January 20, 2010New York City isn’t immune to earthquakes; a couple of small tremors measuring about 2.5 on the Richter scale even struck back in 2001 and 2002.But on August 10, 1884, a more powerful earthquake hit. Estimated from 4.9 to 5.5 in magnitude, the tremor made houses shake, chimneys fall, and residents wonder what the heck was going on, according to a New York Timesarticle two days later.The quake was subsequently thought to have been centered off Far Rockaway or Coney Island.It wasn’t the first moderate quake, and it won’t be the last. In a 2008 Columbia University study, seismologists reported that the city is crisscrossed with several fault lines, one along 125th Street. With that in mind, New Yorkers should expect a 5.0 or higher earthquake centered here every 100 years, the seismologists say.Translation: We’re about 30 years overdue. Lucky for us the city adopted earthquake-resistant building codes in 1995.1884 A Forewarning Of The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)
On the one-year anniversary of the assassination of IRGC Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, rumors are rampant about a military confrontation between the US and the Islamic republic.
The traditional New Year’s Eve party at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, took place without US President Donald Trump.
Faithful to his typical D’Artagnan style, Trump – who will leave the White House to President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20 – abandoned his friends and returned to Washington D.C. a day earlier than expected. No one knows why, but rumors have been spreading about grandiose moves and controversial gestures he intends to make before Biden takes the reigns.
The chatter among members of the international village centers on a possible war with Iran. Today, Jan. 3, is the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, killed in a US missile strike in Baghdad. Soleimani’s face is plastered on thousands of walls throughout Tehran, and wherever lurk his admirers – from Hamas in Gaza to Hezbollah in Lebanon, from the Houthi rebels in Yemen to the various Shi’ite militia groups in Iraq – and is tied to calls for “severe revenge” against the United States and Israel.
The noise about retaliation has become particularly thunderous over the past few days. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a furious speech; Hamas wanted to demonstrate its readiness for war through an unprecedented military drill and additional rocket fire on southern Israel.
All this followed the flight of US Air Force B-52 bombers over the Persian Gulf on Dec. 29, in response to signals that Iran may be planning imminent attacks on US-allied targets in Iraq or elsewhere in the region.
Less than two weeks earlier, on Dec. 20, a rocket attack on the US Embassy compound in Baghdad by Iran-backed Shi’ite militias spurred Trump to warn Tehran that any harm to American citizens would warrant his reaction. Since Dec. 25, the Israel Defense Forces also have been on high alert.
It is plausible that Iran intends to carry out its revenge through its numerous “proxies” in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen – the countries, as Mordechai Kedar wrote recently, where Soleimani had been masterminding his plans for Iran’s regional domination. It seems likely that Iran’s revenge, which is directed at the US and Israel, may hit the moderate Sunni-Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, which are more pro-American. This might explain why Trump, within the last month alone, on three separate occasions, has dispatched B52 bombers, a nuclear submarine and two warships to the region. An Israeli submarine has also headed to the Persian Gulf.
Iran could carry out its revenge just before Biden’s inauguration, in order not to attack the incoming president too directly, especially as its leaders hope to obtain a new treaty with his administration. However, it could even be difficult for Biden to find common ground with Tehran at this juncture, with news from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran now has more than 12 times the amount of enriched uranium permitted under the 2015 nuclear deal signed by former US president Barack Obama and other world powers.
In addition, Iran’s continued state sponsorship of terrorism has consolidated an anti-Iranian and pro-American Middle Eastern front, which Trump could count on if he intends to end his term with a spectacular gesture. Perhaps he wants to seal his legacy by ending the Iranian threat that has loomed over the Middle East for more than four decades.
What would Biden do? All scenarios are possible. America would be shocked by a strike on Iran, but the ayatollahs would nevertheless find themselves in the most difficult moment since coming to power in 1979. And not many in the western world would really be sorry about it, notwithstanding their proclaimed hate for any form of war.
Trump administration’s ‘sabre-rattling and aggressive rhetoric’ raise fears about a potential confrontation with Iran before Joe Biden takes office.
US President Donald Trump could take “reckless” military action against Iran in his final days in office, experts have warned, as tensions between Tehran and Washington mount on the eve of the first anniversary of top Iranian General, Qassem Soleimani’s assassination.
The US flew B-52 bombers over the Gulf three times in the past month, most recently on Wednesday, in what the Trump administration called a deterrence measure to keep Iran from retaliating on January 3, the anniversary of Soleimani’s killing in a US drone strike.
