The Impending Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

An illustration of a seismogram

Massachusetts struck by 4.0 magnitude earthquake felt as far as Long Island

By Jackie Salo

November 8, 2020 

A 3.6-magnitude earthquake shook Bliss Corner, Massachusetts, on Sunday morning, officials said — startling residents across the Northeast who expressed shock about the rare tremors.

The quake struck the area about five miles southwest of the community in Buzzards Bay just after 9 a.m. — marking the strongest one in the area since a magnitude 3.5 temblor in March 1976, the US Geological Survey said.

With a depth of 9.3 miles, the impact was felt across Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and into Connecticut and Long Island, New York.

“This is the strongest earthquake that we’ve recorded in that area — Southern New England,” USGS geophysicist Paul Caruso told The Providence Journal.

But the quake was still considered “light” on the magnitude scale, meaning that it was felt but didn’t cause significant damage.

The quake, however, was unusual for the region — which has only experienced 26 larger than a magnitude 2.5 since 1973, Caruso said.

Around 14,000 people went onto the USGS site to report the shaking — with some logging tremors as far as Easthampton, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut, both about 100 miles away.

“It’s common for them to be felt very far away because the rock here is old and continuous and transmits the energy a long way,” Caruso said.

Journalist Katie Couric was among those on Long Island to be roused by the Sunday-morning rumblings.

“Did anyone on the east coast experience an earthquake of sorts?” Couric wrote on Twitter.

“We are on Long Island and the attic and walls rattled.”

Closer to the epicenter, residents estimated they felt the impact for 10 to 15 seconds.

“In that moment, it feels like it’s going on forever,” said Ali Kenner Brodsky, who lives in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

Biden administration quietly ramping up aid outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Biden administration quietly ramping up aid to Palestinians

The Biden administration is quietly ramping up assistance to the Palestinians after former President Donald Trump cut off nearly all such aid

ABC News

By MATTHEW LEE AP Diplomatic Writer

March 31, 2021, 1:11 PM

Blinken reveals latest report on status of human rights worldwide

Secretary of State Antony Blinken discus…

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is quietly ramping up assistance to the Palestinians after former President Donald Trump cut off nearly all aid. Since taking office with a pledge to reverse many of Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian decisions, the administration has allocated nearly $100 million for the Palestinians, only a small portion of which has been publicized.

The administration announced last Thursday that it was giving $15 million to vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. A day later, with no public announcement, it notified Congress that it will give the Palestinians $75 million for economic support, to be used in part to regain their “trust and goodwill” after the Trump-era cuts.

The State Department declined to comment on the notification, and it wasn’t clear if the $75 million includes the $15 million in pandemic aid. Nevertheless, the funding plan represents a major shift in the U.S. approach to the Palestinians after the mutual recriminations during the Trump years.

In general, the administration supports a resumption in aid to the Palestinians, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

“We continue to believe that American support for the Palestinian people, including financial support, it is consistent with our values. It is consistent with our interests. Of course, it is consistent with the interests of the Palestinian people. It’s also consistent with the interests of our partner, Israel, and we’ll have more to say on that going forward,” he told reporters.

The administration has made no secret of its belief that Trump’s approach, which alienated the Palestinians, was flawed and made prospects for peace less likely. The new assistance appears aimed at encouraging the Palestinians to return to negotiations with Israel, though there is no indication it will have that effect and Israel’s response has yet to be gauged.

A copy of the March 26 congressional notification from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development was obtained by The Associated Press, just hours after the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office issued a report that found USAID had not properly vetted all of its Palestinian funding recipients for U.S. antiterrorism criteria as required by law.

Under U.S. law, the United States may not provide aid to the Palestinian Authority or fund projects it would benefit from as long as the authority pays stipends to the perpetrators and families of those convicted of anti-Israel or U.S. attacks. Such payments were one reason the Trump administration cut off aid. Although none of the assistance is to be provided to the Palestinian Authority, pro-Israel lawmakers, many of them Republicans, are likely to raise objections.

The GAO based its findings on a review of aid provided to the Palestinians between 2015 and 2019, when Trump severed most of the aid. While it said that USAID had followed the law with respect to people and groups it funded directly, it had not done the same with entities, known as sub-grantees, to which those groups then distributed taxpayer dollars.

“If funding resumes, we recommend measures to improve compliance,” said the GAO report, which was released late Monday.

According to USAID’s congressional notification, much of the $75 million is intended for urgent short-term projects aimed at quickly rebuilding U.S.-Palestinian relations, which had sunk to lows during the Trump administration. The notice said the money may start to be spent on April 10.

