If the past is any indication, New York can be hit by an earthquake, claims John Armbruster, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.Based on historical precedent, Armbruster says the New York City metro area is susceptible to an earthquake of at least a magnitude of 5.0 once a century.According to the New York Daily News, Lynn Skyes, lead author of a recent study by seismologists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory adds that a magnitude-6 quake hits the area about every 670 years, and magnitude-7 every 3,400 years.A 5.2-magnitude quake shook New York City in 1737 and another of the same severity hit in 1884.Tremors were felt from Maine to Virginia.There are several fault lines in the metro area, including one along Manhattan’s 125th St. – which may have generated two small tremors in 1981 and may have been the source of the major 1737 earthquake, says Armbruster.There’s another fault line on Dyckman St. and one in Dobbs Ferry in nearby Westchester County.“The problem here comes from many subtle faults,” explained Skyes after the study was published.He adds: “We now see there is earthquake activity on them. Each one is small, but when you add them up, they are probably more dangerous than we thought.”“Considering population density and the condition of the region’s infrastructure and building stock, it is clear that even a moderate earthquake would have considerable consequences in terms of public safety and economic impact,” says the New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation on its website.Armbruster says a 5.0-magnitude earthquake today likely would result in casualties and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.“I would expect some people to be killed,” he notes.The scope and scale of damage would multiply exponentially with each additional tick on the Richter scale. (ANI)
Tensions that have simmered are threatening to flare up further.
December 31, 2020, 12:04 AM
NOTIFIED: Dec. 31, 2020
Hedayatullah Amid/EPA via Shutterstock
The world was on lockdown for most of 2020. But from the Caucasus to the Horn of Africa to the Himalayas, several conflicts, some frozen for decades, erupted in violence.
With the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis, tensions that have simmered are threatening to flare up further in 2021, especially as humanitarian need skyrockets, governments and aid groups face budget shortfalls, and climate change increasingly forces folks to flee or fight over resources.
Here are the top conflicts or issues that could burst into all-out crises in 2021.
Nuclear arms race: From rogue states to regional tensions
At the start of 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists made a dramatic announcement — its famed Doomsday Clock was the closest to midnight it’s ever been, with the threats of nuclear war and climate change growing ever more acute.
“National leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to lowered barriers to nuclear war,” the group said in January.
Twelve months later, the last nuclear arms control pact between the U.S. and Russia is weeks from expiry, with no plans to extend it in sight. China continues to develop its nuclear arsenal, possibly even doubling it in the next decade, according to the Pentagon. It’s also clashed high in the Himalayas with its nuclear-armed neighbor India, which in turn spilled blood with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan over the disputed territory Kashmir.
This undated photo released on March 2…
As the global infrastructure to constrain nuclear weapons wanes, any one of these could turn into a flashpoint next year, and that’s without even mentioning the rogue nuclear power states North Korea and Iran — both of which are likely to test the incoming Biden administration.
After four years of President Donald Trump’s policies, North Korea has more nuclear weapons and enhanced ballistic missile capability, which it may show off with a test launch early in President-elect Joe Biden’s term to try to garner some attention and leverage, according to analysts. While the likelihood of a “fire and fury” response will diminish after Trump’s departure, the risk of a skirmish spiraling into all-out war remains real, according to analysts.
This Dec. 11, 2020, satellite photo by Ma…
Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons and says it won’t pursue them, but it once again has a stockpile of enriched uranium and a host of spinning centrifuges that decrease its so-called “breakout time” to potentially develop the bomb, according to nuclear experts. Analysts expect its forces, under disguise or through proxies, could resume attacks in the Persian Gulf region to build leverage ahead of possible negotiations with Biden’s team, risking conflict with U.S., Israeli, or Arab forces.
Terrorism threat expands, seizing instability across Africa
On the campaign trail, Trump and his senior advisers repeatedly celebrated the defeat of ISIS’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria. But since then, the terror threat has dispersed, with fighters and weapons flowing out of shrinking ISIS territory to new pockets around the world.