But with less than a month left in the White House, Trump is under pressure from key allies in the Middle East – namely Israel and Saudi Arabia – to take action on Iran, said Danny Postel, assistant director of the Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University.
“Trump is a very wounded and very cornered animal in an end-game scenario. He’s got a few weeks left, and we know that he is capable of extremely erratic behaviour,” Postel, an expert on Iran and US foreign policy, told Al Jazeera in an interview.
“It may be the case that his most erratic, most reckless lashing out is yet to come.”
On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “New intelligence from Iraq indicate[s] that Israeli agent-provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans – putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli.”
Without providing evidence to back up his claims, Zarif warned Trump to “be careful of a trap”. “Any fireworks will backfire badly, particularly against your same BFFs [best friends forever],” he tweeted.
New intelligence from Iraq indicate that Israeli agent-provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans—putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli.
7:03 AM · Jan 2, 2021
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Earlier this week, Iran warned the US not to escalate the situation in the run-up to the Soleimani assassination anniversary, with Zarif saying on Thursday that “intelligence from Iraq indicate [sic] plot to FABRICATE pretext for war”.
“Iran doesn’t seek war but will OPENLY & DIRECTLY defend its people, security & vital interests,” the foreign minister tweeted. That same day, Iran condemned Washington’s “military adventurism” in a letter to the UN Security Council.
Iranian officials have pledged “harsh revenge” for Soleimani’s assassination at Baghdad international airport.
However, experts are unconvinced that Tehran would give the Trump administration a pretext to launch a military confrontation right now as US President-elect Joe Biden, who intends to restart diplomatic engagement with Tehran, is set to assume office on January 20.
Biden has said he plans to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a landmark accord signed during President Barack Obama’s administration that saw Iran limit its nuclear enrichment in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.
US President-elect Joe Biden has promised to return to the Iran nuclear deal [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018 as part of his administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, which also saw Washington impose crippling sanctions on several key Iranian industries.
This week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran’s uranium stockpile was 12 times the limit set by the JCPOA in November. Iran also notified the IAEA on Friday that it planned to enrich uranium to 20 percent, a level only reached before the JCPOA.
But supporters of diplomatic engagement say it is the only way to ensure Iran abides by international regulations, while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said his country will return to the accord if the other signatories do the same.
Last week, a group of 150 Democratic Party congressmen in the US House of Representatives urged Biden to go back to the nuclear deal.
“We are united in our support for swiftly taking the necessary diplomatic steps to restore constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and return both Iran and the United States to compliance with the [JCPOA] as a starting point for further negotiations,” they wrote in a December 24 letter (PDF).
‘War of Choice’
The Pentagon announced on Thursday that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, which was off the coast of Somalia, was being pulled back to its homeport. Some US officials said the move could be a signal of an effort to de-escalate regional tensions.
But concerns persist that Trump – who still refuses to acknowledge Biden’s victory in the US elections – could take action to further intensify the situation with Iran. The president in November asked for military options to hit Iran’s nuclear facilities but declined to act, US media reported.
Experts also said in November that the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist – an act that many observers blamed on Israel, but for which no claim of responsibility has been made – aimed to complicate Biden’s plan to restart diplomacy with Iran.
Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think-tank in Washington, DC, said key Trump backers – Evangelicals and supporters of Israel, in particular – could be pushing for a confrontation.
The killing of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November could complicate US President-elect Joe Biden’s efforts to restart negotiations with Tehran, experts said [Iranian Defence Ministry/AFP]
With rumours swirling that Trump is planning a 2024 run for president, the Republican leader could decide “to start a war of choice with Iran to finally kill the JCPOA and strengthen his grip over the GOP [Republican Party]”, Parsi told Al Jazeera in an email.
Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said on Friday that “the threat of a wider war between the US and Iran remains as both the Trump administration and Israel have recently deployed more assets to the region”.
“Such a conflict would be a horrible climax to the failed US policy of ‘maximum pressure’”, Slavin wrote, “that saw the US withdraw unilaterally from the JCPOA in 2018 while Iran was in full compliance.”
She added that there is a window for diplomacy ahead of Iran’s presidential elections in June – and that engagement is the only way forward.