“Given the absence of USAID activity in recent years, engaging civil society actors will be critical to regaining trust and goodwill with Palestinian society,” the notification said, explaining the rationale for providing $5.4 million to Palestinian civic groups, including possibly independent media, in the West Bank and Gaza.

Other areas identified for USAID funding include the health care sector and the resumption of assistance to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network that Trump had cut off, sanitation, water supply and transportation infrastructure, social services and job training for Palestinian youth, micro-loans and grants for small businesses as well as disaster preparedness.

In a bid to forestall expected questions and criticism from lawmakers who supported Trump’s aid cuts, USAID sought to assure Congress that it would ensure all legal criteria for providing the money would be met.

“USAID adheres to rigorous partner antiterrorism vetting and certification, auditing, and monitoring procedures to help ensure that its assistance does not go to Hamas or other terrorist organizations,” the notice said.

In announcing the $15 million in COVID-19 assistance, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said it was “one piece of our renewed commitment to the Palestinian people,” but she did not elaborate.

Under Trump, the U.S. provided unprecedented support to Israel, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv and breaking relations and slashing financial assistance for the Palestinians.

Soon after President Joe Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20, his administration announced that it would restore relations with the Palestinians and renew aid as key elements of support for a two-state solution to the conflict.

Thomas-Greenfield reiterated Biden’s support for a two-state solution and said “the United States looks forward to continuing its work with Israel, the Palestinians, and the international community to achieve a long-sought peace in the Middle East.”

Europe Pressures Biden to Concede to Iran

Europeans Fear Iran Nuclear Window Closing

The Biden administration rebuffed European pleas to lift some sanctions in its first weeks in office.

Colum LynchMarch 26, 2021, 11:56 AM

Iranian protesters demonstrate outside the Tehran Research Reactor in Tehran on Nov. 23, 2014. Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

In the weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January, British, French, and German diplomats approached the new administration with a plan to revive the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal. They proposed lifting some of the sanctions that had been removed by President Barack Obama and then reimposed by President Donald Trump. The idea was to bring the United States closer to compliance with the nuclear accord it had walked away from, and to put the onus on Iran to reciprocate, according to two European diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of negotiations.

Europe figured Biden could keep a raft of additional measures Trump had levied, to maintain some leverage over Iran and make progress on issues of concern to all sides, especially Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for a host of regional militias.

“The advice of the Europeans to the Americans was do it quickly and immediately, because all the signals they had from the Iranian side was as soon as the Americans come back, we will come back,” said Gérard Araud, a former French ambassador to the United States and the United Nations who previously led France’s nuclear negotiations with Iran and other key powers. “The best way forward would have been to immediately come back to the [nuclear pact] with an executive order, and they didn’t do it.”

The challenge of striking a deal, Araud added, may prove insurmountable, given the growing domestic U.S. opposition to a pact that would leave Iran with more money and no new constraints on its ballistic missile program and its support for regional militia. “It will be complicated, it will take months and it may fail,” he said.

Biden instead insisted that Iran would have to take the first step by reversing a set of nuclear activities it restarted in response to Trump’s rejection of the deal. The Europeans, according to Ali Vaez, an expert on Iran with the International Crisis Group, “were told from the get-go that the president doesn’t want to make any unilateral gestures toward Iran.”

The exchange provided an early sign to Europeans that Biden wasn’t going to move as fast as he had signaled during the campaign. It also raised concern among European diplomats that after they struggled to save the landmark nuclear deal from Trump’s attempts to kill it, the new U.S. administration might be risking the agreement’s future through caution, delay, and inaction.

“There is a degree of concern and anxiousness that both the U.S. and Iran have missed a window of opportunity in the early days of the Biden administration to make some swift moves toward compliance,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, an Iran expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“After four years of trying to keep this agreement together under the Trump administration, the Europeans are hoping that it doesn’t fall apart under a Biden administration,” she said. “There would be a real tragic irony in that happening.”

In recent months, the White House has resisted additional European entreaties to lift sanctions on humanitarian goods and to release Iranian funds in foreign banks as confidence-building measures, insisting that Tehran move first to scale back a range of activities it has taken in violation of the 2015 pact, including enriching more uranium than permitted and to higher concentrations. Europeans have also been pressing Washington to reinstate waivers that permit foreign governments to participate in civil nuclear programs with Iran. The arrangement, a cornerstone of the 2015 pact, was meant to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, including by redesigning the Arak heavy water reactor to ensure that it can’t be used to produce plutonium.

For its part, Iran has also refused to engage in talks with signatories of the nuclear deal until the United States agrees to lift sanctions, leaving the two sides deadlocked.

Who’s to Blame for Stalling U.S.-Iran Negotiations?

