Real Risk, Few Precautions (Revelation 6:12)

      

By WILLIAM K. STEVENS

Published: October 24, 1989
AN EARTHQUAKE as powerful as the one that struck northern California last week could occur almost anywhere along the East Coast, experts say. And if it did, it would probably cause far more destruction than the West Coast quake.
The chances of such an occurrence are much less in the East than on the West Coast. Geologic stresses in the East build up only a hundredth to a thousandth as fast as in California, and this means that big Eastern quakes are far less frequent. Scientists do not really know what the interval between them might be, nor are the deeper-lying geologic faults that cause them as accessible to study. So seismologists are at a loss to predict when or where they will strike.
But they do know that a temblor with a magnitude estimated at 7 on the Richter scale – about the same magnitude as last week’s California quake – devastated Charleston, S.C., in 1886. And after more than a decade of study, they also know that geologic structures similar to those that caused the Charleston quake exist all along the Eastern Seaboard.
For this reason, ”we can’t preclude that a Charleston-sized earthquake might occur anywhere along the East Coast,” said David Russ, the assistant chief geologist of the United States Geological Survey in Reston, Va. ”It could occur in Washington. It could occur in New York.”
If that happens, many experts agree, the impact will probably be much greater than in California.Easterners, unlike Californians, have paid very little attention to making buildings and other structures earthquake-proof or earthquake-resistant. ”We don’t have that mentality here on the East Coast,” said Robert Silman, a New York structural engineer whose firm has worked on 3,800 buildings in the metropolitan area.
Moreover, buildings, highways, bridges, water and sewer systems and communications networks in the East are all older than in the West and consequently more vulnerable to damage. Even under normal conditions, for instance, water mains routinely rupture in New York City.
The result, said Dr. John Ebel, a geophysicist who is the assistant director of Boston College’s Weston Observatory, is that damage in the East would probably be more widespread, more people could be hurt and killed, depending on circumstances like time of day, and ”it would probably take a lot longer to get these cities back to useful operating levels.”
On top of this, scientists say, an earthquake in the East can shake an area 100 times larger than a quake of the same magnitude in California. This is because the earth’s crust is older, colder and more brittle in the East and tends to transmit seismic energy more efficiently. ”If you had a magnitude 7 earthquake and you put it halfway between New York City and Boston,” Dr. Ebel said, ”you would have the potential of doing damage in both places,” not to mention cities like Hartford and Providence.
Few studies have been done of Eastern cities’ vulnerability to earthquakes. But one, published last June in The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, calculated the effects on New York City of a magnitude 6 earthquake. That is one-tenth the magnitude of last week’s California quake, but about the same as the Whittier, Calif., quake two years ago.
The study found that such an earthquake centered 17 miles southeast of City Hall, off Rockaway Beach, would cause $11 billion in damage to buildings and start 130 fires. By comparison, preliminary estimates place the damage in last week’s California disaster at $4 billion to $10 billion. If the quake’s epicenter were 11 miles southeast of City Hall, the study found, there would be about $18 billion in damage; if 5 miles, about $25 billion.
No estimates on injuries or loss of life were made. But a magnitude 6 earthquake ”would probably be a disaster unparalleled in New York history,” wrote the authors of the study, Charles Scawthorn and Stephen K. Harris of EQE Engineering in San Francisco.
The study was financed by the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The research and education center, supported by the National Science Foundation and New York State, was established in 1986 to help reduce damage and loss of life from earthquakes.
The study’s postulated epicenter of 17 miles southeast of City Hall was the location of the strongest quake to strike New York since it has been settled, a magnitude 5 temblor on Aug. 10, 1884. That 1884 quake rattled bottles and crockery in Manhattan and frightened New Yorkers, but caused little damage. Seismologists say a quake of that order is likely to occur within 50 miles of New York City every 300 years. Quakes of magnitude 5 are not rare in the East. The major earthquake zone in the eastern half of the country is the central Mississippi Valley, where a huge underground rift causes frequent geologic dislocations and small temblors. The most powerful quake ever known to strike the United States occurred at New Madrid, Mo., in 1812. It was later estimated at magnitude 8.7 and was one of three quakes to strike that area in 1811-12, all of them stronger than magnitude 8. They were felt as far away as Washington, where they rattled chandeliers, Boston and Quebec.
Because the New Madrid rift is so active, it has been well studied, and scientists have been able to come up with predictions for the central Mississippi valley, which includes St. Louis and Memphis. According to Dr. Russ, there is a 40 to 63 percent chance that a quake of magnitude 6 will strike that area between now and the year 2000, and an 86 to 97 percent chance that it will do so by 2035. The Federal geologists say there is a 1 percent chance or less of a quake greater than magnitude 7 by 2000, and a 4 percent chance or less by 2035.
Elsewhere in the East, scientists are limited in their knowledge of probabilities partly because faults that could cause big earthquakes are buried deeper in the earth’s crust. In contrast to California, where the boundary between two major tectonic plates creates the San Andreas and related faults, the eastern United States lies in the middle of a major tectonic plate. Its faults are far less obvious, their activity far more subtle, and their slippage far slower. 