Across Africa in particular, the world’s youngest and fastest-growing continent, ISIS affiliates are now gaining strength, especially in Nigeria, Mozambique and the Congo — although a few terrorism experts caution some claim to be more powerful than they are in reality.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country, the Allied Democratic Forces, a decades-old militant group, has traded claims of responsibility for deadly attacks with a local ISIS affiliate. The fighting compounds the deep hunger crisis there, with more than 19 million people in need, according to the International Rescue Committee, which reported that DRC now has “more people facing a severe hunger crisis… than has ever been recorded in any country.”
This general view, on Dec. 10, 2020, sho…
In Mozambique, Islamist militants linked to ISIS have conducted brutal attacks in the northernmost province Cabo Delgado, including beheading more than 50 civilians in November and temporarily seizing control of a port in August. The deteriorating security situation has displaced more than half a million people, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), with continued violence likely to bring more acute humanitarian need next year.
The situation is perhaps worst, however, in the Sahel, the semi-arid region that spans northern Africa just south of the Sahara Desert and that has seen a sharp rise in extremist groups and fighting. In Mali and Niger, the security situation is at best shaky, with a military junta trying to stabilize Mali amid inter-communal and jihadist violence and tense elections this week in Niger leaving the path ahead uncertain, but hopeful.
But Burkina Faso, the landlocked country twice the size of New York, has become the world’s fastest growing crisis. Over 1 million people have been internally displaced in just two years, according to UNHCR, and there is no end in sight of fighting between the government, militia groups and terrorist organizations, boosting the risk of famine for its 20 million people.
A group of schoolboys are escorted by Nigeria
Nigeria, the region’s powerhouse and Africa’s most populous country, is facing all the same trends, with even deeper implications for global security. Its northeastern corner has been a hotspot for over a decade, with jihadist group Boko Haram and criminal violence terrorizing and displacing millions of civilians. But Nigerian armed forces’ response has been cast as failing, and the government also faced sharp criticism for its heavy crackdown on anti-police brutality protests — signs that the state itself is increasingly unstable, which could create more chaos in 2021.
Peace efforts fail, crises worsen in Afghanistan, Yemen
Afghanistan and Yemen have been torn apart by conflict for years now, but 2021 could bring even deeper suffering for civilians in both countries.
In recent months, while Afghan government and Taliban delegations sit in luxury hotels in Doha, Qatar, for peace negotiations, there has been a spike in car bombings, rocket fire, targeted attacks on police and security forces, botched Afghan Air Force bombings, and assassinations of government officials, activists and journalists. Compounded by coronavirus, that has kept Afghanistan’s already victimized civilian population in continued danger, even after decades of humanitarian need.
The peace negotiations were supposed to aim for a nationwide ceasefire as soon as possible, according to the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February, but the militant group has resisted so far, using violence as leverage in talks. But if the violence is sustained into 2021, it could imperil negotiations and ignite into all-out conflict, just as U.S. troops draw down out of the country and the ISIS franchise claims more deadly attacks more frequently, according to Afghan officials and U.S. analysts.
Yemen has similarly faced years of stop-and-start peace efforts, but with coronavirus raging through the country with no health care system to track it, let alone treat it, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is expected to descend even deeper in 2021.
After five years of endless fighting, humanitarian funding is drying up, leaving approximately 80% of the population in need, according to aid groups. The U.N.-mediated effort has stalled, with the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition fighting in its own ranks as much as with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, and neither side has shown real interest in protecting civilians, let alone peace talks.
One other near decade-old conflict to mention is Syria, where murderous strongman Bashar al Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, could test the incoming Biden administration by trying to finally seize control of the last pocket of rebels and jihadists in Idlib province, causing a bloodbath and pushing masses of packed Syrians fleeing into Turkey and beyond to Europe.
East Africa erupting as violence spills over borders
In the final few months of 2020, the greater Horn of Africa experienced a flash of violence, often spilling over borders and threatening to suck in the whole region in the coming months.
