Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating EarthquakeRoger BilhamGiven recent seismic activity — political as well as geological — it’s perhaps unsurprising that two books on earthquakes have arrived this season. One is as elegant as the score of a Beethoven symphony; the other resembles a diary of conversations overheard during a rock concert. Both are interesting, and both relate recent history to a shaky future.Journalist Kathryn Miles’s Quakeland is a litany of bad things that happen when you provoke Earth to release its invisible but ubiquitous store of seismic-strain energy, either by removing fluids (oil, water, gas) or by adding them in copious quantities (when extracting shale gas in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or when injecting contaminated water or building reservoirs). To complete the picture, she describes at length the bad things that happen during unprovoked natural earthquakes. As its subtitle hints, the book takes the form of a road trip to visit seismic disasters both past and potential, and seismologists and earthquake engineers who have first-hand knowledge of them. Their colourful personalities, opinions and prejudices tell a story of scientific discovery and engineering remedy.Miles poses some important societal questions. Aside from human intervention potentially triggering a really damaging earthquake, what is it actually like to live in neighbourhoods jolted daily by magnitude 1–3 earthquakes, or the occasional magnitude 5? Are these bumps in the night acceptable? And how can industries that perturb the highly stressed rocks beneath our feet deny obvious cause and effect? In 2015, the Oklahoma Geological Survey conceded that a quadrupling of the rate of magnitude-3 or more earthquakes in recent years, coinciding with a rise in fracking, was unlikely to represent a natural process. Miles does not take sides, but it’s difficult for the reader not to.She visits New York City, marvelling at subway tunnels and unreinforced masonry almost certainly scheduled for destruction by the next moderate earthquake in the vicinity. She considers the perils of nuclear-waste storage in Nevada and Texas, and ponders the risks to Idaho miners of rock bursts — spontaneous fracture of the working face when the restraints of many million years of confinement are mined away. She contemplates the ups and downs of the Yellowstone Caldera — North America’s very own mid-continent supervolcano — and its magnificently uncertain future. Miles also touches on geothermal power plants in southern California’s Salton Sea and elsewhere; the vast US network of crumbling bridges, dams and oil-storage farms; and the magnitude 7–9 earthquakes that could hit California and the Cascadia coastline of Oregon and Washington state this century. Amid all this doom, a new elementary school on the coast near Westport, Washington, vulnerable to inbound tsunamis, is offered as a note of optimism. With foresight and much persuasion from its head teacher, it was engineered to become an elevated safe haven.Miles briefly discusses earthquake prediction and the perils of getting it wrong (embarrassment in New Madrid, Missouri, where a quake was predicted but never materialized; prison in L’Aquila, Italy, where scientists failed to foresee a devastating seismic event) and the successes of early-warning systems, with which electronic alerts can be issued ahead of damaging seismic waves. Yes, it’s a lot to digest, but most of the book obeys the laws of physics, and it is a engaging read. One just can’t help wishing that Miles’s road trips had taken her somewhere that wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.Catastrophic damage in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1964, caused by the second-largest earthquake in the global instrumental record.In The Great Quake, journalist Henry Fountain provides us with a forthright and timely reminder of the startling historical consequences of North America’s largest known earthquake, which more than half a century ago devastated southern Alaska. With its epicentre in Prince William Sound, the 1964 quake reached magnitude 9.2, the second largest in the global instrumental record. It released more energy than either the 2004 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off Japan; and it generated almost as many pages of scientific commentary and description as aftershocks. Yet it has been forgotten by many.The quake was scientifically important because it occurred at a time when plate tectonics was in transition from hypothesis to theory. Fountain expertly traces the theory’s historical development, and how the Alaska earthquake was pivotal in nailing down one of the most important predictions. The earthquake caused a fjordland region larger than England to subside, and a similarly huge region of islands offshore to rise by many metres; but its scientific implications were not obvious at the time. Eminent seismologists thought that a vertical fault had slipped, drowning forests and coastlines to its north and raising beaches and islands to its south. But this kind of fault should have reached the surface, and extended deep into Earth’s mantle. There was no geological evidence of a monster surface fault separating these two regions, nor any evidence for excessively deep aftershocks. The landslides and liquefied soils that collapsed houses, and the tsunami that severely damaged ports and infrastructure, offered no clues to the cause.“Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about present-day vulnerability.” The hero of The Great Quake is the geologist George Plafker, who painstakingly mapped the height reached by barnacles lifted out of the intertidal zone along shorelines raised by the earthquake, and documented the depths of drowned forests. He deduced that the region of subsidence was the surface manifestation of previously compressed rocks springing apart, driving parts of Alaska up and southwards over the Pacific Plate. His finding confirmed a prediction of plate tectonics, that the leading edge of the Pacific Plate plunged beneath the southern edge of Alaska along a gently dipping thrust fault. That observation, once fully appreciated, was applauded by the geophysics community.Fountain tells this story through the testimony of survivors, engineers and scientists, interweaving it with the fascinating history of Alaska, from early discovery by Europeans to purchase from Russia by the United States in 1867, and its recent development. Were the quake to occur now, it is not difficult to envisage that with increased infrastructure and larger populations, the death toll and price tag would be two orders of magnitude larger than the 139 fatalities and US$300-million economic cost recorded in 1964.What is clear from these two books is that seismicity on the North American continent is guaranteed to deliver surprises, along with unprecedented economic and human losses. Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about the present-day vulnerability of US infrastructure and populations. Engineers and seismologists know how to mitigate the effects of future earthquakes (and, in mid-continent, would advise against the reckless injection of waste fluids known to trigger earthquakes). It is merely a matter of persuading city planners and politicians that if they are tempted to ignore the certainty of the continent’s seismic past, they should err on the side of caution when considering its seismic future.
Amid stiffening military competition between Beijing and Washington, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is enhancing its ability to strike the United States mainland with submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
The Type 094A, or modified Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), was showcased late last month as part of a celebration marking PLAN’s 72nd anniversary, according to a report by the South China Morning Post. At least two such variants were commissioned in 2020, bringing the total number of Jin-class submarines to six. The Type 094A revision brings sonar and radar upgrades, improved acoustics performance, and an expanded armament suite.
“The Type 094A is an upgraded version of the Type 094 that overcame one of the key problems—noise—by improving hydrokinetic and turbulent systems, allowing it to carry the more powerful JL-3,” a defense insider source told the South China Morning Post. The JL-3, or Julang, SLBM reportedly has a range of over ten thousand kilometers and can support multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) payloads. The JL-3 will also be featured on the Type 096, the upcoming successor to the Jin-class. Fully fitting the Type 096 class with the JL-3 could take years, with defense sources estimating that the process could drag out into the mid 2020’s. “Before the upgrade, the submarine was armed with the inferior JL-2 that could only hit the northeast United States, but now it’s able to cover the whole American continent,” the source added. The Type 094 platform can reportedly carry up to sixteen 16 JL-3 missiles, while the next-generation Type 096 submarines will support up to twenty-four of these SLBM’s. “The new SLBM with MIRVs with a firing range over 10,000 kilometers is the basic technical requirement for an upgraded Type 094 SSBN to cause nuclear deterrence,” Former PLA instructor Song Zhongping told the South China Morning Post. “China promises not to use a nuke first but a powerful SSBN fleet will help the PLA strengthen their second-strike power against rivals.”
Like their Russian Cold War-era counterparts, China’s second-generation SSBNs have lagged behind U.S. submarines in noise generation and detectability. The Type 094A revision is PLAN’s next major attempt to remedy this problem, though the full extent of improvements it brings over the original Type 094 platform remains unclear.
As with its other submarine categories, PLAN has been making large investments to field a modernized SSBN force into the coming decades. There are six Type 094 submarines, with two more planned units to make for a total of eight. At least one 1980s-era Type 092 “Xia” class submarine, armed with the older and less capable JL-1A SLBM’s, will remain in service until it is phased out by additional Type 094A models. As many as six Type 096 submarines are currently planned, with construction work to begin in the early 2021s. Beijing is likewise forging ahead with an ambitious plan to field a total of six aircraft carriers, supported by a coterie of new advanced destroyers, by 2035.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.
