East Coast Still Unprepared For The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

East Coast Earthquake Preparedness
By By BEN NUCKOLS
Posted: 08/25/2011 8:43 am EDT
WASHINGTON — There were cracks in the Washington Monument and broken capstones at the National Cathedral. In the District of Columbia suburbs, some people stayed in shelters because of structural concerns at their apartment buildings.
A day after the East Coast’s strongest earthquake in 67 years, inspectors assessed the damage and found that most problems were minor. But the shaking raised questions about whether this part of the country, with its older architecture and inexperience with seismic activity, is prepared for a truly powerful quake.
The 5.8 magnitude quake felt from Georgia north to Canada prompted swift inspections of many structures Wednesday, including bridges and nuclear plants. An accurate damage estimate could take weeks, if not longer. And many people will not be covered by insurance.
In a small Virginia city near the epicenter, the entire downtown business district was closed. School was canceled for two weeks to give engineers time to check out cracks in several buildings.
At the 555-foot Washington Monument, inspectors found several cracks in the pyramidion – the section at the top of the obelisk where it begins narrowing to a point.
A 4-foot crack was discovered Tuesday during a visual inspection by helicopter. It cannot be seen from the ground. Late Wednesday, the National Park Service announced that structural engineers had found several additional cracks inside the top of the monument.
Carol Johnson, a park service spokeswoman, could not say how many cracks were found but said three or four of them were “significant.” Two structural engineering firms that specialize in assessing earthquake damage were being brought in to conduct a more thorough inspection on Thursday.
The monument, by far the tallest structure in the nation’s capital, was to remain closed indefinitely, and Johnson said the additional cracks mean repairs are likely to take longer. It has never been damaged by a natural disaster, including earthquakes in Virginia in 1897 and New York in 1944.
Tourists arrived at the monument Wednesday morning only to find out they couldn’t get near it. A temporary fence was erected in a wide circle about 120 feet from the flags that surround its base. Walkways were blocked by metal barriers manned by security guards.
“Is it really closed?” a man asked the clerk at the site’s bookstore.
“It’s really closed,” said the clerk, Erin Nolan. Advance tickets were available for purchase, but she cautioned against buying them because it’s not clear when the monument will open.
“This is pretty much all I’m going to be doing today,” Nolan said.
Tuesday’s quake was centered about 40 miles northwest of Richmond, 90 miles south of Washington and 3.7 miles underground. In the nearby town of Mineral, Va., Michael Leman knew his Main Street Plumbing & Electrical Supply business would need – at best – serious and expensive repairs.
At worst, it could be condemned. The facade had become detached from the rest of the building, and daylight was visible through a 4- to 6-inch gap that opened between the front wall and ceiling.
“We’re definitely going to open back up,” Leman said. “I’ve got people’s jobs to look out for.”
Leman said he is insured, but some property owners might not be so lucky.
The Insurance Information Institute said earthquakes are not covered under standard U.S. homeowners or business insurance policies, although supplemental coverage is usually available.
The institute says coverage for other damage that may result from earthquakes, such as fire and water damage from burst gas or water pipes, is provided by standard homeowners and business insurance policies in most states. Cars and other vehicles with comprehensive insurance would also be protected.
The U.S. Geological Survey classified the quake as Alert Level Orange, the second-most serious category on its four-level scale. Earthquakes in that range lead to estimated losses between $100 million and $1 billion.
In Culpeper, Va., about 35 miles from the epicenter, walls had buckled at the old sanctuary at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which was constructed in 1821 and drew worshippers including Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart. Heavy stone ornaments atop a pillar at the gate were shaken to the ground. A chimney from the old Culpeper Baptist Church built in 1894 also tumbled down.
At the Washington National Cathedral, spokesman Richard Weinberg said the building’s overall structure remains sound and damage was limited to “decorative elements.”
Massive stones atop three of the four spires on the building’s central tower broke off, crashing onto the roof. At least one of the spires is teetering badly, and cracks have appeared in some flying buttresses.
Repairs were expected to cost millions of dollars – an expense not covered by insurance.
“Every single portion of the exterior is carved by hand, so everything broken off is a piece of art,” Weinberg said. “It’s not just the labor, but the artistry of replicating what was once there.”
The building will remain closed as a precaution. Services to dedicate the memorial honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were moved.
Other major cities along the East Coast that felt the shaking tried to gauge the risk from another quake.
A few hours after briefly evacuating New York City Hall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city’s newer buildings could withstand a more serious earthquake. But, he added, questions remain about the older buildings that are common in a metropolis founded hundreds of years ago.
“We think that the design standards of today are sufficient against any eventuality,” he said. But “there are questions always about some very old buildings. … Fortunately those tend to be low buildings, so there’s not great danger.”
An earthquake similar to the one in Virginia could do billions of dollars of damage if it were centered in New York, said Barbara Nadel, an architect who specializes in securing buildings against natural disasters and terrorism.
The city’s 49-page seismic code requires builders to prepare for significant shifting of the earth. High-rises must be built with certain kinds of bracing, and they must be able to safely sway at least somewhat to accommodate for wind and even shaking from the ground, Nadel said.
Buildings constructed in Boston in recent decades had to follow stringent codes comparable to anything in California, said Vernon Woodworth, an architect and faculty member at the Boston Architectural College. New construction on older structures also must meet tough standards to withstand severe tremors, he said.
It’s a different story with the city’s older buildings. The 18th- and 19th-century structures in Boston’s Back Bay, for instance, were often built on fill, which can liquefy in a strong quake, Woodworth said. Still, there just aren’t many strong quakes in New England.
The last time the Boston area saw a quake as powerful as the one that hit Virginia on Tuesday was in 1755, off Cape Ann, to the north. A repeat of that quake would likely cause deaths, Woodworth said. Still, the quakes are so infrequent that it’s difficult to weigh the risks versus the costs of enacting tougher building standards regionally, he said.
People in several of the affected states won’t have much time to reflect before confronting another potential emergency. Hurricane Irene is approaching the East Coast and could skirt the Mid-Atlantic region by the weekend and make landfall in New England after that.
In North Carolina, officials were inspecting an aging bridge that is a vital evacuation route for people escaping the coastal barrier islands as the storm approaches.
Speaking at an earthquake briefing Wednesday, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray inadvertently mixed up his disasters.
“Everyone knows, obviously, that we had a hurricane,” he said before realizing his mistake.
“Hurricane,” he repeated sheepishly as reporters and staffers burst into laughter. “I’m getting ahead of myself!”
___
Associated Press writers Sam Hananel in Washington; Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Bob Lewis in Mineral, Va.; Samantha Gross in New York City; and Jay Lindsay in Boston contributed to this report.