Any large earthquake would be ”vastly more serious” in the older cities of the East than in California,  said Dr. Tsu T. Soong, a professor of civil engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo who is a researcher in earthquake-mitigation technology at the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research. First, he said, many buildings are simply older, and therefore weaker and more  vulnerable to collapse. Second, there is no seismic construction code in most of the East as there is in California, where such codes have been in place for decades.
The vulnerability is evident in many ways. ”I’m sitting here looking out my window,” said Mr. Silman, the structural engineer in New York, ”and I see a bunch of water tanks all over the place” on rooftops. ”They are not anchored down at all, and it’s very possible they would fall in an earthquake.”
 Many brownstones, he said, constructed as they are of unreinforced masonry walls with wood joists between, ”would just go like a house of cards.” Unreinforced masonry, in fact, is the single most vulnerable structure, engineers say. Such buildings are abundant, even predominant, in many older cities. The Scawthorn-Harris study reviewed inventories of all buildings in Manhattan as of 1972 and found that 28,884, or more than half, were built of unreinforced masonry. Of those, 23,064 were three to five stories high.
Buildings of reinforced masonry, reinforced concrete and steel would hold up much better, engineers say, and wooden structures are considered intrinsically tough in ordinary circumstances. The best performers, they say, would probably be skyscrapers built in the last 20 years. As Mr. Silman explained, they have been built to withstand high winds, and the same structural features that enable them to do so also help them resist an earthquake’s force. But even these new towers have not been provided with the seismic protections required in California and so are more vulnerable than similar structures on the West Coast.
Buildings in New York are not generally constructed with such seismic protections as base-isolated structures, in which the building is allowed to shift with the ground movement; or with flexible frames that absorb and distribute energy through columns and beams so that floors can flex from side to side, or with reinforced frames that help resist distortion.
”If you’re trying to make a building ductile – able to absorb energy – we’re not geared to think that way,” said Mr. Silman.
New York buildings also contain a lot of decorative stonework, which can be dislodged and turned into lethal missiles by an earthquake. In California, building codes strictly regulate such architectural details.
Manhattan does, however, have at least one mitigating factor: ”We are blessed with this bedrock island,” said Mr. Silman. ”That should work to our benefit; we don’t have shifting soils. But there are plenty of places that are problem areas, particularly the shoreline areas,” where landfills make the ground soft and unstable.
As scientists have learned more about geologic faults in the Northeast, the nation’s uniform building code – the basic, minimum code followed throughout the country – has been revised accordingly. Until recently, the code required newly constructed buildings in New York City to withstand at least 19 percent of the side-to-side seismic force that a comparable building in the seismically active areas of California must handle. Now the threshold has been raised to 25 percent.
New York City, for the first time, is moving to adopt seismic standards as part of its own building code. Local and state building codes can and do go beyond the national code. Charles M. Smith Jr., the city Building Commissioner, last spring formed a committee of scientists, engineers, architects and government officials to recommend the changes.
”They all agree that New York City should anticipate an earthquake,” Mr. Smith said. As to how big an earthquake, ”I don’t think anybody would bet on a magnitude greater than 6.5,” he said. ”I don’t know,” he added, ”that our committee will go so far as to acknowledge” the damage levels in the Scawthorn-Harris study, characterizing it as ”not without controversy.”
For the most part, neither New York nor any other Eastern city has done a detailed survey of just how individual buildings and other structures would be affected, and how or whether to modify them.
”The thing I think is needed in the East is a program to investigate all the bridges” to see how they would stand up to various magnitudes of earthquake,” said Bill Geyer, the executive vice president of the New York engineering firm of Steinman, Boynton, Gronquist and Birdsall, which is rehabilitating the cable on the Williamsburg Bridge. ”No one has gone through and done any analysis of the existing bridges.”
In general, he said, the large suspension bridges, by their nature, ”are not susceptible to the magnitude of earthquake you’d expect in the East.” But the approaches and side spans of some of them might be, he said, and only a bridge-by-bridge analysis would tell. Nor, experts say, are some elevated highways in New York designed with the flexibility and ability to accommodate motion that would enable them to withstand a big temblor.
Tunnels Vulnerable
The underground tunnels that carry travelers under the rivers into Manhattan, those that contain the subways and those that carry water, sewers and natural gas would all be vulnerable to rupture, engineers say. The Lincoln, Holland, PATH and Amtrak tunnels, for instance, go from bedrock in Manhattan to soft soil under the Hudson River to bedrock again in New Jersey, said Mark Carter, a partner in Raamot Associates, geotechnical engineers specializing in soils and foundations.
Likewise, he said, subway tunnels between Manhattan and Queens go from hard rock to soft soil to hard rock on Roosevelt Island, to soft soil again and back to rock. The boundaries between soft soil and rock are points of weakness, he said.
”These structures are old,” he said, ”and as far as I know they have not been designed for earthquake loadings.”
Even if it is possible to survey all major buildings and facilities to determine what corrections can be made, cities like New York would then face a major decision: Is it worth spending the money to modify buildings and other structures to cope with a quake that might or might not come in 100, or 200 300 years or more?
”That is a classical problem” in risk-benefit analysis, said Dr. George Lee, the acting director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Center in Buffalo. As more is learned about Eastern earthquakes, he said, it should become ”possible to talk about decision-making.” But for now, he said, ”I think it’s premature for us to consider that question.”