“The United States – and Israel – can’t kill their way to Iranian non-proliferation or accomplish that goal through cyber attacks. Only diplomacy has proven effective in constraining Iran’s nuclear activities. It is the only sensible way forward,” Slavin said.
Meanwhile, Postel drew a comparison between the final days of the Trump administration and those of former President George W. Bush in 2008 before Obama’s inauguration.
At that time, Israel and Saudi Arabia were similarly angling for military action against Iran, Postel said, and “there was a very similar intensification – at the very least – of sabre-rattling and aggressive rhetoric coming from the Bush administration”.
Postel said who is in power in the US and Iran has a critical impact on the prospects of diplomacy. For example, the Iran nuclear deal was reached when Obama and Rouhani – both of whom favoured international engagement – were in office.
He added that Iranian hardliners may be poised to defeat Rouhani in the country’s next elections later this year, making the current moment – with Biden set to take office – all the more important.
“I think this is a very critical moment in US-Iran relations where there might be a chance to remove war from the equation and find a diplomatic solution to at least this core issue of Iran’s nuclear programme,” he said.
“This is a momentous juncture that we find ourselves at in US-Iran relations.”
Iran’s foreign minister accused Israel of concocting a cause for Washington to start a war against the Islamic Republic as Iranians marked the first anniversary of the U.S. assassination of a top general.
Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran had new intelligence from Iraqi sources showing that “Israeli agent-provocateurs” were staging attacks on U.S. targets, laying a “trap” for outgoing President Donald Trump to start a conflict that could jettison his successor Joe Biden’s plans to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord. He didn’t give further details about the nature of the intelligence.
Israel’s energy minister accused Iran of seeking pretexts for violence.
The next supreme leader of Iran could set the course of the Islamic republic for decades
Ahmed Vahdat2 January 2021 • 5:11pm
The longest-serving head of state in the Middle East will turn 82 next year, with speculation growing as to who will one day replace Iran’s supreme leader.
Claims of Ali Khamenei’s ill-health have circulated for years, most recently when dissident Iranian journalist Mohamad Ahwaze claimed in early December that an ailing Khamenei had handed power to his 51-year-old son Mojtaba.
But the octogenarian Ayatollah has to date survived everything from prostate surgery to an exploding bomb hidden in a tape recorder, and Tehran swiftly denied the latest rumours of a patrilineal succession, which many Iran experts also discounted as unlikely.
“To hand power to his son would erode the legitimacy of the Islamic republic,” which replaced Iran’s monarchy, said Sanam Vakil, an Iran expert at Chatham House.
But the question of succession could become critical this year, when the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden returns to negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal and the Islamic republic is scheduled to hold presidential elections. With hardliners and conservatives in the ascendancy, the choice of a new supreme leader could set the course of the country for decades to come.
Key decision maker – Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Credit: AFP
Tensions are already high ahead of Sunday’s anniversary of the death of General Qassem Solaimani, the Iranian military mastermind killed in a drone strike in Baghdad last year. In recent days, the US has deployed B-52 bombers and a submarine to the Gulf region, a show of force intended to deter Iran from using the anniversary as a day for revenge attacks on US interests in the Middle East.
Iran also said on Saturday it planned to enrich uranium up to 20 per cent at its underground Fordo nuclear facility. The move – which puts Tehran a technical step away from weapons-grade uranium levels – will increase pressure on Mr Biden to rebuild the nuclear deal that Mr Trump pulled out of.
From the Iranian side, the ultimate say on all these key issues rests with the Supreme Leader, who rules over the theocracy installed in 1979 after the revolution to overthrow the pro-Western Shah.
“His position has the most weight and his appointments bring to power very like-minded individuals,” said Ms Vakil.
Iraqi women gather at the scene where Iran’s commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad airport Credit: Reuters
Though he has not appointed a successor, the ageing Ayatollah looked beyond his own rule in a manifesto published in 2019 to mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution.
In it, he argued that the next four decades of the Islamic republic should be based on the rule of “a younger pious generation of Iranians who adhere and follow the ideals of the Islamic revolution.”
Upholding those ideals will largely fall to the next supreme leader, who “will craft their own vision for the Islamic republic 3.0, whatever that’s going to look like,” said Ms Vakil.
According to Iran’s constitution, in the absence of a named successor, the supreme leader is selected by the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member body of Islamic jurists, elected every eight years. But that process has only run once before, offering only limited precedent.