A senior Biden administration official said that the Europeans never proposed that the United States meet all its obligations under the nuclear treaty without Iran taking mutual steps; even China and Russia, also signatories, envisioned some sort of synchronized return to compliance with the pact, the official said.

But it is “accurate that some Europeans felt we should take the first early steps. The Europeans, Russians, and Chinese all felt the U.S. withdrew from the deal first, the U.S. should take the first step. I think it’s fair to say some Europeans thought an early gesture by us might have set a different tone. It might have helped, it might not,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity given the confidential nature of nuclear negotiations.

“What we conveyed to the Europeans was that we were prepared to take some steps, but not unilaterally,” the official said.

If Europe was expecting quick action on sanctions, it’s because that’s what Biden promised on the campaign trail.

But Europeans underestimated the widespread domestic political opposition to the deal, which has been led by powerful Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham. In a March 8 letter to the president, the two lawmakers urged Biden to work with key allies, including critics of the nuclear pact in Israel and the Gulf States, to forge a new agreement that not only constrains Iran’s prospects for acquiring a nuclear bomb but also checks its ability to destabilize the region and advance its ballistic missile program.

“[W]e must confront the reality that Iran has accelerated its nuclear activity in alarming ways including increasing its centrifuge research and production and enriching uranium up to 20 percent,” they wrote in the letter, which was forwarded to the president on Thursday with the signatures of 41 additional Democratic and Republican senators. “Iran continues to pose a threat to U.S. and international security through exporting arms, including highly accurate missiles, supporting Shia militias that target U.S. service members, and supporting terrorist organizations and other malign actors throughout the region.”

Supporters of the Iran nuclear pact say aiming for a huge deal, which mirrors the Trump administration’s demands for greater Iranian concessions for sanctions relief, would undermine any prospects for reviving the limited deal. “The nuclear pact is not a domestic political issue in Europe; they didn’t understand how much of an obstacle domestic political opposition to progress it would be,” Vaez said.

The debate over reengaging with Iran has opened fissures within the Democratic Party. Progressives worry that the White House is yielding to political pressure from Menendez, even though “his hawkish views are out of step with his caucus, and out of step with the vast majority of voters who support diplomacy over war,” said one congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This is a political calculation,” the aide added. “It’s worse. It’s a bad political calculation.

The congressional aide expressed concern that Biden may already have botched an opportunity to make good on a promise to rejoin the nuclear agreement. “This is one of President Biden’s clearest commitments. As a candidate, Biden stated the ‘urgent’ need to rejoin the JCPOA. I am not feeling the fucking urgency,” the congressional aide said, referring to the deal by an abbreviation of its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “They should have done this on day two. Instead, we’re watching the opportunity for diplomacy slip away, and the likelihood of greater conflict increase.”

For its part, Iran has refused to scale back its prohibited nuclear activities until Washington lifts sanctions as required by the 2015 nuclear pact. A year after Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, Iran gradually stopped abiding by certain aspects of the agreement. Tehran ramped up its centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, increased both the size and purity of its uranium stockpile, and has shortened its breakout time toward a bomb. More recently, Iran has taken steps to escalate the crisis, announcing plans in February to scale back international nuclear inspections.

In a statement marking the Iranian New Year, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said his country was in “no hurry” to revive the nuclear pact, and that Tehran would recommit to the accord once the United States has verifiably lifted sanctions. “It’s not a matter of who should be the first. The issue is that we trusted the Americans and fulfilled our commitments in the nuclear deal, but they didn’t,” he said.

Some observers say it’s naive to think Tehran will meet Washington halfway. The United States has already taken steps toward accommodating Iran: reversing Trump’s effort to reimpose U.N. sanctions, ending travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats in New York, and asking Iran to come to a meeting of signatories of the agreement. (Tehran refused.)

The senior U.S. official noted that Iran decided to restrict access of international nuclear inspectors in the country after the United States announced plans to withdraw some Trump-era sanctions.

“I don’t buy the idea that if only Biden would have moved quicker, this would have happened, regardless of what the Biden administration did or did not do in its first months in office,” said Henry Rome, a senior analyst at the Eurasia Group. “The conservatives in the Iranian government were going to very be strongly opposed to reentry into this deal.” Rome said that he expects that while the United States and Iran are unlikely to strike any nuclear deal before Iran’s June elections, he believes Washington and Tehran will return to compliance before the end of the year.

The push to salvage the deal has also been complicated on the ground. On Feb. 15, an Iran-backed militia allegedly fired rockets at the Erbil airport in northern Iraq, killing a Filipino contractor who worked for the U.S.-led military coalition and wounding several others, including a U.S. service member and an Iraqi civilian who died a week later. Ten days later, Biden ordered a limited rocket strike against Iran-backed militants in eastern Syria.

