The Ramapo Fault and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Living on the Fault Line
A major earthquake isn’t likely here, but if it comes, watch out.
Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo
This chart shows the location of the Ramapo Fault System, the longest and one of the oldest systems of cracks in the earth’s crust in the Northeast. It also shows the location of all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in New Jersey during the last 50 years. The circle in blue indicates the largest known Jersey quake.
The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.
After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.
Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.
During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.
“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”
Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.
Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.
After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.
But no area on the East Coast is as densely populated or as heavily built-up as parts of New Jersey and its neighbors. For this reason, scientists refer to the Greater New York City-Philadelphia area, which includes New Jersey’s biggest cities, as one of “low earthquake hazard but high vulnerability.” Put simply, the Big One isn’t likely here—but if it comes, especially in certain locations, watch out.
Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.
Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.
The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.
For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.
Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”
The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.
The Ramapo Fault sits on the North American Plate, which extends past the East Coast to the middle of the Atlantic, where it meets the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in constant flux. The consequences of this intraplate setting are huge: First, as Gates points out, “The predictability of bigger earthquakes on…[such] settings is exceedingly poor, because they don’t occur very often.” Second, the intraplate setting makes it more difficult to link our earthquakes to a major cause or fault, as monitors in California can often do.
This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”
Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”
But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.
Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.
All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.
For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.
Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the  amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.
To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.
In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial  rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.
As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)
In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.
The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (
Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.
Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.
This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.
“Any vulnerable structure on these weak soils would have a higher failure hazard,” Stanford says. And the scary truth is that many structures in New Jersey’s largest cities, not to mention New York City, would be vulnerable, since they’re older and built before anyone gave much thought to earthquake-related engineering and construction codes.
For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at
All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or  auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.
Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”
Planning for the Big One
For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.
In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.
Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”
Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.
This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”
A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.
“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”
Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.

Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq: Symbolism of the End

Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq: Beyond the symbolism

Interfaith dialogue is important, but the fate of Iraqi minorities is hinged on the success of state-building in Iraq.

Ibrahim Al-Marashi
Ibrahim al-Marashi is an associate professor at the Department of History, California State University, San Marcos.

On March 5, Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church, embarked on a historic four-day trip to Iraq, where he met with officials, religious leaders and ordinary Iraqis of all faiths.

Remarkably, he went to Najaf where he visited Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shia community. The meeting was a significant milestone in Iraqi history and the global history of interfaith dialogue. He also visited the ancient city of Ur, Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, and Mosul, where he prayed at the ruins of four churches destroyed by ISIL (ISIS).

The pope’s visit to Iraq offers moral support to Iraq’s beleaguered and dwindling Christian community and will hopefully encourage the Iraqi leadership to put more effort into protecting the many minorities the country is home to. While much can be done to ensure the safety of minority communities, it has to be recognised that their plight has much to do with instability linked to Iraq’s century-long state formation process and persistent foreign interference.

Pope Francis’s Muslim-Christian dialogue

When he was elected pope in 2013, Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina decided to be named Pope Francis. His choice was deliberate and was made in reference to St Francis of Assisi, whose legacy the newly elected pope was inspired by.

St Francis was a Catholic preacher and mystic who during the fifth crusade set out to Egypt to try to promote peace and spread Christianity. During the siege on Damietta in 1219, he crossed enemy lines and succeeded in meeting Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, nephew of Salaheddin. He asked the Sultan to embrace Christianity, which the ruler declined to do. Impressed by his audacity, however, he allowed Francis to preach for several days in Egypt.

Upon his return to Italy, the Catholic preacher revised the rule of the Franciscan order, which he had established, to encourage his devotees to live among Muslims peacefully and avoid conflict. This move was truly revolutionary given the fact that the Catholic church fully encouraged and supported the crusades.

Some 800 years later, Pope Francis set out to promote Muslim-Christian dialogue, making several historic visits to the Middle East and meeting with Muslim leaders. In 2014, he travelled to Jordan and Palestine. Three years later, he went to Egypt where he met with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the preeminent seat of Islamic learning in Egypt. In 2019, he visited the UAE and Morocco.

His trip to Iraq was perhaps the most important and symbolic. It was the first country he decided to visit after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and he proceeded with his plan, despite the spate of rocket attacks and a deadly bombing in Baghdad in the preceding weeks.

On March 6, Pope Francis visited Ur, a Sumerian city that dates back 6,000 years, which, according to the Judaic, Christian and Islamic traditions, is the birthplace of the patriarch Ibrahim or Abraham.

The significance of invoking Abraham’s legacy during the pontiff’s speech at Ur lies in the current polemics that imagine a Judeo-Christian civilisation in conflict with an Islamic one. By using Abraham’s birthplace as a setting for his speech, the pope stressed the concept of the Abrahamic faiths as a single tradition.

Even more important was his meeting with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, who has called on Iraqis to protect minorities since 2003. Even his 2014 fatwa, often seen as giving rise to the Shia militias that fought ISIL, in fact, was a nationalist appeal to all Iraqi citizens and it ended up motivating the formation of Christian and Yazidi armed groups to defend the nation.

After the meeting, al-Sistani’s office put out a statement that the grand ayatollah “affirmed his interest in Christian citizens living like all Iraqis in peace and security while preserving all their constitutional rights.”

Violence and insecurity

While Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq is undeniably a historic event that could help improve the situation of Christians and other minorities in the country, it has to be recognised that the violence these communities have faced cannot be resolved just through interfaith dialogue.

Throughout Iraq’s recent history, foreign intervention and colonialism have severely exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions in the country. During the British mandate in Iraq, for example, the British colonialists actively recruited soldiers from the Assyrian community to set up a security force, protecting key colonial properties and military installations. The Assyrian Levies, as they came to be known, also participated in the quashing of Kurdish rebellions.

The role they played in the colonial occupation of Iraq caused resentment among the Muslim population which saw them as traitors to the cause of Iraqi independence. This was a typical example of the colonial divide-and-rule tactic, which sowed division within the Iraqi public.

When the Iraqi army sought to disarm these forces in 1933, a year after Iraqi independence was declared, a relatively minor skirmish led to the massacre of hundreds of Assyrian civilians in the town of Summayyil, while dozens of Assyrian villages were looted and burned by local Kurdish and Arab tribes.

Similarly, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 escalated tensions between the various religious and ethnic groups in the country, resulting in a civil war. The security vacuum left behind by the Baathist regime resulted in intercommunal violence, which the Christians and other minorities bore the brunt of.

It also facilitated the ISIL invasion of Iraq in the summer of 2014, which pushed the Iraqi state to near collapse. The armed group sought to forge a homogenous state through religious cleansing of the population and public spaces, including antiquity sites related to the pre-Islamic past and religious sites used by minority and heterodox communities.