The Doomsday Clock is really counting down to the Bowls of Wrath Revelation 16

The test detonation of a nuclear bomb in Nevada in 1957.

What the Doomsday Clock is really counting down to

The number of human-made existential risks has ballooned, but the most pressing one is the original: nuclear war.

Jan 21, 2022, 3:00pm EST

The Doomsday Clock shows 100 seconds to midnight on January 20, 2022.

One hundred seconds to midnight. That’s the latest setting of the Doomsday Clock, unveiled yesterday morning by the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

That matches the setting in 2020 and 2021, making all three years the closest the Clock has been to midnight in its 75-year history. “The world is no safer than it was last year at this time,” said Rachel Bronson, the president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “The Doomsday Clock continues to hover dangerously, reminding us how much work is needed to ensure a safer and healthier planet.” 

As for why the world is supposedly lingering on the edge of Armageddon, take your pick. Covid-19 has amply demonstrated just how unprepared the world was to handle a major new infectious virus, and both increasing global interconnectedness and the spread of new biological engineering tools mean that the threat from both natural and human-made pathogens will only grow. Even with increasing efforts to reduce carbon emissions, climate change is worsening year after year. New technologies like artificial intelligence, autonomous weapons, even advanced cyberhacking present harder-to-gauge but still very real dangers. 

The sheer number of factors that now go into Bulletin’s annual decision can obscure the bracing clarity that the Doomsday Clock was meant to evoke. But the Clock still works for the biggest existential threat facing the world right now, the one that the Doomsday Clock was invented to illustrate 75 years ago. It’s one that has been with us for so long that it has receded into the background of our nightmares: nuclear war — and the threat is arguably greater at this moment than it has been since the end of the Cold War.

The Doomsday Clock, explained

The Clock was originally the work of Martyl Langsdorf, an abstract landscape artist whose husband Alexander had been a physicist with the Manhattan ProjectHe was also a founder of the Bulletin, which began as a magazine put out by scientists worried about the dangers of the nuclear age and is now a nonprofit media organization that focuses on existential risks to humanity.

Martyl Langsdorf was asked to design a cover for the magazine’s June 1947 issue. Inspired by the idea of a countdown to a nuclear explosion, Langdorf chose the image of a clock with hands ticking down to midnight, because — as the Bulletin’s editors wrote in a tribute to the artist — “it suggested the destruction that awaited if no one took action to stop it.”

As a symbol of the unique existential peril posed by thousands of nuclear warheads kept on a hair trigger, the Doomsday Clock is unparalleled, one of the 20th century’s most iconic pieces of graphic art. It’s been referenced in rock songs and TV shows, and it adorned the cover of the first issue of the Watchmen graphic novel series. 

Its value is its stark simplicity. At a glance, anyone can see how close the Bulletin’s science and security experts, who meet twice a year to determine the Clock’s annual setting, believe the world is to existential catastrophe. The Clock may be wrong — predicting the apocalypse is a near-impossible task — but it cannot be misread.

Since its introduction 75 years ago, the hands of the Clock have moved backward and forward in response to geopolitical shifts and scientific advances. In 1953, it was set to two minutes to midnight after the U.S. and Soviet Union both tested thermonuclear weapons for the first time; in 1991, after the collapse of the USSR and the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, it was moved back to 17 minutes to midnight, the furthest its been to 12 in its history. 

In 2018, thanks to what the Bulletin’s experts called a “breakdown in the international order” of nuclear actors and the growing threat of climate change, it was moved to 2 minutes to midnight and has been at 100 seconds since 2020.

You may begin to notice the problem here. The metaphor of a clock provides the clarity of a countdown, but the closer the hands get to midnight, the more difficult it is to attempt to accurately reflect the small changes that could push the world closer or further from doomsday. 

Nor does it help that beginning in 2007 the Bulletin expanded the Clock to include any human-made threat, from climate change to anti-satellite weapons. The result is a kind of “doomsday creep,” as dangers that are real but unlikely to bring about the immediate end of human civilization — and which fit in poorly with the original metaphor of a clock — muddy its message.

It’s also difficult to square a clock ticking ever closer to midnight with the fact that human life on Earth, broadly defined, has been getting better over the past 75 years, not worse. Even with the Covid-19 pandemic, the growing effects of climate change, and whatever might be brewing in an AI or biotech lab somewhere, humans are far healthierwealthier, and — at least on a day-to-day basis — safer in 2022 than they were in 1947, and odds are that will still be true in 2023 regardless of the Clock’s next annual setting. 

This is the paradox of life in the age of existential risk — the sheer number of ways that we can cause planetary catastrophe can make it feel as if it’s nearly midnight, but compared to how life has been through most of human history, we’re living under the noonday sun.

The one event that could change that instantlyis the existential threat that the Doomsday Clock was originally designed to convey: nuclear war.

Tick, tick, tick

There’s a virtual reality program designed by security researchers at Princeton University that’s been making the rounds in Washington over the past month. 

Users don VR goggles and are transported to the Oval Office, where they play the role of the American president. A siren goes off and a military official transports you to the Situation Room, where users are confronted with a horrifying scenario: early warning sensors have detected the launch of 299 nuclear missiles from Russia that are believed with high confidence to be on a path to the American mainland and its ICBM sites, as Julian Borger describes in a recent Guardian piece.

An estimated 2 million Americans will die. As president, you have fewer than 15 minutes to decide whether the attack is real and whether to launch American ICBMs in response before they are potentially destroyed on the ground.

That’s a true ticking clock, and while it might feel like a throwback to Dr. Strangelove, it’s one that could still take place at any minute of any day. Though global nuclear arsenals are far smaller than they were in the darkest days of the Cold War, there are still thousands of operational nuclear warheads, more than enough to cause catastrophe on an unimaginable scale. 

And while earlier this month the five permanent members of the UN Security Council put out a joint statement affirming that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” — words first said by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 — what’s actually happening on the ground is making that horrifying VR simulation more likely, not less.