“It’s not really helping the climate in the U.S. to have Iranian allies take shots at Americans in Iraq or elsewhere, and the U.S. will respond as it has responded and it will continue to respond,” Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, said in March.

The United Kingdom, France, and Germany have pursued a nuclear pact with Iran since 2003, after revelations emerged that Tehran had secretly begun developing a heavy water reactor that Western governments feared could be used for the production of plutonium, as well as an underground uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. It was the first of a series of on-again off-again diplomatic initiatives aimed at containing Iran’s nuclear program. The United States, which was preoccupied seeking to pacify Iraq, did not take part in those early talks.

A decade later, Obama dispatched Bill Burns, a veteran U.S. diplomat who was recently sworn in as Biden’s director of the CIA, to Oman to begin secret talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Those initial talks culminated in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was endorsed by Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United States, and the European Union, and which placed a series of verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions.

The nuclear pact faced fierce opposition from allies in the region, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, and pro-Israeli lawmakers in the United States, who feared it would provide Tehran with the financial resources to threaten its neighbors. They argued that Iran could not be trusted to live up to its obligations.

“It was never going to be easy,” said Mark Lyall Grant, who served previously as Britain’s national security advisor and led its Iran nuclear negotiations. “It’s true that the opposition has had time to mobilize, but the opposition has always been there. If the Americans are persuaded there is a deal to be done, I don’t think opposition from others in the region is a problem. It’s a challenge, but it’s not an insuperable one.”

Grant noted the efforts Europeans have made to keep the deal alive, even as Washington walked and Tehran balked.

“The Europeans have done well to keep the JCPOA on thin life support during the Trump administration, even though the Iranians have gone off the tracks,” he said. But, he added, all the Iranian increases in centrifuges and uranium enrichment are reversible.

Iran was largely in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal until Trump pulled out of the agreement and dialed up a so-called maximum pressure campaign, replete with sanctions on every corner of the Iranian economy. Even humanitarian aid was affected.

In an interview with the BBC’s Persian-language network, the U.S. envoy Malley said, “The maximum pressure has failed. … It’s been bad for the U.S., for Iran, for the region.”

“What we want to do is get into a position where the U.S. can lift sanctions again, and Iran can come back into compliance with its nuclear commitments under the deal,” he added.

But many supporters of the nuclear pact, including some European officials, believe that the Biden administration needs to own up to America’s role in undermining the deal—even if the damage was inflicted by the previous administration.

“I think there was a need for a mea culpa from the Biden administration,” Vaez said. “The maximum pressure campaign inflicted not only economic damage on the country but also cost Iranian lives in the middle of a deadly pandemic. The Biden administration acted as if all this harm inflicted on Iran was done by a different country. It didn’t take any responsibility for the mistakes committed by its predecessor. That is going to have long-term implications for Iranian-U.S. relations.”

Playing Chicken with Nuclear Weapons: Revelation 16

Chinese and American Leaders Are Playing a Game of Chicken That Couldn’t Be More Dangerous

Could the U.S. and China face an unintended blowup in the western Pacific in the Biden years?

byMichael T. Klare

The leaders of China and the United States certainly don’t seek a war with each another. Both the Biden administration and the regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping view economic renewal and growth as their principal objectives. Both are aware that any conflict arising between them, even if restricted to Asia and conducted with non-nuclear weapons—no sure bet—would produce catastrophic regional damage and potentially bring the global economy to its knees. So, neither group has any intention of deliberately starting a war. Each, however, is fully determined to prove its willingness to go to war if provoked and so is willing to play a game of military chicken in the waters (and air space) off China’s coast. In the process, each is making the outbreak of war, however unintended, increasingly likely.

History tells us that conflicts don’t always begin due to planning and intent. Some, of course, start that way, as was the case, for instance, with Hitler’s June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union and Japan’s December 1941 attacks on the Dutch East Indies and Pearl Harbor. More commonly, though, countries have historically found themselves embroiled in wars they had hoped to avoid.

This was the case in June 1914, when the major European powers—Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire—all stumbled into World War I. Following an extremist act of terror (the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo), they mobilized their forces and issued ultimatums in the expectation that their rivals would back off. None did. Instead, a continent-wide conflict erupted with catastrophic consequences.

Sadly, we face the possibility of a very similar situation in the coming years. The three major military powers of the current era—China, the United States, and Russia—are all behaving eerily like their counterparts of that earlier era. All three are deploying forces on the borders of their adversaries, or the key allies of those adversaries, and engaging in muscle-flexing and “show-of-force” operations intended to intimidate their opponent(s), while demonstrating a will to engage in combat if their interests are put at risk. As in the pre-1914 period, such aggressive maneuvers involve a high degree of risk when it comes to causing an accidental or unintended clash that could result in full-scale combat or even, at worst, global warfare.