May 05, 2021
“Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order”
By Kathryn E. Stoner
Oxford University Press, February 2021Russia Rescurrected by Kathryn Stoner
As the U.S.-Russian relationship has become increasingly adversarial, Russia’s power and behavior have drawn increasing attention from policymakers, journalists and scholars. This has in turn fueled discussion and debate surrounding Russia’s capabilities and its government’s aims. Stanford University scholar Kathryn E. Stoner seeks to contribute to this important national conversation in her new book “Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order.” Notwithstanding useful contributions to understanding Russia’s new strength, the book falls short in explaining when and why Russia employs its power.
Stoner contends that Russia is in fact more powerful than it may appear if one relies on what she terms “traditional means of power”—counts of “men, money and material”—and that the principal driver of Russia’s foreign policy is “a patronalist autocracy that has an interest in maintaining the domestic status quo.” First, Stoner asserts, power is relational; it depends on the state exercising power and its target. Second, she adds, to measure power, analysts must assess it across three dimensions: policy scope (specific issues across which Russia’s behavior affects others), geographic domain (specific places where Russia seeks to exercise its power) and means (specific capabilities available to Russia). She overlays two cross-cutting factors onto policy scope and geographic domain: the concepts of weight (the likely effectiveness of Russian efforts) and costs (to Russia, and to its target in complying or resisting). Finally, Stoner notes, power can be actual or potential. For example, she describes nuclear weapons as an example of “power in potential.”
Stoner assesses policy scope and geographic domain—as well as weight and costs—in qualitative terms but applies quantitative measures to means, with some supporting qualitative evaluation. While engaging, the scope and domain narrative can make it difficult for the reader to draw systematic conclusions about Russia’s relative power or priorities across issues and regions. The book’s survey of Russia’s means has some shortcomings too, most notably in providing international context for Moscow’s rearmament.
Examining Russia’s motives, Stoner writes that the country’s national interests are less important in understanding its conduct than are the domestic political needs of its corrupt authoritarian government. “Under Vladimir Putin’s regime,” she states, “Russian power has been used not merely or even primarily in the service of national interests…but also in service of preserving his own corrupt regime. That is, in order to continue to govern at home, the regime that has developed under Vladimir Putin has needed to project its power abroad.” “Russia Resurrected” defines public opposition to Putin’s third presidential term (2012-2018) as a primary force behind this. While Stoner devotes considerably less space to this argument, which she introduces in the book’s first chapter and articulates fully in the final chapter, it is more consequential for analysts and policymakers. Her case relies substantially on a flawed and incomplete account of Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and subsequent military intervention in eastern Ukraine.
Stoner’s effort to measure Russia’s power comprises the bulk of “Russia Resurrected” and provides a generally helpful overview of the country’s capabilities despite its limitations. (Russia Matters produced a useful quantitative assessment of Russian power in 2018.) Though Russia’s seizure of Crimea, its intervention in Syria and its interference in America’s and other countries’ political systems forced observers to reassess Moscow’s geopolitical heft several years ago, Stoner’s analytical framework for evaluating Russian power is logical and coherent.
Two limitations in Stoner’s six chapters on Russia’s power are an occasional tendency toward inflating the dangers that Russia poses and some significant omissions related to Russia’s nuclear weapons and conventional military. In the former category, for example, Stoner closes a short section on Latin America with a somewhat alarmist 2018 statement by the commander of the U.S. military’s Southern Command—someone with a demonstrable bureaucratic and budgetary incentive to express such worries. The extensive discussion of nuclear weapons and some of Russia’s new weapons systems does not adequately pursue Russia’s stated concerns about U.S. missile defense and global strike capabilities (which are critical in understanding Russia’s perspective on the U.S.-Russian nuclear deterrence relationship) or the manner in which Russia’s nuclear deterrence of the United States both guarantees the country’s security and facilitates its assertive use of its conventional armed forces.
Similarly, Russia’s far-reaching conventional military modernization has not occurred in a vacuum but in the context of NATO’s eastward expansion and the rapid growth and transformation of China’s military. In this context, Stoner’s presentation of total active and reserve military personnel in Russia, the United States and other countries is somewhat misleading; setting aside the relative quality of their equipment and training, America has employed its reserves and National Guard extensively over the last two decades. Russia’s reserves are far less capable than its active duty troops or their U.S. counterparts.
