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.
Rockets have been launched from both Gaza and Lebanon over the fast few months.
Unknown individuals in Lebanon launched a rocket towards Israel on Wednesday night, according to Lebanese media.
Islamic State militants attack prison in Syria’s al-Hasaka, US-backed SDF says
Army Radio reported that there was no indication that there had in fact been a rocket launch.
Iron dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel, in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, May 19, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Other Lebanese outlets reported that an explosion was heard in the area from which the rocket was reportedly launched but that the source was unknown.
Over the last few months, Gaza fired multiple rockets towards Israel, claiming that they were mistakes and blaming other elements such as the weather.The last time this happened was at the beginning of January when two rockets were launched by Hamas. It was claimed that they were launched by lightning strikes. The rockets fell into the coast off Israeli’s center, and no one was hurt.
Before that, two rockets were fired over within a week of each other, and Hamas once again claimed that extreme weather was the causeThe last time rockets were launched from Lebanon toward Israel was in August. Hezbollah fired 20 rockets into Israel, 10 of which were intercepted and six fell inside Lebanon.
Lebanon is currently undergoing a severe period of instability amid a massive economic crisis, a severe fuel shortage and tensions in the political sector.
Iraq’s new leadership, dominated by the “Sadrist Movement” electoral alliance, faced its first major security challenge as a wave of sectarian violence swept through Baghdad this past week. This surge in violence will pose a challenge to the Sadrist Movement as it attempts to form a majority government following its victory in Iraq’s October 2021 elections.
On Thursday afternoon, a rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy inside Baghdad’s “Green Zone” injured several civilians, including a child. The following day, hand grenades were thrown at the headquarters of the Sunni Taqaddum party, which is led by Iraq’s parliament speaker Mohammed Halbousi, and the offices of prominent Sunni politician Khamis al-Khanjar. Finally, on Sunday, two banks associated with politicians from the country’s Kurdistan autonomous region were attacked in central Baghdad, resulting in two injuries.
No group within Iraq has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks. The attacks mark the most recent bout of unrest since the country’s new parliament was sworn into office earlier this month.
The new parliament’s first session, which took place on January 8, quickly descended into violence after Halbousi, an ally of Shia kingmaker Muqtada al-Sadr, was reelected to his speakership. Halbousi was confirmed by votes from the Sadrist Movement and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). However, he was strongly opposed by Sadr’s opponents, including the “Fatah Alliance,” a coalition of Iranian-linked Shia parties, and the Shia “State of Law Coalition,” led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Ongoing negotiations to pick a new president should be completed within thirty days, as specified in Iraq’s constitution.
Sadr, who is one of the most powerful men in Iraq despite not holding any elected office, has openly criticized the country’s fractious political system in the past. He has been particularly critical of the muhasasa system, which implements de facto sectarian quotas for political office. One of the system’s key stipulations states that the country’s prime minister should always be a Shia, the speaker of parliament should be a Sunni, and the largely ceremonial president should be a Kurd.
The muhasasa system has come under firefrom Iraqi protesters in recent years, and its abolishment was a major goal of the united opposition protests that began in October 2019. The protests resulted in the resignation of former Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who was regarded by many demonstrators as overly sympathetic to Iranian interests.
Sadr, who has cultivated a reputation as an Iraqi nationalist opposed to foreign influence from both Iran and the United States, is expected to play a major role in potential reforms to the country’s electoral system in the coming years. He has proposed the elimination of sectarian quotas in favor of a “national majority government.” Such a government would presumably include his Sunni and Kurdish allies and exclude his other Shia opponents.
“Today, there is no place for sectarianism or ethnic division, but a national majority government where the Shia defend the rights of minorities, the Sunnis and Kurds,” Sadr tweeted prior to the first parliamentary session.
However, experts have warned that sidelining the opposition could result in further violence, as groups unable to win elections might turn to violence to secure their political goals.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.
There is a risk Australia may be alone in the region
It has been fifty years since Australia made a formal decision not to acquire nuclear weapons. However, since then the regional geo-political environment has starkly changed, and is likely to become more turbulent over the next few decades, as balances are changing.
US reliance as an alley, and the inferred nuclear protection Australia has been given is uncertain in the future. The competitive strategic positions of China and the US will change drastically over the next decade. US interests under different presidencies are also fluid. Australia is now in the frontline of a strategically changing region, where Australia’s self-perception as a middle power has vanished with some regional military forces much more potent than Australia.
