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
Despite explicit instructions, militia led by Qais al-Khazali has launched rocket attacks against US interests in Iraq
Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the most influential Iraqi armed factions backed by Iran, is rebelling against Tehran’s orders and continuing to target US interests, Shia commanders and politicians told Middle East Eye.
In October, Iran issued orders to its armed allies in Iraq not to attack US targets, fearing the reactions of the outgoing President Donald Trump, who seeks to obstruct Iranian efforts to negotiate with his successor, Joe Biden, to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Despite the explicit and strict Iranian directions, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, led by Qais al-Khazali, has carried out some attacks against the US embassy in Baghdad and American envoys over the past three weeks “without coordinating with any of the other factions or the Iranians,” according to the commander of one of the armed factions.
That indicates that Asaib Ahl al-Haq is operating outside Iranian control and is therefore not relying on the protection of Tehran or other Iraqi paramilitaries, which raises many questions about the future of the faction.
On Thursday, two military convoys carrying equipment for the US forces were hit by explosive devices, causing material damage on the highwaysouthern Baghdad, security sources said.
‘Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s new approach has to do with preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections and the competition to head the armed resistance factions in Iraq’
Those blasts were preceded by a missile attack targeting the US embassy in central Baghdad on 17 November, which killed a child and wounded seven others, in addition to causing material damage to a number of private properties and government buildings.
An armed group calling itself the “Qasim al-Jabareen Brigade” claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attacks, while another faction calling itself “Asshab al-Kahaf” claimed responsibility for the November rocket attack.
Until recently, both groups were previously unknown. But their names have been circulated during the past few months, as they took turns claiming responsibility for attacks targeting the logistical support convoys of the US-led coalition forces in a number of governorates.
Although the finger of blame was pointed at Kataeb Hezbollah, the most influential Shia militia, commanders of four Shia armed factions, including that group and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, denied to MEE that it was involved in these attacks.
Instead, they insisted that Asaib Ahl al-Haq had carried out the attacks, putting an end to a truce with the US put forward by militias in October.
“The truce was conditional on scheduling the departure of US forces from Iraq within one month, but the Americans did not fulfill this condition and did not do anything to prove their intention to leave,” a prominent Asaib Ahl al-Haq commander told MEE, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The commander said Washington’s failure to make any plans to fully withdraw from Iraq meant his faction no longer needed to abide by the ceasefire.
“The religious and national duty requires everyone to stand against the foreign presence in Iraq and to use all political and military means to expel them,” he said.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq is a Shia armed faction that split from the Mahdi Army, the former armed wing of influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement, in 2006.
At first, the faction attracted fighters with experience and combat skills, and, in conjunction with Kataeb Hezbollah, carried out dozens of deadly attacks against US troops between 2006 and 2008.
Since the beginning, Asaib Ahl al-Haq has been backed, equipped and supervised by Iran, and until last month was one of the most important and powerful Iranian arms in Iraq.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s disobedience represents a “surprise” to Shia political and armed forces.
Although Iran’s reaction is not yet clear, the recent attacks, which were carried out by small groups linked to Asaib Ahl al-Haq “unilaterally and without coordination with other factions,” have provoked major disputes with Kataeb Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s traditional partner for over a decade, and other Shia factions backed by Iran.
“Iranian officials are still pressing [the Iraqi factions] to be patient and not to carry out attacks against US interests in Iraq, because these attacks may confuse the political situation in both [Iraq and Iran],” a prominent Shia politician close to Iran, who declined to be named, told MEE.
Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq faction, attends the funeral procession of Hashd al-Shaabi fighters in Baghdad (AFP)
According to the politician, Asaib Ahl al-Haq is the most prominent of Iraqi factions unhappy with Iranian directives and starting to revolt. In a recent meeting with Shia leaders, he said, Asaib Ahl al-Haq said “the situation in Iraq is special and that they are not bound by the Iranian viewpoint and will not submit to the Iranian will”.