Despite its contributions in measuring Russia’s power, “Russia Resurrected” has two critical flaws in explaining its uses. The first is its concentration on academic rather than practical debates regarding Russia’s motives; the second is a selective reading of history in attempting to marshal evidence for its argument that the needs of Russia’s patronalist political system explain its foreign policy more accurately than “national interests.”
First, in pursuing theoretical explanations for Russia’s foreign policy, Stoner focuses excessively on a critique of realist international relations scholars like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. This limits the value of Stoner’s argument, in that many non-academic realists (and some academic realists) readily acknowledge that Russia’s corrupt political system affects how top leaders define the country’s national interests and that senior officials often pursue private rather than public interests.
More seriously, even as Stoner advances a sophisticated multi-dimensional framework for measuring Russia’s power, calling on others to consider policy scope, geographic domain and means, she fails to address whether a similar multi-dimensional framework could be appropriate in measuring inputs into the country’s foreign policy decision-making. Might national interests have greater influence over policy in some geographic and functional areas while the needs of Russia’s leaders and elites more influential, or more easily pursued, in others? What factors could contribute to or weaken these two drivers as Vladimir Putin makes concrete decisions? Do non-patronalist domestic goals shape Russian foreign policy decisions, such as efforts to save or protect jobs? Or do such concerns matter strictly for their political effects, with no little or no separate role for economic imperatives beyond personal enrichment?
Rather than trying to answer harder questions like these, Stoner sets herself an easy task in stating that her final chapter argues that “it is unlikely that another leader [other than Putin] would have responded to the set of problems facing the country in precisely the same way.” Who could possibly disagree with the assertion that another leader would not handle Russia’s foreign policy exactly as Russia’s current president has? Only Putin is Putin.
The second flaw in the book’s attempt to explain Russian conduct is that Stoner privileges some historical events and misses others or, alternatively, avoids key aspects of the events she describes. This is especially problematic in the book’s limited exploration of the 1990s and in its discussion of NATO enlargement and Russia’s policy toward Ukraine, including its seizure of Crimea and later intervention.
Stoner does not explore Boris Yeltsin’s growing authoritarianism and patronalism or his turn toward an increasingly assertive foreign policy during the late 1990s. Indeed, “Russia Resurrected” explicitly refers to the Russian president’s powers under the country’s constitution and Yeltsin’s political battles with Russia’s parliament without acknowledging that Yeltsin rewrote the constitution to secure those powers after forcibly disbanding the Supreme Soviet in October 1993. This was a decisive event not only in showing Yeltsin’s authoritarian side, but in facilitating Russia’s corrupt privatization processes and empowering Yetsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin. Yeltsin simultaneously created public demand for a war on Russia’s oligarchs and gave Putin the tools to wage it. Some expressed concern about Putin’s handling of corruption when he became acting president following Yeltsin’s resignation.
Stoner likewise does not study events signaling Yeltsin’s frustration with Russian-Western relations. Two notable developments were his decision to fire Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev and to appoint the harder-line Yevgeny Primakov, whom he eventually made prime minister, and his disagreements with the United States and its allies over the conflicts in former Yugoslavia. These omissions are especially unusual in that someone less determined to establish Vladimir Putin’s uniqueness, and that Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012 was a turning point, could have used them to argue that an authoritarian and corrupt Yeltsin responded to flagging public support with a less vigorous version of Putin’s later hard line.
The book’s discussion of NATO enlargement and its connection to Russia’s 2014 occupation of Crimea and semi-covert war in eastern Ukraine is similarly selective. With respect to NATO enlargement, “Russia Resurrected” evades the fact that Central European nations (including Ukraine) sought NATO membership largely due to their historically justifiable fear of Russia, and that the United States and other NATO members used this fear as leverage to press governments to liberalize their political systems as a prerequisite to and step toward membership. Washington’s well-established aims in this were to consolidate its Cold War triumph, to expand democratic governance in Europe and to hedge against Russia’s uncertain trajectory. This U.S. and NATO approach has worked less well in Ukraine because it had a large Russian minority that did not fear Moscow in the way that other regional populations did and thereby weakened efforts to define a national consensus favoring membership. More important for Stoner’s argument, untangling Russia’s opposition to NATO enlargement from its efforts to undermine democratization is not as easy as she suggests.
