The Ramapo Fault and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

 


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.

Antichrist’s cynicism deepens political crisis

Analysis - Iraq Report Muqtada al-Sadr

Iraqi news cycles over the past week have been replete with mention of Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric who started off his career in post-Saddam Iraq running sectarian death squads targeting Sunnis, before taking advantage of record low trust in Iraq’s “democracy” last year, leveraging his organised, grassroots voter base to maximise his hold on parliament.

However, and in an about-face that took many by surprise, last week the cleric ordered that all his 73 deputies should resign their seats in the Iraqi legislature, pointing to the fact that, eight months after the elections and despite having a plurality if not a majority of seats, “corruption” in the political process had prevented Sadr from forming a majority government.

Essentially, Sadr ceded the parliamentary battlefield to the Coordination Framework, an umbrella group of overtly pro-Iran parties – a group he blames for Iraq’s endemic corruption, subservience to foreign interests, and undermining Iraqi sovereignty.

The Sadrists likely believe this “protest” will make for a grand statement, galvanising support amongst their working class Shia base. In reality, Sadr’s display of annoyance at a political system that he himself has propped up will likely achieve nothing but ensure the perpetuation of a political process that has been boycotted by a majority of Iraqis.

“In reality, Sadr’s display of annoyance at a political system that he himself has propped up will likely achieve nothing but ensure the perpetuation of a political process that has been boycotted by a majority of Iraqis”

Sadr’s rise to parliamentary prominence

A large part of Sadr’s public relations campaign is to portray himself as an anti-establishment figure, even as he heavily relies on the establishment in Baghdad to legitimise himself and his militia activities.

While Sadr has been known to – very gently – criticise Iran and its meddling in Iraq’s sovereign affairs, he has, and for a long time, been supported by Tehran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Sadr is fully aware that Iraq lacks sovereignty. Rather, it is heavily under the thrall of Iran, and, despite parliament voting to expel American troops in the aftermath of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani’s assassination on the orders of President Donald Trump in early 2020, has been simply ignored by the United States which maintains a military presence to the present day.Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr protest for governmental reform and elimination of corruption on March 4, 2016 near Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone. [Getty]

Iraqi territory is also regularly invaded by neighbouring Turkey that complains that Iraq has done far too little to stem the activities of the Kurdish separatist movement, the Kurdistan Workers Party, better known as the PKK. Baghdad’s protests to Ankara are ignored, even as the Turkish military conducts numerous military operations in the Iraqi north.

Aside from his own awareness of these issues, Sadr is also undoubtedly aware that the Iraqi people themselves feel that their country enjoys no sovereignty.

Sadr has consistently sought to align himself with mass demonstration movements to protest against Iranian and US meddling, rife corruption and graft, and the ethno-sectarian quota muhasasa system that splits Iraq’s main political offices amongst Shia Arabs, Sunni Kurds and Sunni Arabs, and that has bedevilled Iraqi politics since the illegal US invasion of 2003.

In fact, Sadr’s followers once stormed the Green Zone that houses major international embassies as well as serving as the centre of the Iraqi political establishment in 2016. Images went across the world of Sadrists sitting in lawmakers’ offices, waving the Iraqi flag, and holding mocking parliamentary sessions of their own.

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Giorgio Cafiero

The only time Sadr did not latch himself onto a mass movement was when a largely Shia Arab-led demonstration emerged in 2019, shaking the Shia Islamists who were comfortable in their new status as elites, at least with their own constituents.

However, when Shia anger erupted at both Iran and those viewed as its stooges in Baghdad, Sadr did not side with them. Rather, and according to NGOs and the US government, Sadr used deadly violence to suppress the protests, propping up the establishment he had long claimed to be in opposition to.

These actions and others – such as alleged massacres in 2020 – led to an all-time low turnout of just over 40 percent at the last parliamentary election in 2021. With most of Iraq refusing to turn out and engage in what was seen to be an electoral process that was decided by violence rather than ballot boxes, Sadr’s highly organised grassroots movement managed to push supporters to polling stations and ended up with the largest bloc in parliament.

“With most of Iraq refusing to turn out and engage in what was seen to be an electoral process that was decided by violence rather than ballot boxes, Sadr’s highly organised grassroots movement managed to push supporters to polling stations and ended up with the largest bloc in parliament”

Making way for Iran’s allies

Last October, Sadr hailed the election result as a “victory for reform over corruption” and promised to form a majority government rather than engaging in the usual horse trading and political haggling that Iraqi politics has been known for since 2003.

For many Iraqis, this would have been seen as a welcome step, as it would mean that a government could enact a legislative agenda rather than being at the mercy of yet another weak coalition government that achieved nothing but deepening the mire of corruption Iraq is now infamous for.