Provocative military maneuvers now occur nearly every day along Russia’s border with the NATO powers in Europe and in the waters off China’s eastern coastline. Much can be said about the dangers of escalation from such maneuvers in Europe, but let’s instead fix our attention on the situation around China, where the risk of an accidental or unintended clash has been steadily growing. Bear in mind that, in contrast to Europe, where the borders between Russia and the NATO countries are reasonably well marked and all parties are careful to avoid trespassing, the boundaries between Chinese and U.S./allied territories in Asia are often highly contested.

China claims that its eastern boundary lies far out in the Pacific—far enough to encompass the independent island of Taiwan (which it considers a renegade province), the Spratly and Paracel Islands of the South China Sea (all claimed by China, but some also claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines), and the Diaoyu Islands (claimed by both China and Japan, which calls them the Senkaku Islands). The United States has treaty obligations to Japan and the Philippines, as well as a legislative obligation to aid in Taiwan’s defense (thanks to the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress in 1979) and consecutive administrations have asserted that China’s extended boundary claims are illegitimate. There exists, then, a vast area of contested territory, encompassing the East and South China Seas—places where U.S. and Chinese warships and planes increasingly intermingle in challenging ways, while poised for combat.

Probing Limits (and Defying Them)

The leaders of the U.S. and China are determined that their countries will defend what it defines as its strategic interests in such contested areas. For Beijing, this means asserting its sovereignty over Taiwan, the Diaoyu Islands, and the islands of the South China Sea, as well as demonstrating an ability to take and defend such territories in the face of possible Japanese, Taiwanese, or U.S. counterattacks. For Washington, it means denying the legitimacy of China’s claims and ensuring that its leadership can’t realize them through military means. Both sides recognize that such contradictory impulses are only likely to be resolved through armed conflict. Short of war, however, each seems intent on seeing how far it can provoke the other, diplomatically and militarily, without triggering a chain reaction ending in disaster.

On the diplomatic front, representatives of the two sides have been engaging in increasingly harsh verbal attacks. These first began to escalate in the final years of the Trump administration when the president abandoned his supposed affection for Xi Jinping and began blocking access to U.S. technology by major Chinese telecommunications firms like Huawei to go with the punishing tariffs he had already imposed on most of that country’s exports to the U.S. His major final offensive against China would be led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who denounced that country’s leadership in scathing terms, while challenging its strategic interests in contested areas.

In a July 2020 statement on the South China Sea, for instance, Pompeo slammed China for its aggressive behavior there, pointing to Beijing’s repeated “bullying” of other claimants to islands in that sea. Pompeo, however, went beyond mere insult. He ratcheted up the threat of conflict significantly, asserting that “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law”—language clearly meant to justify the future use of force by American ships and planes assisting friendly states being “bullied” by China.

Pompeo also sought to provoke China on the issue of Taiwan. In one of his last acts in office, on January 9th, he officially lifted restrictions in place for more than 40 years on U.S. diplomatic engagement with the government of Taiwan. Back in 1979, when the Carter administration broke relations with Taipei and established ties with the mainland regime, it prohibited government officials from meeting with their counterparts in Taiwan, a practice maintained by every administration since then. This was understood to be part of Washington’s commitment to a “One China” policy in which Taiwan was viewed as an inseparable part of China (though the nature of its future governance was to remain up for negotiation). Reauthorizing high-level contacts between Washington and Taipei more than four decades later, Pompeo effectively shattered that commitment. In this way, he put Beijing on notice that Washington was prepared to countenance an official Taiwanese move toward independence—an act that would undoubtedly provoke a Chinese invasion effort (which, in turn, increased the likelihood that Washington and Beijing would find themselves on a war footing).

The Trump administration also took concrete actions on the military front, especially by increasing naval maneuvers in the South China Sea and in waters around Taiwan. The Chinese replied with their own strong words and expanded military activities. In response, for instance, to a trip to Taipei last September by Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Keith Krach, the highest-ranking State Department official to visit the island in 40 years, China launched several days of aggressive air and sea maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait. According to Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang, those maneuvers were “a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Speaking of that island’s increasing diplomatic contact with the U.S., he added, “Those who play with fire will get burned.”

Today, with Trump and Pompeo out of office, the question arises: How will the Biden team approach such issues? To date, the answer is: much like the Trump administration.