On the day Iran’s first supreme leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died on June 3, 1989, the Assembly of Experts held an emergency session to choose his successor.
In a secret recording of the closed-door meeting that only emerged in 2018, an emotional Khamenei tells the body that has just nominated him: “I truly don’t deserve this position.”
“Based on the constitution, I am not qualified for this job,” he says, referring to the constitutional requirement that the supreme leader must have reached the highest level of Shiite scholarship.
Overruled by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who chaired the meeting, the mid-ranking cleric was initially appointed in a caretaker position for one year. Iran’s constitution was then amended to allow for a supreme leader with a more modest level of “Islamic scholarship”, allowing Ayatollah Khamenei to remain in the role.
The lowering of the bar suggests in that case suggests that the process for choosing Ayatollah Khamenei’s successor could also chart a new path.
Who will replace him when he dies will depend largely on the balance of power within Iran’s factional government, which has recently tilted further towards hardliners and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the paramilitary force answering directly to the supreme leader tasked with defending the revolution.
Some the older hardliners are now dying out – Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, considered the spiritual leader of the most fundamentalist hard-line factions – passed away on Friday aged 86. But that does not mean his successor is likely to be a reformer.
Some now think that the IRGC, which is also in the hard-line camp, is powerful enough to move directly to install their own candidate. “The final choice must have the closest links with the Revolutionary Guard,” said Mohammad Jafari, an Iranian exile and Islamic scholar.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s son may be the IRGC’s preferred candidate, Mr Jafari believes, but he still lacks the backing of senior ayatollahs who do not see him as religiously qualified.
Others think the IRGC is unlikely to act in such an overt manner. “You could see some kind of military outcome,” Ms Vakil said. “That’s on the cards but I’d put that at a lower probability.”
Instead, the head of Iran’s judiciary Ebrahim Raisi, who ran for president in 2016, is viewed by many as a contender.
“He’s quite conservative and ideologically quite close to Khamenei and personally close to him,” said Ms Vakil. “That’s who my money is on.”
As the outgoing administration of US President Donald Trump makes the final plays in its “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at forcing Iran to submit to a tougher nuclear deal that also encompasses its ballistic missile programme, Iran is looking to a Biden administration for relief from crippling sanctions.
But President Trump’s unilateral abandonment of the nuclear deal in 2018 strengthened the hand of hardliners, who are more suspicious of Western intentions towards the Islamic Republic and are now looking to cement their position by winning the presidency.
But the bigger picture is who will be the next supreme leader, Ms Vakil said, given that he could rule for decades.
“This is a critical year coming for the Islamic republic,” she said. “On a macro level succession is the big prize that will be fought over.”
News Code : 1102027
In an important development, resistant Palestinian groups in Gaza Strip conducted their first-ever joint military drills on Tuesday on the anniversary of the 2008 Israeli war on Gaza.
AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): In an important development, resistant Palestinian groups in Gaza Strip conducted their first-ever joint military drills on Tuesday on the anniversary of the 2008 Israeli war on Gaza.
According to the Reuters, the drills, codenamed “strong pillar”, started with firing 8 rockets into the sea in a display of the levels of the combat readiness of the Gaza-based forces. Arranged by the “joint operation room” of the resistance factions in the besieged Palestinian enclave, the drills also included ground and coast exercises for possible future countering of the Israeli forces.
The timing of the exercises is highly significant. Since late November, the Israeli fighter jets struck Gaza positions several rounds, the last one on Saturday targeting Gaza central hospital.
Many analysts hold that the crisis-hit Israeli regime and Benjamin Netanyahu’s main goal behind the strikes on Gaza is to create tension, cover up the home crises, and influence the new White House administration policy as Trump is departing. The Palestinian war games carried a significant warning message to the Israelis telling them that any adventure will meet a firm response from the resistance in Gaza and that the resistant factions are fully ready to strike back.
“Our arms are present and our decision to defend our people is unified. These joint maneuvers alone obviously express our unity of decision. The resistance today is stronger, harder, and more capable than before in countering the foe and deterring it. The resistance will not allow the enemy to impose the rules of engagement,” Abu Hamza, a spokesman to the Islamic Jihad’s military wing Saraya Al-Quds, said at a press conference.