“Kataeb is more committed to Iranian directives, and their fighters are more disciplined, and they see that it is necessary to not confuse the Iraqi scene with any unpredictable behaviour, so they were against these attacks from the beginning,” the politician said.
“Asaib Ahl al-Haq seeks to reproduce its media and political discourse and to perpetuate the idea of their national belonging and their non-affiliation with Iran. Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s new approach has to do with preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections and the competition to head the armed resistance factions in Iraq.”
An outbreak of fighting between Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataeb Hezbollah “is not currently expected” according to the factions’ commanders. But Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s insistence to continue its new approach will necessarily mean that Iran may exclude it, sacrifice it and leave it to confront the Americans and the Iraqi government alone.
“All scenarios are possible. What will happen with Asaib Ahl al-Haq depends on what the Iranians decide. It is expected that Iran will seek to bring them back to its bosom and will try to limit [Qais] al-Khazali’s ambitions or satisfy him with some settlement,” a Kataeb Hezbollah commander told MEE, referring to Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s leader.
“But will they succeed in this? No one knows except Khazali and the Iranians.”
The Lebanese terror group may be keen to stay out of the fight, but precision rocket tech is reaching Gaza, and accurate cruise missiles are within the grasp of groups in Iraq
By Avi Issacharoff 12 Dec 2020, 5:39 am
Two weeks have passed since the mysterious assassination outside Tehran of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, long regarded by Israel and the US as the head of Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program. A number of versions of what actually happened during the few minutes of the shooting attack have come out since then, some of which seem taken directly from Hollywood.
According to the official Iranian version, a satellite-operated machine gun opened fire at Fakhrizadeh, killing him and several of his bodyguards. Other unconfirmed reports have claimed there was a shootout involving several gunmen, though all versions agree there was also an explosion, the purpose and timing of which is disputed.
Although Israel has not officially taken responsibility, Iran has blamed the Jewish state, whose security establishment is now trying to figure out if, and how, Iran will react to the assassination.
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Initial alerts warned of attacks against Israelis in the Gulf’s United Arab Emirates or Bahrain (which has a distinct Shi’ite majority, like Iran), countries with which Israel only recently established ties. Alternative scenarios are of attacks against Israeli targets in other countries, similar to the deadly attacks in Buenos Aires during the 1990s in retaliation for the assassination of Abbas al-Musawi, one-time leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
Yet these are not the only options for Iranian retaliation. Currently, Tehran has quite a few allies in the region standing by to offer immediate assistance should Iran require it. Is a precision-guided missile attack from Gaza an impossible scenario? How about cruise missiles launched from Western Iraq, where Iran-backed militias operate, in a repeat of the Gulf War and its notoriously imprecise Scud missile attacks on Israel — but this time with far more accurate targeting?
Tehran now has the ability to react through such means.
Palestinian members of the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad terror group, parade with a replica rocket on a truck during a march in Gaza on October 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
The Iranian threat from Gaza, and beyond
In Gaza, for example, the Iranian regime has been investing a lot of time and money to develop the Islamic Jihad terror group’s military capabilities. The organization’s operatives are sent to training camps throughout the Middle East where they are schooled in various military skills, from urban warfare to launching precision-guided missiles.
They are also taught how to self-produce more accurate rockets; the technology required used to be extremely sophisticated and advanced, but nowadays is relatively easy to acquire. The actual components required for accuracy are not bulky or heavy — smuggling a handful of computer chips can help produce an entire array of precision-guided missiles. It isn’t clear what level of accuracy the Gazan terrorist organizations are capable of right now, but there is no doubt that the utmost efforts are being invested by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to acquire such capabilities.
Not so long ago, the scenario of a cruise missile or precision-guided rocket attack against Israel from Gaza, guided and directed by Iran, seemed completely far-fetched. But Iran demonstrated the ability to carry out advanced attacks on September 14, 2019, when it used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and cruise missiles to attack the Aramco oil-processing facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais in Saudi Arabia. The attack, launched from Yemen, was in revenge for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the war against the Houthis rebels in that country.