China nuclear horn embarks on nuclear arms race and will the US really leave the Iraqi Horn

Press review: China embarks on nuclear arms race and will the US really leave Iraq

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, July 28th

© EPA-EFE/MURTAJA LATEEF

Kommersant: China’s growing nuclear capacity to affect Russia

Beijing seeks to ramp up its nuclear capacity, say researchers from the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists (FAS) who discovered China’s second field of silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles by studying satellite images. According to experts, by entering the nuclear arms race, Beijing is, first and foremost, responding to its rising standoff with the United States. However, China’s growing nuclear capacity will also affect Russia as it may lose its status of the world’s only power capable of equally competing with the US in the nuclear field, Kommersant writes.

Russian experts believe that some of the new silos are being built in China for purposes of disguise. “The Chinese have repeatedly used this method to protect their strategic forces. About half of their missile troops are units involved in engineering works on positions and efforts to establish dummy sites,” Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics Vasily Kashin explained. He believes that China “is all set to adopt the concept of a retaliatory counter-strike similar to the Russian one.” According to the expert, it is an important factor that will impact global security. “For generations, the Americans and us used to live under each other’s gun, in constant fear that something will go wrong. “A third player will soon join us that has much less experience living under such conditions,” Kashin noted. According to his estimates, the process will take about ten years. “It will have tangible geopolitical consequences for Russia. Today, it is the only power capable of talking with the US as equals. However, soon it will lose this exclusive position,” the expert emphasized.

Dmitry Stefanovich, a researcher at the International Security Center with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, pointed out that where the American military has clear goals, Russia will have to deal with a dilemma. “Formally, there is no mutual nuclear deterrence between Russia and China but our medium and long-term military plans should include the most negative scenarios,” the expert stressed.