A possible Russian invasion of Ukraine could realistically result in a conventional ground war fought on European soil, and it raises the risk of conflict between the US and Russia, which together possess most of the world’s remaining nuclear arsenal. Russia has hintedat the possibility of deploying nuclear weapons close to the US coastline, which would further reduce the warning time after launch to as little as five minutes, while Russian media has made claims that the country could somehow prevail in a nuclear conflict with the US. 

Washington is pursuing a modernization of the US nuclear arsenal that could cost as much as $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years, while Moscow undertakes its own nuclear update. China is reportedly expanding its own nuclear arsenal in an effort to close the gap with the US and Russia, even as tensions grow over Taiwan. 

The risk of a nuclear conflict is “dangerously high,” Jon B. Wolfsthal, a senior adviser at the anti-nuclear initiative Global Zero and the former senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council, wrote recently in the Washington Post

The result of such a war would be as predictable as it is unthinkable. The heat and shockwave from a single 800-kiloton warhead, which is the yield of most of the warheads in Russia’s ICBM arsenal, above a city of 4 million people would likely kill120,000 people immediately, with more dying in the firestorms and radiation fallout that would follow.

A regional or even global nuclear war would multiply that death toll, collapse global supply chains, and potentially lead to devastating long-term climatic change. In the worst-case scenario, as Rutgers University environmental scientist Alan Robock told Vox in 2018, “almost everybody on the planet would die.”

And unlike the other human-made threats the Doomsday Clock now aims to capture, it could unfold almost instantly — and even by accident. Multiple times during the Cold War technical glitches in the machinery of nuclear defense nearly led the US or the USSR to launch their missiles by mistake, and as the VR simulation demonstrates, the sheer speed of a nuclear crisis leaves very little room for error when the clock is ticking.

Moving away from midnight

As long as nuclear weapons exist in significant numbers, they present an existential threat to humanity. Unlike other disruptive technologies like AI or biological engineering, or even the fossil fuels that are the chief driver of climate change, they have no benign side. They are merely weapons, weapons of unimaginably destructive power, whether or not they inspire the dread they once did.

Yet we’ve survived the nuclear age so far because we’ve had the wisdom — and the luck — not to use them since 1945, and more can be done to ensure that remains the case.

Last year the US and Russia extended the New START nuclear weapons treaty, which put limits on the size of each nation’s deployed nuclear arsenal, for another five years, pausing the erosion of the post-Cold War arms control regime and giving diplomats more time to negotiate tighter limits in the future.

The US and Russia also agreed to begin new sets of dialogues on how to better maintain nuclear stability in the future, and the White House is preparing a Nuclear Posture Reviewthat could see the US specifically pledge not to use nuclear weapons first or in response to a conventional or cyber conflict, which could help reduce the chances of a renewed nuclear arms race. Fifty-nine nations have signed onto an international treaty calling for a global ban on nuclear weapons (though none of the signatories are nuclear powers themselves). 

While it will reliably continue to be set every year — at least until midnight really does strike — the Doomsday Clock may have outlived its meaning as a symbol of existential risks in a rapidly changing world where the dangers and benefits of new technologies are so co-mingled. But as a warning for the original human-made catastrophic threat, the Doomsday Clock can still tell the time — and it may be later than we think.

The Australian Nuclear horn continues to grow Daniel 7

(Left to right) British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton [Source: Marise Payne Facebook]

British, Australian ministers strengthen military collaboration against China

In the wake of the AUKUS pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States reached last September, the British and Australian foreign and defence ministers held talks in Sydney yesterday to further strengthen military ties directed primarily against China, and also Russia.

The AUKUS agreement, which includes equipping Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, is part of the US-led military build-up throughout the Indo-Pacific as Washington intensifies its aggressive confrontation with China diplomatically, economically and strategically.

At a joint press conference, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss declared that the two countries were “modernising our partnership for a new age” to confront “the reality … that threats are rising across the world.” As well as lashing out at Russia for “threatening Ukraine” and Iran over its nuclear program, Truss accused China of “using its economic muscle against Australia and other allies like Lithuania.”

Truss told reporters that Australia and Britain were “completely united in our response. We’re standing shoulder to shoulder in defence of freedom and democracy, and we’re determined to face down these growing threats.”

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne trotted out the same propaganda line to justify the military build-up by the two countries in league with the US. Australia and Britain were natural partners, she said, to counter the influence of “malign authoritarianism” and maintain the international order.

For all the unsubstantiated allegations of Russian and Chinese “threats” and “aggression,” Australian and British imperialism have been two of the closest partners in crime of the US over the past three decades. London and Canberra have backed the illegal US-led invasions and interventions in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia to the hilt politically and militarily. These have resulted in the destruction of whole societies—in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.

Now Britain and Australia are preparing to join the US in confronting two nuclear-armed powers, China and Russia, raising the prospect of a catastrophic war. None of this is about defending democracy, which is under sustained attack in all three countries. Rather, the AUKUS pact is seeking to maintain the US global hegemony on which Australia and Britain have both relied since the end of World War II, but which is being undermined by the economic rise of China in particular.

The escalation of the British military presence in the Indo-Pacific—a region half way around the world from the United Kingdom—is especially significant. Following World War II and its declining global influence, Britain withdrew from “East of the Suez” from 1966, pulling its military out of major bases in Aden (now part of Yemen) and Singapore. It has not consistently sent warships to the Indo-Pacific since the closure of its small base in Hong Kong in 1997 when the colony was returned to China.