From another aspect, the maneuvers are held as the Fatah movement eyes return to the so-called peace negotiations with Tel Aviv under duress of the Arab rulers, not long after frequent Israeli breaking of commitments in the annexation of illegal Al-Quds settlements in West Bank and planning to build further settlements with the US green light. But the resistant groups assure the Palestinian people who are furious and concerned about the pro-compromise Palestinian factions that the resistance is ready to defend and the enemy schemes will not be implemented thanks to the arms of the resistant groups.
Meanwhile, one of the considerable issues is putting up huge posters of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani’s along the Gaza coastal route. The move signaled that the path of the top Iranian general, who was assassinated a year ago at a direct order from Donald Trump, will be walked towards the liberation of Palestine. The poster billboards sent strong messages to Tel Aviv.
The joint operation room stated that the resistance of all Palestinian groups provided a genuine guarantee to the realization of the Palestinian ideals.
Abu Hamza said that the compromisers and the occupation-affiliated mercenaries will be thrown in the garbage dump of history and Palestine liberation will remain the top ideal of the Arabs and Muslims.
On the other side, frustrated with the disarmament of the resistance using military force, in the past few years the Israeli regime used economic pressure to bring the resistance to its knees. The occupying regime sets up roadblocks ahead of the arrival of supplies to Gaza, especially funds and fuel to its only power plant and facilities to its hospitals. The recent drills can send warnings to the Israelis about the consequences of the continuation of the inhuman economic siege on Gaza.
Aside from the goals behind the maneuvers, what is also so important is the centrality of the joint operation room at the command of the combat forces. The joint operation room was founded in 2018 at the time of the “March of Return” rallies and is comprised of 12 resistant factions aiming to exchange experiences, focus, and coordinate decisions against the Israeli occupation.
Actually, the center in Gaza was the most important achievement of the March of Return that was arranged in 2018 to highlight the Palestinian right to return home. Observers note that the room is a big success as since then several successful anti-Israeli operations have been launched.
The attack on the Israeli military bus in Miflasim settlement bordering northern Gaza On November 12, 2018, was the first fruit of the joint operation center.
The center accommodates the key wings of the Palestinian resistance including Hamas military wing Izz ad-Din Qassam Brigades, Saraya Al-Quds, and the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine military wing Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades. Furthermore, the National Resistance Brigades, Naser Salaheddin Brigades, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades that were originally founded by Fatah but not affiliated with it officially now are also members of the joint operation room.
This military coalition is a serious warning to the Israeli leaders, telling them that on the other side of the barbed wire fences of the Gaza border the death swamps await the Israeli troops.
Elena MooreJanuary 1, 20218:02 PM ET
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, attends a press conference at the agency’s U.N. headquarters in Vienna last November.
Christian Bruna/AFP via Getty Images
Iran says it intends to start enriching uranium to 20% at its Fordow nuclear facility, exceeding regulations set by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action known as the Iran nuclear deal, as first reported by Reuters. Iran has previously suggested this increase could be a possibility.
The nuclear deal includes regulations that Iran cannot enrich uranium past 3.67% and that it specifically cannot conduct any enrichment at Fordow, which is located beneath a mountain near the city of Qom.
Iran has already breached parts of the agreement since the Trump administration withdrew in 2018, including increasing enrichment of uranium to 4.5%. Bringing enrichment to 20% would be the highest the country has gone since the agreement was established in 2015. In order to manufacture a nuclear weapon, it must hit 90%.
The development was made public by the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, which is the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog. In a statement Friday the organization said it was notified on New Year’s Eve and was not given information on when the enrichment would occur.
The move is part of larger Iranian legislation passed in December which was done in response to the murder of Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran has accused Israel of the assassination.
“Iran has informed the Agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the agency said in a statement sent to NPR.
The law also vows to stop U.N. nuclear facility inspections if oil and banking sanctions on Iran are not removed by February.
“The Agency has inspectors present in Iran on a 24/7 basis and they have regular access to Fordow,” the IAEA statement said.
“In line with standard safeguards practice, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi will promptly report any relevant developments to IAEA Member States, as he did today regarding Iran’s letter,” it added.
The unraveling of the Iran nuclear deal is expected to pose challenges for President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office this month. Biden has expressed interest in rejoining the agreement if Iran stops its current trajectory and follows the regulations.
During an interview in mid-December, Grossi expressed doubt that the incoming Biden administration would be able to repair the current Iran nuclear deal and would instead need a new set of terms.
“I cannot imagine that they are going simply to say, ‘We are back to square one’ because square one is no longer there,” Grossi said.