Media: US plan to end combat mission in Iraq may turn out to be a ruse

The Biden administration has announced plans to end the US combat mission in Iraq by December 31. However, Washington intends to continue providing support to Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish militia. Experts believe that the Americans merely plan to divert attention from their missions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

“The Americans are unwilling to leave Iraq,” said Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov. “They will maintain a presence there, only the mission’s format will change,” he noted. “Initially, it was about the Americans leaving the country at some point, but now we see that they are staying, only in a different way,” the expert pointed out, adding that the US would retain the opportunity to conduct operations. Semenov does not expect that the US move will lead to a rise in Iran’s influence in Iraq. “On the contrary, the Americans decided not to leave in order to combat Iran’s increasing influence,” the expert explained.

e situation developed in Afghanistan, the Americans had to face increasing pressure in Iraq. I think that the Iraqi Shias are determined to follow in the Taliban’s footsteps and drive the Americans out of Iraq,” Head of the Research and Analytical Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Oriental Studies Nikolai Plotnikov told Izvestia. “It’s perfectly clear to Joe Biden that the US is facing numerous domestic issues and doesn’t have enough resources to restore order in the country,” he added.

According to Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Boris Dolgov, Washington’s desire to reduce its actual presence in the world’s hotspots and still maintain influence there is the reason for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if troops pull out, they are most likely to be redeployed to neighboring countries – Jordan, for instance – where the US is also present. That said, Washington will remain involved in regional affairs, the expert emphasized.

Vedomosti: IMF improves Russia’s GDP growth outlook for 2021

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has maintained its estimates for global economic growth at the level predicted in April. The financial institution expects global GDP to rise by six percent, according to an IMF report. However, as far as certain groups of countries go, the IMF has significantly revised its estimates compared to the April figures, Vedomosti writes.

In particular, the IMF has dramatically improved its outlook on Russia’s GDP growth. In April, the global institution anticipated that it would increase by 3.8% and now, the expected rate is 4.4%. The IMF did not explain the revision of its outlook on certain countries, but the overall reasons may include the coronavirus pandemic’s pace and expectations of financial support from governments. In addition, the IMF views vaccination rates as crucial for preserving positive trends.

Earlier, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development also improved its economic growth projection for 2021. In April, the ministry anticipated that real GDP would grow by 2.9% on a year-to-year basis, but in July, expectations rose to 3.8%.

The common issue for developed and developing countries is finding a balance between cutting the budget and monetary stimulus programs, reviving business activities and keeping inflation under control, VTB Capital’s Chief Economist for Russia and the CIS Alexander Isakov pointed out.

The GDP rise that we can see at the moment has largely to do with the economic recovery, Co-Chairman of Delovaya Rossiya Anton Danilov-Danilyan said. The coronavirus situation creates the highest risks of an economic slowdown because a new virus strain may lead to another wave of lockdowns and reduced working hours, he added. Price growth related to global shortages, including food shortages, isn’t going to slow GDP growth. Besides, Russian companies have vast experience working in an inflationary environment.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Sanctions fail? Belarusian economy still roaring ahead despite West’s restrictions

Almost all indicators prove that the Belarusian economy is still continuing to grow despite the ongoing sanctions. According to experts, one of the reasons why is the delayed effect of the restrictions. That said, the government’s opponents are unlikely to see the regime collapse under the strain of economic problems anytime soon, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

According to the Belstat agency, the country’s GDP expanded by 3.3% in the first six months of the year compared to the same period last year. In addition, industrial production climbed 10.4%. Despite Brussels’ sanctions, Belarusian exports to EU countries doubled to $3.7 bln. Although data on the sanctioned strategic industries has been removed from these statistics, “it has no direct impact on the statistical indicators that remain available,” Alpari Eurasia Senior Analyst Vadim Iosub pointed out. “As for sectoral sanctions, which can potentially affect the economy, no one knows when they will come into force because there is a disclaimer that they don’t apply to the existing contracts,” the expert explained.

Besides, last year’s low levels still have their effect. “There were no Russian oil supplies in the first two months of last year, and oil production and the transportation of crude and refined products dropped. There also were no contracts for the delivery of potassium fertilizers to India and China in the first six months of last year, and the economy plummeted in March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Iosub noted. Now, the situation is completely different in terms of oil supplies and potassium exports, and the economic recovery has boosted global commodity prices.

There is also the Russia factor that should not be forgotten as Russia provides a safe margin for the Belarusian economy. “First, Russia is the most important market for many goods. Second, it is still the country’s main creditor. Russia’s support is what keeps the Belarusian economy from collapsing,” Iosub concluded.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Smartphone payments more than double in Russia during pandemic

Russia’s major banks saw payments made through smartphones during the coronavirus pandemic more than double, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes, citing credit institutions.