Last March the British government adopted a so-called Indo-Pacific Tilt, as part of its 2021 Integrated Review, and in September signed up to the AUKUS agreement. The British navy dispatched the Queen Elizabeth II aircraft carrier and its strike group of warships to the Indo-Pacific where it engaged in various exercises, including provocative joint drills in the South China Sea with Dutch and Singaporean naval vessels in October.

Speaking to the press yesterday, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton explained that no agreement had been reached as yet on basing British warships in Australia. However, “it could be something that we discuss at an appropriate time” in the future. “I think what you will see is a greater regularity in visits, training, in people being embedded… and certainly greater cooperation in exercises.”

Britain has already dispatched two of its newest warships—the offshore patrol vessels, HMS Spey and HMS Tamar—to the Asian region on a long-term basis as part of re-establishing “a persistent Indo-Pacific presence.” While not permanently based in Australia, the two British naval vessels will rely heavily on Australian naval infrastructure for port visits, resupply and maintenance.

The two countries also agreed to strengthen military coordination and planning by embedding a liaison officer from Britain’s Permanent Joint Headquarters within Australia’s Headquarters Joint Operations Command.

Australia and Britain are part of the top-level Five Eyes intelligence sharing network, led by the US, which also includes New Zealand and Canada. The ministerial meeting yesterday strengthened collaboration on cyber security, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and undersea capabilities.

Truss used a speech to the Sydney-based think tank, the Lowy Institute, to issue strident warnings about the threat of a Russian invasion of the Ukraine and its dire consequences. In reality, the US and its allies have manufactured the present crisis over Ukraine through the military encroachment of NATO forces into Eastern Europe after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

At yesterday’s press conference, Payne joined the international anti-Russia chorus, declaring “we will work closely with Ukraine in the coming days and weeks in terms of challenges that they are dealing with.” She indicated that Australia would look favourably on any formal request from the Ukraine for assistance on cyber-security.

Asked yesterday about the talks in Sydney, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian branded the AUKUS agreement as “a typical military bloc” and the decision to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines as a breach of the international Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. He pointed to the hypocrisy of the US, Britain and Australia hyping the “China threat” while collaborating in a military build-up in the region.

The provision of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia underscores the aggressive character of the AUKUS agreement. The attack submarines have nothing to do with the defence of Australian waters but are designed to operate at great distances for lengthy periods of time. Their purpose is to operate in concert with British and American nuclear submarines off the Chinese coast, either as part of a naval blockade or a full-scale war.

Last September, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared that Australia had no intention of creating a domestic nuclear industry or arming the nuclear-powered submarines with nuclear missiles. As geo-political tensions continue to rise, such pledges are meaningless.

Australia’s deep integration into US war planning has placed the Australian population on the front-line of a US-led conflict with China that has the potential to rapidly escalate into a nuclear war.

The last chance before the explosion outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

The last chance before the explosion’

The year 2021 was a bloody one even by the usually gory standards of the long-running Israel-Palestine conflict. Data from the United Nations shows that violence in the West Bank reached a five-year peak,” with at least 79 Palestinians and three Israelis killed in a series of attacks, bombings, and confrontations. In the other Palestinian territory of Gaza, over 230 Palestinians were killed during the devastating 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021, while 12 people died in Israel – not to mention injuries and losses of property. Last year was the deadliest since 2014 and an ominous sign of what is to come.

With no formal peace process underway since talks last broke off over seven years ago, and frustration and anger building up amid zero hope on the horizon for a lasting diplomatic solution, the situation can be labeled as a tenuous tinderbox that can ignite at any moment in another bout of fighting and clashes. UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland has warned that, “if left unaddressed, the festering conflict drivers will drag us into yet another destructive and bloody round of violence.” 

In a clear recognition that matters could slip out of hand and repeat more deadly cycles of tit-for-tat attacks, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in late December 2021 in the town of Rosh HaAyin. It was notably “the first time the Palestinian leader held talks with a senior Israeli official in Israel since 2010,” a step necessitated by what Gantz described as “deepening security coordination and preventing terror and violence – for the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians.” Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh labeled this dialogue as “the last chance before the explosion and finding ourselves at a dead end.”

Political contradictions

But even as the Gantz-Abbas meeting triggered a wave of international optimism that it may be the first step for reviving a dialogue process and bringing the two sides back to the table to work out a formula on the world’s most intractable conflicts, a political firestorm broke out in Israel. Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, representing the conservative New Hope party, thundered in disapproval that “I wouldn’t have invited to my home someone who pays salaries to murderers of Israelis and also wants to put senior IDF [Israel Defense Forces] officers in prison in The Hague [at the International Criminal Court].” Livid cabinet ministers were quoted as grumbling that Gantz’s initiative “doesn’t contribute to the stability of the government.”

Whose Israel and whose Palestine? Extremists are running amok as leaderships fail

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads an unwieldy and ideologically fragmented eight-party coalition government, and whose right-wing Yamina party is closely associated with hawkish Jewish settlers opposed to yielding even one inch of the biblical Judea and Samaria (corresponding to today’s West Bank), was left in a precarious position and had to admit that Gantz hosted Abbas after his approval. To cover his back, though, Bennett clarified that the purpose of the talks was limited to improving security coordination and economic interactions, not to restart the peace process.