Australia’s bilateral relationship with its largest trading partner China has greatly deteriorated over recent times, with few signs of improving. Australia is alone in its trade dispute with China, ironically with the US benefitting from Chinese embargoes on Australian goods. Minister to minister communications has long been suspended, as China is decoupling Australia.
There are a number of potential trouble spots in the region. These include Chinese intentions over Taiwan, North Korea’s acquisition of long-range nuclear weapon delivery systems, and a potentially unstable nuclear Pakistan with Taliban designs of creating a Pashtun Taliban Caliphate in Pakistan.
The nuclear equilibrium in the region is shifting. China’s rise in military force is prompting countries like India to upgrade its nuclear arsenal to much more powerful thermonuclear weapons.
Probably of greatest importance is Indonesian nuclear weapon development intentions. Former Indonesian army four-star general and minister for maritime affairs and investment has been reported as saying Indonesia is underestimated because it doesn’t have nuclear weapons. Indonesia’s development of facilities capable of manufacturing weapons grade materials are well underway. A nuclear Indonesia with a growing Wahhabi-Salafism in Indonesia may one day leave Australia with a government to the north, vastly different to what exists now.
Australia needs to discuss strategy options in the new realities it faces in the region. There needs to be re-assessments of a post-Afghanistan US alley, very close neighbours to Australia which are adopting a placating response to China, a super-power that is bullying Australia, and the likelihood of a potential nuclear armed neighbour.
Since the early 1970s, Australian Governments have been strongly supportive of nuclear non-proliferation under the definitions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signed by the McMahon Government in 1970 and ratified by the incoming Labor Whitlam Government in 1973. Australia’s anti-nuclear position was even strengthened under Liberal-Coalition Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, as the “green/anti-nuclear” movement was quickly growing in Australia at the time. With the exception of Prime Minister John Howard, who saw a changing Asia-Pacific nuclear balance, subsequent prime ministers Hawke, Keating, Rudd, and Gillard also strongly followed the non-proliferation line.
Paradoxically, every prime minister supported to various degrees, the development of uranium mining and export as an economic driver. The Fraser and later Rudd Governments argued that uranium exports should be used as a means to strengthen non-proliferation by demanding safeguards from customers.
Prior to the 1970s, Australia took a different view towards nuclear non-proliferation. In 1944, Australia supplied uranium ore to the Manhattan Project. Australian physicist Mark Oliphant played a major role in pushing the atomic bomb program in both Britain and the US before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
However, after World War II, the US Government reneged on its agreement to share nuclear technology with its allies. Then Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, granted Australia’s assistance to Britain in its quest for autonomous nuclear weapons, giving technical assistance and allowing nuclear tests in the Mont Bello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga, on Australian soil between 1952 and 1963. Australia also participated in the development of the Blue Streak and bloodhound missiles, which were potential nuclear weapon delivery systems with Britain during this era.
The significance of Australian participation, which didn’t go unnoticed by Australian bureaucrats and politicians at the time, was that under section IX.3 of the proposed NPT, Australia would be able to claim nuclear status as it had participated in the production and detonation of nuclear weapons prior to 1st January 1967. Historical reports indicate that the Australian Government’s main motivation at the time, (including US pressure), was to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the local hemisphere, rather than seeking the abolishment of nuclear weapons.
Attempts during the 1950s and 1960s were made by a number of defence personnel, high placed public servants, academics, and right-wing elements of the Liberal-Country Party to acquire nuclear weapons. Initially purchasing them from either Britain or the United States was advocated. Later developing an independent nuclear deterrent was favoured.
Most of the active proponents for nuclear weapons were defence related personnel. They developed a number of plans to acquire nuclear weapons from the British, or have the United States deploy them on Australian soil. Sir Philip Baxter, who was head of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC) at the time, operated a clandestine research program to isolate the isotope U-235 from uranium, the quality needed in the production of nuclear weapons.
Some academics like Professor A. L. Burns of the Australian National University also advocated an Australian nuclear option which was aired by the Australian media at the time, especially in relation to the Chinese testing a nuclear bomb and the belief that Indonesia was also developing nuclear weapons. Pressure groups like the Democratic Labor Party and Returned Soldiers League which were both influential during the 1960s also strongly advocated an Australian nuclear weapon option.