The expulsion of Iraqi Christians from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, the extermination and enslavement of Yazidi communities, and the destruction of both communities’ temples were justified by ISIL’s twisted doctrinal beliefs but were also carried out for material gain. Plundered property and assets helped fuel the ISIL economy, while videos of executions and destruction of religious sites fed the fervour of its core supporters.

By the time ISIL was defeated in Iraq, the Christian community, who had once totalled 1.5 million – about 3 percent of the Iraqi population – was reduced to a few hundred thousand. Other communities, like the Yazidis, have also been decimated.

Helping these minorities recover and rebuild their lives in Iraq has to go beyond interfaith dialogue. It means providing physical and economic security for their communities which cannot happen while the Iraqi state continues to experience instability and its cohesion is constantly undermined by foreign forces.

Indeed, religious leaders have to do their part. And in this sense, Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq is a significant undertaking that could help improve conditions for Iraqi minorities. But ultimately, their fate will be determined by the ability of the Iraqi political elite to resist foreign pressure, build a stable and functional state, distribute the country’s wealth to its people and ensure their safety and security.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

The Missile Threat from Outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Hezbollah’s precision missiles: A bigger threat than Iran’s nuclear program?

Although it flies in the face of traditional Israeli defense strategy, a preventative strike to eradicate the conventional threat of Hezbollah’s precision missile project in Lebanon might be unavoidable.

Hezbollah’s missile arsenal is perhaps one of the only threats the Israeli public is not aware of in terms of its full scope. The threat is strategic and could force an Israeli preventative strike, even though the catalyst is not nuclear weapons. It is also the most burning issue facing the IDF’s high command today.

It must be noted: Israel has no intention of launching a war in the north. Neither does Hezbollah, to the best of everyone’s knowledge. Since 2006, the sides have built a mutual balance of deterrence along the border, which in advance all but negates any adventurous inclinations one of the sides might harbor. This is evidenced by Hezbollah’s hesitance, which for several months now hasn’t followed through with its threats of revenge for the killing of an operative at Damascus airport in the summer. Israel, too, is proceeding with caution and hasn’t responded to Hezbollah’s attempt to shoot down an air force drone over Lebanon.

Behind this restraint, however, both sides are preparing for war. It could erupt at any moment: the death of a Hezbollah operative in Syria that triggers an attack on Israeli soldiers or civilians, which in turn forces a counter-response, at which point everything depends on nerves and yet-untested containment mechanisms. It is no coincidence that the IDF exercise two weeks ago or the air force drill last week, simulated this exact scenario.

Hezbollah learned quite a few lessons from the Second Lebanon War. Publicly, of course, it claims it won. As is the case with any terrorist group, not losing is a victory. Internally, however, it was forced to engage in difficult introspection due to the blows it sustained. Hassan Nasrallah admitted at the time, in a rare moment of honesty, that he wouldn’t have abducted the Israeli soldiers had he known the outcome in advance.

“Foreign sources” have attributed thousands of airstrikes in Syria to the Israel Air Force (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Like any serious organization (and Hezbollah is a very serious organization), it implemented an organized process of inquiry and learning. In terms of defense, it learned it is powerless against Israel’s air superiority and precision: In the Dahiyeh neighborhood in south Beirut, the group’s stronghold, some 180 buildings and other targets were hit, all of them precisely. The organization was also surprised at the breadth of Israeli intelligence, which at the start of the war allowed Israel to strike its medium- and long-range rockets, thus impeding its ability to target anything south of Haifa Bay.

In terms of its offensive capabilities, Hezbollah noted with satisfaction that Israel was shell-shocked in the face of 4,000 rockets and after direct hits in particular, for example at the train yard in Haifa (eight killed) and the reservist gathering point at Kfar Giladi (12 killed). Hezbollah also learned that it wants to move the fighting into Israeli territory. The tunnels that were detected two years ago along the Lebanese border were meant to allow the group to “conquer the Galilee” and win the perceptual war in its earliest stages.

Immediately after the Second Lebanon War, in complete disregard for UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which placed a full embargo on Hezbollah weapons smuggling, the organization launched a massive logistics operation – with $1 billion in Iranian funds – to acquire tens of thousands of rockets, essentially making it the most powerful terrorist army in the world. “Terrorist army” is commonly used in the IDF even though the term is in dispute – some experts believe it gives the organization too much credit because, after all, it is a terrorist organization untethered to a government.

According to updated assessments, Hezbollah currently possesses between 120,000-140,000 short-range rockets (range of 25-28 miles), which cover Israel’s north, including Haifa Bay and Tiberias; several thousand medium-range rockets (range of 56 miles), which can reach the Sharon coastal plain and northern suburbs of Gush Dan; and several hundred long-range rockets and missiles (range of hundreds of miles), including Scud missiles from Syrian military warehouses, capable of hitting targets anywhere in Israel.

Hezbollah’s rockets and missiles are dispersed throughout Lebanon. Its short-range rockets are mostly stored in the country’s south, in the area near the Israeli border, to maximize their range. They are hidden in homes in the 230 Shiite villages, ready to be activated at a moment’s notice. It is from here that Hezbollah intends to rain fire on the Galilee, and essentially paralyze it. If the IDF decides to enter these villages on the ground to stop this barrage, it will be met with an array of fortifications and ambushes.

Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockers and is not the strongest “terrorist army” in the world (AP)

The other missiles, made in Iran and Syria, are dispersed across the country. The longer their range, the farther Hezbollah can store them from the border with Israel. This makes hunting them far more challenging for Israel’s intelligence services and air force.

Israel’s air-defense is not built to cope with this amount of rockets. As a rule of thumb, it is designed to intercept all ranges, but the brunt of its energy will be focused on intercepting long-range missiles and defending strategic sites. Israel’s Iron Dome (short-range) and David’s Sling (medium-long-range) missile defense systems will be tasked with this countering this threat. David’s Sling is also responsible for intercepting cruise missiles. These systems are also supposed to distinguish between precision and unguided missiles and prioritize the interception as needed.

The purpose of Hezbollah’s immense missile arsenal is to deter Israel from launching a war. In actuality, however, it is part of a more comprehensive plan spearheaded by the former commander of Iran’s clandestine Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated in Iraq last year by the Americans. His idea was to surround Iran’s enemies from all directions with a terroristic missile threat, and Hezbollah’s arsenal was just one component of this plan.

Another component is the aid Iran gives to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Iran wants to solidify another front against Israel, in Syria, comprising militias operating at its behest. The idea was to build naval, air, and land bases manned by Afghani and Pakistani fighters, arm them significantly (mainly with rockets but not only), and carry out shooting attacks against Israel.

