Brace Yourselves, New Yorkers, You’re Due for a Major QuakeA couple of hundred thousand years ago, an M 7.2 earthquake shook what is now New Hampshire. Just a few thousand years ago, an M 7.5 quake ruptured just off the coast of Massachusetts. And then there’s New York.Since the first western settlers arrived there, the state has witnessed 200 quakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater, making it the third most seismically active state east of the Mississippi (Tennessee and South Carolina are ranked numbers one and two, respectively). About once a century, New York has also experienced an M 5.0 quake capable of doing real damage.The most recent one near New York City occurred in August of 1884. Centered off Long Island’s Rockaway Beach, it was felt over 70,000 square miles. It also opened enormous crevices near the Brooklyn reservoir and knocked down chimneys and cracked walls in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Police on the Brooklyn Bridge said it swayed “as if struck by a hurricane” and worried the bridge’s towers would collapse. Meanwhile, residents throughout New York and New Jersey reported sounds that varied from explosions to loud rumblings, sometimes to comic effect. At the funeral of Lewis Ingler, a small group of mourners were watching as the priest began to pray. The quake cracked an enormous mirror behind the casket and knocked off a display of flowers that had been resting on top of it. When it began to shake the casket’s silver handles, the mourners decided the unholy return of Lewis Ingler was more than they could take and began flinging themselves out windows and doors.Not all stories were so light. Two people died during the quake, both allegedly of fright. Out at sea, the captain of the brig Alice felt a heavy lurch that threw him and his crew, followed by a shaking that lasted nearly a minute. He was certain he had hit a wreck and was taking on water.A day after the quake, the editors of The New York Times sought to allay readers’ fear. The quake, they said, was an unexpected fluke never to be repeated and not worth anyone’s attention: “History and the researches of scientific men indicate that great seismic disturbances occur only within geographical limits that are now well defined,” they wrote in an editorial. “The northeastern portion of the United States . . . is not within those limits.” The editors then went on to scoff at the histrionics displayed by New York residents when confronted by the quake: “They do not stop to reason or to recall the fact that earthquakes here are harmless phenomena. They only know that the solid earth, to whose immovability they have always turned with confidence when everything else seemed transitory, uncertain, and deceptive, is trembling and in motion, and the tremor ceases long before their disturbed minds become tranquil.”That’s the kind of thing that drives Columbia’s Heather Savage nuts.New York, she says, is positively vivisected by faults. Most of them fall into two groups—those running northeast and those running northwest. Combined they create a brittle grid underlying much of Manhattan.Across town, Charles Merguerian has been studying these faults the old‐fashioned way: by getting down and dirty underground. He’s spent the past forty years sloshing through some of the city’s muckiest places: basements and foundations, sewers and tunnels, sometimes as deep as 750 feet belowground. His tools down there consist primarily of a pair of muck boots, a bright blue hard hat, and a pickax. In public presentations, he claims he is also ably abetted by an assistant hamster named Hammie, who maintains his own website, which includes, among other things, photos of the rodent taking down Godzilla.That’s just one example why, if you were going to cast a sitcom starring two geophysicists, you’d want Savage and Merguerian to play the leading roles. Merguerian is as eccentric and flamboyant as Savage is earnest and understated. In his press materials, the former promises to arrive at lectures “fully clothed.” Photos of his “lab” depict a dingy porta‐john in an abandoned subway tunnel. He actively maintains an archive of vintage Chinese fireworks labels at least as extensive as his list of publications, and his professional website includes a discography of blues tunes particularly suitable for earthquakes. He calls female science writers “sweetheart” and somehow manages to do so in a way that kind of makes them like it (although they remain nevertheless somewhat embarrassed to admit it).It’s Merguerian’s boots‐on‐the‐ground approach that has provided much of the information we need to understand just what’s going on underneath Gotham. By his count, Merguerian has walked the entire island of Manhattan: every street, every alley. He’s been in most of the tunnels there, too. His favorite one by far is the newest water tunnel in western Queens. Over the course of 150 days, Merguerian mapped all five miles of it. And that mapping has done much to inform what we know about seismicity in New York.Most importantly, he says, it provided the first definitive proof of just how many faults really lie below the surface there. And as the city continues to excavate its subterranean limits, Merguerian is committed to following closely behind. It’s a messy business.Down below the city, Merguerian encounters muck of every flavor and variety. He power‐washes what he can and relies upon a diver’s halogen flashlight and a digital camera with a very, very good flash to make up the difference. And through this process, Merguerian has found thousands of faults, some of which were big enough to alter the course of the Bronx River after the last ice age.His is a tricky kind of detective work. The center of a fault is primarily pulverized rock. For these New York faults, that gouge was the very first thing to be swept away by passing glaciers. To do his work, then, he’s primarily looking for what geologists call “offsets”—places where the types of rock don’t line up with one another. That kind of irregularity shows signs of movement over time—clear evidence of a fault.Merguerian has found a lot of them underneath New York City.These faults, he says, do a lot to explain the geological history of Manhattan and the surrounding area. They were created millions of years ago, when what is now the East Coast was the site of a violent subduction zone not unlike those present now in the Pacific’s Ring of Fire.Each time that occurred, the land currently known as the Mid‐Atlantic underwent an accordion effect as it was violently folded into itself again and again. The process created immense mountains that have eroded over time and been further scoured by glaciers. What remains is a hodgepodge of geological conditions ranging from solid bedrock