In other words, the Iranians are now capable of accurate long-distance attacks using a range of weapons. And the lack of any American, Saudi, or Western reaction to that September attack may have whet Iran’s appetite to try these weapons out again.
Iran‘s Soumar cruise missile, unveiled in March 2016. (YouTube screenshot)
Last month the Houthis launched another cruise missile attack on Saudi Arabia and threatened to one day fire at Israel’s southern resort city of Eilat. But if Tehran decides to use a cruise missile attack to react to Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, it probably won’t be from Yemen, and certainly not from Lebanon. Gaza’s abilities in the field are currently limited, though it is possible Islamic Jihad could be tempted to have a go — thus dragging all of Gaza into a war in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak and a failing economy.
However, the most likely option for a cruise missile revenge attack would be from Western Iraq. Iran manages a wealth of Shi’ite militias in the area, under the tutelage of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Quds Force headed by Esmail Qaani, who replaced the slain Qassem Soleimani. Such an attack on Israel would leave the decision-makers in Jerusalem without a return address. The question is whether these militias have the ability to carry out such an operation.
Generally speaking, Iranian influence in the area is pretty extensive, even though it is not yet at the scope and rate Tehran is aiming for. Twenty-five years ago the only export of Iran’s Islamic revolution was Hezbollah in Lebanon. Today, Iranian fingerprints can be found throughout the region: Yemen, of course, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even Bahrain.
The Shi’ite militias include not only Iraqis and Iranians, but also mercenaries from Afghanistan and Pakistan, who were shipped in to fight the Islamic State group in the Syrian civil war and remained, highly motivated to face the familiar old enemy – Israel.
Iraqi Shi’ite militiamen fire their weapons during clashes with terrorists from the Islamic State group, in Jurf al-Sakhar, September 28, 2014. (photo credit: AP, File)
Staying within boundaries, for now
The Iranian nuclear project, despite Fakhrizadeh’s demise and despite a mysterious explosion in the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz earlier this year, is far from grinding to a halt. This week The New York Times reported that massive work is being carried out in Natanz, most likely in order to move the entire facility underground.
A photo released by the semi-official Fars News Agency shows the scene where Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran, Iran, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 (Fars News Agency via AP); insert: Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in an undated photo (Courtesy)
The Trump administration’s decision to exit the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers also did not slow down the Iranian project – just the opposite. The Iranians are already deliberately exceeding the limitations placed on them under that agreement to prove they do not cave to American pressure. Some analysts say that the time Iran would need to break out and acquire a nuclear bomb has now been reduced from a year to just six months.
It should be noted, though, that Tehran is not going ahead with the military nuclear track and is being extremely careful not to cross certain boundaries. Iran has continued to enrich larger amounts of uranium than it is permitted. According to data from the Israeli side, Tehran has some two tons of uranium at an enrichment purity of 4.5 percent, yet this level of enrichment is still considered permissible and suitable for civilian purposes and not at – or even close to – weapons-grade enrichment.
In the meantime, there is also no sign that Iran’s plan of entrenching itself in Syria has been especially successful. This is both good news and bad news.
The bad news is that Iran is not planning on quitting Syria. Just this week Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and announced that his country will continue to support Syria and its people in their confrontation with the Zionists. The bombs discovered several weeks ago on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights border with Syria indicate that Iran and its emissaries – sometimes through Syrian/Lebanese/Shi’ite militias – are continuing their efforts to strike at Israeli targets.
The good news is that no increased Iranian presence has been identified in Syria. In fact, Iran has recently reduced its presence in Syria.
Footage of Israeli strikes on Iranian and Syrian targets in southern Syria following an attempted explosive attack by Iranian-backed operatives against Israeli troops on the Golan Heights, November 18, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces)
The crucial question still left unanswered is Hezbollah’s role in an Iranian retaliation, if there will be one at all.
