Lieberman is a former minister of defense, minister of foreign affairs, infrastructure minister and deputy prime minister.

Lieberman claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Benny Gantz were covering up information about precision cruise missiles and cluster bombs being produced by Hamas. 

The Iranian horn continues to nuke up: Daniel 8

Iran’s Parliament Advances Bill To Stop UN Nuclear Inspections

Move comes after the country’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed last week

Iran’s Parliament on Tuesday advanced a bill that would end UN inspections of its nuclear facilities and require the government to boost its uranium enrichment if European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions.

The vote to debate the bill, which would need to pass through several other stages before becoming law, is seen as a show of defiance by Iran after a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist was killed last month. The official IRNA news agency said 251 lawmakers in the 290-seat chamber voted in favour of the bill, after which many began chanting “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”

The bill would give European countries three months to ease sanctions on Iran’s key oil and gas sector, and to restore its access to the international banking system. The US imposed crippling sanctions on Iran after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement, triggering a series of escalations between the two sides.

The bill would have authorities resume enriching uranium to 20%, which is below the threshold needed for nuclear weapons but higher than that required for civilian applications. It would also commission new centrifuges at nuclear facilities at Natanz and the underground Fordo site.

The bill would require another parliamentary vote to pass, as well as approval by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog. The bill was first tabled in parliament in August but gained fresh momentum after the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who headed a programme that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that “structured programme” ended in 2003. US intelligence agencies concurred with that assessment in a 2007 report.

Israel insists Iran still maintains the ambition of developing nuclear weapons, pointing to Tehran’s ballistic missile program and research into other technologies. However, Iran for long has maintained that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.

Iran has blamed Fakhrizadeh’s killing on Israel, which has long waged a covert war against Tehran and its proxies in the region. Israeli officials have declined to comment on the killing, and no one has claimed responsibility.

Some Iranian officials have suggested that the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been regularly inspecting Iran’s nuclear facilities in recent years as part of the 2015 agreement, may have provided intelligence to Fakhrizadeh’s killers.

Iran began publicly exceeding uranium enrichment levels set by the nuclear agreement after the US restored sanctions. It currently enriches a growing uranium stockpile up to 4.5% purity. That’s still far below weapons-grade levels of 90%, though experts warn Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least two atomic bombs if it chose to pursue them