Israel identified this trend in time. Many of the airstrikes attributed to it in recent years were intended to foil Iran’s entrenchment efforts, not just in Syrian territory near the border, but throughout the country. For example, the Israel Air Force was accused last month of attacking infrastructure in the Deir ez-Zor region near the Syria-Iraq border, where these militias were stationed but have since been forced to move eastward toward Iraq after failing to solidify a foothold deep inside Syria. It was the first time Israeli jets attacked this part of Syria since destroying the nuclear reactor there in September 2007.

The resolute action Israel has taken in Syria is largely a consequence of its failure in Lebanon. Up until the latter part of 2012, Israel anxiously watched as Hezbollah armed itself, doing nothing because the political echelon feared another war in the north. Declarations by Israel’s leaders after the Second Lebanon War, whereby “Hezbollah will not be allowed to rebuild its strength,” proved baseless. A monster has been built in the north.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and former Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani

The Syrian civil war changed the picture. After a period of orientation, Israel understood it had an opportunity – and began taking action. Under the whitewashed codename “foreign sources” came reports of thousands of Israeli airstrikes in Syria, and if, at first, every attack was earthshattering news, today such attacks are barely reported. These attacks are anything but normal: they are each is a complex and often dangerous operation, which could result in a downed plane or civilian casualties. The fact that this hasn’t happened (except for one instance in which an F-16 was hit and its pilots ejected safely over Israeli territory in 2018), is proof of the IAF’s absolute superiority in the arena.

After its accelerated armament in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah concluded it was oversaturated in terms of missile quantity, and began investing in improving its precision capabilities. This term, “precision,” could be misleading for those unacquainted with the subject, but it is critical: The majority of Hezbollah’s arsenal today, and that of Hamas, consists of “dumb” statistical rockets. The person firing them cannot control where they hit, and to inflict real damage a large number of rockets need to be launched. Hence, almost half of the rockets fired by Hamas during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 landed in open fields or in Gaza, similar to many of the Scud missiles Saddam Hussein fired at Israel during the Gulf War in 1990-91.

Precision missiles are another world altogether. They are fitted with navigation systems, which help them hit targets with considerable accuracy. One of Hezbollah’s key missiles is the M-600 (“Tishrin”), manufactured in Syria and predicated on the Iranian Fateh-110 missile. This missile has many variants, has a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles), and can carry a half-ton warhead. Its accuracy is currently a radius of dozens of yards from the target. Other missiles are precise at a radius of 100 yards. This means that if Hezbollah places the crosshairs on IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv (the Kirya), the missile will strike anywhere from Azrieli towers, Sarona market, Ichilov hospital and Ibn Gavirol Street.

For anyone looking to kill as many civilians as possible, this is accurate enough, but anyone who wants to paralyze a country needs more than this. Hezbollah wants to be able to do to Israel what Israel did to it during the Second Lebanon War: Hit strategic facilities (power stations in particular), military bases (specifically air force), government buildings (mainly in Jerusalem), to produce an image of victory. Precision, therefore, is critical.

The person who orchestrated Hezbollah’s aggressive missile armament project after the Second Lebanon War was Imad Mugniyeh. Following his assassination in February 2008 in Damascus, in an operation attributed to the Mossad and CIA, he was replaced by his cousin and brother-in-law Mustafa Badredinne – also a founding member of the organization. In May 2016, Badredinne was also assassinated in a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation. The official excuse was his love of alcohol, women, and side hustles, but the real reason he was killed was his disagreement with Soleimani over Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. His death put the missile project in the sole hands of Nasrallah and Soleimani.

Lt. Col. Eran Niv, the head of the IDF’s Warfare Methods and Innovation Division (Oren Ben Hakoon)

In the beginning, Hezbollah’s quest to acquire precision missiles was clumsy. The precision missiles were manufactured in Iran and flown to Damascus. In 2013, when current Defense Minister Benny Gantz was IDF chief of staff and Amir Eshel was commander of the air force, Israel launched a campaign to prevent precision capabilities from reaching Lebanon. This campaign is still ongoing, and each operation or airstrike carried out within its framework receives a different name.

The attacks in Lebanon accelerated in 2014, slowed down somewhat in 2015 when Russia joined the fray to save the Assad regime, and again accelerated in 2016 when Israel understood it had considerable leeway to act, despite the Russian presence in Syria. At the same time, the other side also realized something: Soleimany understood the Islamic State group had been defeated and the Assad regime saved, and he identified the opportunity to entrench Iranian hegemony in Syria. He had three primary objectives: establish a foothold for Iran and its proxies on Syrian soil; indoctrinate the Syrian people through Shiite clerics flown in from Iran; seize control of Syria’s weapons industry.

Syria is home to a developed weapons industry, which can be traced back to Russian expertise and years of preparing the Syrian army for war against Israel. Most of this activity comes out of the Scientific Studies and Research Center.

Soleimani’s idea was simple: manufacture the missiles on Syrian soil, thus negating the threat of attack on Iranian weapons shipments. Iran would fund the project, Syria would make the missiles, and from there they would be transferred to Lebanon. Assad was powerless to oppose this plan; he owed his life to the Iranians and Hezbollah, and also owed them $80 billion for equipment, aid, and loans he received. Beyond that, the missile factories would provide jobs and wages for thousands of Syrians.

Israel identified this process and began methodically attacking these facilities and other manufacturing infrastructure in Syria. According to published reports, many dozens of these airstrikes have been carried out.

Israeli determination to attack was met with Iranian determination to manufacture. If manufacturing in Iran had failed, and manufacturing in Syria had failed, the next phase was to move the project to Lebanon. This time, the plan didn’t include making the whole missile from scratch. Hezbollah doesn’t have this ability, which requires a developed military industry with dozens of scientists and large factories. Instead, they opted for a process of conversion: take an old model of a “dumb” rocket smuggled in from Iran and Syria, and fit it with GPS, wingtips and a small-computer so it can be guided precisely to a target.

All of these components can be purchased online, but Hezbollah receives them from Iran. The computer itself is based on an algorithm with exceedingly simple aerodynamical equations. The conversion process, too, is rather simple and takes several days, at which point more adjustments and calibrations are likely required and the wingtips must be tested to ensure proper movement.

According to various reports, the conversion process can produce a rocket with a 20-30 yard precision radius. Accurate enough to hit a power station or building, but not enough to put a missile through a specific window or assassinate someone. This would require a different level of technological sophistication and real-time intelligence capabilities only possessed by the world’s military superpowers.

The size (or lack thereof) of the components needed for this conversion process, specifically the laptops, testify to the complexity of the IDF’s task, and to the magnitude of its success thus far. Ultimately, a large number of the airstrikes attributed to Israel target these tiny laptops, without which dumb rockets can’t be made precise. Considering the quality of the real-time intelligence required, and the level of risk and precision undertaken by the air force, this is an impressive operation by all standards. In the words of Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, the outgoing commander of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, there are currently a few dozen precision missiles in Lebanon.