At the heart of it is Ethiopia, whose government went to war with well-armed political forces in its Tigray region, a conflict that continues to see sporadic fighting and claims of mass killings and that could worsen ahead of 2021 elections. It may also suck in neighboring Eritrea, long at war with Tigrayan leaders and now partnering with federal forces against them, leading to cross-border rocket fire and aerial bombardment.
Further endangering the region is the fact that the fighting sent tens of thousands of refugees scrambling into Sudan, itself on a rocky transitional road to democracy after decades of oppressive rule. The two neighbors are already locked in a dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and occasional clashes along the border could enflame into another frontline.
Elsewhere in East Africa, Kenya and Somalia have cut diplomatic ties over Kenya’s support for breakaway region Somaliland, heightening regional tension further. The move also means Kenya will likely pull its peacekeeping troops in Somalia, just as U.S. forces withdraw, leaving Somalia more vulnerable to al-Shabab, a powerful al-Qaida affiliate that will continue to plot attacks and increasingly conduct them abroad.
In the midst of it all, the fragile semi-peace in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country still emerging from civil war, faces “catastrophic levels of hunger,” according to the U.N.
“If left unchecked much longer, a strategic region could devolve into war — with itself and others — imperiling U.S. interests from the Red Sea to Europe,” warned Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
COVID-19, political crisis sink Venezuela even lower
Once one of Latin America’s richest countries, Venezuela has been wracked by Nicholás Maduro’s corruption and mismanagement, but the political opposition’s efforts over the last two years have not forced him from power. Parliamentary elections in December were boycotted by the U.S.-backed “interim” leader Juan Guaidó and decried as fraudulent by most democracies, but they also pushed Guaidó and many on his team from the legislature — leaving them with one less avenue of power.
That political stalemate has increasingly splintered the opposition, which could lead to more radical voices emerging — sick of Maduro’s intransigence and seeking alternative means. Instead of a political settlement, Venezuela is likely to see more social unrest, particularly as coronavirus further sinks Venezuela’s economy and causes food and fuel shortages, with one quarter of the country’s population in need, according to IRC.
But the danger could also become one for the region. Despite COVID shutting borders, Venezuelan refugees continue to escape the country, but their growing presence — almost 2 million in Colombia and nearly 900,000 in Peru alone, according to the U.N. — are starting to destabilize neighbors. This fall, Colombia has already seen protests and attacks on Venezuelans, who are blamed for rising crime or unemployment, which could escalate as COVID-19 further damages local economies.
Assertive China gets punched back
While the coronavirus emerged from Wuhan and threatened to overwhelm China, its draconian lockdown has allowed Beijing to emerge more quickly than other major powers — rebooting its economy and taking advantage of the world’s paralysis with increasingly assertive moves.
In Hong Kong, democratic protests have faded under COVID-19 restrictions, but particularly after China’s national security law tightened its control on the territory. While protests could reemerge in 2021, the tale of the city now is of asylum seekers fleeing and activists incarcerated.
Elsewhere, China is likely to keep flexing its new muscles, asserting firmer control over now militarized islands in the South China Sea despite U.S. opposition and seeping its control across international boundaries, such as the disputed border with India’s Ladakh region, continued claims against Japan’s Senkaku Islands, and land grabs in Nepal and Bhutan, two tiny neighbors.
But these new moves could be met with clashes in 2021 as regional powers push back, often with increasingly vocal American support. India has banned Chinese apps and boosted its military spending and border troop presence, and Japan’s defense minister said China had become a “security threat” — both countries joining the U.S. and Australia under the Trump administration’s revitalized “Quad” format.
Nowhere is the tension fiercer than in Taiwan. Considered by Beijing a breakaway province that must eventually be reunited, Taiwan is likely to face more harassment from China’s navy and air force after they upped their tempo this year. That was met by record-breaking arms sales to Taiwan by the Trump administration, totaling $18.3 billion over four years and including elite fighter jets and advanced torpedoes. With a Biden administration focused on issues at home, China could take the ultimate risk of forcing reunion by the barrel of a gun, which analysts fear but say remains unlikely.
