Living on the Fault Line
A major earthquake isn’t likely here, but if it comes, watch out.
Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo
This chart shows the location of the Ramapo Fault System, the longest and one of the oldest systems of cracks in the earth’s crust in the Northeast. It also shows the location of all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in New Jersey during the last 50 years. The circle in blue indicates the largest known Jersey quake.
The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.
After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.
Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.
During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.
“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”
Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.
Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.
After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.
But no area on the East Coast is as densely populated or as heavily built-up as parts of New Jersey and its neighbors. For this reason, scientists refer to the Greater New York City-Philadelphia area, which includes New Jersey’s biggest cities, as one of “low earthquake hazard but high vulnerability.” Put simply, the Big One isn’t likely here—but if it comes, especially in certain locations, watch out.
Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.
Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.
The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.
For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.
Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”
The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.
The Ramapo Fault sits on the North American Plate, which extends past the East Coast to the middle of the Atlantic, where it meets the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in constant flux. The consequences of this intraplate setting are huge: First, as Gates points out, “The predictability of bigger earthquakes on…[such] settings is exceedingly poor, because they don’t occur very often.” Second, the intraplate setting makes it more difficult to link our earthquakes to a major cause or fault, as monitors in California can often do.
This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”
Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”
But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.
Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.
All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.
For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.
Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.
To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.
In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.
As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)
In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.
The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/hazus.htm).
Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.
Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.
This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.
“Any vulnerable structure on these weak soils would have a higher failure hazard,” Stanford says. And the scary truth is that many structures in New Jersey’s largest cities, not to mention New York City, would be vulnerable, since they’re older and built before anyone gave much thought to earthquake-related engineering and construction codes.
For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at nycem.org.)
All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.
Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”
Planning for the Big One
For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.
In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.
Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”
Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.
This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”
A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.
“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”
Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.
Israeli fighter jets bombarded a military facility belonging to the Hamas in Gaza in response to a rocket from the besieged coatsal encalve into the Jewish state.
Hamas security officials told Xinhua news agency on Thursday that the facility was severely damaged, but no injuries were reported.
Witnesses said that several explosions were heard in central Gaza Strip after the military facility was attacked and that militants fired back at the attacking Israeli fighter jets.
An Israeli army spokesman said in a statement that the airstrike came in response to a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
No one claimed responsibility for firing the rocket.
Since April 15, there have been violent clashes between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli police forces at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Dozens of Israeli settlers entered the mosque’s compound to perform prayers on the Jewish Passover holiday.
During the clashes, more than 200 Palestinians were injured, and 300 were arrested, most of whom were later released.
Nuclear brinkmanship is reaching a boiling point as the war in Ukraine enters its third month. Although the US. and NATO have refrained from putting troops on the ground in Ukraine to fight Russia’s invasion of the European nation, American involvement in any shape pits two nuclear powers against one another in the most direct way since the Cold War. With every day that goes by, the threat of nuclear war looms large, as any wrong move by the US or Russia could lead to a point of no return. Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the media, took part in planning a US response to a nuclear attack during the Cold War, an experience that provides him with a unique perspective on this dangerous moment in history.
On this week’s “Scheer Intelligence,” Ellsberg joins host Robert Scheer to discuss just how close the world is coming to annihilation in the context of the Ukraine conflict. While the two disagree on certain nuances relating to US officials’ eagerness or “giddiness” to actually deploy nuclear weapons, throughout the lively discussion they arrive at stark warnings about what direct conflicts with Russia over Ukraine, and China over Taiwan, would mean to the future of the human race. The whistleblower’s most recent book, “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner,” illustrates just how precarious the US hold over its own nukes is, highlighting that weapons with the power to cause the extinction of mankind belong in no country. Upon rereading Ellsberg’s book, Scheer, who reported on the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl and interviewed President Ronald Reagan about his perspective on nukes, says he has become even more terrified of the prospect of nuclear war than ever before.
To Ellsberg, however, the rationale that US and Russian leaders use when sabre-rattling is clear: the threat of nuclear war justifies obscene military spending and lines the pockets of arms dealers in both countries. The ethics of gambling with humanity’s existence for the sake of anyone’s bottom line should be viewed as repulsive from any perspective or political ideology. Unfortunately, Ellsberg and Scheer recognize, there are people even within the Biden administration who seem unphased by this sort of immorality. As far as Putin goes, the whistleblower argues, although he hasn’t deployed any nuclear weapons, the threat of doing so has effectively kept the US from intervening further in Ukraine. In this sense, the Russian president is already “using” his country’s nuclear arsenal to his advantage.
