Real Risk, Few Precautions (Revelation 6:12)

 

By WILLIAM K. STEVENSPublished: October 24, 1989
AN EARTHQUAKE as powerful as the one that struck northern California last week could occur almost anywhere along the East Coast, experts say. And if it did, it would probably cause far more destruction than the West Coast quake.
The chances of such an occurrence are much less in the East than on the West Coast. Geologic stresses in the East build up only a hundredth to a thousandth as fast as in California, and this means that big Eastern quakes are far less frequent. Scientists do not really know what the interval between them might be, nor are the deeper-lying geologic faults that cause them as accessible to study. So seismologists are at a loss to predict when or where they will strike.
But they do know that a temblor with a magnitude estimated at 7 on the Richter scale – about the same magnitude as last week’s California quake – devastated Charleston, S.C., in 1886. And after more than a decade of study, they also know that geologic structures similar to those that caused the Charleston quake exist all along the Eastern Seaboard.
For this reason, ”we can’t preclude that a Charleston-sized earthquake might occur anywhere along the East Coast,” said David Russ, the assistant chief geologist of the United States Geological Survey in Reston, Va. ”It could occur in Washington. It could occur in New York.”
If that happens, many experts agree, the impact will probably be much greater than in California.Easterners, unlike Californians, have paid very little attention to making buildings and other structures earthquake-proof or earthquake-resistant. ”We don’t have that mentality here on the East Coast,” said Robert Silman, a New York structural engineer whose firm has worked on 3,800 buildings in the metropolitan area.
Moreover, buildings, highways, bridges, water and sewer systems and communications networks in the East are all older than in the West and consequently more vulnerable to damage. Even under normal conditions, for instance, water mains routinely rupture in New York City.
The result, said Dr. John Ebel, a geophysicist who is the assistant director of Boston College’s Weston Observatory, is that damage in the East would probably be more widespread, more people could be hurt and killed, depending on circumstances like time of day, and ”it would probably take a lot longer to get these cities back to useful operating levels.”
On top of this, scientists say, an earthquake in the East can shake an area 100 times larger than a quake of the same magnitude in California. This is because the earth’s crust is older, colder and more brittle in the East and tends to transmit seismic energy more efficiently. ”If you had a magnitude 7 earthquake and you put it halfway between New York City and Boston,” Dr. Ebel said, ”you would have the potential of doing damage in both places,” not to mention cities like Hartford and Providence.
Few studies have been done of Eastern cities’ vulnerability to earthquakes. But one, published last June in The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, calculated the effects on New York City of a magnitude 6 earthquake. That is one-tenth the magnitude of last week’s California quake, but about the same as the Whittier, Calif., quake two years ago.
The study found that such an earthquake centered 17 miles southeast of City Hall, off Rockaway Beach, would cause $11 billion in damage to buildings and start 130 fires. By comparison, preliminary estimates place the damage in last week’s California disaster at $4 billion to $10 billion. If the quake’s epicenter were 11 miles southeast of City Hall, the study found, there would be about $18 billion in damage; if 5 miles, about $25 billion.
No estimates on injuries or loss of life were made. But a magnitude 6 earthquake ”would probably be a disaster unparalleled in New York history,” wrote the authors of the study, Charles Scawthorn and Stephen K. Harris of EQE Engineering in San Francisco.
The study was financed by the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The research and education center, supported by the National Science Foundation and New York State, was established in 1986 to help reduce damage and loss of life from earthquakes.
The study’s postulated epicenter of 17 miles southeast of City Hall was the location of the strongest quake to strike New York since it has been settled, a magnitude 5 temblor on Aug. 10, 1884. That 1884 quake rattled bottles and crockery in Manhattan and frightened New Yorkers, but caused little damage. Seismologists say a quake of that order is likely to occur within 50 miles of New York City every 300 years. Quakes of magnitude 5 are not rare in the East. The major earthquake zone in the eastern half of the country is the central Mississippi Valley, where a huge underground rift causes frequent geologic dislocations and small temblors. The most powerful quake ever known to strike the United States occurred at New Madrid, Mo., in 1812. It was later estimated at magnitude 8.7 and was one of three quakes to strike that area in 1811-12, all of them stronger than magnitude 8. They were felt as far away as Washington, where they rattled chandeliers, Boston and Quebec.
Because the New Madrid rift is so active, it has been well studied, and scientists have been able to come up with predictions for the central Mississippi valley, which includes St. Louis and Memphis. According to Dr. Russ, there is a 40 to 63 percent chance that a quake of magnitude 6 will strike that area between now and the year 2000, and an 86 to 97 percent chance that it will do so by 2035. The Federal geologists say there is a 1 percent chance or less of a quake greater than magnitude 7 by 2000, and a 4 percent chance or less by 2035.
Elsewhere in the East, scientists are limited in their knowledge of probabilities partly because faults that could cause big earthquakes are buried deeper in the earth’s crust. In contrast to California, where the boundary between two major tectonic plates creates the San Andreas and related faults, the eastern United States lies in the middle of a major tectonic plate. Its faults are far less obvious, their activity far more subtle, and their slippage far slower. 