Roslyn Ward / U.S. Air Force
A final grand distraction before the president is forced to relinquish his office is a real danger that deserves serious attention.
Tom NicholsDecember 30, 2020
Author of Our Own Worst Enemy
Donald Trump is intent on creating as much chaos as possible on his way out of the White House. Could that include saddling Joe Biden with another war in the Middle East?
We already know that Trump is thinking about attacking Iran. In mid-November, after he lost the presidential election, Trump asked for military options against Iranian nuclear facilities, a reckless idea that was derailed by top aides. Since then, the United States has sent B-52 bombers on missions in the Persian Gulf three times, including a 30-hour round trip from North Dakota to the Gulf on December 29.
B-52 flights are a traditional American method of demonstrating resolve, a way to signal to an enemy that the United States is engaged and alert for trouble. (Whether such flights do any good is questionable, but American administrations of both parties use them.) These recent bomber missions are ostensibly an effort to deter Iran from carrying out attacks on U.S. or allied forces as the anniversary of the Iranian terror chieftain Qasem Soleimani’s killing approaches on January 3.
Read: Donald Trump, the most unmanly president
Iran is almost certainly planning retaliation for Soleimani’s death, and both Trump and Biden have a duty to be vigilant about possible revenge, a real danger that deserves serious attention. Even if Iran forgoes action before January, the regime in Tehran is an ongoing threat to peace and stability in the region, a problem that Trump did not invent and that Biden will inherit.
As he has done with most things, however, Trump took a bad situation and made it worse. Killing Soleimani was the right move, for example, but the clumsiness and confusion that followed—including Trump threatening to engage in war crimes by destroying Iranian cultural sites—created a moral and political void in which Iran was able to take the initiative and retaliate against U.S. bases in Iraq without further consequences.
And whatever the flaws of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—and I was one of the critics who had serious problems with the Iran deal—it at least temporarily stabilized the Iranian nuclear problem. The JCPOA was imperfect, but it was the only game in town, and Trump dumping it gave the Iranians the out they needed to go right back to their previous mischief.
Now Trump’s defense officials are making noises—while Trump himself is silent—about deterrence. But repeated bomber flights and stories about strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, particularly when they’re coming from a claque of mostly unqualified officials in an acting capacity who will not be around to fulfill these vague threats, are not much of a deterrent in the waning days of an administration that refuses to cooperate on basic matters of national defense with its successor.
Instead, Trump might be planning a final grand distraction before he is forced to relinquish his office.
The question is not whether Trump has the power to do any of this. He holds the authority of Article II of the Constitution until noon on January 20. As unsettling as it may be to realize this, Trump—like any American president—can launch anything, from a reconnaissance mission to a nuclear strike, even as Biden is standing on the steps of the Capitol waiting to be sworn in. Whether U.S. military leaders, including the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, would promptly execute orders they thought unwise or possibly illegal is another matter, but the authority of the president of the United States is not limited by losing an election.
Rather, the question is why Trump would ignite a war with Iran at the last minute, and what to look for if he has made such a decision.
The obvious reason Donald Trump does anything is because he thinks it will benefit Donald Trump.
At the least, it is one last chance for Trump to role-play the only part of the job he has ever liked: the strutting commander in chief. If Trump decides on war, he will issue orders, and there will be a great deal of saluting and generous use of the word sir, all of which (if we are to judge from his rants at rallies) he finds irresistible. From the border wall to the COVID-19 crisis, Trump’s fallback position when he is flummoxed by the complexity of governing is to call in the military and issue orders that cannot be countermanded by another branch of the government or by his own bureaucracy.
War with Iran could also be a way of making one more last-ditch argument for staying in power, but launching a war, of course, will not keep Trump in office. He may not realize this; he did not understand that his own vice president has the constitutional duty to count Electoral College votes. And someone in the current chaotic scrum may well have convinced Trump that some double-secret codicil of the Constitution will allow him to remain president.