Sadr swiftly made an alliance with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) – the leading Kurdish party in Iraqi Kurdistan – and the Sunni Progress Party led by incumbent Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi. While still short of a parliamentary majority, the tripartite alliance was strong enough to get Halbousi re-elected to his speakership, but failed dismally at getting in any of their preferred candidates for the post of president, leaving the formation of the next Iraqi government in absolute chaos for the past eight months.

Arguably, Sadr could have boycotted parliamentary sessions and perhaps called for early elections. However, he did not do so as the already historic low turnout at the last election would likely take yet another nosedive, further delegitimising not only his platform, but the entire political process.

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Instead, he took the mercurial decision to abandon parliament, leaving his Kurdish and Sunni allies in the lurch and forcing them to negotiate with the Coordination Framework.

This could be because Sadr has previously found much success by pulling on other levers of power, including the use of his substantial (and illegal under the Iraqi constitution) Shia militias. He has also found great success by whipping up anti-government sentiment on the street, something he looks to be agitating towards currently.

Whatever his rationale, Sadr has now paved the way for his supposed enemies in the Coordination Framework to assume the seats his deputies vacated. This is because Iraqi electoral law allows for the candidate with the second-largest number of votes to assume a seat in which an elected incumbent resigns from. This could lead to the Coordination Framework gaining at least 100 seats – almost 30 more than Sadr used to control.

“Far from reforming the political process as he promised, Sadr’s decision may well have condemned it to another term of coalition rule, deepening the political malaise rather than treating it”

It therefore seems likely that Sadr aims to take his fight to the streets, creating yet more instability and chaos in a political system already beset by both. The cleric would seemingly prefer easier wins in the court of public opinion rather than engaging in the established political framework.

While this may appear to be an intelligent move, it arguably further undermines the legitimacy of the political process that Sadr hopes to exert total control over. It is also very unlikely that the Coordination Framework, in cooperation with Iran and with the United States, will not simply seek to increase its legitimacy by appealing, once more, to foreign powers.

Therefore, it would appear that, far from reforming the political process as he promised, Sadr’s decision may well have condemned it to another term of coalition rule, deepening the political malaise rather than treating it.

Iraq swears in new lawmakers after Antichrist’s exit

Iraq swears in new lawmakers after Sadrists exit, Iran-backed politicians prominent

23 June ,2022: 04:29 PM GST

Iraq’s parliament swore in dozens of new lawmakers on Thursday to replace a bloc loyal to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, strengthening the power of rival Iran-backed politicians in the assembly.

The bloc of 73 Sadrist parliamentarians resigned two weeks ago after months of stalemate over forming a new government.

Shia lawmaker Ahmed Rubaie, whose party is part of an Iran-backed bloc, said that coalition was now the main force in the 329-seat parliament.

“Following the Sadr lawmakers’ resignation, we can confirm that we are the largest bloc in parliament with around 130 seats after the swearing in of the new lawmakers,” he told reporters.

Sadr’s party was the biggest winner in an October general election, and its success had raised the possibility that he could sideline his Iranian-backed rivals who had dominated politics in Iraq for years.

But political disagreement among parties hindered parliament from electing a president and forming a government.

Even though his withdrawal is a setback, Sadr, a populist whose supporters fought US occupation forces after they overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003, is able to mobilize popular support.

Sixty-four new members of parliament were sworn in on Thursday, with nine absent for unknown reasons, the assembly’s media office said.

The Russian Nuclear Horn Threatens the UK: Daniel

Putin ‘getting madder by the moment’ as Russia threatens to destroy UK in missile strike

VLADIMIR Putin has been described as a “madman” by former chief Treasury Secretary David Mellor as the Kremlin leader has made increased threats of nuclear attack against Europe.

By Leia Paxton

 06:58, Thu, Jun 23, 2022 | UPDATED: 06:59, Thu, Jun 23, 2022

Putin is getting ‘madder by the moment’ says David Mellor

The Russian President was branded a “madman” by former Conservative MP David Mellor. Mr Mellor, who served as chief secretary to the Treasury under former Prime Minister John Major, suggested Vladimir Putinhad been corrupted by his own desire for “absolute power.” His analysis comes as the Kremlin has renewed threats of nuclear strikesagainst international allies of Ukraine, including the UK among other European nations. Increased anxiety has been felt among military analysts as President Putin’s war in Ukraine rages on and Moscow’s threats of aggression against global nations continue to grow more severe.

“I think he really is a mad man and getting madder by the moment. 

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

“If you ever want a good example of that, step forward Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”

Putin
David Mellor

The former politician suggested President Putin’s sanity had rapidly deteriorated as the Kremlin leader has aimed to expand his power by capturing Ukraine.