IDF soldiers inspect a Hezbollah attack tunnel on the northern border (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

During the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah fired some 200 rockets a day at Israel. In the next war, it intends to fire thousands. Israel doesn’t have the ability to intercept all of them or even most of them, which means the damage to the Galilee region will likely be immense. On the other hand, the potential damage of each individual rocket is relatively low, and the bomb shelters and fortified rooms should provide sufficient protection.

As part of its war against this project, Israel isn’t only employing military means. It is using diplomacy and applying international pressure; it is fighting economically and is openly waging a public relations campaign. Twice in recent years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly revealed the existence and location of Hezbollah’s precision missile factories in Lebanon. The first time was in 2018 at the UN General Assembly, when he exposed three facilities; and the second time was in 2020 in a recorded address to the General Assembly, in which he exposed other facilities, including a rocket factory in the heart of a civilian neighborhood in Beirut.

In both cases, Hezbollah denied the allegations. These denials were mostly intended for Lebanese ears: The situation in Lebanon has never been worse, and the country is coping with the most severe economic and social crises since its inception. Hezbollah, which has been part of the Lebanese government for a while now and in many regards controls the entire country, is perceived as partially responsible for the situation and it’s doubtful the Lebanese public would be empathetic toward anyone who might trigger another calamity, certainly not after the trauma of the devastating blast at Beirut port last summer.

Israel’s decision to procure new aircraft and interceptor missiles for the air force mainly stemmed from its assessments pertaining to the northern front, where the Institute for National Security Studies said in its annual report a war is most likely to erupt. The working assumption is that such a war will not be confined to Lebanon, rather will expand to include Syria (and maybe Iraq). It’s possible that Syria itself will act against Israel, to repay Iran and Hezbollah for their generous aid throughout the civil war. It’s also possible that Shiite militias in Iraq will fire missiles at Israel, and perhaps even Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen will join the fray.

Beyond a certain missile barrage, is also the threat of cross-border infiltration. Unearthing Hezbollah’s underground tunnel project severely damaged the group’s plans, but this threat hasn’t been completely negated. Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Unit intends to raid Israeli territory and seize control of communities or military outposts. In an effort to counter this threat, Israel has built high walls to buttress certain parts of the border.

In recent years, Hezbollah has also invested in drones. Although it used them in the Second Lebanon War, since then it has made considerable progress in this field and today possesses a wide array of small drones, including those that can carry explosive payloads hundreds of kilometers.

The IDF has numerous tools at its disposal to counter this threat. One of them is jamming their frequencies, which disrupts the flight path and sometimes causes the targeted drone to crash. The challenge is to do this without compromising communication on the Israeli side.

But above all else, as stated, the most pressing threat from the IDF’s perspective are the precision missiles. The matter is so grave, that the chief of staff and his deputy handle it personally on a permanent basis. This means routine briefings, planning, and closely monitoring developments on both sides of the border.

The overriding view in the IDF, as of now, is that the “precision” threat is tolerable and can be countered. This calculation takes into account the nature of the missiles in Hezbollah’s arsenal, their damage potential, the intelligence picture that will facilitate their destruction at the outset of the next war, and the army’s ability to disrupt and intercept missile launches. Assuming that a few precision missiles will make it through, the question is how much damage they will cause.

All of this is supposed to produce a magic number, which needs to be Israel’s red line. A line which, if crossed, the IDF must launch a preventative strike, in the estimation that doing so will come at a lower cost than a future war. Thus far, Israel has not specified such a number. Some experts say the number is 500 precision missiles, others say the number should be 1,000 missiles. As stated, Hezbollah is still far from these numbers, but the horizon is clear: It is continuing to manufacture and smuggle them.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu displays the location of a hidden Hezbollah depot (GPO

Those who argue that setting a specific red line is a bad idea believe the situation is dynamic and that Israel is continually acquiring tools that alter the picture and equation. Conversely, the concern is that Israel will constantly acclimate itself to a new reality. Like a frog in the pot, slowly stewing until it is completely boiled. Israel stewed idly as Hezbollah accumulated tens of thousands of “dumb” rockets and could do the same with the precision threat.

The common view in the IDF and among civilian experts is that Israel must define its red lines, and the fact that it hasn’t done so yet is a serious problem that needs immediate fixing.

“If Hezbollah crosses a quantitative or qualitative threshold for precision weapons, we will have to act against it. This is a serious decision, but one from which we cannot run away,” Lt. Col. Eran Niv, the head of the IDF’s Warfare Methods and Innovation Division, told Israel Hayom.

Beyond Iran’s nuclear program, this is the greatest threat to Israel today. This is the event, with a capital T. It is the focus of situational assessments. It is the scenario used in training exercises. Everything is geared in that direction, but so is the response. In the meantime, we are trying to act in other creative ways, which won’t allow [Hezbollah] to get there,” said Niv.

Niv is among those who believe it’s imperative for Israel to determine its red lines. Not just in terms of quantity but quality. For example, if Hezbollah were to transition from smuggling precision components to mass-scale production of precision missiles in Lebanon. “We need to mark a quantitative and qualitative threshold, which if crossed will require us to take other actions,” he emphasized.

Hezbollah isn’t there yet, but this could change soon. Lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Iran, as part of the United States’ expected return to the nuclear deal, will free up considerable funds for Iran’s proxies in the region, chief among them Hezbollah. If Tehran and Beirut sense that the Americans are restricting Israeli activity, or support the Jewish state less, they could feel emboldened enough to accelerate and greatly expand the precision missile project.

“Hezbollah views us exactly how we view it – as someone plotting to attack it,” says Middle East expert Prof. Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University. “It wants precision capabilities to deter us. A few thousand more missiles won’t change anything, but precision missiles, from its perspective, are a tiebreaker. And because it is struggling to smuggle precision components from Syria, it wants to manufacture them in Lebanon.”

Former MID chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, who is currently head of the Institute for National Security Studies, is a firm believer and prominent voice calling for Israel to define its red lines now.

Former head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin (KOKO)

“We must examine and designate the right timing for taking action against the precision weapon project, in the understanding that it can trigger a broad conflagration. Hundreds of precision missiles in the hands of the Iranian axis, particularly Hezbollah, which can cause comprehensive civilian damage in Israel and paralyze vital systems, is a strategic threat that can’t be allowed to develop.”

According to Yadlin, the watershed moment in terms of the precision threat was the Iranian missile strike on Saudi Arabia’s main oil refinery in September 2019, temporarily shutting down some 50% of the country’s oil production.

believes that if Hezbollah accelerates its armament efforts, Israel will have to consider a preventative strike to negate the threat. According to other defense officials, Israel mustn’t initiate such a strike as doing so would assuredly spark a war. They believe Israel should consider “exploiting the opportunity” of a limited escalation on the northern border to target Hezbollah’s precision capabilities.