to glacial till to brittle rock still bearing the cracks of the collision. And, says Merguerian, any one of them could cause an earthquake.You don’t have to follow him belowground to find these fractures. Even with all the development in our most built‐up metropolis, evidence of these faults can be found everywhere—from 42nd Street to Greenwich Village. But if you want the starkest example of all, hop the 1 train at Times Square and head uptown to Harlem. Not far from where the Columbia University bus collects people for the trip to the Lamont‐Doherty Earth Observatory, the subway tracks seem to pop out of the ground onto a trestle bridge before dropping back down to earth. That, however, is just an illusion. What actually happens there is that the ground drops out below the train at the site of one of New York’s largest faults. It’s known by geologists in the region as the Manhattanville or 125th Street Fault, and it runs all the way across the top of Central Park and, eventually, underneath Long Island City. Geologists have known about the fault since 1939, when the city undertook a massive subway mapping project, but it wasn’t until recently that they confirmed its potential for a significant quake.In our lifetimes, a series of small earthquakes have been recorded on the Manhattanville Fault including, most recently, one on October 27, 2001. Its epicenter was located around 55th and 8th—directly beneath the original Original Soupman restaurant, owned by restaurateur Ali Yeganeh, the inspiration for Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. That fact delighted sitcom fans across the country, though few Manhattanites were in any mood to appreciate it.The October 2001 quake itself was small—about M 2.6—but the effect on residents there was significant. Just six weeks prior, the city had been rocked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers. The team at Lamont‐Doherty has maintained a seismic network in the region since the ’70s. They registered the collapse of the first tower at M 2.1. Half an hour later, the second tower crumbled with even more force and registered M 2.3. In a city still shocked by that catastrophe, the early‐morning October quake—several times greater than the collapse of either tower—jolted millions of residents awake with both reminders of the tragedy and fear of yet another attack. 9‐1‐1 calls overwhelmed dispatchers and first responders with reports of shaking buildings and questions about safety in the city. For seismologists, though, that little quake was less about foreign threats to our soil and more about the possibility of larger tremors to come.Remember: The Big Apple has experienced an M 5.0 quake about every hundred years. The last one was that 1884 event. And that, says Merguerian, means the city is overdue. Just how overdue?“Gee whiz!” He laughs when I pose this question. “That’s the holy grail of seismicity, isn’t it?”He says all we can do to answer that question is “take the pulse of what’s gone on in recorded history.” To really have an answer, we’d need to have about ten times as much data as we do today. But from what he’s seen, the faults below New York are very much alive.“These guys are loaded,” he tells me.He says he is also concerned about new studies of a previously unknown fault zone known as the Ramapo that runs not far from the city. Savage shares his concerns. They both think it’s capable of an M 6.0 quake or even higher—maybe even a 7.0. If and when, though, is really anybody’s guess.“We literally have no idea what’s happening in our backyard,” says Savage.What we do know is that these quakes have the potential to do more damage than similar ones out West, mostly because they are occurring on far harder rock capable of propagating waves much farther. And because these quakes occur in places with higher population densities, these eastern events can affect a lot more people. Take the 2011 Virginia quake: Although it was only a moderate one, more Americans felt it than any other one in our nation’s history.That’s the thing about the East Coast: Its earthquake hazard may be lower than that of the West Coast, but the total effect of any given quake is much higher. Disaster specialists talk about this in terms of risk, and they make sense of it with an equation that multiplies the potential hazard of an event by the cost of damage and the number of people harmed. When you take all of those factors into account, the earthquake risk in New York is much greater than, say, that in Alaska or Hawaii or even a lot of the area around the San Andreas Fault.Merguerian has been sounding the alarm about earthquake risk in the city since the ’90s. He admits he hasn’t gotten much of a response. He says that when he first proposed the idea of seismic risk in New York City, his fellow scientists “booed and threw vegetables” at him. He volunteered his services to the city’s Office of Emergency Management but says his original offer also fell on deaf ears.“So I backed away gently and went back to academia.”Today, he says, the city isn’t much more responsive, but he’s getting a much better response from his peers.He’s glad for that, he says, but it’s not enough. If anything, the events of 9/11, along with the devastation caused in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, should tell us just how bad it could be there.He and Savage agree that what makes the risk most troubling is just how little we know about it. When it comes right down to it, intraplate faults are the least understood. Some scientists think they might be caused by mantle flow deep below the earth’s crust. Others think they might be related to gravitational energy. Still others think quakes occurring there might be caused by the force of the Atlantic ridge as it pushes outward. Then again, it could be because the land is springing back after being compressed thousands of years ago by glaciers (a phenomenon geologists refer to as seismic rebound).“We just have no consciousness towards earthquakes in the eastern United States,” says Merguerian. “And that’s a big mistake.”Adapted from Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake by Kathryn Miles, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Kathryn Miles. Thanks
The story so far: The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian nuclear physicist, on November 27 on the outskirts of Tehran has turned the spotlight back on Iran’s nuclear programme as Joe Biden prepares to assume the U.S. Presidency. Mr. Biden had promised during his campaign to take the U.S. back to the Iran deal, which President Donald Trump had abandoned. But after Fakhrizadeh’s killing, Iranian lawmakers moved quickly to pass a Bill that would set a timeline for the government to strengthen the country’s nuclear programme.