The organization remains Israel’s greatest threat. Only this week the Institute for National Security Studies published a comprehensive study of the next battle in the north of Israel. The document includes a pretty realistic scenario of Israel coping with hundreds of rocket attacks a day, including precision-guided missiles, which will be launched not only from Lebanon but also from Western Iraq and possibly also from Syria. This battle will be different to any we have previously known and the threat to the Home Front will be especially great.
That scenario is still quite some way away. Currently, Hezbollah is very careful to avoid any escalation along the border between Israel and Lebanon. It is even taking its time retaliating against the killing of one of its men in an Israeli attack in Syria, possibly because it understands the implications of such a move — meaning, the fear of all-out war is a deterrent on Hezbollah’s side as well.
Possibly more than anything else, the negotiations between Israel and Lebanon concerning the maritime boundaries between the two states prove that even an extreme Shi’ite organization, one constantly calling for the destruction of the “Zionist entity,” understands that there are certain advantages to doing business with the “Zionist enemy.” Only a few short years ago Hezbollah most probably would not have permitted the Lebanese government to conduct any discussions at all with Israel. Yet here Hezbollah is not calling a halt to the talks. It may be criticizing them to a certain extent, but no more than that.
A deal with Israel regarding the drawing of the maritime border could mean billions of dollars from offshore gas that Lebanon is desperate for. This is a bankrupt state in a very difficult political situation. The combination of a global pandemic, the national disaster of the Beirut port explosion, the political dead-end and the increasing enmity among the different religious sectors, all contribute to the feeling – in Hezbollah as well – that war against “the Jews” is something to avoid at this stage.
In the meantime, the talks are continuing even though recently the American go-between has been doing a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, as both sides are avoiding holding their fourth meeting. Also, the Lebanese have attempted to draw the border significantly southwards from its estimated location, causing Israel to retaliate by drawing the border much higher north. Still, both sides remain committed to these talks and it is clear that Lebanon wants an agreement, even more than Israel.
Thursday, December 10th 2020, 6:41 PM EST
By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have moved to a “heightened level of preparation” in recent days, raising fresh concerns they could be preparing to attack US troops or US diplomatic sites in Iraq, according to defense officials familiar with the latest intelligence.
“It is worrisome,” one official told CNN. “We have indications” of militia preparations, they added. The official declined to offer specific details due to the sensitive nature of the intelligence but said all the weapons “capability” needed by the groups is already in Iraq, noting the militias consistently maintain a stockpile of rockets and artillery.
While there are no specific indications that any decision to attack has been made, the official said the preparations had been undertaken in recent days.
The militias in Iraq have been carrying out missile attacks for the last few years but tensions are particularly high following the assassination of a senior Iranian nuclear scientist last month and ahead of the anniversary of the killing of a senior Iranian general by the US in Iraq last January.
Iranian leadership is also likely to be on edge after it was reported last month that President Donald Trump had asked senior aides for options to strike Iranian nuclear sites.
Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley were among the senior advisers who convinced the President not to pursue a military strike, according to The New York Times.
The tensions also come as the US has reduced its diplomatic presence in Iraq and is in the middle of a drawdown to a force of 2,500 troops by January 5 that was ordered by Trump. The Trump administration policy is that if any militias were to attack and kill Americans, then the US would respond with some type of strike against militia sites.
While the US continues to watch Iranian threats closely, the senior general in the Middle East, Kenneth McKenzie, said Thursday that he believes the US has “achieved a certain level of contested deterrence.” CENTCOM Commander McKenzie’s focus has been on maintaining enough US firepower in the region to demonstrate to Tehran that the US has the capability to respond to an attack.
Concern about danger of miscalculations
The enduring worry is that miscalculations by the militias or the Iranian government could lead Trump to order a strike on Iran in his final days in office, several officials say. US officials emphasize strongly that they don’t believe Iran is looking for armed conflict in those last days but would rather wait and see if it can negotiate with President-elect Joe Biden’s team once it takes office. But these latest military moves underscore the continuing concerns among US defense officials and the importance of maintaining a high level of readiness in the region.