The reluctance of the Australian Government to go ahead with the development of its own nuclear weapons all changed after Prime Minister Menzies retirement, when John Gorton unexpectedly became prime minister after the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt in 1967. John Gorton, an ex-RAAF pilot strongly believed that Australia should have its own independent nuclear deterrent with the Chinese in possession of nuclear weapons in the region. Plans went underway to develop a nuclear facility at Jervis Bay on the South Coast of New South Wales that would house both a nuclear reactor, which could produce weapons grade plutonium, and bomb manufacturing facilities.
Gorton tried to develop an Australian nuclear weapon capability before the NPT was signed. However, in March 1971, he was disposed by William McMahon, who cancelled all nuclear weapon development plans. It will always remain a matter of conjecture how much influence the US had in his decision.
Moving back to more contemporary times, two recent reactions to recent events by the former Turnbull Government briefly hinted of a change in thinking about Australia’s strong non-proliferation position.
Firstly, Australia’s tradition of supporting non-proliferation in international forums was broken. Australia failed to support the recent United Nations resolution to outlaw nuclear weapons on the floor of the General Assembly in 2016, to the surprise and astonishment of many interested in this issue. Secondly, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull failed to give Melbourne based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) director Beatrice Fihn a congratulatory call after been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This seems significant in what can be considered Australia’s first Nobel Peace Prize.
This is not yet a policy shift, but perhaps recognition that nuclear weapons for Australia may need to be an option. Today, with Australian citizen perception of China, and as more news of an Indonesian nuclear weapons program intentions surface, public support will increase. Australian society has changed since the anti-nuclear days of French testing in the Pacific, and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Australia’s capability to develop nuclear weapons is better than most. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) at Lucas Heights, replacing the AAEC in 1987 is an internationally renowned centre of nuclear research. Australia has also developed some advanced indigenous uranium refining technology, the SILEX process using lasers, which is much more economical and cheaper than the traditional centrifuge technology.
Australia has large reserves of uranium and a stockpile of semi-refined uranium at Lucas heights. Australia also has a certain degree of bomb making technology that it gained from participation with Britain in the nuclear tests during the 1950s and its own endeavours back in the 1970s. Australia has the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighter, Boeing F/A-18a & B Hornet, and the F/A 18F Super Hornet as capable medium range delivery systems. Australia also has a range of nuclear capable cruise missiles which can be launched from aircraft, ships, and submarines. Submarines are today by far the most stealthy method of delivering nuclear weapons, as they are the most difficult to detect, and delivery time from launch to target is short.
However, this doesn’t mean developing a nuclear arsenal would be an easy project for any future government. The project would be a major one requiring special budgeting, which would mean curtailing other budget expenditure. This could be very difficult in today’s economic environment.
In the absence of some form of threat to Australia’s security, public debate would probably be one of the most heated and passionate within Australian society. This would be reflected in the finely balanced Australian Parliament. This debate would have the potential to bring down the Government.
In the absence of bi-partisanship between the major parties on the issue, a Labor Government on current policy would firmly squash any potential nuclear program. It may not even need a change of government, a change of leader within the Liberal Party maybe enough to force the cancellation of any nuclear program.
The nuclear weapon debate is an issue politicians can use to gain power, which would prevent Australia developing nuclear weapons. That’s the dynamics of a democratic system. If France or Britain had to develop nuclear weapons from scratch today, it would almost be impossible through their democratic processes.
Even if Australia decided to go ahead with a nuclear program, tacit approval would be needed from the United States. The US has for years been hedging on this. However, with the Biden view of the region, the US may support allies in the Asia-Pacific taking more responsibility for their own defence. The proposal by Australia to develop its own nuclear arsenal may bring big offers of concessions from the US. There are possibilities that the US could deploy nuclear weapons on Australian soil as a deterrent, with joint control or leasing scheme.
The strongest argument for Australia developing a nuclear deterrent is to gain strategic respect in the region. Australia cannot afford to project itself militarily into the South China Sea in any significant manner on its own. This would need spending 4-5 percent of GDP on defence over a decade. Australia’s transactional diplomacy within the region hasn’t developed close regional military alliances that it should have by now. China is using Australia as a decoupling experiment to see how isolated they can make the country. Australia must quickly see how alone it is now, as no country has jumped to Australia’s assistance. A nuclear deterrent will make it easier for Australia to stand alone. This will now very quickly develop into a serious option.