Stoner’s search for a defining moment in Putin’s 2012 return to the presidency—which was an important event, to be sure—is also a problem in her arguments about NATO enlargement. She appropriately cites NATO’s 2008 Budapest Summit declaration, which said that Georgia and Ukraine “will become” NATO members, as a source of concern to Russia. Yet Stoner later asserts that because Medvedev was able to cooperate with Obama on some issues, no new countries joined NATO between 2009 (Albania and Croatia) and 2014, and NATO membership had not been “a politically palatable subject in Ukraine…for a number of years,” Russia’s “grievance narrative” around Ukraine’s potential alliance membership could not be a valid explanation for Moscow’s behavior. This argument ignores both that NATO membership remained stated U.S. and NATO policy as well as the 2014 revolution in Ukraine, which most reasonable observers expected could change Kyiv’s politics, government and policy.
“Russia Resurrected” seems to argue that since Russia’s Ukraine policy didn’t work in pursuing realist objectives but did work to get Putin re-elected in 2018, the latter must be a superior explanation of Putin’s aim. This fails to account for three important (non-exclusive) possibilities: that Putin had realist objectives other than those Stoner formulates, that he underestimated the costs of his policy and overestimated what was possible in the Donbass and that domestic political gains were an expected benefit rather than a driver of policy.
For example, on the first point, Stoner claims that “if we had understood Ukraine purely as a reactive move in defense of national interests, designed to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and the EU, then it could be considered an abject failure.” Yet Ukraine has not joined the EU—it is associated, not a member, and seems unlikely to satisfy EU membership criteria while engaged in an ongoing (or frozen) conflict. Ukraine likewise appears further from NATO membership today than in 2014, in that it is a party to an unresolved territorial dispute with Russia over Crimea. The alliance has insisted that other post-Cold War aspirants resolve such disputes prior to membership, something that seems implausible so long as Putin remains in office and that is likely to be quite difficult afterward. More important for Alliance politics, those disputes were primarily among aspiring members (like Hungary and Romania) rather than with Russia.
The fundamental weakness in Stoner’s argument is that “Russia Resurrected” does not articulate a persuasive mechanism that requires Putin to select an aggressive foreign policy among his available responses to the 2012 protests or other domestic political problems.
One alternative option in 2012 could have been Putin’s approach to consolidating power in the early 2000s, that is, to wage internal political battles against unpopular opponents. Stoner refers to the Russian government’s energetic prosecution of Pussy Riot following the group’s controversial 2012 protest in Moscow’s Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior; why did Putin not do more of that, without the risks of armed conflict and Western sanctions? In a variant of this, Putin could have pursued populist economic policies and targeted pressure on Russia’s oligarchs to do more for workers, in the spirit of his public humiliation of Oleg Deripaska in 2009 following protests over unpaid wages. “Russia Resurrected” ultimately fails because it attempts to explain Russia’s behavior without setting out a rigorous model of leadership decision-making. The book works backward from outcomes to explanation rather than forward from drivers (whether political or otherwise) to decisions.
Understanding Russia’s power and the Russian leadership’s goals is a necessary task in formulating effective policy. Moreover, as Russia has become considerably more powerful over the last two decades, the stakes in accurately discerning the Kremlin’s motives have become commensurately higher. If “Russia Resurrected” approached these challenges with more care, discipline and nuance, it could have been an important work.
Washington’s ultimate goal is to reduce American military presence in the Middle East significantly, and it is unwilling to invest the time and effort required to do so responsibly.
When it comes to Iran, Israel and the United States are engaged in a peculiar discourse. On the one hand, politeness is there, so is goodwill and an open discussion. On the other, their culturally and strategically different perspectives make it impossible for the two to get down to the core issue.
There is a profound difference between a superpower whose global considerations and history of mistakes in the Middle East do not impact its national security and a country situated in the very heart of a hostile and violent region that faces an existential threat.
US President Joe Biden wants to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state. He is even concerned with the regime’s terrorist activities and quest for regional hegemony. However, his main goal is to reduce American military presence in the Middle East significantly, and he is unwilling to invest the time and effort required to do so responsibly.
In order to stand up to the Chinese threat, Biden needs as many resources as possible, and he is looking to get those resources out of the Middle East.