What does the law mean for Iran’s nuclear programme?
The new law, if approved by the Supreme Leader, would oblige the government to raise the levels of nuclear enrichment in its key facilities — Natanz and Fordow — and deny access to UN inspectors to these sites. According to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the 2015 nuclear deal is called, there is a 3.67% cap on Iran’s uranium enrichment.
Low-enriched uranium, which has a 3-5% concentration of Uranium-235, can be used to produce nuclear fuel for power plants. Under the new law, which has been passed in Parliament and got the clearance of the Islamic constitutional watchdog Guardian Council, the government should raise the enrichment levels to 20% if the European signatories to the JCPOA do not provide relief to Iran from sanctions within two months. It also mandates the government to install advanced centrifuges in its nuclear plants for higher enrichment.
Is Iran currently complying with the deal’s terms?
Tehran began violating the deal after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the JCPOA in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. The Islamic Republic has breached the caps for both uranium stockpile and enrichment. According to a confidential report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was leaked to the press, Iran, as of November 2, had a stockpile of 2,442 kg of low-enriched uranium, up from the 202.8 kg cap set by the nuclear deal. The same report stated that Iran is enriching uranium to a purity of 4.5%, up from the 3.67% threshold. Before the nuclear deal was signed, Iran had a stockpile of 7,000 kg of 20% enriched uranium. The 20% purity is a technical step away from the weapons-grade level of 90%.
Now, by producing more nuclear fuel and seeking to gradually raise the purity, the new legislation requires the government to go back to the pre-nuclear deal capacities. However, there is no consensus in the Iranian regime on the way forward. President Hassan Rouhani has publicly voiced his opposition to the Bill.
Why is Mr. Rouhani opposed to the legislation?
President Rouhani’s opposition suggests that the Iranian government is still hopeful that the nuclear deal could be revived under a Biden administration. The legislation would be “harmful” to diplomatic efforts to restore the deal and easing sanctions, said Mr. Rouhani. The violations Iran has already announced can easily be rolled back if an understanding is reached with the U.S. in the next few months. Even when Iran started raising the fuel stockpile, it continued to allow full access to the IAEA to its facilities. This was one of the reasons the other signatories did not abandon the accord. But if the Bill is approved and Iran blocks access to nuclear inspectors to its sites, it could be seen as a major provocation. By voicing his opposition publicly, Mr. Rouhani has given credence to the argument that the regime is divided on what its response should be. Mr. Rouhani, however, does not have the power to veto the Bill. If he declines to sign it, the Parliament Speaker could sign it and send it to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who takes the final call.
A lot depends on Mr. Biden’s policy on Iran. If he reopens the diplomatic path, takes the U.S. back to the deal and at least eases some sanctions, it could bring the deal back to life. If he seeks more concessions from Iran as a precondition to rejoin the deal, as he suggested in a recent interview, it could prolong the crisis and strengthen the hands of the already powerful hardliners in the regime.
By Tom Rogan
December 3, 2020 – 11:00 PM
Every year, China and Russia independently invest hundreds of billions of dollars in pursuit of a single, overriding objective — attaining the ability to defeat America in a major war.
But it is only now that the U.S. national security apparatus has begun to wake up to how successful Beijing’s and Moscow’s endeavors have been. Unless the Biden administration allocates continued resources to countering the gains America’s adversaries are making, Beijing and Moscow might soon be able to defeat America in a climactic conflict. This isn’t hyperbole.
Let’s start with a look at strategic weapons.
As you read this article, China and Russia have deployed hypersonic glide vehicles into their armed forces. These are capable of carrying many nuclear warheads straight through our missile defenses to American cities. Russia’s “Zircon” weapon stands out as particularly impressive. In contrast, America is unlikely to have any operational hypersonic weapons before mid-2022 at the earliest. Time is against us. The U.S. military’s continued dominance of conventional nuclear strike capabilities mitigates the risk that an adversary would launch a hypersonic surprise attack. But the fact that China and Russia were able to deploy these new weapons encapsulates the core concern that both nations are prioritizing their ability to defeat America in war. Hypersonic vehicles are neither cheap nor technically simple to develop, and nations confident of peace do not invest in them.
A similar story applies to space warfare.
Satellites have never been more critical to military communications, situational awareness, and command and control — including nuclear control. China and Russia have long understood this. So, while George W. Bush was focused on the War on Terror, and Barack Obama on multilateral cooperation, China and Russia developed satellite-killing weapons. Some of these are now in orbit around Earth, and perhaps bring James Bond villainy to mind. But there’s no funny side to this story. Russia has an operational weapon that can maneuver alongside a U.S. satellite and release a high-speed missile to destroy it.
Only when the Trump administration took office did the U.S. military’s Strategic Command receive money and permission to counter these space threats. It would be disastrous if this recent investment were now to stop. Neither should President Biden, once in office, entertain diplomatic delusions. Beijing and Moscow will happily sign new global space nonproliferation agreements, but they will be lying, and they will laugh behind their hands that we are foolish enough to believe them while they systematically break their word.
America’s two big adversaries have been equally aggressive in taking advantage of U.S. vulnerabilities closer to Earth.