Any large earthquake would be ”vastly more serious” in the older cities of the East than in California,  said Dr. Tsu T. Soong, a professor of civil engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo who is a researcher in earthquake-mitigation technology at the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research. First, he said, many buildings are simply older, and therefore weaker and more  vulnerable to collapse. Second, there is no seismic construction code in most of the East as there is in California, where such codes have been in place for decades.
The vulnerability is evident in many ways. ”I’m sitting here looking out my window,” said Mr. Silman, the structural engineer in New York, ”and I see a bunch of water tanks all over the place” on rooftops. ”They are not anchored down at all, and it’s very possible they would fall in an earthquake.”
 Many brownstones, he said, constructed as they are of unreinforced masonry walls with wood joists between, ”would just go like a house of cards.” Unreinforced masonry, in fact, is the single most vulnerable structure, engineers say. Such buildings are abundant, even predominant, in many older cities. The Scawthorn-Harris study reviewed inventories of all buildings in Manhattan as of 1972 and found that 28,884, or more than half, were built of unreinforced masonry. Of those, 23,064 were three to five stories high.
Buildings of reinforced masonry, reinforced concrete and steel would hold up much better, engineers say, and wooden structures are considered intrinsically tough in ordinary circumstances. The best performers, they say, would probably be skyscrapers built in the last 20 years. As Mr. Silman explained, they have been built to withstand high winds, and the same structural features that enable them to do so also help them resist an earthquake’s force. But even these new towers have not been provided with the seismic protections required in California and so are more vulnerable than similar structures on the West Coast.
Buildings in New York are not generally constructed with such seismic protections as base-isolated structures, in which the building is allowed to shift with the ground movement; or with flexible frames that absorb and distribute energy through columns and beams so that floors can flex from side to side, or with reinforced frames that help resist distortion.
”If you’re trying to make a building ductile – able to absorb energy – we’re not geared to think that way,” said Mr. Silman.
New York buildings also contain a lot of decorative stonework, which can be dislodged and turned into lethal missiles by an earthquake. In California, building codes strictly regulate such architectural details.
Manhattan does, however, have at least one mitigating factor: ”We are blessed with this bedrock island,” said Mr. Silman. ”That should work to our benefit; we don’t have shifting soils. But there are plenty of places that are problem areas, particularly the shoreline areas,” where landfills make the ground soft and unstable.
As scientists have learned more about geologic faults in the Northeast, the nation’s uniform building code – the basic, minimum code followed throughout the country – has been revised accordingly. Until recently, the code required newly constructed buildings in New York City to withstand at least 19 percent of the side-to-side seismic force that a comparable building in the seismically active areas of California must handle. Now the threshold has been raised to 25 percent.
New York City, for the first time, is moving to adopt seismic standards as part of its own building code. Local and state building codes can and do go beyond the national code. Charles M. Smith Jr., the city Building Commissioner, last spring formed a committee of scientists, engineers, architects and government officials to recommend the changes.
”They all agree that New York City should anticipate an earthquake,” Mr. Smith said. As to how big an earthquake, ”I don’t think anybody would bet on a magnitude greater than 6.5,” he said. ”I don’t know,” he added, ”that our committee will go so far as to acknowledge” the damage levels in the Scawthorn-Harris study, characterizing it as ”not without controversy.”
For the most part, neither New York nor any other Eastern city has done a detailed survey of just how individual buildings and other structures would be affected, and how or whether to modify them.
”The thing I think is needed in the East is a program to investigate all the bridges” to see how they would stand up to various magnitudes of earthquake,” said Bill Geyer, the executive vice president of the New York engineering firm of Steinman, Boynton, Gronquist and Birdsall, which is rehabilitating the cable on the Williamsburg Bridge. ”No one has gone through and done any analysis of the existing bridges.”
In general, he said, the large suspension bridges, by their nature, ”are not susceptible to the magnitude of earthquake you’d expect in the East.” But the approaches and side spans of some of them might be, he said, and only a bridge-by-bridge analysis would tell. Nor, experts say, are some elevated highways in New York designed with the flexibility and ability to accommodate motion that would enable them to withstand a big temblor.
Tunnels Vulnerable
The underground tunnels that carry travelers under the rivers into Manhattan, those that contain the subways and those that carry water, sewers and natural gas would all be vulnerable to rupture, engineers say. The Lincoln, Holland, PATH and Amtrak tunnels, for instance, go from bedrock in Manhattan to soft soil under the Hudson River to bedrock again in New Jersey, said Mark Carter, a partner in Raamot Associates, geotechnical engineers specializing in soils and foundations.
Likewise, he said, subway tunnels between Manhattan and Queens go from hard rock to soft soil to hard rock on Roosevelt Island, to soft soil again and back to rock. The boundaries between soft soil and rock are points of weakness, he said.
”These structures are old,” he said, ”and as far as I know they have not been designed for earthquake loadings.”
Even if it is possible to survey all major buildings and facilities to determine what corrections can be made, cities like New York would then face a major decision: Is it worth spending the money to modify buildings and other structures to cope with a quake that might or might not come in 100, or 200 300 years or more?
”That is a classical problem” in risk-benefit analysis, said Dr. George Lee, the acting director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Center in Buffalo. As more is learned about Eastern earthquakes, he said, it should become ”possible to talk about decision-making.” But for now, he said, ”I think it’s premature for us to consider that question.”