The Iranian nuclear talks in Vienna have been stalled for more than a month, and there have been several reasons cited for this stalemate. According to most experts, and even Iran regime’s officials, one of the most important issues is whether the regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) will remain on the US government’s Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list, in which they were included in 2019 during Donald Trump’s presidency.
There are many obstacles in the path of the removal of IRGC from the FTO list. Those opposing the IRGC’s removal from the FTO are striving to ensure that the Biden administration does not provide such a concession to Iran.
Speaking at the US Senate Armed Services Committee, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said, “In my personal opinion I believe the IRGC Quds Force to be a terrorist organization and I do not support them being delisted from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list.”
In an open letter to the current US President Joe Biden, 70 national security professionals opposed the delisting of the regime’s IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.
In another open letter, 46 retired US generals and admirals opposed the ongoing nuclear deal and urged the US government to avoid getting involved. Retired US Air Force Gen. Charles Wald said: “That just doesn’t sit well with us because the IRGC is the most malicious group in the region.”
“US Special Envoy Robert Malley recently reiterated that Washington would maintain sanctions against the IRGC even if the organization is eventually removed from the list,” Mousavian continued, before warning about the regime’s malign activities in the Middle East, “There are two related considerations here. Without the participation of the IRGC, no agreement with Iran on regional crises will be possible.”
The main reason for this stalemate is simply the lack of trust in Iran-US relations, and this distrust has become increasingly widespread due to the regime’s breach of promises. It should be noted that over the past few years, many of these breaches have been exposed by the Iranian opposition, namely the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the National Council Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Now, the question remains as to whether the issue of the IRGC is the only factor that has stopped the talks, and if this issue could be fixed, what direction will the JCPOA talks take?
To put it simply, both sides are trying to extract maximum concessions from one another. The regime wants to get the IRGC delisted because of its legal consequences, which has created big problems for various companies who want to work with the regime, i.e., companies affiliated with the IRGC. The regime has lost most of its financial resources to realize its regional objectives.
Both sides have said that the ball is in the other party’s court. The regime’s reason for this is that Washington is reluctant to remove the IRGC from the FTO because the regime is not giving them the necessary guarantees. For example, the regime has been asked not to pursue the issue of Qassem Soleimani’s assassination and not to interfere in other countries, but they have not heeded this request.
On April 18, the state-run daily Donya-e Eghtesad wrote, “The problem is that the Americans do not want to implement the JCPOA of 2015, but instead want Iran to fulfill all its obligations under the JCPOA. In fact, they want something more than what the 2015 JCPOA provided. One of these was the issue of the IRGC and its place on the terrorist list.”
The paper added, “If the IRGC remains on the terrorist list, it means that the United States does not want to implement the 2015 JCPOA. If the US removes the IRGC from the list, they have demands from Iran, one related to missile discussions and the other related to regional discussions. For this reason, the JCPOA is no longer acceptable by the Americans, because the JCPOA, did not address the missile and regional issues.”
This daily emphasized that the problem is not only the IRGC, adding, “In the unlikely possibility that Iran would accept the inclusion of the IRGC on the terrorist list until we reach an agreement, but the problem also will not be solved.
“First, a group of members of Congress insists that any document in the Vienna talks should have the approval of Congress, which would mean the document would not be finalized. In fact, it is not possible to pass any document in Congress, and on any issue, either Republicans or Democrats will oppose it.
“Another reason is that even if Congress were to approve the document related to the JCPOA, the life of the agreement would not be more than two or three years, because Republicans have vowed that if they get into the White House, they would destroy any deal.”
For these reasons, the regime has no other options but to accept a new deal or reject everything and pay for the consequences, one of them being the expansion of social crises and people’s protests.
Pledging not to seek revenge for the US assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Soleimani is ‘a fantasy’, the elite force says.
Published On 21 Apr 202221 Apr 2022
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) says it will not stop attempts to avenge its top general killed in a United States attack as a condition to end sanctions – a key sticking point to reviving an important nuclear deal.
General Qassem Soleimani, who headed the elite Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the IRGC, was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq’s capital Baghdad in January 2020.
“Enemies have asked us several times to give up avenging the blood of Qasem Soleimani, for the lifting of some sanctions. But this is a fantasy,” navy commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri was quoted as saying by the IRGC’s Sepah News website.
Former US President Donald Trump ordered Soleimani killed, saying he was planning an “imminent” attack on American personnel in the Iraqi capital.