Millions of Russians have already immersed themselves in the habit of using their smartphones as a tool for conducting financial transactions, which includes paying for goods and services.

The Central Bank also pointed to a rise in contactless payment in its June research note, saying that the share of Russians using this kind of payment had jumped from 25% to 70% over the past seven years.

“Contactless payment turnover started to grow at an incredible pace after the pandemic had passed its peak,” a spokesperson for the Moscow Credit Bank noted. According to Otkrytie FC Bank’s spokespersons, it is much easier and faster to pay with a smart device than with a credit card, and it is also safer because there is no risk of losing the card or compromising it.

The upward trend for financial transactions conducted through smartphones will persist in the coming years, experts forecasted.

Russia is one of the global leaders for contactless payment, Research Chief at the Center for Research in Financial Technologies and Digital Economy SKOLKOVO-NES Yegor Krivosheya emphasized. “Russia’s development experience of mobile wallets was even called the ‘Russian’ miracle. According to various sources, Russia is the world’s leader for mobile payments or is at the same level as China,” he specified.

“The trend is most likely to remain, particularly given the diversity of payment tools ranging from credit cards to P2P transactions to digital currencies,” the expert noted.

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in these press reviewsPress review: Political storm brewing in Tunisia and Russia eyes duty-free zone for KurilsTop stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, July 27th

Why Babylon the Great Needs a Bigger Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

Why America Needs Broader Missile Defense Capabilities

China is in the midst of a nuclear buildup that merits a strong response.

China’s increasing belligerence combined with the discovery of what are believed to be 120 missile silos in a 700 square mile deployment area near Yumen City, located in north-central China, is a reminder that the United States needs to develop a broader missile-defense network and push ahead with nuclear modernization.

For the first time since the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb in 1949, the United States finds itself amid a three-way nuclear arms race. We are in an arms race whether the Biden administration and the Democrats want to acknowledge it or not. Inaction and playing ostrich will not make it disappear.

Close Chinese-Russian military ties raise concern that the two powers could pool their nuclear arsenals in case of war to attack the United States and its allies.

“I would also like to single out the words from this statement that say that our ties now surpass such a form of interstate interaction as the military-political alliances of the Cold War era,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month. “This is the most important guideline for deepening relations between Russia and China in all areas without exception.”

The Trump administration made arms control with China a priority, but the Biden administration has been largely quiet.

President Joe Biden began his term by giving Vladimir Putin an unconditional renewal of the 2010 START treaty without any preconditions on Russian nuclear modernization or including China in an arms-control regime. From a treaty perspective, China is off the leash and has zero treaty restrictions to its buildup or the number of nuclear missiles it can develop.

The Biden administration requested $8.9 billion for the Missile Defense Agency in its May budget wish list, down from $10.5 billion in the current fiscal year. Greater investment is needed because the costs of doing nothing will be much less than the costs associated with the destruction of American cities or other potential nuclear targets.

The George W. Bush administration built the first real missile-defense system. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) has a narrow focus that protects American targets from North Korea was deployed in the 2000s. A total of forty-four interceptors are located at Ft. Greeley, Alaska and at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

This current missile-defense program provides no real protection against the growing threats from Russia or China. Only twelve of the nineteen tests of the GMD have succeeded in the past two decades. Meanwhile, forty-three of fifty-three tests of the shipborne Aegis Missile Defense have succeeded. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense that provides mobile, deployable missile defense has a perfect record of sixteen successful tests and sixteen intercepts.

“Russia has actually fielded the hypersonic technology. China has been developing hypersonic technology,” Rep. Mike Turner, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, said earlier this month at The Hudson Institute. “We don’t have in place what is necessary to ensure that we both even up on the sensing side and the response side . . . to defend against such weapons, and at the same time we’re not fielding them ourselves.”

China and Russia have made great strides in developing hypersonic missiles that could deliver nuclear payloads and evade current missile defenses. The Russians claim their newly fielded Tsirkon hypersonic glide vehicle is invisible to radar; it would be particularly lethal if it could carry a nuclear warhead. China’s new hypersonic DF-17 cruise missile could carry a nuclear warhead.