Consider Russia’s focus on electronic warfare. Centered on the disruption of enemy communications, radar, and weapons targeting, electronic warfare systems allow a force to render an enemy’s combat systems impotent. This makes Russia’s threat to Europe particularly potent. Using advanced systems such as its Krasukha-4, Russia embeds electronic warfare into its air defense network of Tor-2E, S-350E, S-400, and S-500 systems. This is a very mobile, integrated system that gives Russian forces the means to establish highly defensible strongholds.
Contemplate how this might play out in an actual war with NATO. Russian forces could invade Estonia and quickly secure a chokehold around the NATO state. As NATO starts preparing a counteroffensive, Russia uses its electronic warfare, air defense, artillery, and missile systems to create a hardened defensive bubble to keep hold of its conquest. Vladimir Putin then offers NATO a choice between escalation and heavy casualties or a cease-fire on terms favorable to Russia. Putin knows he could not withstand a full-scale NATO counteroffensive. But he is also a keen strategist and might well bet that a rapid and successful invasion and the establishment of a stronghold would split NATO. Would the Belgians, Germans, Italians, and Spanish agree to a bloody counteroffensive, or would their governments, amid public fear and opposition political pressure, opt for peace? The fact that we cannot answer this question confidently is, by itself, reason to fear Putin’s strategy. NATO’s war plan to defeat this stronghold is weak and relies heavily on joint action by the U.S., British, and French air forces. But recent NATO air force activity suggests we shouldn’t bank on success.
China’s People’s Liberation Army also has its own innovations.
One standout concern is Beijing’s new naval air defense networks. Its new Type 055 destroyers give Xi Jinping’s military the ability to prevent U.S. fighter and bomber aircraft from getting through to attack the Chinese fleet. China would seek to hold U.S. forces at long range, allowing time and space for its forces to seize control over, say, Taiwan or the South China Sea. Adding to this “range” strategy, China has deployed a potent anti-ship ballistic missile force. Centered on the DF-21/26 class of missiles, China could strike American aircraft carriers from 2,000 miles away. Like Russia, China would follow a successful hit on a U.S. carrier with a cease-fire on their terms. China would hope that its first blow against what was once regarded as an indestructible manifestation of U.S. global supremacy would weaken American resolve and prevent retaliation.
The U.S. Navy doesn’t admit this growing vulnerability. It focuses too much on its carrier strike groups and claims that they are highly defensible. Admirals say these floating cities of 6,000 military personnel are shielded by new anti-ballistic missile and anti-satellite weapons. They also like to point out the technical complexity in persistently targeting a maneuvering ship in a vast ocean thousands of miles from a missile launcher’s position. But they neglect the fact that China would launch dozens of anti-ship missiles at each carrier from dozens of independent satellites. And China’s targeting systems are improving all the time.
America’s attention to these threats must reach beyond simple military-to-military balances of power at any given moment.
The battle for the future of war is well underway. As Steve Blank recently observed for War on the Rocks, the United States faces a serious national security vulnerability because it depends on Taiwan’s computer chip industry. This is crucial in thinking about conflict over Taiwan. No military can keep its long-term credibility unless it controls access to cutting-edge technology. Consider the potential of adding artificial intelligence to unmanned drones. Now think about packing missiles on hundreds of such drones and then deploying them deep behind enemy lines. China is particularly focused on being able to do this, which is one reason why Beijing invests so heavily in stealing American research secrets.
And, sadly, the Pentagon lives with a degree of absurdity even in this area of American superiority. The Defense Department’s otherwise exceptional research and development brain trust, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, inadvertently helps foreign intelligence efforts by putting much of its research online. Go to DARPA’s website, and you’ll easily be able to find the contact details of those running these research programs! China only need look at that information and bingo, it knows who and what email to hack!
So, what should the U.S. do to retain its deterrence-defeat supremacy?
The answers are varied, expensive, and complicated.
Washington must first wake up from the casual expectation that U.S. military dominance can be maintained without continuous, substantial investment. The Democratic Party keeps saying spending can be cut “because the U.S. spends X times more than the next X nations combined.” This is an idiotic assessment measure, not least because $150 billion goes on personnel costs.
More broadly, we must recognize that defense investments don’t simply deter and defeat enemies but create safe space for stable economic, diplomatic, and political activity. Efficient military spending should be seen as an extension of government policy to foster national prosperity.
Still, the U.S. military must invest more wisely.
The Pentagon should double down on strategic strike capabilities. Missile defenses are very expensive but not very useful unless the prospective enemy is North Korea or Iran, which have, or are likely to have, only a dozen or so nuclear warheads. America must deter those adversaries partly by making them doubt whether their nuclear weapons could reach their targets. But there’s little point in spending massively on missile defense against China and Russia, which would launch saturation strikes capable of breaking through any shield. That’s even before considering how to deal with hypersonic vehicles. Instead, the U.S. should be spending money on new nuclear warheads and delivery systems, which offer the best means of deterring war by reinforcing enemy expectations that they will lose. The Trump administration has excelled in this area, but, unfortunately, Biden says he’ll roll back nuclear investments. This would be a gift to our adversaries, and it should form a focal point of Republican Party scrutiny of future defense legislation.
Another area of opportunity is reform of allied defenses.
Washington should push European allies to spend more on systems capable of defeating Russia’s stronghold strategy. Armor and air power stand out. The U.S. Army has 16 heavy armored brigades, but the French Army has just two. The U.S. Marine Corps adds to the mismatch. But where, as now, the U.S. has to provide the armor foundation for Europe’s defense, there’s a clear opportunity cost against China.