Read: Trump is losing his mind
But a war with the mullahs—the devout wish of Iran hawks like Michael Flynn, who supported Trump from the start and who now has his ear as the White House melts down in these final days—would more likely be a final punishment that Trump could inflict on the American people for rejecting him, and a massive act of sabotage against Biden for defeating him.
American citizens and their elected officials may not be able to stop Trump from issuing orders, but they can be watchful for the traditional signs of a country about to go to war.
These are the same things that observers such as journalists and foreign-intelligence analysts would also watch for, including the sudden congregation of national-security officials at the Pentagon and the White House, a heightened state of alert, an increase in the “force protection condition” at U.S. bases, and the movement of large assets into the region. (The carrier Nimitz returned to the Persian Gulf in November, but a Navy spokesperson says this was not in response to any “specific” threats, a careful use of language that does not rule anything in or out.)
Trump was never much interested in the business of governing, and once he lost the election, he completely gave up on the job of being president. He is now fully in survival mode, and this is why he should not get the benefit of the doubt we might give to other presidents who have exercised their powers until their last days in office. If we must go into another conflict in the Middle East, Trump must stand before the American people and Congress—now—and explain himself, instead of surprising us all with the ultimate act of political arson in his final minutes in an office he never wanted and of which he was never worthy.
ROBERT BURNS , Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The United States flew strategic bombers over the Persian Gulf on Wednesday for the second time this month, a show of force meant to deter Iran from attacking American or allied targets in the Middle East.
One senior U.S. military officer said the flight by two Air Force B-52 bombers was in response to signals that Iran may be planning attacks against U.S. allied targets in neighboring Iraq or elsewhere in the region in coming days, even as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office. The officer was not authorized to publicly discuss internal assessments based on sensitive intelligence and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The B-52 bomber mission, flown round trip from an Air Force base in North Dakota, reflects growing concern in Washington, in the final weeks of President Donald Trump’s administration, that Iran will order further military retaliation for the U.S. killing last Jan. 3 of top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s initial response, five days after the deadly U.S. drone strike, was a ballistic missile attack on a military base in Iraq that caused brain concussion injuries to about 100 U.S. troops.
Iran, however, has appeared wary of Trump’s intentions in his final weeks in office, given his focus on pressuring Tehran with sanctions and other moves that have further damaged the Islamic Republic’s economy.
“Trump will bear full responsibility for any adventurism on his way out,” Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, wrote on Twitter Dec. 24.
Adding to the tension was a Dec. 20 rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad by Iranian-supported Shiite militia groups. No one was killed, but the volume of rockets fired — possibly 21, with about nine landing on the Embassy compound — was unusually large. Days later, Trump tweeted that Iran was on notice.
“Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over,” Trump wrote on Dec. 23. He added, “We hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq.”
Because of the potential for escalation that could lead to a wider war, the U.S. has sought to deter Iran from additional attacks. Strategic calculations on both sides are further complicated by the political transition in Washington to a Biden administration that may seek new paths to dealing with Iran. Biden has said, for example, that he hopes to return the U.S. to a 2015 agreement with world powers in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
In announcing Wednesday’s bomber flight, the head of U.S. Central Command said it was a defensive move.
“The United States continues to deploy combat-ready capabilities into the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to deter any potential adversary, and make clear that we are ready and able to respond to any aggression directed at Americans or our interests,” said Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of Central Command. “We do not seek conflict, but no one should underestimate our ability to defend our forces or to act decisively in response to any attack.”
He did not mention Iran by name.
In advance of the announcement, the senior U.S. military officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said that U.S. intelligence has detected recent signs of “fairly substantive threats” from Iran, and that included planning for possible rocket attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq in connection with the one-year anniversary of the Soleimani killing.
The U.S. is in the process of reducing its troop presence in Iraq from 3,000 to about 2,500. Trump ordered that the reduction be achieved by Jan. 15; officials say it is likely to be reached as early as next week.