The worries about the January 3 anniversary of Qasem Soleimani’s death were underlined Thursday by McKenzie, who said the Iranian government is still under “pressure to avenge the death of Soleimani.”
At the same time, Iran has moved defensive military systems to its coastal areas in the days since the assassination of one of its premier nuclear scientists last month, according to several US defense officials. The US assesses the defensive military moves are a sign the regime may be “rattled” and is preparing for what it believes could be an attack by Israel or the US, according to the officials. The US assesses Iran has increased and maintained its military readiness since the November 27 assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. US officials have said they believe Israel is behind that killing.
While Iran’s military moves are defensive for now, officials say they are set up if the country’s leadership decides to launch any type of attack against the US or Israel. The recent defensive moves include dispersing some ships at sea, including mine-laying ships into the Strait of Hormuz area. Some ships are being left in place longer than the US anticipated. Officials could not offer detailed timelines due to the sensitivity of the information but said there is no indication new mines are being laid at this point.
In addition, Iran has two crucial surface-to-air defense systems along the coast now, its SA-5 and SA-20. If Iran feels threatened, mines and air defense systems are crucial to fending off maritime or air attacks.
For its part, the US military is trying to maintain a strong deterrence presence to signal it is ready to defend against aggression. Two B-52H US-based bomber aircraft flew in a “short-notice, non-stop” mission to the region from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to demonstrate an ability to project power over thousands of miles.
It was the second such mission in as many months. The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is in the Gulf region to help provide security as those US troops withdraw, but it is due to leave in the coming weeks, so the presence of land-based bombers and fighter jets could increase to fill the void.
Overall, the Pentagon is continuing to assess three areas of immediate concern in the region: what adversaries might decide to do as the Trump administration draws to a close, the drawdown of US troops in the area and the general level of uncertainty — including the role Israel could play that would lead to miscalculations on either side, officials say.
Independent Iran researcher Amir Toumaj said there is both a “general call for immediate retaliation and others pushing for a delayed response, arguing Tehran shouldn’t fall into a trap ahead of talks with the Biden administration.”
By Ariel Ben Solomon
(December 11, 2020 / JNS)
In the aftermath of the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last month, Iranian officials were quick to blame Israel and vowed imminent revenge.
While Israel has put its embassies abroad on high alert and continues to monitor threats along its borders from Iran and its terror proxies, such as Hezbollah to the north, experts seemed to agree that Tehran is likely to delay a revenge attack until the opportune moment.
Amir Toumaj, an independent Iran researcher, told JNS that among officials and media, there is both a “general call for immediate retaliation and others pushing for a delayed response, arguing that Tehran shouldn’t fall into a trap ahead of talks with the Biden administration.”
At the end of November, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for “definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it” regarding the killing of Fakhrizadeh, according to AP.
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Khamenei called Fakhrizadeh “the country’s prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist.”
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani declared that “we will respond to the assassination of martyr Fakhrizadeh in a proper time. The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the Zionists. They are thinking to create chaos,” according to the report.
Toumaj noted considerable calls within the regime to respond to the latest assassination, as well as previous attacks.
“There’s a lot of pressure now in the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps] and the government’s supporters for a response sooner rather than later, not only because this assassination was near the heart of the capital, but also because of the assassination of former general Qassem Soleimani and the Natanz explosion in the summer,” he said.
An American drone took out Soleimani in January, and Iran admitted that a fire seriously damaged its Natanz nuclear facility in July. A Middle Eastern intelligence official told The New York Times that Israel planted a bomb at the facility, and a member of the IRGC, who was briefed on the matter, also said an explosive device was used.