As a result of this event, the Iranians realized that precision is indeed paramount, and therefore decided to pursue this capability, on all fronts, with everything in their power. This is more difficult for them without Soleimani, but in Yadlin’s words: “The train has left the station” and beyond already reaching Yemen could eventually reach Lebanon as well.

“Israel’s situation is not the same as the Saudis’ situation,” Yadlin says. “We have better intelligence, and it’s reasonable to assume we’ll know about an attack such as [the oil refinery attack] in advance. We have impressive preventative capabilities and we can attack before the launch, and we have detection and defensive capabilities as well, but the threat, in general, is problematic and requires a change of strategy.”

Yadlin lists four possible strategies at Israel’s disposal: Deterrence (make Nasrallah understand that firing precision missiles at Israel will lead to the destruction of Lebanon); defense (greater investment in interceptors and other systems); pinpoint airstrikes and other operations (which simply delay the inevitable); a preventative strike (which will remove this capability from Hezbollah’s hands but open Israel to a broad war).

“The problem is that deterrence could erode or cease to exist if Hezbollah acquires a large stockpile of precision missiles, and defense is incredibly expensive and could still prove insufficient against massive barrages. Therefore, the important discussion should be about prevention. In theory, we do this all the time, but we already need to start thinking about the next stage. It’s possible we’ll have to implement the Begin doctrine (to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East) against the precision missile threat as well,” says Yadlin.

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Brig. Gen. (res.) Itai Brun, the former head of MID’s Intelligence Analysis Division, who penned the annual situational assessment published by the INSS, has a different opinion.

“The precision missiles are indeed an extraordinarily powerful threat, but these are not nuclear weapons,” he tells Israel Hayom.

“The precision missiles are not the end-all and be-all from Hezbollah’s perspective. They are part of a broader picture.”

Brun continues: “Hezbollah doesn’t want a lengthy war; it wants to deliver painful blows that shorten the war and mitigate its fallout. To this end, perhaps all it needs is to launch a small number of precision missiles amid a massive barrage and ground infiltration into Israel. Perhaps all they need is one precise missile hitting a power station or the Knesset to provide the effect they want.”

If Hezbollah persists at its present pace of producing precision missiles, it will take it years to reach Israel’s red line. But if it accelerates the pace or transitions to manufacturing precision missiles in Lebanon, this timeframe could be reduced significantly. In this scenario, Israel will have to decide whether or not to act to eradicate the greatest and most dangerous conventional threat it faces, or to live with it.

The China Nuclear Horn Prepares for War: Daniel 7

US losing military edge in Asia as China looks like it is planning for war: US Indo-Pacific Command chief

‘I cannot for the life of me understand some of the capabilities that they’re putting in the field, unless it is an aggressive posture’

By Caitlin McFall | Fox News

The head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command told lawmakers this week that the U.S. is losing its edge over the Chinese military as the People’s Republic of China faces weakening international deterrence.

Testifying for the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, Admiral Philip Davidson, head of Indo-Pacific command, warned against an increasing “imbalance” in the region brought on by China’s rapid military advance.

“The military balance in the Indo-Pacific is becoming more unfavorable for the United States and our allies,” Davidson said. “With this imbalance, we are accumulating risk that may embolden China to unilaterally change the status quo before our forces may be able to deliver an effective response.”

China announced last week it will increase its defense budget by 6.8 percent in 2022, allocating $208.6 billion to their defense budget – a move that has concerned U.S. lawmakers and defense officials.

Davidson said that by 2025, China will be able to deploy three aircraft carriers, and he expressed concern surrounding the imminent threat China’s aggressive behavior poses for Taiwan.

“I cannot for the life of me understand some of the capabilities that they’re putting in the field, unless it is an aggressive posture,” he said, adding that he is concerned China would invade Taiwan within the next six years.

China has condemned international objections to its aggressive behavior against Taiwan, maintaining the island is its territory under its “One China Principle,” though Taiwan and the U.S. view the nation as independent from mainland China.

“By exploiting the Taiwan question to exaggerate China’s military threat, some people in the United States are actually looking for excuses to justify the increase of the U.S. military expenditure, expansion of its military power, and interfere in regional affairs,” Chinese Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in response to Davidson’s testimony Wednesday. “The United States should abandon the Cold War zero-sum mentality, view China’s development and national defense development objectively and rationally.”

But Davidson pointed to Cold War-era concerns and warned that China is rapidly building its nuclear stockpiles, telling lawmakers that if China continues to go unchecked in its nuclear development they could surpass U.S. stockpiles by 2030.


“If they triple or quadruple their stockpile, [China] could possibly have nuclear overmatch against the US before the end of this decade. Is that correct?” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked the admiral. “If they were to quadruple their stockpile, yes, sir,” Davidson said.

Davidson did not state how many nuclear weapons China or the U.S. currently have, but data from the Arms Control Association lists the U.S. as having 5,800 nuclear warheads as of August 2020, though only 3,800 of them are active, while China maintains 320 warheads.

Under the New Start Treaty that the U.S. has entered into with China, the U.S. is permitted to deploy 1,550 nuclear warheads on 800 strategic launchers at a time – a figure that would still exceed China’s quadrupled nuclear capabilities.

In response to China’s increased aggression in the South China Sea, including its development of artificial islands in disputed waters, the U.S. has increased its naval presence and launched freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) to keep international waters open.

Lawmakers have called on President Biden to increase the U.S. defense budget by three to five percent to account for inflation and keep up with the growing international demands.

Congress approved a defense spending budget of $694.6 billion for the 2021 fiscal year — more than three times the budget China has set aside for next year’s military spending.

The New Nuclear Cold War

‘Cold war-era weapon’: $100bn US plan to build new nuclear missile sparks concern

Scientists say the GBSD project is outdated and the result of lobbying rather than a clear sense of what it will achieve

Julian Borger in Washington

Wed 10 Mar 2021 06.00 EST

The US is building a new $100bn nuclear missile based on a set of flawed and outdated assumptions, a new report by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) will say.

The report, due to be published next week, will argue the planned ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD) is being driven by intense industry lobbying and politicians from states that will benefit most from it economically, rather than a clear assessment of the purpose of the new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

“It is becoming increasingly clear that there has not been a serious consideration of what role these cold war-era weapons are supposed to play in a post-cold war security environment,” the FAS report, titled Siloed Thinking, will say.

Israel expands nuclear facility previously used for weapons material

According to the FAS, a non-partisan thinktank, the US Air Force price tag for the new GBSD was deliberately framed in such a way as to appear slightly less than the cost of extending the life of the missile it would be replacing, the Minuteman III.