America Can’t Ignore the First Nuclear War: Revelation 8

America Can’t Ignore the Next Indo-Pakistani Crisis

Two years ago this week, I touched down in New Delhi, groggy from my intercontinental flight from Washington, D.C. I looked forward to a quiet two-day layover en route to a South Asian crisis wargame that I was hosting in Sri Lanka. The next morning I awoke to the news that India had just conducted the first cross-border airstrike on Pakistan’s mainland in five decades, and found myself in the midst of a serious, real-life crisis.

Over the next 48 hours, India and Pakistan would exchange airstrikes resulting in the shooting down of two aircraft and the capture of a pilot against the backdrop of reported missile threats and readied nuclear forces. Privately, many American officials expressed alarm that events would spin out of control, and some later acknowledged that senior U.S. officials basically ignored the crisis. Escalation was controlled, mostly by luck.

While yesterday’s announcement of a ceasefire by India and Pakistan offers a welcome development after almost two years of dangerously escalating violence and fraught tensions, this does not warrant complacency. Those who work on South Asian security issues expect another crisis is inevitable — one that will test the Biden administration.

While Washington has made a strategic wager on India to reap dividends for U.S. competition with China, it still retains a significant interest in ensuring future South Asian crises do not spiral out of control and risk even a limited nuclear exchange. Such a course of events would jeopardize fundamental U.S. interests, including the non-use of nuclear weapons, the lives of U.S. citizens, and that very strategic bet on India itself. If the 2019 crisis has taught us anything, it is that being an impartial bystander is not an option.

U.S. official strategy documents identify India as a vital and critical node in Washington’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific to balance China’s rise. But the region within which it resides remains one of the most risk-prone. The nuclear-armed Indian-Pakistani rivalry has produced several crises testing the last five presidents, and since the end of the Cold War, this rivalry composes the most commonly recurring pair in the International Crisis Behavior database. Thirty years ago, the intelligence community judged this region the “most probable” location for a nuclear exchange, a judgment that was reinforced after the 2019 near miss.

Several studies over the past decade have assessed that South Asia is acutely prone to false optimism, miscalculation, and conflict escalation, even to the nuclear level. The close geography of both countries compresses time for decision-making in crises and incentivizes quick reactions. Conventional, precision-strike capabilities at standoff distances are at the ready and lure officials into thinking punitive or retaliatory strikes can be easy and clean. Both countries also appear to be embracing more aggressive nuclear doctrines. Another feature of the subcontinent is intensified nationalism. South Asian leaders may be more sensitive to public pressure for escalation even as Indian and Pakistani publics may be increasingly supportive of nuclear weapons use.

Much has changed since the last crisis in 2019. Washington and New Delhi have drawn even closer strategically as cooperative prospects with Beijing have diminished for both since the COVID-19 pandemic and the Sino-Indian border crisis. America is also on a trajectory to exit Afghanistan — even if there is a six-month extension of the timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal — allowing it to reassess and reset its relationship with Pakistan, because it would no longer need to rely on Islamabad for air and ground lines of communication to support deployed U.S. troops. Most importantly, the Biden administration has prioritized competition with China, which appears to pick up on the last administration’s efforts but with greater competence, coherence, and strategy.

Despite these shifts and calls for the United States to stop playing referee between India and Pakistan, U.S. policymakers understand that the rivalry in South Asia is an extraordinary one because of the nuclear dynamics at work. Though U.S. leaders have to calibrate carefully about how they signal these interests to avoid creating perverse incentives — e.g., “too nuclear to fail” — the United States continues to hold a major stake in how crises unfold in South Asia. Not only would the global precedent-setting of nuclear use or the humanitarian and environmental consequences be devastating generally, such use would directly threaten U.S. “critical interest[s],” including the safety of its citizens and partners.