‘Time is on their side’
Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, said the assassination of the Iranian scientist and other successful attacks on Iran are “most likely attributable to fortunate operational circumstances.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri after a cabinet meeting, March 17, 2016. Credit: Mahmoud Hosseini via Wikimedia Commons.
Inbar downplayed the timing of the assassination as connected to the results of the U.S. election and the incoming Biden administration, which has promised to resume negotiations and possibly re-enter the Iran nuclear deal.
As to the question about when Iran will seek revenge, he said that it is wrong to assume that Iran will retaliate immediately.
“They have time, and they will do something after they think it is doable and effective,” he said. “Patience is their game. Time is on their side as they progress on the nuclear path.”
Professor Ronen Cohen, Iran expert and the head of the Middle East & Central Asia Research Center at Ariel University, said the Iranians are undergoing a challenging period due to both the coronavirus and crippling U.S. sanctions.
Iran has been the hardest-hit country in the Middle East with 1 million recorded cases of COVID-19 and 50,000 deaths as a result. And in the past few years, a series of new sanctions have been enacted by the Trump administration that has had a profound effect on Tehran’s economy, as seen in nationwide protests before the pandemic hit earlier this year.
“The economy is suffering, and Iranian officials have to deal with rumors of the death of Khamenei,” he said.
An official close to Khamenei denied recent rumors on social media that the 81-year-old’s health has deteriorated, Reuters reported on Monday.
Cohen says that Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian forces are in no position to attack Israel, even from Syrian territory.
“At the end of the day, Iran is hurting and seeks revenge,” he said. “However, the risk now is too high, and it will wait to retaliate when it is sure that the result will satisfy the political and military leadership.”
JERUSALEM, Israel – Since the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and two Arab states, many speculated Saudi Arabia might soon follow suit, but there are other factors now at play.
Just this past week, a Saudi Prince unexpectedly blasted Israel during a security conference in Bahrain, during a session ironically titled, “New Security Partnerships in The Middle East.”
“They profess that they want to be friends with Saudi Arabia. And yet all Israeli governments are the last of the Western colonizing parts of the Middle East. From the time of the Balfour Declaration, they have forcibly evicted the inhabitants of Palestine after the 1948 war,” said Prince Turki al-Faisal, Former Head of Saudi Intelligence.
Israeli Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, spoke by video after the prince.
“I would like to express my regret on the comments of the Saudi representative, the foreign minister, I don’t believe that they reflect the spirit and the changes taking place in the Middle East,” said Ashkenazi.
Dore Gold, a former UN ambassador and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, attended the conference and witnessed the prince’s accusations.
“The real question then is, ‘Does that say that the whole Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has an attitude problem? Or does it say that this guy has an attitude problem?’” Gold told CBN News.
“I think he was being used by the highest authorities in Saudi Arabia to put some distance between us and them,” he added.
In 2003, Gold wrote ‘Hatred’s Kingdom’ about Saudi Arabia’s support for terrorism, including an ideology that inspired the 9-11 attacks on the US. During the height of the Second Intifadah, when Hamas and other suicide bombers were blowing up Israeli buses and cafes in the heart of Israeli cities, Saudi Arabia supplied up to 70 percent of the Hamas budget. But from 2004, they withdrew that support. After that Iran started funding Hamas.
Gold challenged Prince Turki al-Faisal, who berated him for his book.
Following the public exchange, Gold said he approached the prince who asked if Gold still believed what he wrote in the book. Gold said he reminded him that the Intifadah (Palestinian uprising) was still in progress.
“Several Saudi spokesmen started going on American television saying that it was Israel because of its attitude toward the Palestinians that created the conditions that led to 9-11,” Gold explained to the prince. “That led me to write my book, ‘Hatred’s Kingdom,” which has nothing to do with the Palestinian issue. It has to do with this kind of deep, visceral hatred of the West and of Israel, that’s prevalent in Saudi Arabia.”
Gold said the attitude of other Gulf attendees toward Israelis appeared very warm except for the prince. Gold believes Saudi Arabia could still come around and make peace with Israel.