Mr Mellor also claimed that the Russian President’s renewed focus on nuclear threats could be linked to reports that Putin’s physical health is in serious decline.

He said: “If he really is dying of various diseases that have lined up to get him, would he like to take the rest of us with him?”

As explained by Mr Mellor, the only real defence against a nuclear attack from Russia is the promise of mutually assured destruction, meaning the UK would launch a nuclear counterattack on Moscow.

Putin
Russia

In the event of a nuclear launch, the defence of mutually assured destruction would effectively eradicate civilisation as we know it, creating a devastating loss on a global scale.

Mr Mellor suggested President Putin’s bold discussion of nuclear weapons is a signal of the Russian leader’s ill-health as he is acting with little consideration for his own wellbeing.

Analysts have suggested that Vladimir Putin could be suffering from some form of terminal health condition, evidenced by several symptoms observed during his recent public appearances.

President Putin has appeared pale and unbalanced, even shown to be walking with a limp during some official events, fuelling rumours that his physical health is not as strong as the Kremlin suggests it to be.

Top Hezbollah, Hamas officials discuss reinforcement of resistance outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

Top Hezbollah, Hamas officials discuss reinforcement of resistance axis against Israel

Thursday, 23 June 2022 10:01 AM  [ Last Update: Thursday, 23 June 2022 10:17 AM ]

Top leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas have met in Beirut and exchanged views on ways to promote the regional axis of resistance against Israel and thwart the threats posed by the occupiers.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau, discussed the latest developments in Palestine, Lebanon, and the entire region in a meeting in the Lebanese capital, the Hezbollah public relations announced in a statement on Thursday.

The two top resistance officials held talks on issues revolving around “reinforcing the axis of resistance in addition to the threats [resistance is facing], and the challenges and opportunities [they can seize],” the statement said.

It added, “They stressed the need for cooperation in all areas of resistance to serve its primary purpose” of promoting the Palestinian cause against Israeli occupation, including liberation of al-Quds and Islamic sanctities.

Haniyeh also met with Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian on Wednesday lauding his stance on al-Quds, Palestinian nation, and their cause, Palestinian news agency Sama reported.

The two also talked about the Israeli regime’s plot to change the status quo of al-Aqsa Mosque.

Lebanese defense chief demands intl. action against Israeli aggression in disputed waters

Lebanese defense chief demands intl. action against Israeli aggression in disputed waters

The Lebanese caretaker defense minister calls for international action against fresh Israeli provocations, after a ship arrived in disputed waters to produce gas for the Tel Aviv regime.

Haniyeh further voiced his solidarity with Lebanon in regard to its right to natural resources.

The Hamas delegation’s trip to Lebanon comes days after a gas drilling ship arrived in disputed waters in the Mediterranean Sea to conduct hydrocarbon exploration for Israel earlier this month followed by heightened tensions between Tel Aviv and Beirut.

Lebanon and Israel took part in indirect talks to discuss demarcation in 2020. But the talks stalled after Lebanon demanded a larger area, including part of the Karish gas field, where Israel has given exploration rights to a Greek firm.

Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem has said that Hezbollah is ready to take action, “including by force,” against Israeli gas operations in the disputed waters once Beirut adopts a clearer policy.

Haniyeh has traveled to Lebanon at the head of a high-ranking delegation. He is also scheduled to visit with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister of Lebanon Najib Mikati, and Lebanon’s Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri.

The Nonproliferation Consequences of Biden’s Inaction on the Obama Nuclear Deal

The Nonproliferation Consequences of Biden’s Inaction on the Iran Nuclear Deal

June 23, 2022

Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than at any point in its history. Tehran can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb in less than 10 days—a timeframe so short that international inspectors may not detect such a “breakout” move. Building a bomb would take another 1-2 years, but once the nuclear material is moved to covert facilities for weaponization, detecting and disrupting those processes would be much more challenging. Despite the seriousness of this proliferation threat, prospects for a diplomatic resolution are waning as the Biden administration appears unwilling to make the difficult decisions necessary to resolve this crisis.

The swiftest, most effective way to quell the escalating proliferation risk and verifiably limit Iran’s program is to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That deal resolved a decades-long crisis spurred by Iran’s illicit attempt to build nuclear weapons prior to 2003, and proved to be an effective bulwark against any future moves to a bomb—until U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in May 2018 and embarked on a “pressure campaign” ostensibly designed to push Iran into new negotiations. Predictably, following the U.S. reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions (and others), Tehran responded by building up its nuclear program in violation of the JCPOA’s limits to gain its own leverage.