Technological advances could make ideas from the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative such as “Brilliant Pebbles” practical, and they could fill in the capability gap left by shortcomings in ground-based missile-defense platforms. “Brilliant Pebbles” would use satellite-based interceptors that target intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in their boost phase, eliminating them before they can deploy their nuclear warheads.

Another possible component could be a series of networked laser satellites that also could destroy ICBMs during the launch phase.

These newly discovered Chinese silos could potentially house DF-5C nuclear missiles that U.S. intelligence analysts believe could carry multiple warheads. China is well on its way to having the two hundred ICBMs that the U.S. Defense Department sounded an alarm about last year. Having multiple warheads on each ICBM would multiply the threat to the American homeland.

“Construction began in March 2020, although the vast majority of construction occurred after February 2021, suggesting an extremely rapid pace of construction over the past few months,” nuclear weapons analysts Jeffrey Lewis and Decker Eveleth wrote on the Arms Control Wonk blog. “(In earlier conversations we stated that construction began after February 2021, although a closer examination of historical imagery shows that we simply overlooked some earlier construction.)”

Lewis previously dismissed top Trump arms negotiator Amb. Marshall Billingslea’s warning that China was undertaking a nuclear arms buildup in October 2020, telling CNN he didn’t see any reason for alarm. The Trump administration was aware of what China was up to, according to a source with first-hand knowledge.

The Defense Department estimated that China had one hundred missile silos in total last year. This latest buildup suggests that China has discarded its longstanding claim to not having a no first-strike nuclear doctrine, a senior Trump administration official said under the condition of anonymity. Recent Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda threatening a nuclear strike against Japan if it defends Taiwan reinforces this concern, and the proliferation of the coronavirus pandemic around the globe shows that the CCP has little interest in human life.

This development shows that China’s leadership hopes to have enough nuclear missiles to be able to survive a strike from the American nuclear deterrent.

The Biden administration’s decision to spend trillions on pet projects in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which the CCP let proliferate globally, killing four million worldwide, shows it has little excuse not to provide similar defense against a nuclear attack by a hostile peer like China. Although the chances of a nuclear exchange are statistically considered remote, there isn’t an excuse not to put defenses into place now instead of waiting until later.

Investments on par with former President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative are needed to protect the homeland and America’s allies from nuclear attack amid the breakdown of international arms-controls.

John Rossomando is a senior analyst for Defense Policy and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.

Israel’s War Crimes Outside the Temple Walls: Malachi 2

Israel appears to have committed war crimes in May conflict with Hamas, Human Rights Watch says

5:00 p.m. EDT

According to a leading human rights group, Israel violated international law during the 11 days of fighting with Hamas militants in the densely packed Gaza Strip in May, in what “apparently amount to war crimes.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch released a report Tuesday that highlighted three Israeli strikes on Gaza in which it said 62 civilians, including families, were killed and “where there were no evident military targets in the vicinity.” It said other strikes also are likely to have violated international law.

Human Rights Watch said that Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas, which has controlled the coastal territory since 2007, also “committed unlawful attacks” in firing over 4,300 unguided rockets and mortars into Israeli communities. The organization said it would release a separate report on Palestinian violations in August.

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The report renews scrutiny of this May’s deadly exchange of Hamas rockets and Israeli fire in which over 250 Palestinians in Gaza, among them 67 children, and 13 residents of Israel, including two children, died. It was the fourth war between the two sides since 2009, alongside frequent flare-ups.

Moments before the blast, she ushered her children inside. She wasn’t so lucky herself.

Israel has argued that it took precautions to protect Palestinians civilians and targeted only sites related to Hamas, which it accused of intentionally operating in residential areas, thereby leaving Israel little recourse.

But the report’s findings could be used as part of an ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court of violations by both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups. The court in February ruled that it has jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories that Israel occupied in 1967, a claim Israel rejects.

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Palestinians have increasingly lobbied for rights in international bodies and agencies as the model for peace talks between the two sides has broken down.

Hamas said 80 of the dead in Gaza were militants, according to the Associated Press, a figure Israel has disputed as being higher. One of those killed in Israel was a soldier.

While most rockets fired from Gaza were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, the nearly 2 million Palestinians in Gaza had few places to flee. Israel controls nearly all crossings into and out of Gaza, which is facing multiple compounding humanitarian crises, including a severe shortage of clean water and electricity as well as a lack economic opportunities. Most Gazans cannot leave, and Hamas, an extremist group, suppresses any internal opposition.