The Balakot Crisis

The most recent crisis is instructive. On Feb. 14, 2019, a Kashmiri suicide bomber killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops, an attack for which the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed credit. The Indian military retaliated against Pakistan 12 days later with an airstrike on what it claimed was a terrorist training camp within undisputed Pakistani territory. The next day Pakistani jets dropped munitions on empty fields near an Indian brigade headquarters close to the Line of Control and an aerial skirmish ensued, resulting in the downing of an Indian MiG-21 and Pakistan’s capture of the Indian pilot. In the fog and friction of war, an Indian Mi-17 helicopter with six soldiers aboard was also accidently shot down by an Indian air defense unit. Tensions escalated as India reportedly threatened missile strikes and demanded the immediate return of the pilot, while Pakistan threatened retaliation “three times over.” Indian naval nuclear assets may have also been activated.

Since the end of the Cold War, Washington has served as the indispensable crisis manager on the subcontinent. But during the last crisis, it was luck, not U.S. crisis management, that saved the day. The Trump administration was mostly missing in action until events nearly spun out of control. Luckily, the downed Indian pilot survived and his capture seemed to pause the cycle of escalation. His prompt return and ambiguity over the exchange of damage that had unfolded allowed for a face-saving de-escalation by both sides.

Both India and Pakistan were able to declare victory during the last crisis, but that may tie leaders’ hands in the future. The next crisis is poised to involve airpower duels and deep strikes the way the rivals have employed artillery barrages, not just within but beyond the disputed territory of Kashmir. Both sides have internalized some dangerously optimistic lessons about the last crisis. The “new normal” is not risk averse. The assumption that escalation is “easy to control” has taken hold.

Meanwhile, incentives for conflict and escalation may be growing. Soon after the 2019 crisis, the Indian prime minister was politically rewarded in an electoral landslide, largely attributed to his national security choices. New Delhi also enjoyed the geopolitical rewards of international diplomatic support in international fora while political pressure ratcheted up on its adversary. Pakistan too feels deeply aggrieved because of what it perceives as India’s August 2019 unilateral annexation of disputed territory of Kashmir and the abrogation of its autonomy. Pakistan may also sense a window of opportunity as the United States is once again reliant on Islamabad to help deliver the Afghan peace process while India appears embattled and stretched with a much hotter second front since the summer 2020 border crisis with China.

Certainly the recent ceasefire is a welcome pause, but its durability remains uncertain and crises can still flare up. The rivals have renewed commitments to a ceasefire agreement many times only to lapse back to fighting. The last ceasefire declaration in May 2018 portended a tempering of border hostilities but was followed months later by the Balakot crisis.

U.S. Crisis Management Stakes

Will the Biden administration, like Trump’s “America First” approach, adopt a hands-off strategy in the next South Asian crisis? That would be a mistake, even if doing so risks some friction with India, which is jealous of its sovereignty and prefers to deal with Pakistan bilaterally. When the next flare-up in South Asia inevitably occurs, Joe Biden and his team will need to dust off the crisis management “playbook.” Someone with experience, expertise, and relationships in the region will need to be the designated point person to coordinate the flow of high-level visits and phone calls. U.S. interests and expectations need to be communicated well in advance. Travel advisories, evacuation plans, intelligence sharing options, and penalties need to be prepared to shape incentives for restraint and de-escalation. Not to do so invites uncontrolled escalation and jeopardizes U.S. interests in preventing a mushroom cloud.

Crisis management efforts are critical, not orthogonal, to U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific. Some have proposed the United States simply pick a side and criticized U.S. efforts to play a “neutral arbiter” role in a future crisis. Washington is no longer a neutral arbiter between India and Pakistan, as it has placed a big “strategic bet” on New Delhi. Nevertheless, the United States is still essential as a crisis manager when border and air clashes threaten to spiral out of control. Beijing might help, but Washington can’t count on nor bargain for it. A proactive U.S. crisis management approach is needed to prevent the use of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent.

Even a small nuclear exchange risks unfathomable loss of life in a densely populated region. After the immediate blast effects, firestorms, emissions, and radiation would persist, all with devastating environmental and humanitarian impacts. The breaking of the “nuclear taboo” would have profound consequences for U.S. national security interests and for other nuclear-armed rivals.

Over 750,000 American citizens live in India and Pakistan. Most are concentrated in urban centers that would be the most likely targets of nuclear strikes. The United States has numerous foreign policy priorities in Asia but foremost among them is protecting American citizens abroad. Even the recently declassified 2018 memo on the “Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” that laid out the logic of great-power competition in the region identified the highest interest was defending “the homeland and American citizens abroad,” followed by nuclear risks in the region.

A forward diplomatic approach is also consistent with an Indo-Pacific strategy that counter-balances China. Beyond the staggering loss of life, a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would devastate the Indian economy and its military capacity. Any nuclear detonation would trigger a humanitarian catastrophe, damage drinking water and the food supply, and have a chilling effect on foreign investment and trade that would decommission India from great-power competition for at least a decade. An India significantly weakened by even a limited nuclear exchange would be in no position to help balance China or play the anchoring role in the Indo-Pacific that U.S. strategy has envisioned. Moreover, not rising to the occasion of crisis management would confirm concerns about the shrinking ambit of U.S. diplomacy and diminish confidence that the United States could promote peace and prosperity.