Armored units would have limited utility in a war with China, which is almost certain to be fought in cyberspace, in the East China Sea or South China Sea, or with nukes, and heavy armor would have little or no use in any of these areas of conflict. In the South China Sea, the U.S. warfighting effort would center on Air Force bombers, Navy warships, and efforts by the Marine Corps to capture and fortify China’s artificial islands. So, the Pentagon should divert money from armor to forces most likely to be involved in any fight with China.
In the cyber domain, research and development are vital and must be tied to a new strategic doctrine. The big four anti-U.S. cyber actors, China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, are attacking our civilian infrastructure (including hospitals), and the U.S. must spend more to take them on. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency remain reluctant to use their best tools in this area because they don’t want our enemies to find ways to defend against them or replicate them. But our adversaries know they can inflict damage on American civilian infrastructure at no cost, so they have incentive to do so and integrate this form of hostility into their war planning. If Washington responded to big cyberattacks by shutting down the mainframe computers used by the Russian GRU or Chinese People’s Liberation Army, or wiped their data cores, for example, a new balance of deterrence would be established.
Then there’s the Air Force. It needs more investment in drone warfare and long-range unmanned strike assets, including hypersonic vehicles. It is problematic that the Air Force continues to view manned fighter and bomber aircraft as its operational cornerstones. Those planes will struggle to get into range of Chinese forces in the South China Sea. And building out these air fleets is anyway unaffordable. It is equally concerning that the Air Force is reluctant to give greater prestige and promotion to its drone warfare personnel. If young officers believe that flying an F-15, F-35, F-22, or B-2 is the best way of getting a star on their uniform, the best and brightest are going to focus on areas of warfighting that no longer suit America’s needs.
Yet it is the Navy where most change is needed.
The Navy has belatedly prioritized undersea warfare and has some revolutionary drone capabilities,but it still loves its aircraft carriers, which will become ever more vulnerable. The Navy should be forced to reduce its carrier fleet. Money saved should be spent on undersea sensor nets, more submarine and air drones, and long-range anti-ship missiles such as the LRASM system. The Navy should also triple down on its innovative “Nemesis” ghost fleet system, which involves tricking enemy radar, sonar, communications, and satellite intelligence systems into seeing U.S. Navy assets where none exist. Burying actual warships and planes amid the ghosts, the Navy can preserve its forces better against enemy attack, and divert the enemy into fruitless missions. This will be critical if the Navy ever fights a war against thousands of Chinese warships, planes, and missiles.
Where does this leave us?
Well, one hopes it leaves us with recognition that this is a challenge that the president, Congress, and the Pentagon must embrace in common cause. Ensuring that the post-Second World War international order is preserved will be neither cheap nor easy. But much rests on America’s ability to deter China and Russia. Absent that ability, these tyrannies will reshape the global order and make America and its allies less prosperous, less secure, and less free.
Tom Rogan is a foreign policy-focused commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.
As tension escalates on numerous fronts, Israeli intelligence agencies continue to develop their capabilities, and now have databases and integrated artificial intelligence, allowing them to analyse massive amounts of information. According to senior officers, agents are now able to identify militants heading for Israeli targets, which was almost impossible in the past, and certainly not with today’s accuracy.
During the Second — Al-Aqsa — Intifada (September 2000 – February 2005) it was possible to obtain information about an assailant preparing to carry out an attack and thus close checkpoints in good time, but eliminating him in advance of the offence was a dream. That has all changed, with technology changing the future of guerrilla and urban warfare. Intelligence is collected and analysed within minutes instead of hours, and so responses can be launched very rapidly too. Israel is already using such methods in Syria as well as against the Palestinians.
The processes applied by the Israeli intelligence agencies have thus been modernised by adopting technological advances to suit the task in hand. The decision-making process, though, is ultimately controlled by the person in charge, not the AI and technology. Targets are always being sought, but they will not be enough.
The number of targets may range from thousands to tens of thousands, but it should not be assumed that the other side is not updated about the situation. Indeed, any half-competent other party to the conflict will analyse its flaws and earlier mistakes, just as the occupation army debriefs its personnel, and understand the need to adapt constantly.
In this context, the ongoing technology and information war between Israel and armed Palestinian resistance organisations, most notably Hamas, is intensifying. Israel’s Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi, has set out several targets linked to the factions in preparation for the next battle, with a focus on targeting and killing many of the Palestinian fighters, especially members of the special units, in addition to destroying vital infrastructure.
The main challenge for Israel’s military intelligence is to recover vital information from an ocean of fine detail, which increases the need to take a closer look at the database dedicated to targets affiliated with the resistance. This is determined mainly by satellite imagery and intelligence, especially in the Gaza Strip.
When the Palestinian factions in Gaza fire rockets towards Israel, extensive discussions take place within the Israeli general staff on the nature of the targets to be attacked in return. It’s like a deadly game of ping-pong. The targets are generally chosen by the occupation army’s intelligence units, which work day and night to locate the Palestinian security networks, leaving nothing for the soldiers to do except press the red button and fire the missile.