After unending conflicts, Gazans wrestle with rebuilding — and whether it’s worth it

Human Rights Watch said that Israel refused to allow the organization’s senior investigators to enter Gaza. For the report, the group relied on a local Gaza researcher, as well as satellite images, expert analysis of photos and munition fragments, and phone and video interviews.

In one of the attacks investigated, Human Rights Watch said that around 6 p.m. on May 10, an Israeli guided missile hit four houses belonging to a family named al-Masri in an area near the town of Beit Hanoun. Eight civilians, including six children, were killed, and 18 people were reported injured. No members of the family were part of an armed group, they said, and Israel did not list any of the dead as members of a militant group.

The Israeli military has said that the strike was caused by an errant missile fired from inside Gaza by the militant group Islamic Jihad aiming for Israel.

On social media, Israel also suggested that one of those identified as a victim in the strike was part of a group killed by its military, who it said were “activists” with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which the family has denied, Human Rights Watch found.

Speaking with residents and analyzing footage, Human Rights Watch found that the nature of the blast site was consistent with damage caused by missiles that Israel is known to use and inconsistent with Islamic Jihad rockets. The absence of an impact crater, among various signs, suggested that the explosion was the result of “munition with a small explosive yield” that detonated in midair, the report said.

The group said it “found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strike.”Souad al-Masri’s husband was killed and home destroyed by an Israeli bombing in 2014. This year, they struck again, leaving a crater where her home once stood. (Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post)

On May 15, 10 civilians, including eight children, were killed when a U.S.-made guided bomb collapsed a three-story building in the Shati refugee camp around 1:40 a.m. Israel said it was targeting an apartment used by Hamas militants. It said the missile struck a bunker below, which led to the building’s collapse.

Residents told Human Rights Watch they did not know of any Hamas cell or operations in their building. The group also said it did not find evidence of a bunker below.

The group called for further investigation into “whether Israeli forces targeted a military objective, and, if there was a legitimate military objective, whether all feasible precautions were taken to minimize civilian harm.”A Palestinian shopkeeper in Gaza hasn’t been able to bring himself to tell his injured wife that two of their daughters are gone. (Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post)

In another deadly series of Israeli airstrikes on May 16, 44 civilians were killed during a four-minute assault on al-Wahda Street in Gaza City in which three multistory buildings collapsed. Among the dead were over a dozen members of an extended family and one of the doctors leading Gaza’s coronavirus response.

The Israeli military said it targeted underground military tunnels and a command center, though it has not publicly provided evidence. Human Rights Watch found no evidence of military targets in the area and said that residents had not been warned to evacuate in time.

“An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful,” the group said.

Human Rights Watch has previously accused Israelis and Palestinians of abuses, including apparent war crimes. In April, it released a report accusing Israel of “the crimes of apartheid and persecution” against Palestinians in the military-occupied territories and inside Israel.

Over the years, said Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestinian territories director at Human Rights Watch, “we have documented a pattern of excessive force, attacks that are disproportionate, indiscriminate … that did not hit an apparent military target.”

“Accountability is critical,” he said.

The Antichrist’s mystery boycott

Al-Sadr’s mystery boycott

The changes in Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s attitude have always been tactical, but could his grim and lonely game this time be a strategic mistake before Iraq holds critical elections in October, asks Salah Nasrawi

When the Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr met with a group of his lieutenants at his base in the Shia holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq earlier this month, he had a message he wanted them to convey nationwide.

“If the Sadrist trend is a football team, where should I fit in? Shouldn’t I be the manager?” Al-Sadr, known by his supporters as “His Eminence the Leader,” asked rhetorically.

Al-Sadr’s remarks, part of a series of videoed speeches aimed at mobilising his followers ahead of upcoming national elections, were shorthand for saying that over the course of recent years he has masterfully consolidated the Sadrists into a cult of personality.

Because of his growing weight politically and militarily, which has allowed his grassroots Shia Movement to dominate the apparatus of the Iraqi state, Al-Sadr expects to be given his due as a national leader.

With elections due in October, Al-Sadr has claimed that his Sadrist Movement will secure the majority of seats in the 319-member parliament, allowing him to nominate Iraq’s next prime minister.