Under pressure from within his own party, and desperate to ensure that his contradiction-filled coalition government does not collapse, Bennett had previously dissociated himself from any revival of peace negotiations with the Palestinians:

“My perception is different than that of the defense minister, although we work in harmony. I oppose a Palestinian state and I think it would be a grave mistake to import the failed Gaza model of Hamas which shoots rockets at us, and turn the entire West Bank to that. I see no logic in meeting Abbas when he’s suing our soldiers in the Hague and accuses our commanders of war crimes. In my opinion, the Palestinian Authority is a failed entity.”

At the other corner of the spectrum in the coalition government is Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid, who thinks that Israel has no option but to revive the peace process with the Palestinians. Citing an “intelligence-based assessment” that campaigns for international ostracization and designation of Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ could fructify in 2022, Lapid has publicly advocated a moderate stance:

“Without diplomatic dialogue with the Palestinians, this [the threat of Israel being designated an apartheid state] will only grow more severe. We need to be cautious of a situation in which the world says the Palestinians are promoting diplomatic talks and Israel is refusing. The claim that Israel is an apartheid state is a disgusting lie. These are a group of anti-Semites, but I don’t take them lightly.”

Still, such is the shaky political environment in Israel that Lapid, who is supposed to take over by rotation from Bennett and become the next prime minister in 2023, has been forced to assure his detractors that he would keep aside his own beliefs and stay away from dialogue with the Palestinians to preserve the coalition:

“Even after a coalition rotation, I will remain with the same people and the same disagreements … I plan to stand behind the agreement I made with my partners. There is no reason for me to delude the Palestinians and open a diplomatic process that doesn’t have a coalition behind it … That would damage our credibility, which is important.”

Social polarization

When the foremost liberal politician in Israel has to hold his horses despite being cognizant of the blowback effect of the unstable status quo with the Palestinians, it shows how difficult the road ahead is for any diplomatic path forward. The obstacles come not only from the mood of the political class in Israel, where the mainstream discourse is largely ‘securitized’ and based on fear of granting any concessions to the Palestinians, but also from increasing social polarization. 

‘New generation is capable of leading a new Intifada’

An opinion poll in December 2021 suggested that a slim majority of Israelis are in favor of a direct meeting between Prime Minister Bennett and President Abbas, and that 49% of Israelis even want their government to have “direct, open talks” with Hamas – an entity designated a terrorist organization by the governments of Israel, the United States, and the European Union.

But such barometers of what Israeli people want are deceptive and not indicative of policy-making, because the country’s electoral math is divided up according to vote banks. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was ousted from power in June 2021 after failing to cobble together yet another right-wing coalition in the Israeli Knesset, remains a formidable force. There is a clear pattern of Bennett and other rightists in the current coalition wanting to outdo Netanyahu and demonstrate an even tougher approach to crushing terrorism by Palestinian jihadists and expanding illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Any concession by Lapid or Gantz that crosses the red lines set by this overarching rightist milieu could plunge Israel into more uncertainty and chaos, following four inconclusive general elections since April 2019.

Former US President Donald Trump’s remarksthat “I don’t think Bibi [Netanyahu’s nickname] ever wanted to make peace” with the Palestinians, and that “he just tapped us along. Just tap, tap, tap,” reveal the crux of the matter. Barring a few left-liberals, the Israeli body politic is invested only in managing the Palestinian problem in terms of stopping terrorist attacks or throwing a few economic sops at President Abbas’ moribund and unpopular Palestinian Authority, not in resolving the conflict per se.

Israeli military changes open-fire rules

The much-talked-about ‘two-state solution’ of an independent Palestinian state coexisting beside the state of Israel, which was put forward as the final goalpost after the 1993 Oslo Accords, has lost traction amid a steady increase in what Israeli security officials themselves admit is a surge in Jewish extremism and ultra-nationalism. 

In an August 2021 opinion poll, only 39.7% of Israelis favored the two-state solution. Most tellingly, within the group clinging to the fading dream of a two-state solution, just 33.8% were Jewish Israelis, while 68.8% were Israeli Arabs (citizens of Israel, most of whom consider themselves Palestinians and identify with their stateless kin living in the West Bank and Gaza).

The internal schism between Jews and Arabs within Israel has widened significantly, mirroring the internecine feud between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah faction in the Palestinian territories. These two trends further hamper any progress in relaunching diplomatic efforts. While there never were monolithic unanimous categories of ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’, the parallel processes of disaggregation of national identities and widespread public cynicism about the intentions and performance of the ruling classes on both sides have created a huge credibility vacuum.

International negotiations can only succeed when there are two willing and coherent parties, each with domestic legitimacy and social consensus behind them. Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority has such a solid footing in their respective home bases.

‘Separate peace’ without Palestine

Another factor deterring any move by Israel for peace with the Palestinians is what can be called the ‘outside in’ approach Jerusalem has adopted to the Middle East as a whole. The Abraham Accords, facilitated by Israel’s principal international backer the US, wherein four Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan – formally recognized Israel and established diplomatic relations with it, have given Israel a sense of vindication without having to redress Palestinian grievances.

As Prime Minister Bennett put it in December, during his historic first ever visit to the UAE after the normalization of relations, there is“great optimism that this example, of ties between the two countries, will be a cornerstone for a wide-ranging network of ties throughout the region.” The Middle East has indeed traveled a long way from the 1967 consensus among Arab nations of the ‘Three Nos’ – “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” Israel is no longer persona non grata among many Sunni Arab countries, which have adjusted their national interests to do pragmatic quid pro quo deals with the militarily superior and economically vibrant Zionist state instead of resisting it.