An independent assessment by the Rand corporation at about the same time, suggested the cost of a totally new weapon could cost two to three times more.

An effort by Congress to mandate an independent study on the comparative costs was blocked in 2019 with the help of the industry lobby.

The current estimate is that the basic acquisition costs of the GBSD will be $100bn, while the total cost of building, operating and maintaining it over its projected lifespan to 2075 is projected as $264bn.

The report is being published as the Biden administration is preparing its first defence budget which may reveal its intentions towards the GBSD, which is in its early stages.

In September 2020, Northrop Grumman was awarded an uncontested bid for the $13.3bn engineering, manufacturing and development phase of the project, just over a year after its only rival, Boeing, pulled out of the race, complaining of a rigged competition. It said Northrop Grumman’s purchase of one of the two companies in the US making solid fuel rocket motors gave it an unfair advantage.

There are currently 400 Minuteman missiles spread over five states: Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming. Many arms control advocates argue that rather than being replaced, they should be phased out entirely on grounds of their vulnerability and consequent instability.

A US president would have less than half an hour to decide whether to use the missiles in the event of a surprise attack from Russia (the only country with an arsenal big enough to carry out such an attack), or risk losing them altogether to incoming enemy missiles. The decision would have to be made on the basis of early warning systems, which could potentially be faulty or hacked.

“Deciding to launch US ICBMs under these conditions would be the most impactful decision in human history,” the report said. “No matter how competent the president is, it is unfathomable that a single individual would be able to make a rational decision under these extraordinary circumstances, especially given the irrationality of the system itself and likelihood of a false alarm.”

ICBM sceptics, who include former secretaries of defence and military commanders, say US should rely instead on its nuclear bombers and submarine-launched missiles, the other two legs of the US nuclear triad, which could be used in a retaliatory strike if a nuclear attack is confirmed.

Supporters of the GBSD argue against greater reliance on the sea-launched Trident missiles, which they say will be hostage to advances in anti-submarine warfare.

“It doesn’t make sense to rely over the long term on the fact that the seas will forever be opaque,” Tim Morrison, a former White House adviser to Donald Trump on Russia and nuclear weapons, now at the Hudson Institute.

“Our adversaries understand how much of our deterrence is based on our submarines and we can bet that they are seeking to make those submarines vulnerable. I see no reason why the US would put more eggs in that basket by eliminating the cheapest, most responsive leg of our triad.”

The FAS report will argue the opposite – that the survivability of the US submarine force, which carries 55% of the total nuclear arsenal, “is unlikely to change, even decades into the future”.

Some critics argue for a pause in the GBSD build-up, delaying the scheduled boost in funding while the new administration conducts a nuclear posture review.

While a pause is possible, the Biden administration is not expected to rethink the triad, which has been US nuclear orthodoxy since early in the cold war.

“I think they are going to make the wrong decision,” former defence secretary William Perry told the Guardian. “These arguments in favour of maintaining the triad have been so ground into us through the years it’s very unlikely they will find a way of rising above that.”

A study published by the Centre for International Policy on Tuesday said Northrop Grumman and its top subcontractors spent over $119m on lobbying in 2019 and 2020 alone and employed a total of 410 lobbyists including many former officials.

The rising military power of China is being increasingly cited by GBSD supporters as a rationale for building the new weapon. When Democratic congressman Ro Khanna suggested an amendment last July for using $1bn of GBSD seed money to help combat the Covid pandemic, Republican Liz Cheney, whose home state of Wyoming hosts the Minuteman complex at the Warren air force base, came close to accusing him of being a Chinese stooge.

“I don’t think the Chinese government, frankly, could imagine in their wildest dreams that they would have been able to get a member of the US Congress to propose, in response to the pandemic, that we ought to cut a billion dollars out of our nuclear forces,” Cheney said.

The FAS currently estimates the Chinese arsenal at 320 warheads, compared to the 3,800 the US has deployed and in the reserve stockpile. The Siloed Thinking report will argue that America’s ICBMs are irrelevant to deterring China because any launch from the Great Plains and over the Arctic could be interpreted by Moscow as an attack on Russia and would therefore risk widening an already catastrophic conflict.

“Overall, the Air Force’s … recommendation to pursue a brand-new missile was based upon a series of flawed assumptions about how GBSD would address perceived capability gaps, maintain the health of the large solid rocket motor industrial base … and – most importantly – be cheaper than the cost of a Minuteman life-extension,” the Siloed Thinking report will say.

“In hindsight, and upon further scrutiny, all of these assumptions appear to have either been exaggerated or de-prioritized,” the report will conclude, calling for a thorough re-evaluation.

Iran Wants the BOMB: Daniel 8

Picture obtained from the Iranian ISNA news agency on Dec. 16, 2009 shows the test-firing at an undisclosed location in Iran of an improved version of the Sejil 2 medium-range missile which the Islamic republic says can reach targets inside Israel. VAHI REZA ALAEE/AFP via Getty Images

Iran Is Starting to Want the Bomb

The U.S. maximum pressure campaign accidentally spurred a strategic shift in Tehran.

Maysam Behravesh

On Feb. 8, Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, in an interview with Iranian state television, made a veiled threat about his country’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon. “The supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] has explicitly said in his fatwa that nuclear weapons are against sharia law and the Islamic Republic sees them as religiously forbidden and does not pursue them,” Alavi said. “But a cornered cat may behave differently from when the cat is free. And if they [Western powers] push Iran in that direction, then it’s no longer Iran’s fault.”

The unprecedented public threat captured wide media attention. Domestic critics, particularly hard-liners, slammed President Hassan Rouhani’s intelligence minister for harming Iranian interests by undermining Khamenei’s religious edict against weapons of mass destruction. Middle East watchers abroad focused on the fatwa factor as well, mostly to demonstrate Iranian leaders’ untrustworthiness. Others construed Alavi’s statements as a “pressure” tactic to spur the Biden administration into rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear accord—officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—or otherwise lifting sanctions.

All these responses misunderstand the real significance of Alavi’s “cornered cat” threat. The whole debate over Khamenei’s fatwa banning nuclear weapons has always been much ado about nothing; it never really mattered in the first place for either side. (The very fact that world powers engaged in marathon talks with Tehran from 2013 to 2015 to verifiably curb its nuclear program in exchange for economic relief confirms as much.) Far more important is what the comment reflects about an ongoing shift in Iran’s thinking about the bomb. Wide swaths of Iranian society, among the public and policymakers alike, seem to increasingly see the weapon not just as an ultimate deterrent but as a panacea for Iran’s chronic security problems and challenges to its sovereignty by foreign powers.