Al-Sadr’s muscular speeches to his followers was clearly designed to send a signal to the Iraqi people that the time has come for a change in the political system, which has been under the control of an alliance of Shia blocs since the US-led invasion that toppled the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

For months, senior Sadrist officials have been expressing their confidence that the movement will win a landslide victory in Iraq’s autumn elections and will have the final say on who will be in the country’s next government.

But in a surprise move on 15 July, Al-Sadr reversed course on the elections, which many expect will be a decisive battleground that will shape Iraq’s politics for years, or probably decades, to come.

Al-Sadr unexpectedly announced that he will not take part in the vote, denying his support for all politicians, even those affiliated with his movement, in this government and the one that will be formed after the elections.

Al-Sadr attributed his withdrawal from the elections to his wish to “safeguard the country from the corrupt.” But his announcement fell short of addressing the core issue of what he will do if he stays away from politics.

This is a tricky subject among many Iraqis, including those close to Al-Sadr, who do not believe that the populist cleric will stop trying to maintain his relevance to Iraq’s politics.

Al-Sadr is widely considered to be one of the most powerful Shia political leaders to have emerged from the shadows of the US-led invasion in 2003. Over the years, Al-Sadr’s political strategy has seen a sea change that has seen him change from a militant Shia cleric into a populist political leader.

But analysts believe that any attempt by Al-Sadr to rock the boat in a crucial election year will have a serious impact on Iraq’s shaky political establishment and the country at large.

To begin with, Al-Sadr has made the headlines before by speaking out against Iraqi politicians and declaring that he will quit politics only to quickly change his mind and return to build his power base.

Al-Sadr, 47, has long been known for his unpredictability. His maverick image, which is quite familiar to most Iraqis, has always stirred some uncertainty in Iraq’s troubled politics.

But Iraq’s smoldering political crisis is working differently now compared to how it did after 2003, meaning that Al-Sadr’s bid to invest in the future distribution of power will have very different consequences.

Since his Sa’aroon bloc came first in the country’s 2018 elections, winning 52 seats, the Sadrist Movement has come to control the Iraqi government. The Sadrists’ key opening in what has become a political chess game was implanting Hamid Al-Ghizzi, a Sadr loyalist, as secretary-general of the prime minister’s office.

Al-Ghizzi’s main job was to clear government offices of unaffiliated bureaucrats and bring Sadrists into the offices in their place in order to infiltrate the state apparatus. Soon Sadrists were taking top jobs within most ministries and local administrations.

Notably, the Sadrists have been able to dominate the bureaucracy in key ministries such as defence, the interior, communications, oil, electricity and transport. They wield enormous power in Iraq’s three state-owned banks and even in Iraq’s Central Bank.

In addition to being able to dominate Iraq’s huge civil service, the movement now exerts control over the country’s financial resources through the state budget and its own economic influence. 

Most importantly, Al-Sadr controls two powerful militias, the Peace Companies and the Promised Day Brigade, both vaguely linked to Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which was established after 2003 but allegedly disbanded in 2008.

Today, Al-Sadr is the most powerful Shia leader in Iraq with tremendous hopes of ruling the country in the future. Through his masterful playbook, Al-Sadr has set the country on the path of taking his omnipotence as a given.

In recent weeks, the Western media, which used to describe him as a hardliner and a radical, has started to promote Al-Sadr as a moderate politician and the “face of reform in Iraq” in an apparent attempt to accept him as Iraq’s next leader.

Under the headline, “Firebrand cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr and America move closer in Iraq,” the UK Economist magazine reported in April that some in the Biden administration were encouraging America’s political allies in Iraq to align with Al-Sadr before an election in October.

The Reuters news agency also suggested in a lengthy report this month that some Western diplomats would now prefer to deal with an Iraq dominated by Al-Sadr, whom they believe is the only leader able to enact reform.

Both reports, which could underscore a shift in Western thinking, are based on the assumption that Al-Sadr is on the ascendant and that he has become “a more nationalist Shia figure” and could stand up to Iran and the Iran-backed Shia groups in Iraq.

However, the problem with this narrative of Al-Sadr’s making a U-turn to make Western policy-makers feel better about the man they have long demonised as a pariah is that it seems too far-fetched, if not utter analytical heresy.

While Al-Sadr may have succeeded in dominating many of the Iraqi state bodies, he is far away from being able to ensure that his group remains in complete control of the country.