Understandably, Palestinians have lambastedthe Trump administration-brokered Abraham Accords as unpardonable betrayals and treacherous stabs in the back of Palestinians by their fellow Arabs. But unlike in 1979 – when Egypt recognized Israel in return for the Sinai Peninsula without gaining any concessions on behalf of Palestinians, resulting in a torrent of Islamist anger that scalped the life of President Anwar Sadat – the chorus of outrage against the Abraham Accords has been muted in the proverbially radical ‘Arab street’. Apparently, many in the Muslim world are fatigued and tired of carrying the burdensome cross of the Israel-Palestine dispute on their shoulders and want to move on.

The international marginalization of the Palestinian cause, which once used to fire up the entire Middle East and mobilize leftist firebrands worldwide, has given Israeli elites confidence that they can have their cake and eat it too. As seen from Jerusalem, if the broader Arab-Israeli conflict is melting away, why care about the narrower Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

The Iran diversion 

An interlinked development which has pushed resolution of the Palestinian question to the backburner is the ‘Iran threat’, which has reorganized coalitions and alignments in the region. Because Iran remains the leading power in the ‘axis of resistance’ against Israel and the US – a grouping which includes Syria, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi and Yemeni militants – Jerusalem views Tehran as its main national security challenge and enemy number one.

The laser-like focus that Israel, the US, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni Arab states have kept on Iran’s nuclear programme and the ‘malign activities’ of Iran’s proxies are to an extent based on actual threat assessments and security incidents. But the Iran-phobia discourse also serves a political purpose of shoving the Palestinian problem under the carpet as a far less important matter or even a bygone concern of an earlier era that deserves no fresh diplomatic push.

Mowing the grass forever?

Palestinian gunned down in Jerusalem after stabbing Orthodox Jewish man (VIDEO)

If Israel keeps kicking the can down the road and indefinitely sustaining the status quo of militarily occupying the West Bank (home to about 2.8 million Palestinians) and laying siege to Gaza (containing over 1.8 million Palestinians), even as frustration and desperation rise in these territories, is it not a recipe for wave after wave of uprisings, outbursts, and violence that could spill over into Israel itself, as was the case during the 2021 Israel-Hamas mini war? President Abbas’ repeated postponement of elections (Palestinian territories have not voted for their top leaders since 2006) and the rage that emanates from powerlessness and joblessness among Palestinians (average age of 20 years) could boomerang sharply on Israel. 

Foreign Minister Lapid, who has expressedworries about whether Israel can remain Jewish and democratic if it permanently denies Palestinians their rights, has acknowledged that Israel’s government cannot afford to neglect the Palestinian issue “forever and ever.”

However, Jewish fertility rates have overtaken those of Palestinians in recent years, relieving old fears of Jews becoming a demographic minority in Israel and the occupied territories. This shift, together with the ever-splintering socio-political identities within Israel which skew policymaking toward hardline positions, has weakened the argument that something must be done urgently to reconcile with Palestinians and try for peace.

Israel’s strategy of periodically ‘mowing the grass’, i.e. using superior military force to repel Palestinian jihadists while avoiding a final political solution, is presumably the only visible path, despite its inbuilt violence and terrible human and economic costs. Barring a grassroots generational shift in Israeli public attitudes and political culture or a wholesale capitulation by the dysfunctional Palestinian factions to accept a one-sided peace deal thrown at them, this perpetual war has only commas and no full stops. Sreeram Chaulia is a professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs in Sonipat, India. His forthcoming book is ‘Crunch Time: Narendra Modi’s National Security Crises’.

Iran attacks Babylon the Great again

Several rockets hit Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, including US embassy, and wound two civilians

US personnel in the area are safe following the attacks, a State Department official told CNN. 

“The U.S. Embassy compound was attacked this evening by terrorist groups attempting to undermine Iraq’s security, sovereignty, and international relations,” the embassy said in a statement.“We have long said that these sorts of reprehensible attacks are an assault not just on diplomatic facilities but on the sovereignty of Iraq itself,” the embassy added in the tweeted statement.

The Iraqi military said “a cowardly terrorist act” targeted “innocent residents of the Green Zone in Baghdad and the headquarters of the diplomatic missions.”

Several missiles were launched from the Dora neighborhood in southern Baghdad, the military said.

Security forces are now investigating the incident.

Baghdad’s Green Zone houses Iraqi government offices and several embassies.

Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned the attack on Thursday, writing on Twitter: “Targeting diplomatic missions and endangering civilians is a criminal terrorist act and a blow to Iraq’s interests and its international reputation.” Thursday’s strikes add to a growing list of attacks on US personnel in the Middle East in recent weeks. Last Wednesday, military bases in Iraq and Syria that house American troops were attacked, though no US forces were killed in the strikes. 

Last week also saw several other attacks in the region, coinciding with the second anniversary of the US assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a key Iranian general.

The attack last week on the US base in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border prompted US-led coalition forces to fire back at Iranian-backed militias who were suspected of being behind the strikes. 

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters last week that “it’s difficult to know with great specificity and certainty … what accounts for the frequency of these attacks,” adding: “It is certainly possible that it could be related to the anniversary of the Soleimani strike. It is certainly possible that it could be related to the change in mission” in Iraq.

Echoing Salih’s sentiments, Iraqi anti-American cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr stressed that Thursday’s attacks would only delay the full withdrawal of US troops from the country.

Al-Sadr called on all militia groups to stop attacking the US embassy and other sites, saying such acts would “Undermind our efforts to expel (US troops in Iraq) through the UN Security Council, international means and under penalty of law.”