In the first high-level encounter between U.S. and Chinese officials in the Biden years, a meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18th and 19th, newly installed Secretary of State Antony Blinken used his opening remarks to lambaste the Chinese, expressing “deep concerns” over China’s behavior in its mistreatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang Province, in Hong Kong, and in its increasingly aggressive approach to Taiwan. Such actions, he said, “threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability.” Blinken has uttered similar complaints in other settings, as have senior Biden appointees to the CIA and Department of Defense. Tellingly, in its first months in office, the Biden administration has given the green light to the same tempo of provocative military maneuvers in contested Asian waters as did the Trump administration in its last months.

“Gunboat Diplomacy” Today

In the years leading up to World War I, it was common for major powers to deploy their naval forces in waters near their adversaries or near rebellious client states in that age of colonialism to suggest the likelihood of punishing military action if certain demands weren’t met. The U.S. used just such “gunboat diplomacy,” as it was then called, to control the Caribbean region, forcing Colombia, for example, to surrender the territory Washington sought to build a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Today, gunboat diplomacy is once again alive and well in the Pacific, with both China and the U.S. engaging in such behavior.

China is now using its increasingly powerful navy and coast guard on a regular basis to intimidate other claimants to islands it insists are its own in the East and South China Seas—Japan in the case of the Senkakus; and Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the case of the Spratlys and Paracels. In most instances, this means directing its naval and coast guard vessels to drive off the fishing boats of such countries from waters surrounding Chinese-claimed islands. In the case of Taiwan, China has used its ships and planes in a menacing fashion to suggest that any move toward declaring independence from the mainland will be met with a harsh military response.

For Washington in the Biden era, assertive military maneuvers in the East and South China Seas are a way of saying: no matter how far such waters may be from the U.S., Washington and the Pentagon are still not prepared to cede control of them to China. This has been especially evident in the South China Sea, where the U.S. Navy and Air Force regularly conduct provocative exercises and show-of-force operations intended to demonstrate America’s continuing ability to dominate the region—as in February, when dual carrier task forces were dispatched to the region. For several days, the USS Nimitz and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, along with their accompanying flotillas of cruisers and destroyers, conducted mock combat operations in the vicinity of islands claimed by China. “Through operations like this, we ensure that we are tactically proficient to meet the challenge of maintaining peace and we are able to continue to show our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific,” was the way Rear Admiral Doug Verissimo, commander of the Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, explained those distinctly belligerent actions.

The Navy has also stepped up its patrols of destroyers in the Taiwan Strait as a way of suggesting that any future Chinese move to invade Taiwan would be met with a powerful military response. Already, since President Biden’s inauguration, the Navy has conducted three such patrols: by the USS John S. McCain on February 4th, the USS Curtis Wilbur on February 24th, and the USS John Finn on March 10th. On each occasion, the Navy insisted that such missions were meant to demonstrate how the U.S. military would “continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Typically, when the U.S. Navy conducts provocative maneuvers of this sort, the Chinese military—the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA—responds by sending out its own ships and planes to challenge the American vessels. This occurs regularly in the South China Sea, whenever the Navy conducts what it calls “freedom of navigation operations,” or FONOPs, in waters near Chinese-claimed (and sometimes Chinese-built) islands, some of which have been converted into small military installations by the PLA. In response, the Chinese often dispatch a ship or ships of its own to escort—to put the matter as politely as possible—the American vessel out of the area. These encounters have sometimes proven exceedingly dangerous, especially when the ships got close enough to pose a risk of collision.

In September 2018, for example, a Chinese destroyer came within 135 feet of the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur on just such a FONOP mission near Gavin Reef in the Spratly Islands, obliging the Decatur to alter course abruptly.  Had it not done so, a collision might have occurred, lives could have been lost, and an incident provoked with unforeseeable consequences. “You are on [a] dangerous course,” the Chinese ship reportedly radioed to the American vessel shortly before the encounter. “If you don’t change course, [you] will suffer consequences.”

What would have transpired had the captain of the Decatur not altered course? On that occasion, the world was lucky: the captain acted swiftly and avoided danger. But what about the next time, with tensions in the South China Sea and around Taiwan at a far higher pitch than in 2018? Such luck might not hold and a collision, or the use of weaponry to avoid it, could trigger immediate military action on either side, followed by a potentially unpredictable escalating cycle of countermoves leading who knows where.

Under such circumstances, a war nobody wanted between the U.S. and China could suddenly erupt essentially by happenstance—a war this planet simply can’t afford. Sadly, the combination of inflammatory rhetoric at a diplomatic level and a propensity for backing up such words with aggressive military actions in highly contested areas still seems to be at the top of the Sino-American agenda.

Chinese and American leaders are now playing a game of chicken that couldn’t be more dangerous for both countries and the planet. Isn’t it time for the new Biden administration and its Chinese opposite to grasp more clearly and deeply that their hostile behaviors and decisions could have unforeseeable and catastrophic consequences? Strident language and provocative military maneuvers—even if only intended as political messaging—could precipitate a calamitous outcome, much in the way equivalent behavior in 1914 triggered the colossal tragedy of World War I.