After the assassination of Ahmed Al-Jabari, the then head of the Hamas military wing, which basically started Israel’s military offensive dubbed with no hint of irony “Operation Pillar of Defence” in November 2012 — a year after current Prime Minister-in-waiting Benny Gantz was appointed to command the general staff — the occupation army attacked thousands of Hamas targets up to and including the 2014 offensive called “Operation Protective Edge”. Israeli attacks were mainly concentrated on the movement’s firing sites, tunnels and missile manufacturing facilities. The 2014 offensive was far more intense compared with Israel’s Second Lebanese War in 2006 and two earlier offensives against Gaza, the 2012 operation and “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008/9.
When the 2014 offensive ended, the Israeli army was convinced that the number of possible Hamas targets had tripled. Senior officers confirmed that winning against the Palestinian movement will not be a result of the number of attacks as much as the nature of the strikes, which military intelligence can determine.
Israeli intelligence is trying to keep pace with the number of potential targets in Gaza. That much has been evident since the first day that Kochavi took command of the army, and after the series of escalatory attacks against the Gaza Strip over the past few months.
At the same time, Hamas has not only been developing its arsenal, but also becoming more skilled in hiding from the occupation army’s radar systems. Nevertheless, the army is able to detect movement up to three kilometres from the nominal border.
All this confirms that Hamas has developed its own technological and intelligence capabilities with military purposes in mind. Despite the occupation army’s success in destroying Hamas’ web of tunnels, the movement still has a formidable skill base to counter whatever Israel throws at it.
Israel may be preparing to confront Hamas in a technology war, but the movement and the rest of the Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip, are preparing as well. Solid intelligence is important for any army, and the resistance groups are not lacking in this regard.
– Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the political science and media department of Umma University in Gaza. He lectures on the history of the Palestinian cause, national security and Israeli studies. He holds a doctorate in political history from Damascus University and has published several books on the contemporary history of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict. His article appeared in MEMO.
Branding Saudi Arabia a pariah state would be counterproductive to regional stability.
December 6, 2020, 8:00 Am
Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and then-Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Oct. 27, 2011. AFP via Getty Images
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman took his time before congratulating U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on his recent election victory. This wasn’t a fluke: Over the course of the past four years, the crown prince led a fruitless bombing campaign in Yemen, may have gotten away with murder, and initiated a secret program with China to process uranium. Progressive members of the U.S. Democratic caucus will soon urge Biden to abandon the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, but Biden should resist this plea; abandoning allies rarely leads them to better behavior. Instead, Biden should form a coalition of Western allies and Middle Eastern states—including Saudi Arabia—that gives the United States more leverage to prevent the kingdom from acquiring nuclear weapons and violating human rights.
Republican and Democratic members of Congress are fed up with Saudi Arabia. Last year, President Donald Trump vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have blocked arms sales to the country in response to its bombing campaign in Yemen. Every Democrat in Congress who voted supported the bill, but, notably, so did Trump allies such as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. In his criticism of Saudi Arabia, Biden has gone even further than most members of Congress. In November 2019, during a Democratic primary debate, Biden said he “would make it very clear we were not going to … sell more weapons” to Saudi Arabia, which would “make them … the pariah that they are.”
Holding Saudi Arabia accountable for pursuing nuclear weapons and committing human rights violations makes sense. The question is how to do it. Making the kingdom a pariah state will not curb its nuclear ambitions or its human rights violations.
If Washington wants reform in Riyadh, it should consider what worries Saudi Arabia most—abandonment by the United States. The Saudi government’s fear of abandonment has its roots in the Arab Spring, which began nearly a decade ago. At the time, the administration of then U.S. President Barack Obama supported pro-democracy protestors in Egypt as ostensible U.S. ally—and dictator—Hosni Mubarak clung tenuously to power. Members of the Saudi monarchy recognized it was within the realm of possibility that they, too, could be betrayed.
Saudi anxieties have metastasized since then. The Iran nuclear deal of 2015 was regarded inside the kingdom as a U.S. attempt to betray Saudi Arabia and befriend Iran. Riyadh prefers Trump to Obama, in part because Trump has ignored its human rights violations and has proved more aggressive against Iran. But even Trump taunts King Salman over his country’s dependence on the United States: “King—we’re protecting you,” he told the leader in 2018. “You might not be there for two weeks without us.”
If Washington wants reform in Riyadh, it should consider what worries Saudi Arabia most—abandonment by the United States.
The recent push in Congress to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia merely cemented Riyadh’s fears of abandonment. It’s no coincidence, then, that the crown prince has launched a secret, Chinese-backed nuclear program and views continued Iranian influence in Yemen as an existential threat. He, along with many Saudi elites, increasingly feels that a relationship with China—particularly one that allows Saudi Arabia to procure a nuclear weapons arsenal of its own—makes more sense than continued dependence on Washington.
If the United States does not forge a new approach, this scenario could easily precipitate a regional nuclear standoff: Saudi nuclear weapons pointed at Iran, Iranian nuclear weapons aimed at Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt manufacturing nuclear technologies of their own, and Israel nervously eyeing its nuclear button.
If the Biden administration makes Saudi Arabia a pariah state, it’s unlikely that the kingdom’s behavior would improve—even if it doesn’t immediately acquire a nuclear bomb. The other U.S.-sanctioned pariah states—Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba—are some of the worst human rights abusers (and nuclear proliferators) on earth. Ostracism hasn’t changed them, and it won’t change Saudi Arabia.