Alavi’s statement came against a backdrop of repeated national humiliation in the form of a string of embarrassing security breaches and counterintelligence failures. In recent years, Iran has lost Qassem Suleimani, the chief architect of its regional strategy, and seen some of its key military and infrastructural facilities, including at Natanz and Khojir, targeted in a series of mysterious explosions and sabotage operations. The culmination came last November, when Iran’s nuclear strategy architect, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated near Tehran.

Shortly after the U.S. assassination of Suleimani in January 2020, Tabnak—a popular conservative media outlet in Tehran with nationalist leanings—published a rare piece asking its readers about nuclear deterrence and the ways it can advance Iran’s national security interests. “Some analysts believe that Iran’s possession of a nuclear deterrent will check Israel’s regional ambitions, while others maintain that it can deter big powers from stoking tensions and starting new wars in the region,” the article read. A similar story in Alef—another conservative news source—contended that Washington’s “destructive policies” against Iran and “Europeans’ inaction” continued to push Tehran to the verge of making the “big decision.” “Why should Iran commit to international regulations and refrain from constructing nuclear weapons while its enemies are all equipped with these weapons and threaten to destroy Iran on a daily basis?” asked another analysis published by Sputnik in Persian following the drone strike assassination.

These questions and concerns had been a present yet largely marginal part of public debate in Iran ever since its nuclear scientists were targeted for the first time during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency (2005-2013). It is no accident that self-proclaimed realist theorists such as John J. Mearsheimer, Stephen M. Walt, and his late mentor Kenneth N. Waltz are among the most familiar references and authors whose works and arguments in favor of nuclear deterrence and balance of power have been widely translated into Persian and made available to Iranian news consumers. But it wasn’t until after Israel’s killing of Fakhrizadeh that popular sympathy for Iran’s geopolitical vulnerability and support for nuclear weapons as an effective and sustainable solution to it gained vast traction among the public and ruling elite alike.

It seems our logical response to this assassination should be a scientific response,” Fereydoun Abbasi, the chair of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, said in a December interview, suggesting heightened political proclivity for decisive nuclear capability action among Iranian decision-makers. “So we will take steps toward deepening our scientific and technical knowledge” of nuclear power. Notably, Abbasi himself survived an assassination attempt in 2010 when he was heading the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Another commentary run by Rahborde Moaser, a state-affiliated strategic news outlet, in December urged Tehran’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty so it could accomplish “sustainable deterrence” against powerful adversaries, a proposal that echoed calls for production of “deterrent weapons” as the “only way” to ensure national security. Other observers have gone so far as to defend the bomb as a prerequisite for economic development in Iran, arguing that nuclear deterrence is the “only option” that can resolve Tehran’s chronic “security dilemma” once and for all and enable it to focus on national prosperity. The intelligence minister’s “cornered cat” threat was in fact a more explicit expression of these decreasingly marginal and subterranean temptations and tendencies.

In his groundbreaking work The Psychology of Nuclear Proliferation: Identity, Emotions and Foreign Policy (2006), the political scientist Jacques E.C. Hymans investigates four various conceptions of national identity held by political leaders—their sense of “what the nation naturally stands for and of how highly it naturally stands” in comparison to others—that ultimately determine their nuclear choices and decisions, from abstention and restraint to threshold nuclearization and full acquisition. He draws special attention to “oppositional nationalism,” a certain conception of national identity, driven by fear and pride, that functions as an “explosive psychological cocktail” for nuclear policymaking. Oppositional nationalist leaders “see their nation as both naturally at odds with an external enemy, and as naturally its equal if not its superior,” Hymans elaborates, concluding that such leaders “develop a desire for nuclear weapons that goes beyond calculation, to self-expression.” By this definition, Khamenei should be a good example of an oppositional nationalist who aspires, in the face of massive international opposition, to elevate his revisionist country into the foremost power in the Middle East.

Yet Khamenei’s nuclear decision-making, including his invocation of “heroic flexibility” in 2013 to justify nonproliferation negotiations with world powers, does not fit comfortably in Hymans’s “national identity conception” (NIC) model, and the question remains unresolved: Why hasn’t Iran gone nuclear yet? The answer does not lie in Khamenei’s psychological profile or his nuclear ban fatwa.

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A fundamental problem with Hymans’s NIC model of nuclear calculus is that it is leader-centric, thus reductionist. By reducing an extremely complex dynamic with manifold variables to a given leader’s individual perception of his or her nation and its appropriate place among nations, Hymans in fact neglects the possible presence of such potent inclinations at the collective level—that is, among the public in general and a given state’s supporter base in particular. Iran’s recent nuclear history offers helpful insights in this respect. Most foreign-policy analysts attribute the Iranian leadership’s 2013 decision—to embark on multilateral nuclear negotiations after an extended period of defiant escalation under Ahmadinejad—to effective international pressure on Khamenei’s government, the Obama administration’s eventual compromise on demands for uranium enrichment in Iran, or a combination of both. While both arguments are indisputably valid to a certain extent, they overlook powerful domestic-societal drivers of Iran’s nuclear policy shift at that historic juncture. In other words, the massive force of public opinion and its prevailing narratives in favor of nuclear diplomacy, which was interrupted by electoral fraud in 2009 but ultimately expressed through the popular election of Rouhani, compelled Iran’s top leadership to give diplomacy a decent chance.

The widely held notion that Khamenei wanted talks all along—proponents of which cite his blessing for secret negotiations with the Obama administration in Oman during Ahmadinejad’s presidency—is fundamentally flawed. As later manifested by his tactical treatment of the JCPOA and public opposition to the Rouhani administration’s proposals about domestic and regional JCPOAs, Khamenei, in fact, favored a pragmatic stopgap to a long-term resolution of the crisis. This cynicism was partly rooted in his deep distrust of the United States but also, and perhaps more importantly, a reflection of the serious concerns Iranian leadership harbored about the JCPOA’s transformative potential for instigating domestic political change in Iran. Khamenei and his allies in the Revolutionary Guards feared Iranians’ open engagement with the outside world for its impact on his establishment’s grip on power.

Now almost eight years on, and under the heavy and humiliating weight of U.S. maximum pressure, the same collective forces that compelled Iran to open up to nuclear compromise are nudging it in the opposite direction, thanks to an incremental resurgence of territorial nationalism across society. And Iran’s long-asleep nuclear genie is waking up and dancing its way, to that nationalist tune, out of its bottle.

While there are no public opinion polls to measure Iranians’ view of nuclear weaponization or how it may have changed over time since 2013, a new survey organized jointly by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland and the Canada-based polling agency IranPoll suggests that anti-compromise views and sentiments have considerably hardened over the past years. Notably, public support for the JCPOA has dropped from 76 percent in August 2015 to 51 percent in February 2021, and 73 percent of respondents endorsed the Strategic Action Plan passed last year by Iran’s hard-liner-dominated parliament to systematically reduce its JCPOA commitments unless U.S. sanctions are lifted. Also, 69 percent maintained that “Iran should not hold any talks with the United States until it first returns to the JCPOA and fulfills all of its obligations.” Pertinently, more than 88 percent of respondents said they wanted Iran to “fulfill its obligations under the JCPOA after the United States is back in full compliance.”