Qualifications

Undoubtedly there is a moral hazard problem where India and Pakistan run risks while counting on the United States or the international community to bail them out as they have in the past. This is a real concern that U.S. policymakers have to weigh carefully, but there are creative methods to both defuse a crisis while also disincentivizing parties from instigating or escalating one again in the future.

There are several pathways by which another crisis on the subcontinent could occur. However, if triggered once again by Pakistan-based terrorists, there are ways to hold the sponsoring parties accountable short of greenlighting conflict escalation. Washington has many tools at its disposal to help de-escalate the next crisis and deter future ones. These include diplomatic pressures and financial sanctions. The United States could wield the prospect of enhancement or withdrawal of intelligence sharing, counter-terrorism cooperation, or even direct and tailored military assistance.

The United States has much to lose by letting an escalatory nuclear spiral run its course in the heart of Asia and much to gain from arresting such a chain of events. Much is at stake here, beginning with the norm against the use of nuclear weapons in warfare, the well-being of U.S. citizens, and the future of Asian geopolitics. For that reason the Biden administration would do well to expunge hesitations and prepare its crisis management playbook.

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Sameer Lalwani is a senior fellow and South Asia director at the Stimson Center, a Washington-based policy research institute, and the editor of Investigating Crises: South Asia’s Lessons, Evolving Dynamics, and Trajectories.

Image: U.S. Army (Photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

Hamas naval vessel posing as fishing boat destroyed outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Hamas naval vessel posing as fishing boat said destroyed off Gaza coast

According to unsourced Channel 12 reporting, Israeli forces fired missile to sink ship in Monday incident; IDF had said it uncovered ‘potential threat’ to navy ships

By Judah Ari Gross and TOI staff

27 Feb 2021, 2:47 pm

A Hamas naval vessel posing as a fishermen’s boat off the Gaza coast this week was the source of a “potential threat” to Israeli ships in the area, according to an unsourced report by Channel 12 on Friday.

The network’s military correspondent reported that many of the details of the incident on Monday were banned from publication by the military censor, but the Hamas boat was destroyed and sunk by a missile fired by Israeli forces, according to the report which could not be verified.

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It was not immediately clear how many people were aboard, but Channel 12 reported that the boat was operated by members of Hamas’s naval commando unit.

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The Palestinian news site Shehab had reported that the boat was destroyed by two missiles off the coast of the Gazan city of Khan Younis.

Illustrative: A fisherman navigates rough seas along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza City, April 11, 2018. (Adel Hana/AP)

On Monday, the Israel Defense Forces said it uncovered a “potential threat” to naval ships off the Gaza coast, without elaborating on the nature of the threat.

“Earlier today, our troops spotted suspicious naval activity in the maritime zone along the Gaza Strip which posed a potential threat to Israeli Navy vessels,” the military said.

“IDF troops detected the activity and thwarted it,” the military added.

After initially saying additional information would be released about the incident, the military refrained from commenting further.

“The IDF will continue to take action against dangerous threats on the maritime front,” the military added.

Hamas naval commandos, seen in a still image from a propaganda video released by the terror group during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, in the summer of 2014. (Screen capture)

The Israeli military has repeatedly warned that the Hamas terror group, the de facto ruler of Gaza, as well as other terrorist organizations in the Strip have been developing a number of different maritime-based weapons, including naval mines, explosives-laden kamikaze boats and autonomous submarines.

A senior Israeli military commander said earlier this week that, according to IDF estimates, Hamas has replenished its arsenal since a 2014 war with Israel and now has a vast collection of rockets, guided missiles and drones.

It also has acquired dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles and has an army of some 30,000 men, including 400 naval commandos who have received sophisticated training and equipment to carry out seaborne operations, the commander added. He spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines.

Biden orders airstrikes against the Iranian Horn

Biden orders airstrikes in Syria, retaliating against Iran-backed militias

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday the bombing caused “casualties” but said it was too early to say how many fighters were killed or wounded.

Dan De Luce is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit. Mosheh Gains is a Pentagon producer for NBC News.Charlene GubashCharlene Gubash is an NBC News producer based in Cairo. Gubash, a native Minnesotan, has lived and worked in the Egyptian capital since 1985.Kristen Welker is chief White House correspondent for NBC News.Ali Arouzi, Amin Hossein Khodadadi and Adela Suliman contributed.

Feb. 25, 2021, 5:58 PM MST / Updated Feb. 26, 2021, 1:31 PM MST

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered airstrikes on buildings in Syria that the Pentagon said were used by Iranian-backed militias, in retaliation for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in neighboring Iraq.

The strikes killed at least 22 people, London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday, citing unconfirmed local reports.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby portrayed the bombing in eastern Syria as carefully calibrated, calling it “proportionate” and “defensive.”