If turning the United States’ back on Saudi Arabia won’t cool its nuclear weapons ambitions or its human rights violations, showing a long-term commitment to the region just might. What could ease Saudi insecurities is encouraging Riyadh to join a new league of Western and Middle Eastern states that cooperate multilaterally on matters of military, energy, economics, and social development. Even if the coalition started somewhat small—just the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Saudi Arabia, and smaller Arab states such as Jordan, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Tunisia—it would demonstrate that the United States and its Western allies will not soon leave the kingdom at the mercy of Iran or other outside powers. This alone should placate Riyadh’s fears enough to make nuclear weapons and indiscriminate bombing campaigns far less attractive.
Note to Mohammed bin Salman: Stop Digging Yourself Deeper
Trump’s Parting Gift to Biden: A More Stable Middle East
Through a new joint regional training center, the pact would train and equip the armed forces of member states to make them more militarily self-sufficient. If a member state were to come under attack, the West would promise to support them with reconnaissance, air power, and special operators—but not ground forces. Washington has already used this leaner approach effectively in the first Persian Gulf War and in its successful fight against the Islamic State in Syria.
Such an agreement should also focus U.S. and European private-sector financing and expertise on large-scale infrastructure, development, and entrepreneurship projects enticing to Middle Eastern states. Because the United States’ International Development Finance Corporation can now tie loan guarantees and financing directly to Washington’s foreign-policy goals, large investment plans of this nature are more feasible than in the past.
Western countries could also use development banks to back investments in non-nuclear energy alternatives such as renewables, natural gas, and pipeline projects. In the sun- and gas-soaked Middle East, these are far cheaper sources of electricity than nuclear power reactors.
Diplomatically, the coalition would create a forum for coalition members to settle regional energy and territorial disputes. In exchange, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern coalition members would commit not to withdraw from the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to forswear activities that could be used to make nuclear explosive materials, and to conform to an agreed set of human rights norms for military operations.
While it may start small, the coalition should have grander aspirations. Israel’s rapprochements with Arab states might open the door for it to become the group’s first nonfounding member, and the courting of Egypt and Turkey would follow.
Like the Marshall Plan’s invitation to the Soviet Union, the door must also remain open for Iran to join the group. To join, however, Iran—and all other prospective member states in the region—would have to commit to rolling back enrichment or reprocessing activities, ceasing military operations against fellow member states, and supporting proxy warfare. So far, Tehran has shown no interest in meeting the latter two conditions. Nonetheless, the coalition should highlight the economic advantages of a non-nuclear future and the security benefits of greater restraint. In the meantime, the pact would enable the sort of multilateral approach that Arab states and Israel need to effectively counter Iranian adventurism.
Like the Marshall Plan’s invitation to the Soviet Union, the door must also remain open for Iran to join the group.
Finally, to make the coalition truly succeed, Washington must prove the pact can survive regardless of who’s in the White House. In an ideal world, the U.S. Senate would secure the pact as a treaty. Whether or not that happens, Congress should fund the United States’ contribution to the pact in perpetuity. Members of Congress might get the ball rolling by penning a bipartisan resolution in support of the plan. If Saudi Arabia were to become convinced that the United States will remain dedicated to stability in the Middle East, Washington would find itself in a far better position to pull Riyadh, and other capitals, away from their worst instincts. When it’s all said and done, the crown prince might even regret waiting so long to congratulate Biden on his recent electoral victory.
John Spacapan is the Wohlstetter public affairs fellow at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.
Photo: The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) fires a Standard Missile-3 during exercise Formidable Shield 2017 over the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: U.S. Navy.
Photo: The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) fires a Standard Missile-3 during exercise Formidable Shield 2017 over the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: U.S. Navy.
By J C Suresh
TORONTO | WASHINGTON (IDN) – President Trump’s legacy is far from inspiring. Joe Biden and his team face numerous crucial decisions. Arms policy experts believe that one of the momentous decisions confronting the new administration is “whether and how to move forward with Trump-era plans to expand the U.S. national missile defence footprint with new sea-based missiles that can shoot down long-range ballistic missiles”. But this will undoubtedly hamper progress on arms control.
Nuclear strategists have long understood that developing and deploying strategic missile interceptors to target nuclear-armed adversaries is ineffective, but they could still induce them to develop an arsenal of new, more powerful missile systems to overcome and bypass missile defence, says Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association.
A new interceptor, known as the Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA, which was successfully tested on November 16, could help defuse the North Korean ballistic missile threat in the short term. But it will certainly encourage Russia and China to believe that they need to further improve their nuclear arsenals in response to the United States missile attacks, say knowledgeable sources.
To prevent costly and destabilizing missile competition, Washington and Moscow had agreed to limit the number of strategic missile interceptors to no more than 100, as provided for in the 1972 ABM Treaty. This ceiling allows a limited number of interceptors to be deployed in the event of an attack by a nuclear-armed adversary.
Since the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002, Washington policymakers have focused on improving capabilities to counter limited missile threats from “rogue” states. But the Pentagon has deployed only 44 strategic interceptors as part of its ground-based medium-range defence system.
On the one hand, North Korea has improved its ballistic missile capabilities in recent years, on the other the U.S. Congress has poured billions more into the Missile Defence Agency to develop, acquire, test, and research new technologies. In 2019, the Trump administration’s Missile Defence Review recommended strengthening the U.S. homeland’s defence capabilities to defend it against “rogue” state threats.