This incremental shift in Iranian public opinion about the nation’s nuclear program is as significant as it is unprecedented and a major reason why statements like Alavi’s “cornered cat” warning carry considerable strategic weight. Fueled by a growing sense of nuclear injustice and indignation, pro-bomb sentiments in Iran will arguably gain further ground and legitimacy in light of expanding nuclear ventures in Saudi Arabia and Israel, Tehran’s chief regional adversaries. Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s de facto rule, the Saudi nuclear initiative is progressing unimpeded, and Israel is expanding its secret atomic infrastructure in the Negev desert in broad daylight.

The potentially explosive shift in the Iranian national attitude toward nuclear weapons is a direct consequence of the U.S. maximum pressure campaign, from economic strangulation to sabotage operations to targeted assassinations. Washington’s decision to exit the JCPOA has served to remove one of Iran’s major political obstacles to acquiring the bomb.

Iran has reached a dangerous moment. What if Iran’s next leader proves to be a real confrontational nationalist who does not shy away from making the big decision against all odds? What if a confrontation with a militarily superior nemesis, such as the United States or Israel, convinces Iranians and their leaders that nuclear deterrence is no longer a matter of choice but a national security necessity? Because the foreign punishment is perceived as unfair, Iran’s societal opposition to nuclear weapons is eroding. If the United States and its regional allies are genuinely determined to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, they need to move beyond conventional reliance on punitive force and consider the unintended strategic consequences of maximum pressure. Otherwise, Alavi’s cornered cat may pounce before anyone expects.

Maysam Behravesh is a research associate at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, and a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Lund University, Sweden. Twitter: @MaysamBehravesh

Hamas Prepares for Chaos Outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Hamas Goes Through Election Motions as It Awaits Possible West Bank Chaos

Palestinian police officers loyal to Hamas march during a graduation ceremony in Gaza City, April 29, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

The two Palestinian rival governing movements, Fatah and Hamas, are preparing for elections in the coming months, and while it remains unclear whether they will really go ahead, Hamas is awaiting possible chaos in the West Bank, which it could exploit to boost its presence there.

Elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council are scheduled for May 22, elections for the Palestinian Authority (PA) presidency are due to be held on July 31, and elections for the PLO’s National Council are scheduled for August 31.

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Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, the last time elections were held. A year later, the terror organization staged a violent coup in the Gaza Strip, overthrowing the Fatah movement and ejecting the Fatah-ruled PA. Since then, Hamas has turned Gaza into a dense rocket base, pointing and firing thousands of projectiles at Israeli cities. It has prioritized building a terror army that routinely threatens the security of Israelis over helping its own people, and is now attempting to avert an economic collapse through Qatari financial assistance to Gaza.

But Hamas has never given up on its ambition to consolidate its rule in the West Bank. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is keenly aware that dangerous “surprises” can occur if the scheduled elections go ahead, according to Col. (res.) Moshe Elad, one of the founders of the security coordination between the IDF and the PA.

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Abbas is going through the motions of preparing for elections in order to market himself as a bona fide democratic ruler to the new Biden administration, Elad, a lecturer at the Western Galilee College in northern Israel, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

On the other hand, “Abbas is very careful to ensure that he does not lose what he possesses, and I therefore doubt that elections will go ahead,” Elad said. “Abbas will find a last-minute reason to cancel them.” One such excuse that could facilitate their cancellation would be an Israeli refusal to allow elections that Hamas participates in to occur in east Jerusalem.

During a meeting in Cairo last month of 14 Palestinian factions to discuss the elections, Hamas and Fatah representatives reached initial understandings. But statements made by Hamas officials in recent days also made it clear that it would never disarm its forces that rule Gaza, irrespective of the results of the elections.

While Fatah has claimed that it is open to forming a unity government with Hamas, or integrating Hamas as a “division” within the PLO, Hamas for its part is unwilling to compromise over its full control of Gaza. That dispute, Elad said, is a fundamental roadblock that will disrupt any real progress between the ruling Palestinian factions.

“This is their main division. Beyond that, the rest [of the Cairo agreements] were just clauses,” said Elad. Hamas’s unwillingness to disarm in Gaza or give up its Islamist regime — considered by Fatah to be a renegade and illegitimate government, and the subject of multiple economic chokeholds by the Palestinian Authority — means that the two factions are unlikely to make any real progress. In addition, Hamas will not recognize the Palestinian Authority’s routine security coordination with Israel, he said, essentially ruling out prospects of a unity government.

“Fatah is also demanding compensation for families that were harmed during the 2007 coup in Gaza,” said Elad.

With each side aware that the other will not agree to fundamental conditions, the gaps at some point will abort the elections process, Elad argued. Until then, Abbas will attempt to market himself as a transparent and democratic ruler in order to find favor with the US.

A Hamas coup in the West Bank is not possible, Elad said, as long as the IDF’s battalions remain active against Hamas’ activities there. On the other hand, he cautioned, Abbas, aged 85, is going to depart the scene at some point, sparking power struggles over a successor, which could lead to chaos in the Palestinian Authority, which Hamas could exploit.

“Hamas is well organized in the West Bank. It could take advantage of that situation to arm itself and capture positions. They have capabilities. But they wouldn’t do that now. They could try it only if something dramatic happens in the West Bank, and if it becomes unclear who is controlling it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hamas continues to exploit humanitarian permits granted by Israel to promote its offensive capabilities. Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency announced on February 26 that an Israeli-Arab citizen had been arrested after being “activated by the Hamas military wing in the Gaza Strip” — specifically to gather information about the location of Iron Dome air defense batteries in Israel.

The suspect, who had a permit to travel between Gaza and Israel due to the fact that his mother resides in the Strip, was allegedly recruited by Hamas and ordered to conduct a number of missions, including reconnaissance. The investigation “sheds light on the technique and scope of Hamas’s military infrastructure,” the Shin Bet said in a statement. “This thwarting joins a series of thwarting operations conducted in 2020 regarding civilians from ‘split families’ [that reside in both Gaza and Israel] and who worked for the Hamas organization in the Gaza Strip.”

Hamas is working around the clock to recruit Israeli citizens for intelligence gathering that would enable it to conduct terror attacks inside Israel, the agency warned.

“This is another example of how Hamas exploits the Erez Border Crossing [which allows those with permits to cross into Gaza] to carry out activities in between the areas,” it stated.

Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the military correspondent for JNS. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.

A version of this article was originally published by The Investigative Project on Terrorism.