The 2015 nuclear deal, which the current administration is eager to rejoin, bodes well for Iran but much less so for Israel and other Arab states that have been hurt by the Iranian regime. What we need is an economically and strategically depleted Tehran, which struggles to fund Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, its militias in Syria and Iraq, nuclear projects, advanced military developments, and global network of terrorists.
With his eagerness to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Biden is giving up his bargaining chips and leverages. Iran aims to become a nuclear threshold state to guarantee its own immunity and ability to countermeasure any attempts of thwarting its regional aspirations. Hegemony is the goal; nuclear weapons are the means.
In a way, Biden has already given the Iranians most of what they were looking for: he signaled to them and to the entire world that with its provocations, Tehran has succeeded in forcing him to rescind the sanctions imposed by the former president. With its conduct, the Biden administration has made it clear that it needs the nuclear deal more than Iran.
Tehran has already achieved some of its nuclear goals: it is clear that Washington is turning a cold shoulder and punishing the Saudis, encouraging Iran’s Houthi envoys, and insists on rejoining the JCPOA without addressing Israel’s primary concerns.
Biden has made a choice to come to terms with Iran’s gradual progress to becoming a nuclear threshold state. After Tehran succeeded in bringing the US president to the negotiating table on its own terms, it now knows how to take advantage of his eagerness for its own benefit.
The Israel Police and Border Police dispersed rioters in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood after they hurled stones and bottles at them.
(May 4, 2021 / JNS)
A view of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. In the background is the city center. Credit: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons.
A view of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. In the background is the city center. Credit: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons.
The commander of Hamas’s military wing issued a rare direct statement on Tuesday, warning Israel that it would pay a “heavy price” if it did not cease its activities in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Muhammad Deif, head of the Al-Qassam Brigades, said he “saluted our steadfast people in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in occupied Jerusalem,” adding that “the leadership of the resistance is closely following developments,” reported Maariv.
On Monday, the Israel Police and Border Police dispersed tens of rioters after they hurled stones and bottles at police there and blocked a road. Police first requested the protesters to leave the area and declared the protest illegal, according to the Hebrew-language newspaper.
Police resorted to riot-dispersal means after the request was reportedly ignored, arresting two people.
“We are sending a final, clear warning to the occupation that if the aggression against our people does not cease immediately in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, we will not sit passively, and the enemy will pay a heavy price,” said Deif.
Deif was the target of an Israeli assassination attempt during the 2014 summer war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that killed his wife and two of his children.
He has commanded the Al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza since the 1990s and orchestrated a series of terrorist attacks on Israelis. Deif also oversaw Hamas’s armament program, its tunnel project and attempts to kidnap Israelis and use them as bargaining chips to secure the release of Palestinian security prisoners.
2 rockets fall on unoccupied part of Ain al-Asad airbase without causing damage or casualties, Iraqi army says; none of strikes during US delegation’s visit have been claimed
By AFP4 May 2021, 6:10 pm
Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq, December 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)
The Iraqi army said two rockets were fired Tuesday at a base hosting Americans, in the third such attack in three days and as a US government delegation is visiting the country.
The two rockets fell on an unoccupied segment of the Ain al-Asad airbase, “without causing damage or casualties,” the army said.
The latest rocket attack follows one against an airbase at Baghdad airport housing US-led coalition troops on Sunday night, and another against Balad airbase, which hosts US contractors, north of the capital on Monday night.
None of the attacks have so far been claimed, but Washington routinely blames Iran-linked Iraqi factions for such attacks on its troops and diplomats.
Pro-Iran Iraqi groups have vowed to ramp up attacks to force out the “occupying” US forces in recent months, sometimes against Tehran’s wishes, according to some experts.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, perceived by pro-Iran factions as too close to Washington, on Tuesday discussed the presence of 2,500 US soldiers based in Iraq with US envoy Brett McGurk.
The men know each other well — Kadhemi, in his role as head of intelligence, a position he retains to this day, worked closely with McGurk when he was the US-led coalition’s representative.
The military coalition was set up to fight the Islamic State jihadist group, which seized control of a third of Iraq in a lightning 2014 offensive.
Iraq declared victory against the jihadists in late 2017 and pressure from Shiite public opinion for the US to withdraw all its troops has mounted in the years since.
Kadhemi and McGurk are working on drawing up a timetable for the “withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq,” according to a statement by the prime minister’s office.