President Donald Trump said: “The goal is to ensure that the United States can track and destroy any missile fired from anywhere, anytime.” The system would be capable of intercepting land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), as well as sea, intercontinental and surface-to-air missiles.
On November 17, the Missile Defence Agency tested the SM-3 Block IIA against an ICBM target. The Pentagon’s current plans call for a total of 1,000 of the new missile defence systems to be built and deployed worldwide by 2030, both on land and at sea.
Nearly $180 million is earmarked to improve the system’s ability to intercept ICBMs and intercept surface-to-air missile threats. If adopted, this approach would be a significant step forward in defence against North Korea, Russia, China, Iran, and other rogue states and their ballistic missiles.
Against this backdrop, Kimball is of the view that as a first step, the Joe Biden administration should reiterate that U.S. missile defence capabilities at home are able to defend against the threat of third-party offensives, not against more sophisticated Russian and Chinese capabilities.
“Such a clarification alone will not be sufficient,” writes Kimball. Moscow, he adds, has conditioned further offensive nuclear cuts on future limits on U.S. missile defences. Russia claims its efforts to develop new intercontinental-range nuclear delivery systems such as an undersea torpedo, hypersonic glide vehicle, and nuclear-powered cruise missile are designed to overcome U.S. missile defences.
China has already begun to respond to U.S. missile defence capabilities by diversifying its nuclear strike capabilities, including by increasing the number of silo-based ICBMs that are armed with multiple warheads.
He warns that U.S. efforts to further limit Russian nuclear weapons and bring China into the arms control process are unlikely to gather momentum unless Washington agrees to seriously discuss its long-range missile defence capabilities, including the SM-3 Block IIA. “Fielding sufficient missile defences to defend against limited ballistic attacks from North Korea or Iran and agreeing to binding limits on the quantity, location, and capability of such defences should not be mutually exclusive.”
But doing so will require the Biden administration to move away from the simplistic notion that there should never be any limits on U.S. missile defences.
Twenty years ago, then-Senator Biden argued for the “development of a theater missile defence that enhances regional stability” and against a strategic missile defence system that “would be seen as threatening by both Russia and China”. Now, as President, he is responsible for adapting the U.S. missile defence strategy so that it strikes the right balance. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 December 2020]
Photo: The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) fires a Standard Missile-3 during exercise Formidable Shield 2017 over the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: U.S. Navy.
IDN is flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.
This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.
By Eileen AJ Connelly
For some Iranians, President Donald Trump’s hard-line strategy against their country brought political hope even as it brought economic misery.
But they expect just the opposite from President-elect Joe Biden: the economy might improve, but the chances that the dictatorial ayatollahs could fall are fading fast.
Two years after the U.S. imposed tough sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s economy is crippled, the Times of London reported. Millions of Iran’s middle class have fallen into poverty, while inflation has skyrocketed to 41%.
And mass demonstrations have roiled the country for nearly a year. Tens of thousands took to the streets last November to protest a doubling of gas prices. In January, Iran downed a Ukranian commercial airliner, igniting more unrest. Crowds demanded the resignation of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, yelling “death to the dictator.”
Yet, despite the public signs of growing opposition to the regime, some Iranians believe an outside force is needed to help bring about political reform. They stand firm that Trump would have been that force if Americans had given him a second term.
They compare Trump’s approach to President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 challenge to Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev — to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Communist regime that had divided Germany. Foreign policy experts later credited Reagan’s words with helping usher the Soviet Union’s collapse.
“The Trump administration was the only U.S. administration to distinguish between Iran in terms of its people, history and geography, and the Islamic Republic as its governing body,” said one Iranian Trump supporter who lives in the ancient city of Shiraz. “From this viewpoint, the Islamic Republic is no longer an unalterable fact, and it could change.”
“Trump is kind of attractive for people like the Iranian middle class because he bullies anyone — and in Iran, the one who bullies, he or she has power,” said a journalist who lives in Tehran.
A story that the journalist wrote wrote online about the U. S. election generated a surprising amount of pro-Trump response.
“The feedback I received showed people maybe want Trump to win – and it really shocked me,” she said. “I know there are lots of people who think it’s not so good for us that Biden is here because he’ll talk to the government, everything will go back, and the Islamic Republic will survive.“
Yet experts pushed back on the idea that another four years of Trump would have led to a change in leadership.
“Had Trump won, we would have expected inflation to continue and to worsen. That had been the trend over the past year, and was exacerbated by COVID-19 situation,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the think tank Bourse & Bazaar.
“That would have caused an increase in political instability and unrest, because of a situation where more Iranians would have been pushed into poverty. It would probably have led to the government being somewhat delegitimized and a low turnout in elections. But these are all very different from the collapse of the regime.”
Trump wanted the Iranian people to rise up against the ayatollahs, agreed Ellie Geranmayeh, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank. But she noted that crackdowns have followed protests and no opposition leaders strong enough to command an uprising have emerged.
Many Iranians, she said, take the chaos that has erupted after mass uprisings in countries like Syria as a warning.
“There is a lot of frustration at the political leadership, but many people are focused on making ends meet at the moment,” said Geranmayeh. “There’s no example they can point to and say that regime change has worked out well – all they see is insecurity.”