A top Russian diplomat has warned that Moscow will respond “militarily” and deploy tactical nuclear weapons, if NATO does not guarantee an end to its eastward expansion.
His remarks raise the stakes even higher in the confrontation between Russia and Western powers just days after U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin held a two-hour video conference aimed at defusing a burgeoning crisis over Russian military movements near Ukraine’s borders, where the Kremlin is estimated to have amassed around 100,000 troops.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov’s threat comes amid rising fears that Putin is considering a further military incursion into Ukraine in a rehash of Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its seizure of a large part of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, bordering Russia.
In a phone call Monday, Britain’s Boris Johnson repeated to the Russian leader warnings that any repeat of 2014 would have “significant consequences” and any “destabilizing action” by Russia would be met with a united response by Western countries.
Following the call between Johnson and Putin, Ryabkov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency Russia’s “response will be military,” if NATO continues to arm Ukraine. “A lack of progress towards a political-diplomatic solution would mean that our response will be military and military-technical,” Ryabkov said.
“There will be confrontation,” he added, saying Russia would deploy weapons previously banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, an arms control deal struck in 1987 by then US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.
The treaty expired in 2019 but both Washington and Moscow have not moved to deploy the previously banned nuclear weapons.
According to British officials, Johnson stressed to Putin the importance of having a “dialogue on international and regional security” and that all sides needed to observe the Minsk agreements signed by Russia and Ukraine in 2015 which aimed to bring an end to fighting in Ukraine’s Donbas. Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of failing to comply with the Minsk agreements. Russian maneuvers.
Last week, President Biden outlined in his call with Putin the economic sanctions the West would impose if Russian forces invaded Ukraine. A buildup of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine, and on the Crimean Peninsula, has prompted growing alarm in Western capitals and triggered an intense debate among Western policymakers over Putin’s intentions. Russian motorized infantry, artillery and armored units along the border Tuesday appeared to be carrying out drills practicing combat alerts and deploying to assembly points, according to Ukrainian officials.
Kremlin officials maintain Russia is not preparing to invade Ukraine and accuse the Ukrainians of mobilizing military units along their shared border. They say NATO is helping Kyiv to build up its forces and is being supplied with a significant number of weapons, including modern high-tech weapons.
In Kyiv on Tuesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Karen Donfried reassured Ukrainian officials of Washington’s continued commitment to Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity. Donfried is due to meet Ryabkov in Moscow later this week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is pressing NATO to admit his country as a member, told reporters Tuesday, “Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange of security guarantees from Russia. They were never respected. How can we trust any Russian promises?”
Putin has demanded Western powers guarantee in writing that Ukraine would not be a staging ground for NATO. Last week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry demanded Washington formally close the door on NATO membership for both Ukraine and Georgia. The Foreign Ministry also demanded that the Western alliance guarantee the non-deployment of weapons threatening Russia’s security on its western borders.
Ukraine’s foreign minister on Tuesday accused Putin of trying to return Europe to the Soviet era. “The fact Putin is searching for a new ideological justification concerning Ukraine suggests he’s on the verge of something big: an attempt to fundamentally rewrite the security order in Europe, to divide the continent into new spheres of influence,” Dmytro Kuleba said at a press conference, after his meeting with Donfried.
Western policymakers are split over why Putin has been amassing troops. They are also wrestling with their options for deterring him from making any dramatic military moves on Ukraine. Some former U.S. diplomats and officials believe Washington and its European allies should supply Ukraine with more high-tech weaponry, and sooner rather than later. They see the Kremlin’s anxiety over supplies of Western high-tech weapons as the best policy option to deter Russian adventurism.
The question U.S. and European policymakers must answer is whether they are “going to help Ukraine with the weapons and the training it needs to defend itself,” said Daniel Fried, a former American diplomat who served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs and was the U.S. ambassador to Poland from 1997 to 2000. The U.S. has increased its military supplies to Ukraine but Fried would like to see more.
“Ukrainians know how to use them. And I think the equipment needs to be delivered either now to deter the Russians or in the pipelines so the Russians know it can arrive very quickly,” he told VOA recently.
In Moscow, Kremlin officials say Putin planned to discuss the crisis in a call Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Baghdad, Iraq – The threat of worsening violence looms over Baghdad again this week, underscoring the challenges faced by influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of parliament’s biggest bloc, in his stated efforts to form a majority government following October’s contested election.