Indeed, much of the blame for Iraq’s woes, such as the collapse of the health system, the electricity failures, and the falling living standards caused by a devalued local currency, has been placed on Al-Sadr’s ministers and their poor statecraft and corruption.

Al-Sadr has also sparked controversy in another way. He tried repeatedly to suppress the anti-government protests that took place in Iraq last year through intimidation, threats and sometimes even sheer brutality, all with the aim of stamping out their movement.

The crackdown on the pro-reform and anti-Iran protesters sparked public outrage against Al-Sadr and reversed his image as an anti-corruption nationalist leader, underlining his naked power-grab ambitions.

Analysts say that the Sadrists’ overall performance has damaged their leader’s once-rising popularity and ruled out the possibility that the movement could garner 100 seats in the next parliament that they hope would allow them to name their own prime minister.

Now, apart from a few Sadrists who have gathered to burn their electoral cards to show solidarity with their leader, no single Sadrist candidate has officially pulled out of the race.

Ministers and hundreds of Sadrists in top jobs in the government have also not stepped down and are still in their posts, some of them powerful enough to determine the October polling.

Given Al-Sadr’s background of unpredictability and contradiction, his declaration to withdraw from Iraq’s politics may not be a major turning point as many have predicted.

Al-Sadr will once again realise that the Iraqi state is too fragile to be controlled by one man or one group, and the machinations of recent months are unlikely to make him play a lose-lose game and let the band he has assembled stop the music playing.

The Iranian Nuclear Horn is a Real Threat to Israel:Daniel

The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER/FILE PHOTO)

Iran nuclear program poses very serious threat to Israel – INSS to Herzog

Iran has made significant progress in high levels of uranium enrichment, uranium metal production and in operating advanced centrifuges.

Iran’s nuclear program poses a very serious threat to Israel, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, the head of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday.

Trajtenberg, accompanied by a team of researchers, was presenting the annual INSS report on the main challenges confronting Israel, along with recommendations for strategic positions that Israel should take in relation to these challenges.

There is a sense that nuclear talks conducted with Iran in Vienna by American and European representatives will not lead to anything, because Tehran is accumulating more vital knowledge and experience in order to produce nuclear armaments, according to the INSS assessment.

Iran has made significant progress in high levels of uranium enrichment, uranium metal production and in operating advanced centrifuges.The political, economic and social collapse of Lebanon, and the ongoing divisions in Syria have enabled Iran to penetrate deeper into the area with the capability to strike directly into the heart of Israel.

Despite the difficult straits in which it finds itself, and the massive criticism to which it is subjected, Hezbollah is conserving its strength for possible conflict with Israel.

There is an additional problem of Russia and Iran competing for influence in Syria.

Israel must understand that so long as President Bashar Assad remains in power in Syria, there is no hope of Iran leaving this part of the region, Herzog was informed.

The Palestinian issue has become a peripheral matter on the international agenda. The INSS believes that it is important to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and to reach an understanding with Hamas for a prolonged ceasefire in order to bring some semblance of stability to the Gaza Strip.

With regard to Israel’s relations with the current US administration, key issues include the influence that Israel can exert on America’s negotiations with Iran, and what alternatives there are in the event that the JCPOA deal is renewed, or alternately, if the negotiations break down.

Contrary to the policy of the Trump administration, President Joe Biden’s administration has elected to renew relations with the Palestinian Authority.

However, the legitimacy of the PA is in peril. Elections scheduled for May were canceled in April, causing tensions among Palestinian Arabs and between Arabs and Jews, particularly in relation to a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount.

The assessment also stresses the importance of finding a modus vivendi with the Biden administration; and closer to home, mending fences with Jordan.

Other issues included China’s position in the world, the implications of the coronavirus pandemic and the new variants; the violent altercations in cities where there are mixed populations of Jews and Arabs; the internal social crisis in which there are huge gaps between different sectors of Israeli society; Israel’s new government, the approval of a national budget and the political crisis which is still simmering.

The report is evidence of the magnitude of the national challenges confronting Israel in areas of national security, socio-economics and more, said Herzog, adding that he was extremely impressed by the depth of the analyses. He suggested that the report be studied by the nation’s decision makers.

Meanwhile he is attempting to defuse some of the political tensions by meeting with leaders and other prominent figures of the various political parties in the Knesset.

Among those he’s met with over the past week are Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej and United Torah Judaism MKs Ya’acov Litzman and Moshe Gafni.