Iran responded to his assassination by firing missiles a few days later at Iraqi bases housing US troops, causing injuries. The attacks and retaliatory strikes brought the Middle East region to the brink of war.
Iran has been engaged for a year in negotiations with France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China directly, and the United States indirectly, to revive a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
In 2018, two years before Soleimani’s killing, the US unilaterally withdrew from the accord and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to step back from its commitments.
Negotiations in the Austrian capital Vienna aim to return Washington to the deal, including through the lifting of crippling sanctions on Iran, and to ensure Tehran’s full compliance with its commitments.
Among the key remaining sticking points is Tehran’s demand to delist the IRGC from a US “terrorism” list.
That sanction, imposed by Trump after he withdrew from the nuclear agreement, is officially separate from the nuclear file.
The US said on Thursday that if Iran wanted sanctions relief beyond the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it must address “US concerns”.
“We are not negotiating in public, but if Iran wants sanctions lifting that goes beyond the JCPOA, they will need to address concerns of ours beyond the JCPOA,” a US Department of State spokesperson said.
“Conversely, if they do not want to use these talks to resolve other bilateral issues beyond the JCPOA, then we are confident that we can very quickly reach an understanding on the JCPOA and begin reimplementing the deal,” the spokesperson added. “Iran needs to make a decision.”
The Quds Force is the foreign espionage and paramilitary arm of Iran’s IRGC that controls its allied militia abroad. The Trump administration put the IRGC on the State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 2019, marking the first time Washington formally labelled another nation’s military a “terrorist” group.
“Under any return to the JCPOA, the United States would retain and aggressively use our powerful tools to address Iran’s destabilising activities and its support for terrorism and terrorist proxies, and especially to counter the IRGC,” the State Department spokesperson said.
Right-wing US politicians and Israel, the arch-rival of Iran, have warned Washington against lifting sanctions on the IRGC.
Iran this week said “technical issues” in the now-paused negotiations to restore the nuclear agreement have been resolved, but “political” issues persist ahead of concluding any deal.
“We have repeatedly stressed [to Washington] that Iran is not willing to abandon its red lines,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Thursday, without giving further details.
On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said “the perpetrators, officials, accomplices and advisers” in Soleimani’s death “will not go unpunished“, adding “these people must be brought to justice”.
In largest exchange of fire since 2021 war, IDF says it targeted Hamas military post, terror tunnel, underground rocket manufacturing site, compound used by air defense force
Flames and smoke rise during Israeli airstrikes in the central Gaza strip, on April 21, 2022. (Bashar Taleb/AFP)
The IDF carried out a pair of air raids in Gaza after midnight on Thursday in response to rocket fire and anti-aircraft missiles launched from the Hamas-run enclave during what appeared to be the tensest night in the Strip since last May’s 11-day war.
During the exchange, the IDF said its Iron Dome missile defense system mistook gunshots for a salvo of rockets in what initially appeared to be a sign of a significant escalation. But by night’s end, the army confirmed that only one rocket had been fired into Israel during the whole exchange.
That launch took place at around 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, with shrapnel from the rocket striking a parked car and a wall near a home in the city of Sderot. Hundreds of ball bearings that were loaded into the rocket were found at the scene.
Less than three hours later, the IDF said it responded with airstrikes in central Gaza targeting a military post as well as a tunnel complex “containing raw chemicals used for the manufacturing of rocket engines.” The IDF claimed its strike marked a significant blow to the rocket production process in Gaza.
For the second time this week, the army said that Hamas targeted its jets with anti-aircraft missiles during the raid.
In response, the IDF said it launched a subsequent raid targeting a compound used by Hamas’s air defense force.
During this second raid at around 2:00 a.m., gunshots were fired that triggered Red Alert sirens as well as the Iron Dome, whose Tamir interceptor missiles lit up the sky in what appeared to be the downing of several rockets.
After initially announcing the downing of four rockets, the IDF issued a statement at 5:45 a.m. clarifying that what had triggered the Iron Dome had been gunshots, not rockets. The army added that it was looking into what caused the malfunction.
Fifteen minutes earlier, the army said Gaza terrorists sought to launch another rocket into Israel but that the projectile landed inside the Strip. It managed to set off an alert in an open area near a Gaza border town, but nowhere else.
No Israelis were directly injured by the rocket fire earlier in the night, but three people were lightly wounded in falls that took place while running to bomb shelters. All of them were evacuated to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center for further treatment before being released shortly thereafter, according to the hospital.