In the latest in a number of attacks to hit the Iraqi capital in just a matter of days, twin explosions late on Sunday targeted two banks associated with Kurdish politicians in central Baghdad’s Karrada district, leaving two people wounded.
It came two days after a hand grenade was thrown at the headquarters of the Taqaddum party, which is led by parliament’s Speaker Mohammed Halbousi. Hours later, a similar attack hit the office of Khamis al-Khanjar, another Sunni politician.
And on January 13, a rocket attack targeting the US embassy in the highly fortified Green Zone wounded several civilians, including a child and a woman.
There has been no claim of responsibility for any of these attacks, which came days after the newly elected parliament’s first session on January 9, during which chaos reigned and physical altercations broke out. The dramatic meeting, which saw Halbousi reelected thanks to support from the Sadrist Movement and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) – despite strong objection by al-Sadr’s opponents – inaugurated what is expected to be a long period of political wrangling to pick a new president and prime minister.
Analysts say the escalation tests the limits of al-Sadr’s bid to create a government that would, to a certain extent, steer away from the ethno-sectarian power-sharing arrangement established after the United States-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Known as muhasasa, the system distributes power and state resources between Iraq’s three main religious and ethnic groups – Shia, Sunni and Kurdish – but has been reviled by protesters who in recent years took to the streets to demand a complete overhaul of the country’s political system.
Since his strong election showing in October, al-Sadr has frequently reiterated his commitment to form a “national majority government”, essentially sidelining the Shia Coordination Framework that includes figures such as former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, one of Sadr’s old foes, and the Fatah alliance, the political bloc that houses the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces and which suffered a devastating loss in the elections.
“A majority government can certainly be a responsible and effective government with clear tasks, expectations and responsibilities,” said Kamaran Palani, a research fellow at the Middle East Research Institute. “However, this idea is rejected by the Coordination Framework and every major party besides Sadr’s.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/ajcx1kTw7t4?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
Some pro-Iran militia groups had previously warned of intensified violence if Sunni and Kurd groups decided to join al-Sadr’s camp.
But al-Sadr – once the leader of the formidable Mahdi Army, a powerful militia group that vehemently fought US forces during Iraq’s occupation and was a major player in the post-invasion sectarian conflict – has stood firm.
“Today, there is no place for sectarianism or ethnic division, but a national majority government where the Shia defend the rights of minorities, the Sunnis and Kurds,” al-Sadr, whose party won 73 seats in the polls, tweeted one day before the first parliamentary session.
“Today there is no place for militias, and everyone will support the army, police and security forces.”
‘No good alternatives’
By defending his Sunni and Kurd allies, al-Sadr is treading further down the road of alienating groups such as Fatah, which, until the recent elections, wielded undeniable levels of power in Iraqi politics. Should al-Sadr managed to form a majority government with his Sunni and Kurd allies, al-Maliki’s State of Law party and Fatah could be pushed into the opposition – a dramatic blow to the status quo.
Analysts say such a rift between Iraq’s Shia groups would be unprecedented, and if either al-Sadr or the Shia Coordination Framework were to be pushed aside, a backlash would be almost inevitable.
“In either scenario, the opposite side will not only try to overthrow the government with legal and political tools but will escalate violently,” warned Lahib Higel, an Iraq analyst at Crisis Group.
“Political assassinations among Shia parties and armed groups hav[e] already occurred and may become more frequent and high-profile.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/0YKRh6aqqDU?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
Faced with the spectre of instability, some ordinary Iraqis say a majority government would bring about much-needed accountability, which has been largely absent under the current muhasasa system.
“I am not an al-Sadr supporter, but at this point, I’d love to see a majority government led by him because we don’t have any other good alternatives,” said Ahmed al-Haddad, a Baghdad resident.
“Also, if he forms a majority government and still drives the country to chaos, he wouldn’t have any excuse for the next election.”
Yet not all is rosy on the path to establishing a majority government in a country scarred by years of ineffective governance and sectarian violence.
“The whole point behind pushing for a majority government was to move beyond muhasasa,” said Hamzeh Hadad, an Iraqi political analyst. “But the latest election of parliament’s speaker and deputies reveals that we are far from abolishing muhasasa, as long as parties run based on ethno-sectarian identity where no party can win a majority in elections.”