“I think like in all of Saudi history…ultimately their security interests will be paramount,” he explained.
Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States who recently joined the Abraham Accords all have a common enemy – Iran.
“I think it’s the Iranian factor, which gave birth to the Israeli-Arab peace process as we know it today,” said Gold.
Danny Danon, another former UN ambassador, also believes the Saudis will eventually join the Abraham Accords.
“They are the most important ones for the region, for Israel, and they understand that once they will normalize the relations with Israel, we will see much more stability in the region. And it will be a major force to block the hostility coming from Iran,” Danon told CBN News.
Gold pointed to Washington as being the major part of this puzzle and what happens next with a potential Biden administration.
“If they hear from Washington, ‘We like the Abraham Accords. We want more treaties between Israel and its neighbors.’ Great!” he explained.
Gold said that while the Trump administration has improved the connection between Saudi Arabia and Israel which led to the opening of its airspace to Israeli planes, it could all change if a Biden administration were to take a different approach.
“If on the other hand, they don’t acknowledge that, they say, ‘You want to improve the Middle East environment, give the Palestinians more money and make the Palestinians the center of everything,’” said Gold. “That will not move us very far along.”
Some have seen a larger peace deal in making in the Mideast region for several years.
In 2018, while addressing The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, Dr. Mike Evans, the founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center, spoke about peace in the Middle East and predicted as many as six Arab countries would make peace with Israel.
Referring to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legacy, Evans said, “I believe it very well maybe peace with five to six Sunni Gulf states. And I’m not saying that in theory. Because I’m talking to these leaders and I’m hearing things that are absolutely astonishing.”
World would pay a heavy price if global community does not come forward to resolve Kashmir dispute, says Masood Khan
Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) President Sardar Masood Khan has said that nuclear clash between Pakistan and India on the Kashmir dispute is “not merely an apprehension but a visible reality”.
In a first-ever interactive session with the UK MP and Labour Friends of Kashmir chairman Andrew Gwynne, through video link, said that the human rights violations in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) and the frequent aggression along the Line of Control (LoC) are further aggravating the already deteriorated situation of the region which would have adverse effects on the peace and security of the whole world.
Masood warned that the war hysteria created by extremist Indian rulers and the oppression in the disputed valley is swiftly pushing the region towards a devastating war.
He appealed to the UK to come forward as an important member of the UN Security Council, and pave the way for a peaceful political and diplomatic solution to the Kashmir conflict – a sole root cause of tension between Islamabad and New Delhi.
“The UN Security Council owes the responsibility of maintaining peace and security in the world, it can intervene despite India’s opposition, and take any measure including holding of a referendum to resolve the Kashmir conflict,” he added.
Welcoming the launching of Labour Friends of Kashmir and the Conservative Friends of Kashmir after establishing an All Parties Parliamentary Kashmir Group in the UK Parliament, the AJK president expressed gratitude for the MPs supporting legitimate right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people, and an opening up a new window for creating awareness in the UK and Europe about the Kashmir conflict.
He maintained that the responsibility of the Security Council to resolve the Kashmir issue further grows because the presence of UN Military Observers deployed in both parts of the Jammu and Kashmir.
India, Masood also said, has been creating hurdles in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the UN resolutions. “The people of Pakistan, as well as Jammu and Kashmir, want a peaceful political and the diplomatic solution to the issue but India is adamant to resolve it through military means that is a war between the two countries.”
Rejecting the bilateral talks with India, the AJK president said that the question of Kashmir and the UNSC resolutions on Kashmir revolves around the people of Kashmir who are fundamental party as only they will decide their political future through a UN-sponsored referendum.
Drawing a comparison between Azad Kashmir and Occupied Kashmir, he said that the occupied territory had virtually become a big military garrison and open prison for its inhabitants while the people of Azad Kashmir enjoy freedom, civil liberties and all fundamental rights and they are struggling for a prosperous life.