Russia loads up more nukes: Daniel 7

Russia’s Navy is making a big bet on new, smaller warships loaded with missiles

Benjamin Brimelow Apr 1, 2021, 8:41 AM

The Russian Navy has been busy.

It’s stepping up operations in the Arctic, expanding its presence in Africa and the Middle East, and keeping a close eye on NATO around Europe.

It’s also making progress on a number of high-profile shipbuilding projects. It plans to commission or receive six new submarines — three of them nuclear-powered — by the end of this year and expects to receive a fully modernized Kirov-class nuclear battlecruiser and to begin sea trials for its only aircraft carrier by the end of 2022.

These are impressive advances for a force that largely fell into disrepair after the Cold War. While the Russian Navy isn’t as big as its Soviet forebear, the work shows that the Kremlin is committing to its modernization.

The Soviet Navy was a considerable blue-water force at the end of the Cold War, numbering about 650 ships by 1990. The US Navy had 570 ships in service at that time.

That Soviet fleet included seven aircraft carriers, 73 guided missile cruisers and destroyers, and as many as 260 submarines, though some of those vessels were not combat-capable and were counted to boost the fleet’s numbers.

Russia inherited the bulk of the Soviet fleet after the dissolution of the USSR but couldn’t afford to operate most of it. Moscow maintained a number of the larger, higher-end vessels, but ultimately wrote off 70% of the Soviet ships.

Russia’s Navy went into a period of neglect and dilapidation after the Cold War, with deadly accidents further tarnishing its prestige.

In 2000, the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk exploded and sank, killing all 118 crewmen. In 2016, malfunctions on board its only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, caused the loss of two jets and forced its entire air wing to operate from land.

The carrier continues to face problems during its refit, with multiple accidents resulting in deaths and further damage.

Those incidents underline another critical problem for Russia’s Navy: A lack of expertise and suitable shipyards after nearly two decades of neglect. The loss of access to Ukrainian shipyards and expertise, particularly after Russia’s incursions in Ukraine in 2014, caused further problems.

New ships, new capabilities

Russian Navy frigate Admiral Groshkov launches a Zircon hypersonic cruise missile in the White Sea, October 7, 2020. Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Today, the Russian Navy operates about 360 vessels of all types. Big guided-missile cruisers and destroyers have been largely replaced by smaller warships, such as corvettes and frigates.

Basically, they’re building subs and small surface combatants,” Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Marine Corps colonel, told Insider. “That represents primarily a home-defense force, although they retain some ability to send forces overseas.”

Corvettes like those of the Karakurt and Stereguschiy classes are meant to support larger guided-missile frigates, namely the Admiral Gorshkov-class and Admiral Grigorovich-class.

Many of these ships are smaller in size and armament than their NATO counterparts, but new technology and weaponry, especially the Kalibr cruise missile, which was introduced in 2015, give them an edge.

Comparable to the US-made Tomahawk, the Kalibr can carry a 450 kg warhead to targets 1,500 km to 2,500 km away. The Kalibr has repeatedly proven its worth on Russia’s ships and subs, most notably against land targets in Syria. It can also be used against naval targets.

Basically, they’re building subs and small surface combatants,” Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Marine Corps colonel, told Insider. “That represents primarily a home-defense force, although they retain some ability to send forces overseas.”

Corvettes like those of the Karakurt and Stereguschiy classes are meant to support larger guided-missile frigates, namely the Admiral Gorshkov-class and Admiral Grigorovich-class.

Many of these ships are smaller in size and armament than their NATO counterparts, but new technology and weaponry, especially the Kalibr cruise missile, which was introduced in 2015, give them an edge.

Comparable to the US-made Tomahawk, the Kalibr can carry a 450 kg warhead to targets 1,500 km to 2,500 km away. The Kalibr has repeatedly proven its worth on Russia’s ships and subs, most notably against land targets in Syria. It can also be used against naval targets.

Russian military strategists also see submarines as among the best weapons to defeat the US Navy. For their part, US Navy officers have taken note of the Russian submarine fleet’s expanding capabilities.

The submarine fleet of the future will be based around Borei-class SSBNs and Yasen-class SSGNs, which are slowly replacing their predecessors. Built after the Cold War, they are considered the best submarines Russia has ever made and first-rate vessels on par with their NATO counterparts.

Borei-class subs have six torpedo tubes and carries 16 new RSM-56 Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Each missile carries six to 10 150-kiloton nuclear warheads and can travel some 8,000 km.