The cleric’s political party has emerged as the biggest winner in Iraq’s general election that was held in October 2021.

Antichrist’s men will make final call on government formation

Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP). Photo: Rudaw

Sadrists will make final call on government formation: official

18-01-2022

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has negotiated with all political blocs equally regarding the formation of the Iraqi government, but the final call of who partakes in the cabinet remains a call of the Sadrists, the legislature’s newly-elected deputy speaker told Rudaw on Monday.

The KDP, one of the main winners of October’s early elections, has been engaged in intense talks with Iraqi and Kurdish parties following the vote and ahead of the government formation.

KDP’s Shakhawan Abdullah, who was elected as the second deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament earlier this month, said that the Sadrists veto against the State of Law Coaliton and Qais al-Khazali, a senior member of the Fateh Coalition and leader of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, partaking in the new Iraqi government does not affect how the KDP negotiates with parties.

“That is a Shiite matter, as the KDP we have spoken to all parties the same way. What KDP has emphasized is that the government formation should not be delayed,” Abdullah told Rudaw’s Bestoon Khalid in an interview, adding that “who becomes part of the government and who does not is in the hands of the largest bloc which is the Sadrist bloc.”

Parties all over Iraq are in negotiations about who will form the country’s next government. This year, unlike before, the head of the Sadrist bloc, Muqtada al-Sadr, has repeatedly called for the formation of a majority government, which means securing a ruling majority that would appoint a premier and cabinet from within its ranks.

Sadr already proved that his idea of a majority works after the first parliamentary session where the parliamentary speaker and his two deputies were elected without the presence of Sadr’s main Shiite rivals, the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Shiite factions that continue to object to the election results.

In the session, the Sadrist bloc, KDP, and Sunni Taqadum Coalition stood together and voted for each other’s candidates securing the positions of parliament speaker and his deputies, which came as a result of multiple meetings, according to Abdullah.

“People say this is an oral agreement, but this is the result of a number of meetings between these three sides. An agreement has been signed, and there are common grounds between us,” Abdullah said.

Iraq has for years had a national consensus government in which most parties were included and government members would be responsible for their leaders first then the prime minister. This form of governance has allowed Iran to outsize its influence in Iraq.

According to Article 54 of the 2005 Iraqi constitution, when the election results are confirmed, it sets in motion a process for the winning parties to form a government. Within 15 days of the ratification of the results, the president calls on the parliament to meet, chaired by its eldest member, and elect a speaker and two deputies by an absolute majority during its first session, which is set out by Article 55.

The president then tasks the largest bloc in the parliament with forming the government, naming a prime minister within 15 days of the election of the president. The prime minister-elect then has 30 days to name a cabinet.

India and Pakistan Continue to Ramp Up for the first nuclear war : Revelation 8

Pakistan and India have fought three wars, two over Kashmir, since 1947. In a short fight between their air forces in 2019, Pakistan claimed downing two Indan jets and captured one pilot.

India, Pakistan tested dozens of missiles but North Korea grabbed eyeballs

India (16) and Pakistan (10) conducted 26 ballistic and cruise missile tests in 2021 while North Korea conducted just six missile tests but they became media headlines.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars, two over Kashmir, since 1947. In a short fight between their air forces in 2019, Pakistan claimed downing two Indan jets and captured one pilot. (Reuters)

South Asia’s nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan have conducted 26 missile tests in 2021, making it a year of intense arms rivalry.

While India tested 16 ballistic and cruise missiles, Pakistan tested 10 missiles with nearly identical capabilities in a tit-for-tat response. This equates to two missile tests in a month.

Pakistan and India, both of which have nuclear weapons, have fought three wars, two over disputed Kashmir, since 1947 and had a number of military skirmishes, most recently a limited engagement between their air forces in 2019.

According to India’s Defence Ministry, trials for Long-Range Surface-to-Air Missiles (LRSAM) for its navy have also concluded.

The missile system has been jointly developed by India’s Defence Research Development Organization and Israel’s Aerospace Industries.

India also conducted two flight tests of the Agni P, a new generation nuclear-capable ballistic-canisterised missile with a range capability of 1,000 km to 2,000 km. The country ended the year by conducting a maiden flight test of surface-to-surface missile Pralay.

The missile is powered by a solid-propellant rocket motor and many new technologies. 

With a range of 150-500 km, it can be launched from a mobile launcher and its guidance system includes a state-of-the-art navigation system and integrated avionics.

Pakistan’s missile tests

Pakistan responded by testing the Shaheen III and Shaheen 1A surface-to-surface ballistic missiles with ranges of 2,750 km and 900 km, respectively.

In response to India’s BrahMos cruise missile, Pakistan tested the Babur Cruise Missile IA, which has a range of 450 km, twice this year, according to data collected from the website of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations – the media wing of the Pakistan armed forces.

While Pakistan launched the surface-to-air LY-80 missile air defence weapon system on April 7, India tested a new generation Akash Missile (Akash-NG) on July 21, demonstrating the Indian air force’s defence capabilities.

In contrast, North Korea conducted just six missile tests during the same time period, but they grabbed international headlines.

Nuclear powers

India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea have together around 460 nuclear warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 

According to a January 2021 tally by the institute, which includes retired warheads –– not counted in the State Department’s numbers –– the United States had 5,550 warheads, compared to 6,255 in Russia, 350 in China, 225 in Britain, and 290 in France.