Kirby told reporters Friday the bombing caused “casualties” but said it was too early to say precisely how many militia fighters might have been killed or wounded.

“We have preliminary indications of casualties on site, I’m not going to go any further than that,” Kirby said.

The operation was the first known use of military force by the Biden administration, which has for weeks emphasized plans to focus more on challenges posed by China.

The president’s decision appeared aimed at sending a signal to Iran and its proxies in the region that Washington would not tolerate attacks on its personnel in Iraq, even at a sensitive diplomatic moment.

Three rocket attacks in one week in Iraq, including a deadly strike that hit a U.S.-led coalition base in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil, presented a test for Biden only weeks after assuming the presidency. The rocket assaults coincided with a diplomatic initiative launched by the administration to try to revive a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers.

A worker cleans shattered glass outside a damaged shop following a rocket attack the previous night in Irbil on Feb. 16.Safin Hamed / AFP – Getty Images file

Kirby said two F-15 fighter jets dropped seven precision guided munitions on buildings used by the Iranian-backed militias, totally destroying nine structures and partially destroying two. The buildings were located in Abu Kamal, near the Iraqi border, a location known as a hub for the Iraqi Shiite militias supported by Iran, he said.

“This location is known to facilitate Iranian-aligned militia group activity,” Kirby said.

The airstrikes were ordered in response to a series of rocket attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, “and to ongoing threats to those personnel,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Thursday evening.

The buildings near the border were used by militias including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, according to the Pentagon.

Iranian officials did not immediately react to the strikes.

The Syrian government condemned the attack Friday, calling it “cowardly U.S. aggression” in a statement from the country’s foreign ministry that was published by state media.

The strikes violate international law and “will lead to consequences that will escalate the situation in the region,” the foreign ministry said, according to state news agency SANA.

Russia, one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chief backers, said it was given just four or five minutes’ warning before the strikes.

“This kind of notification does nothing when the strike is literally already on its way,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

The U.S. was operating in Syria “illegally,” he said, and called for better communication with the Biden administration.

The Pentagon defended the legality of the strikes, arguing Article II of the Constitution grants the president powers as commander in chief, and citing article 51 of the U.N. charter, providing countries the right to “self-defense” in response to an attack.

“I would tell you that the president acted well within his constitutional authorities under Article II as commander in chief of the United States to protect American service members involved in operations. Clearly, there’s a constitutional authority here,” Kirby told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell on Friday.

The Biden administration did inform Russia in advance of the air raid, Kirby said, but indicated it could not do so too far in advance without jeopardizing “operational security.”

The strikes provoked criticism from some Democrats in Congress, who questioned the legal rationale and demanded to know why the White House did not consult with lawmakers more closely beforehand.

“The American people deserve to hear the Administration’s rationale for these strikes and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress,” said Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees.

“Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances,” he said. “Congress must be fully briefed on this matter expeditiously.”

The administration said officials did brief congressional leadership before the air strikes.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of the 22 people killed in the bombings were members of Iraqi militias. The monitoring group did not provide details about how it obtained that figure but Rami Abdulrahman, head of the rights organization, told NBC News it was based on speaking to sources inside Syria.

He added that the death toll was expected to rise, due to the number of people seriously wounded.

Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB news, meanwhile, said 17 “resistance fighters” were killed in the strikes, but also didn’t provide detail about the source of that figure other than citing “reports.”

A senior U.S. defense official told NBC News on Thursday evening that the target was a transit hub near the Iraqi-Syrian border used by the militia fighters, and it was too early to say what casualties might have been inflicted on the militants.

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“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” the Pentagon said on Thursday.

Shortly after the strike, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters travelling with him that the administration had been “very deliberate about our approach.”

“We’re confident that target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes,” Austin said, referring to the recent rocket attacks in Iraq on U.S. and coalition personnel.

The Pentagon had said previously that it was awaiting the results of an Iraqi investigation into the Irbil rocket attack.

“We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence and that was very helpful to us in refining the target,” said Austin, who spoke en route to Washington after a visit to California and Colorado.

Biden had approved the operation on Thursday morning, he said.

A civilian contractor was killed in the Irbil rocket assault, and a U.S. service member and others were wounded. At least two 107mm rockets landed on the base, which also hosts Irbil’s civilian international airport.

NBC News had previously reported that Iranian-backed militias were most likely behind the Irbil rocket attack, and that the weapons and tactics resembled previous attacks by the Iranian-linked militias. However, it was unclear if Iran had encouraged or ordered the rocket attack.

An obscure group called Saraya Awliya al-Dam, or Custodians of the Blood, claimed responsibility for the Irbil attack. But former diplomats and regional analysts said the group was merely a front organization created by the main Shiite militias in Iraq.

Following the rocket attack on the Irbil base, Iraq’s Balad air base came under rocket fire days later, where a U.S. defense firm services the country’s fighter jets, and then two rockets landed near the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.