Yasen-class subs have 10 torpedo tubes and eight vertical missile launchers, allowing the launch of 32 Kalibr or 24 P-800 Oniks anti-ship missiles. The Yasen-class has already proven it is able to evade NATO

Russia has four Borei SSBNs and one Yasen SSGN in service. It hopes to have 10 Boreis and at least nine Yasens by 2030.

A new Russian military

Russian frigate Admiral Makarov in the Black Sea near Feodosia in Crimea, November 28, 2020. Sergei Malgavko\TASS via Getty Images

The Russian Navy is currently outfitting all its ships with Kalibr missiles and plans to put the Zircon hypersonic missile, which is still being tested, on both submarines and surface ships. The Zircon, capable of reaching speeds up to Mach 8, will further enhance the fleet.

The new investments and developments are just one part of a broader effort to modernize the Russian military.

“There was this tremendous reckoning after the disappointing showing of the Russian military against Georgia in 2008, and the Russian military has gone through a huge reorganization,” Cancian said.

The Russians have slimmed down their force with the intention to make it a higher-quality, more professional force with more modern equipment.

For the Navy, this has meant restructuring the fleet, focusing on quality over quantity to the extent allowed by budgets and ship-building capability. With new weaponry, the fleet now has a larger and more important role in Russia’s defense strategy.

“In a certain sense, the Navy is now more integrated into Russia’s strategic framework that they refer to as ‘strategic deterrence,'” Edmonds said, noting that the threat from Kalibr-equipped warships enables Russia to threaten critical infrastructure across virtually all of Europe.

There are serious obstacles — the lack of expertise and infrastructure are major challenges to shipbuilding — but Russia is committed to overcoming them. Its Navy is not likely to reach the size of the Soviet fleet, but recent developments show that it is no longer the dilapidated force it was in the 1990s.

“The gears might be turning slowly, but they are turning again,” Edmonds said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2019. “They’re getting there.”

Antichrist: PM Al Kadhimi’s visit to Saudi Arabia will bring Iraq ‘out of isolation’

Sadr: PM Al Kadhimi’s visit to Saudi Arabia will bring Iraq ‘out of isolation’

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi performs Umrah at the Grand Mosque complex in the holy city of Makkah on April 1, 2021. Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi’s trip to Saudi Arabia will allow the country to restore ties with its Arab counterparts, influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said on Thursday.

After former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia, along with many countries in the region and the wider world, severed ties with Iraq.

Baghdad has been working to restore regional ties since the US-led invasion of 2003.

“I’m looking at my brother Al Kadhimi’s visit to Saudi Arabia with eyes of hope,” Mr Al Sadr said on Twitter.

Mr Al Sadr commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern cities and was once the leader of a powerful militia who fought against American forces stationed in Iraq.

Iraq lies on the fault line between the Shiite Muslim power Iran and the Sunni-ruled countries that are Tehran’s regional rivals, among them Saudi Arabia.

“It is a door that takes Iraq out of isolation from its historical Arab environment, hoping that it will be a visit of friendship and partnership in various fields and an end to conflicts and crises,” he said.

Mr Al Sadr made a rare visit to Saudi Arabia in 2017, where he met Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials.

It was seen by experts and officials as a significant development for regional stability and countering Iran’s expansionism in the region.

Since 2003, successive US administrations have pushed for more Saudi engagement with the new Iraqi government, which Baghdad embraced by maintaining good ties with Riyadh and Tehran.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq have improved since Riyadh reopened its embassy in Baghdad in late 2015.

The kingdom has taken a more proactive role in regional policy, building stronger ties with Iraqi leaders has become a priority to limit Iran’s influence in the country, where it has ties to Shiite groups that have dominated Iraqi politics since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Mr Al Sadr rose to prominence as a firebrand who led militias against US troops in Iraq who were seen as backed by Iran, but his ties to Tehran have been ambiguous.

Mr Al Kadhimi’s first trip abroad as leader last year was to Iran, shortly after he visited the US.

He was scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia in his first foreign trip as prime minister last July, but the visit was cancelled at the last minute when King Salman had an operation to remove a gall bladder.

The Iraqi leader began his visit to the kingdom on Wednesday where he was received at Riyadh’s international airport by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Iraq and Saudi Arabia agreed to set up a $3bn fund to boost the private sector in Iraq.

Updated: April 1, 2021 05:04 PM

Israeli forces push deep outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Israeli forces push deep into Deir al-Balah in Gaza

[31-03-2021 11:12 AM]

Ammon News – Israeli occupation forces on Wednesday made an incursion into east of Deir al-Balah town in the central Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian sources.

The sources said that the occupation troops, backed by military vehicles and bulldozers, pushed dozens of meters into the area and razed the Palestinian-owned lands.