Around 30 rocket or bomb attacks have targeted American interests in Iraq — including troops, the embassy or Iraqi supply convoys to foreign forces — since US President Joe Biden took office in January.
Two foreign contractors, one Iraqi contractor and eight Iraqi civilians have been killed in the attacks.
Last month, an explosives-packed drone slammed into Iraq’s Arbil airport in the first reported use of such a weapon against a base used by US-led coalition troops in the country, according to officials.
Dozens of other attacks were carried out in Iraq from autumn 2019 during the administration of Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump. The operations are sometimes claimed by obscure groups that experts say are smokescreens for Iran-backed organizations long present in Iraq.
The rocket attacks come at a sensitive time as Tehran is engaged in talks with world powers aimed at bringing the US back into a 2015 nuclear deal. The agreement, which curbs Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, has been on life support since Trump withdrew in 2018.
A drive-by shooting in the West Bank was likely unorganized, though the terror group that runs Gaza is seeking to leverage recent tensions to pressure both the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
By Yaakov Lappin(May 4, 2021 / JNS)
As Israeli security forces pursue the perpetrator of the drive-by shooting at the Tapuach Junction near Ariel in the West Bank on Sunday, they are also working to deny Hamas the opportunity of sparking a new wave of violence.
Sunday’s attack injured three Israeli civilians waiting at a bus stop in a shooting that was likely an unorganized terror attack. Recent clashes in Jerusalem and inflammable religious themes that surfaced during the Ramadan holiday may have played a role in triggering the gunman. As the Israel Defense Forces pursues the terrorist, it is also working to prevent copycat attackers from following suit.
This, the group hopes, will result in pressure not only against Israel but its rival, the Palestinian Authority, which in recent days has denied Hamas the opportunity to take over the West Bank through elections by calling them off. The P.A. conveniently blamed Israel for the cancellation, citing an inability to hold the vote in eastern Jerusalem.
Hamas is in the middle of an intense propaganda and incitement effort to encourage a new wave of violence in the West Bank.
To regain control of events, the Israeli defense establishment responded quickly. In the past three days, it has been conducting a major pursuit of the terrorist, together with the Shin Bet intelligence agency and the Israel Police, while actively working to prevent copycat attackers.
Judging by past pursuits, Israel is highly likely to catch up with the perpetrator sooner or later. The IDF apprehended a number of Palestinian suspects early on Tuesday in the context of the manhunt, while also capturing a vehicle it said was used in the attack, which was torched in the village of Aqraba, southeast of Nablus. Large numbers of units are taking part in the pursuit.
At the same time, the IDF is keeping a larger strategic objective in mind: maintaining stability. This is being achieved by conducting the search with sensitivity and with the minimum level of friction with the general Palestinian civilian population.
A string of upcoming holidays adds to tensions
The coming days are filled with holidays that can help pour fuel on the flames—the same flames that the IDF is working to extinguish. The continuation of Ramadan, with its closed stores and evening schedules, Jerusalem Day and the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, both of which occur next week, mean that many sensitive days are around the corner. Hamas would like to use these days to trigger an explosion of violence; Israel’s objective is to prevent that from happening.
Hamas’s efforts are not limited to incitement. It and fellow terror groups work around the clock to orchestrate cells and send them on attacks, though these almost always run into Israel’s wall of preventive action.
In 2020, the Shin Bet foiled 430 terror attacks, including 283 shootings, 70 stabbings, 10 vehicle-rammings, 62 bombings and five kidnapping plots.
The threat of organized and unorganized terror forms a double challenge for security forces, and recent incidents are a reminder that the routine of relative calm is far from being a given.
Meanwhile, the IDF is studying the Sunday shooting to see what lessons it can learn to improve future responses. According to the preliminary IDF inquiry, three Givati Brigade reconnaissance unit soldiers returned fire at the terrorist, striking his vehicle but missing the gunman.
Addressing the findings, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who visited the scene of the attack on Monday, said, “The response to the event was good, but the results were not good enough. We would have liked a different result—that one of the seven bullets fired had killed the terrorist.”
Kochavi added that “the IDF is doing everything necessary to protect our citizens and ensure stability during a volatile and challenging period. We have reinforced troops in the area and will continue to operate to thwart terrorism.”