A missile from Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system lights the sky over the Gaza Strip on April 21, 2022. (Said Khatib/AFP)
No Gaza group immediately took responsibility for either of the night’s launches, as had been the case after the week’s first rocket launch on Monday evening. However, several media reports citing Israeli security officials pegged Hamas-rival Palestinian Islamic Jihad as responsible for the Monday rocket fire.
Regardless, the IDF responded to the week’s first rocket launch with an air raid targeting a number of Hamas military sites in Gaza, including one used by Hamas to manufacture weapons.
The army said in its early Thursday statement that it holds Hamas responsible for what takes place in the Gaza Strip, sticking to its long-held justification for targeting posts belonging to the enclave-ruling group in response to rocket fire, regardless of whether its fighters were behind the launches or not.
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasim said early Thursday that “the bombing of Gaza will increase the persistence of our people and its resistance to continue the struggle and escalate support and aid for our people in Jerusalem.”
This week’s rocket attacks ended an almost four-month period of quiet on the Gaza border. Wednesday’s rocket fire came at the tail-end of a tension-filled day in Jerusalem, where Israeli nationalists were prevented by police from marching through the Old City’s Damascus Gate, a popular gathering point for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Hamas had threatened to attack if the march went ahead.
Recent days have seen violent clashes between Palestinian rioters and police on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, leading to the injury of dozens of Palestinians and several police officers.
Here is how Russia’s chain of command would work in the event of a nuclear weapon launch.
Published On 21 Apr 202221 Apr 2022
President Vladimir Putin has once again promoted Russia’s nuclear might against the backdrop of the Ukraine conflict, saying on Wednesday that a new ballistic missile system should make Moscow’s enemies stop and think.
Announcing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine eight weeks ago, Putin warned the West that any attempt to get in its way “will lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history”. Days later, he ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be put on high alert.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last month that “the prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility.”
Here is how Russia’s chain of command would work in the event of a nuclear weapon launch.
Who decides to launch Russian nuclear weapons?
A 2020 document called “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence” says the Russian president takes the decision to use nuclear weapons.
A small briefcase, known as the Cheget, is kept close to the president at all times, linking him to the command and control network of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.
The Cheget does not contain a nuclear launch button but rather transmits launch orders to the central military command – the General Staff.
If Putin gives the nuclear order, what happens?
The Russian General Staff has access to the launch codes and has two methods of launching nuclear warheads.
It can send authorisation codes to individual weapons commanders, who then execute the launch procedures.
There is also a back-up system, known as Perimetr, which allows the General Staff to initiate the launch of land-based missiles directly, bypassing all the immediate command posts.
Did Putin’s ‘high alert’ order make a launch more likely?
After Putin said on February 27 that Russia’s deterrence forces – which include nuclear weapons – should be put on high alert, the defence ministry said the Strategic Missile Forces, the Northern and Pacific Fleets, and the Long-Range Aviation Command had been placed on “enhanced” combat duty, with reinforced personnel.
The term enhanced, or special, combat duty does not appear in Russia’s nuclear doctrine, leaving military experts puzzled over what it might mean.
Pavel Podvig, a senior researcher at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva, said on Twitter that the order might have activated Russia’s nuclear command and control system, essentially opening communication channels for any eventual launch order.
Alternatively, he said, it might just mean the Russians had expanded the staff at their nuclear facilities.
Does Russia have rules on using nuclear weapons?
The 2020 doctrine presents four scenarios that might justify the use of Russian nuclear weapons:
– the use of nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction against Russia or its allies;
– data showing the launch of ballistic missiles aimed at Russia or its allies;
– an attack on critical government or military sites that would undermine the ability of Russia’s nuclear forces to respond to threats;
– the use of conventional weapons against Russia “when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy”.
What nuclear capabilities does Russia have?
The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Russia has 5,977 nuclear warheads, more than any other country. Of these, 1,588 are deployed and ready for use. Its missiles can be fired from land, by submarines and by airplanes.
Putin oversaw a coordinated test of Russia’s nuclear forces on February 19. On April 20, he was shown on TV being told by the military that the intercontinental ballistic missile Sarmat, which has been under development for years, had been successfully test-launched for the first time. Russia’s nuclear forces will start taking delivery of the new missile “in the autumn of this year”, Tass news agency quoted a senior official as saying on Wednesday.
The United States, for its part, last month postponed a routine test launch of its Minuteman ballistic missile in an apparent effort to lower tensions with Russia.
Has Russia ever used a nuclear weapon in war?
No. To date, the only use of nuclear weapons during conflict was in 1945, at the end of World War II, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.