Iran has rejected any connection to the rocket attacks.

In a phone call Tuesday between Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the two leaders agreed that “that those responsible for such attacks must be held fully to account,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.

Dennis Ross, a former senior U.S. diplomat who worked on Middle East policy under several presidents, said the administration had lowered the risk of causing friction with the Iraqi government by hitting targets in Syria.

“By striking facilities used by the militias just across the border in Syria, the risk of blowback against the Iraqi gov is reduced,” Ross tweeted.

Dan De Luce, Mosheh Gains and Kristen Welker reported from Washington; Ali Arouzi and Adela Suliman reported from London; Amin Hossein Khodadadi reported from Tehran; and Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo.

The Associated Press contributed.

Iran condemns Babylon the Great’s strikes

Iran condemns U.S. strikes in Syria, denies attacks in Iraq

(Reuters) – Iran on Saturday condemned U.S. air strikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria, and denied responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq that prompted Friday’s strikes.

Washington said its strikes on positions of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group along the Iraq border were in response to the rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq.

Western officials and some Iraqi officials have blamed those attacks on Iran-backed groups.

However, Tehran has denied any involvement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday condemned the U.S. strikes as “illegal and a violation of Syria’s sovereignty” in a meeting with his visiting Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, Iran’s state media reported.

“Zarif said some recent attacks and incidents in Iraq are suspect, and could be designed to disrupt Iran-Iraq relations and Iraq’s security and stability,” the media reports said.

“We emphasize the need for the Iraqi government to find the perpetrators of these incidents,” Zarif was quoted as saying.

Hussein gave assurances that “Baghdad will not allow incidents in this country to be used to disrupt the excellent relations between the two countries”, state media reported.

Progress has been made in talks on Iran’s frozen funds and Baghdad would facilitate Tehran’s access to its funds, Hussein added. Some $6 billion in Iranian funds have been blocked in Iraq because of U.S. sanctions.

Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, met Hussein earlier and said Friday’s U.S. air strikes encouraged terrorism in the region.

Hussein is in Iran “to discuss regional developments, including ways to balance relations and avoid tension and escalation” with Iranian officials, according to an Iraqi foreign ministry statement.

An Iraqi militia official close to Iran said the U.S. strikes killed one fighter and wounded four. U.S. officials said they were limited in scope to show President Joe Biden’s administration would act firmly while trying to avoid a big regional escalation.

Washington and Tehran are seeking maximum leverage in attempts to save Iran’s nuclear deal reached with world powers in 2015 but abandoned in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump, after which regional tensions soared.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry and Mark Potter)

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Too Late to Stop the Iranian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 8

The clock cannot be turned back to 2015

Hamid EnayatHamid Enayat is an Iranian analyst based in Europe. Human rights activist and opponent of his country’s regime, he writes on Iranian issues.

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

The U.S. government has repeatedly insisted that Iran must fulfill its obligations to the UN Security Council first before it considers rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of action (JCPOA). On the other hand, Iran insists that the United States should be the first to do so because it is the primary violator of its UN Security Council obligations. Is it a matter of which side takes the first step?

Why is the United States delaying its return to the 2015 nuclear deal?

Under the Obama administration, the JCPOA meant to be an agreement to calm the region, prevent an arms race, and avoid a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf. President Obama wanted to freeze his differences with Iran and withdraw the U.S. troops in Iraq and the Middle East.

The JCPOA agreement was considered a set of beginning steps for improving peace in the region. The Iranian regime’s drone strikes on the Saudi Aramco refinery, attacks on tankers, numerous attacks on Saudi and UAE interests by the Houthis, the exposure of Iranians’ intensified missile and nuclear programs, and its military presence in Iraq and Syria in the years since it was put into effect, proved that the JCPOA has backfired. “We will continue to deal with Iran’s destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East with the European countries,” Biden said. 

Therefore, the proposal to add missile, regional, and security annexes to the JCPOA, submitted by the Arab states and the European Union, was welcomed by the new U.S. administration and faced a sharp response from Iran.

Challenges Biden is facing regarding Iran

Joe Biden is coming off a challenging presidential election period and a political battle with the Republicans. He seems to be looking to bring America to a state of calm and settling. He is reluctant to look weak against Iran, particularly with the last administration’s approach. Several of the most influential Republican senators, and even several Democrat representatives, consider engagement with Iran as their red line. 

In the current fragile position of Democrats in the Senate, Biden prefers to have the least possible challenge regarding any future agreement with Iran. Furthermore, giving concessions to Iran in the JCPOA requires some approvals from the U.S. Senate, which are not likely to pass. The story becomes more complicated when a bipartisan resolution co-signed by 113 members of the United States House of Representative, calling for a democratic, non-nuclear, and secular Iran, and condemning the regime’s state-sponsored terrorism, was announced on Thursday.

Dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic and its social and economic consequences has become the Biden government’s main challenge and priority. The issue of Iran is not on Biden’s list of top priorities.

Iran sets a February 21 Deadline

The Iranian parliament passed a law called the “Strategic Action Act to Lift Sanctions.” The law requires the Rouhani government to ignore its nuclear commitments, increase the number of centrifuges, continue uranium enrichment, stop implementing the additional protocols, and disallow access to the IAEA inspectors if the United States did not lift all its sanctions against Iran. 

Khamenei also reiterated the same demands and said, “If the European countries want Iran to return to its obligations, the United States must lift all its sanctions against Iran altogether.’ The purpose of the parliament’s resolution and setting a deadline (February 21) is to pressure the United States and the UN Security Council’s signatories that if the sanctions are not lifted, the regime will continue to move towards achieving the atomic bomb. 

That was the purpose of announcing the production of a small amount of metallic uranium, which is primarily used to make the nuclear bomb. The regime deliberately informed the IAEA of the metallic uranium production to provoke a strong reaction from the three European countries. “By what logic does the Islamic Republic have a duty to stop its retaliatory actions?” Zarif wrote on Twitter in response to a statement from the European countries. “What have the three European countries done to fulfill their duties?” (Tasnim News Agency – 991124)

The new geopolitical arrangement

Iran’s economy has been severely weakened, its currency is falling freely, and its foreign exchange earnings have declined. The Rouhani government has acknowledged that 60 million Iranians are below the poverty line. The massive uprisings of 2018 and 2019 were rooted in the intolerable economic situation of the Iranian people.

The Iranian regime claims that it was only during the 2019 uprising that Trump attempted to oust Soleimani. Iran’s regional influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria has been challenged and considered illegitimate. Millions participated in demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon against Iran’s influence in their countries. Iran’s number 2 man, Ghasem Soleimani, was assassinated, thus affecting the regime’s infiltrator in the region. Russia has been pressuring Iran to reduce its influence in Syria. 

All the above factors and many similar ones have provided the European countries with an opportunity to no longer abide by the 2015 geopolitical balance and elevate their demands regarding their concerns with Iran. Thus, the Biden government will not be willing to pressure Iran unless the revival of the JCPOA will address all such matters. They also want to address the European countries’ concerns regarding Iran’s ballistic missile program, which threatens nations in the region, especially Israel. Thus, it will be part of the new possible agreement.

Challenges of the Supreme Leader

The Iranian regime relies on the absolute monarchy of the Supreme Leader. The existence of Iran’s regime is primarily based on the repression of the people in Iran and engaging in creating instability beyond its borders. If any of the above two factors weaken or removed, the regime will face an inevitable collapse. Iran’s nuclear expansion and its ballistic missile program are an integral part of Khamenei’s strategy and his regime. From his point of view, they are not up for a discussion of compromise. 

Khamenei knows that if Iran backs down at all, the United States will “make excuses for something every day. One day for human rights, one day for nuclear weapons, one day for missiles, and one day for regional issues” (Khamenei, February 20). This reality is what he calls “infinite degradation.” The regime’s inability to gain concessions from the U.S. will pave the way for another wave of social unrest, demonstrations and uprisings, and an eventual collapse of Iran’s authoritarian regime. This destiny Khamenei is not willing to acknowledge. For this simple reason, the Iranian regime is relentlessly pushing for the 2015 agreement to be revived. So it is not a question of taking the first step by the United States or Iran. Will the regime surrender to the outcome proposed by the European countries in a new possible 2021 agreement?

More Perish in Antichrist’s Protests

Rights monitor says 3 dead as protests rage in southern Iraq

Samya Kullab, Associated Press

12:47 pm CST, Friday, February 26, 2021

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi security forces fired live ammunition into a crowd of anti-government protesters on Friday in southern Iraq, killing three people, a human rights monitor said.

It was the deadliest in five days of protests that have left a total of five protesters dead, the semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights said.

Protesters also injured security forces in reaction to the use of live fire. Of the 271 injured in protests over the week, 147 were personnel of the Iraqi security forces.

Nasiriya, in the province of Dhi Qar, has seen regular protests since late 2019, even after Iraq’s mass anti-government movement waned. The movement brought tens of thousands of Iraqis, mostly youth, to the streets of Baghdad and across the south to decry government corruption, unemployment and poor services.

Ali Akram al-Bayati, spokesman for the commission, said protests in the city never really came to a halt.

“It never stopped, this is because the city has been neglected without the new government achieving any of the promises it made,” he said.

Even when tents were cleared in Baghdad’ Tahrir square, considered the epicenter of the protest movement, those in Haboubi square remained. Protesters were calling for political and economic reforms.

Tensions reached a boiling point in late November when clashes broke out between remaining anti-government protesters in Nasiriya’s Haboubi square and followers of firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The incident left several protesters dead.