The United States also has picked up signs that Iran may be considering or planning “more complex” and broader attacks against American targets or interests in the Middle East, the senior U.S. military officer said, adding that it represented the most concerning signs since the days immediately following the Soleimani killing. The officer cited indications that advanced weaponry has been flowing from Iran into Iraq recently and that Shiite militia leaders in Iraq may have met with officers of Iran’s Quds force, previously commanded by Soleimani.
The U.S. officer said Iran might have its eye on economic targets, noting the September 2019 missile and drone attack on Saudi oil processing facilities. Iran denied involvement but was blamed by the United States for that attack.
In recent weeks the U.S. military has taken a range of steps designed to deter Iran, while publicly emphasizing that it is not planning, and has not been instructed, to take unprovoked action against Iran.
Last week, a U.S. Navy guided-missile submarine made an unusual transit of the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. Earlier in December, a pair of B-52 bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana flew what the military calls a “presence” mission over the Gulf — a demonstration of U.S. force and a signal of U.S. commitment to the region, but not an attack mission. That flight was repeated this week, with two B-52s flying nonstop from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and heading home Wednesday after cruising over the western side of the Gulf.
Tensions with Iran escalated with the killing in November of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist named by the West as the leader of the Islamic Republic’s disbanded military nuclear program. Iran has blamed Israel for the killing, but U.S. officials are concerned that any Iranian retaliation could hit U.S. interests.
Map locates tanker (Associated Press)
Dec. 31, 2020 at 4:13 a.m. HST
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Sailors involved in transferring fuel oil from an Iraqi tanker in the Persian Gulf to another vessel owned by a shipping company traded in the U.S. discovered a “suspicious object” they fear could be a mine, authorities said Thursday.
The discovery comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration
“Hard Corner” joint military drill organized by the armed wings of Palestinian groups held in Gaza Strip on 29 December 2020. [Mustafa Hassona – Anadolu Agency]
December 31, 2020 at 8:30 am
The military wings of all Palestinian factions in Gaza, with the exception of Fatah, on Wednesday, completed a 24-hour military drill codenamed “Strong Cornerstone”, simulating an Israeli offensive on the coastal enclave.
A statement issued by the Joint Command Room for the military wings indicated: “The exercise comes as part of efforts to boost the joint action and cooperation between the military wings of the Palestinian factions.”
The statement added that the training aims to: “Enhance the efficiency and combat-readiness of fighters to be able to fight in all different conditions. Thanks to Allah, our fighters showed advanced combat qualities during this drill that proved their readiness to take part in any battle under any circumstances.”
According to the statement, the drills, which started on Tuesday and ended on Wednesday, were carried out in most areas of the Gaza Strip and included most scenarios of possible Israeli attacks.
“After completing the Strong Cornerstone drill, we reiterate the continuous promotion of our abilities and the retention of our readiness, as well as the development of joint cooperation within the framework of the Joint Command Room,” the statement of the military wings affirmed.
The Israeli army on Thursday said that it has attacked 300 targets in the Gaza Strip and 50 others in Syria in 2020.
“The data of 2020 found that about 300 targets were raided in the Gaza Strip and the forces thwarted 38 attempts to infiltrate through the security fence [with Gaza],” the army said in a statement that Anadolu Agency reviewed.
“176 rockets and mortars were launched from the Gaza Strip, 90% of them landed in empty areas, as the Iron Dome system [for countering short-range missiles] intercepted 80 shells and rockets that were targeting civilian areas,” the statement said.
The statement added that “as for the northern borders [with Syria and Lebanon] there have been 10 attempts to infiltrate through the security fence and 50 raids have been carried out against targets inside Syria, in addition to 20 specific operations.”
The Israeli army thwarted two attempts by Hezbollah to carry out operations on the Lebanese border, as well as disrupting another operation by a Hezbollah cell to carry out an operation on the Syrian border.
*Bassel Barakat contributed to this report from Ankara