Both U.S. President Joseph Biden and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi profess to support a return to compliance with the JCPOA, but the gridlock in negotiations raises doubts about their political will to make the concessions needed to restore the accord. Indirect negotiations between Washington and Tehran over the past year have produced a draft agreement outlining steps to return both countries to compliance with their JCPOA obligations. Unfortunately, talks stalled within sight of the finish line over a symbolic non-nuclear issue: a Trump-era sanction designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).

Iran views lifting the designation as politically significant and a necessary step to reverse Trump’s pressure campaign. The Biden administration, however, has drawn a line at removing the designation without assurance from Iran that the IRGC will take steps to reduce tensions in the region. That the FTO designation is symbolic, gives Biden no additional tools for countering the IRGC, and was put in place by the Trump administration to make a return to the JCPOA more difficult, do not appear to have swayed Biden’s calculus.

Statements from Tehran suggest Iran’s position on this issue might be softening. But rather than returning to the drawing board to come up with new, creative ideas to address this impasse, Washington continues to put the onus on Tehran to drop what the Biden administration views as extraneous demands and accept the draft agreement on the table that would restore the JCPOA.

But while Biden waits for Tehran to blink, Iran’s expanding nuclear program is eroding the nonproliferation benefits of the deal. Biden may pay a political price for modifying sanctions on the IRGC, but it pales in comparison to the price he will pay if talks to restore the JCPOA collapse and Iran moves even closer to a bomb.

Growing Nuclear Risk

While Iran’s initial breaches of the JCPOA were carefully calibrated to build pressure without complicating a restoration of the accord, its violations over the past 18 months pose a much more serious proliferation risk and are more difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

Iran is now enriching uranium to 60 percent, a level dangerously close to weapons grade, and has produced enough material enriched to that level that Tehran could use the 60 percent stockpile to produce enough weapons grade uranium for a bomb—about 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to 90 percent—in a matter of days. When the JCPOA was fully implemented, that timeframe, known as breakout, was 12 months, more than enough time to mount an effective response.

That short timeframe is even more dangerous because Iran reduced IAEA access (which had been guaranteed under the JCPOA) to key nuclear facilities in 2021, meaning that Tehran could try to produce enough the fissile material for a bomb between inspections. But even if Iran’s move to weapons grade uranium were detected, there may not be time to respond before Tehran moves the fissile material to a covert facility to begin the 1-2 year weaponization process or to detect where those activities are taking place. The United States may tolerate this risk in the short term while prospects for a deal remain on the table, but as a long-term prospect this threat will be destabilizing and increase the risk that the United States—or more likely Israel— resort to military action to put time back on the breakout clock.

Irreversible knowledge gains also put the future of the accord at risk. Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 60 percent—a level it had not achieved prior to the JCPOA capping enrichment at 3.67 percent—as well as its operation of more efficient and advanced centrifuges and experiments with uranium metal, a key activity in weaponization, change how quickly Iran could move to a bomb if a decision were made to do so and the route it would choose. All of these activities were tightly capped or outright prohibited under the JCPOA, and Iran was complying with all of those commitments before Trump’s withdrawal. But now, if Iran masters the latter capabilities and expands into new areas of research, a restored JCPOA may not be able to reliably block these alternative pathways to nuclear weapons.

In addition to increasing the risk that Iran could “breakout” and achieve enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon before being detected, Tehran’s attempt to build leverage in the negotiations by reducing transparency complicates the IAEA’s ability to verify a restored JCPOA. Iran’s nuclear program is now subject to the bare minimum of international inspections, after having reduced IAEA access in February 2021 and announced on June 9 that it was disconnecting IAEA cameras collecting data that would be handed over to the agency if the JCPOA is restored.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said on June 9 that Iran’s decision to unplug the cameras will be a “fatal blow” to JCPOA restoration efforts in three to four weeks. Grossi was referring to the challenge the agency will face in trying to reconstruct a record of Iran’s nuclear activities during the period of reduced monitoring. The IAEA will need that baseline to verify a restored JCPOA and provide assurance that Iran did not divert nuclear materials and activities for covert activities during the period of decreased monitoring. While the Biden administration assesses that it will still be possible to reestablish a baseline after three to four weeks, any gap in monitoring complicates the negotiations and could make it more difficult for Biden to persuade U.S. officials about the merits of restoring the deal.

Even if Iran takes no new action to advance its program, the nuclear crisis still will intensify as time compounds these existing challenges: the breakout timeline will decrease further, Iran will gain more knowledge that cannot be reversed, and reconstructing a record of Iran’s nuclear activities will be more difficult.

This alone poses risks to the future of the JCPOA. Unfortunately, it is more likely that, absent a deal, Iran will continue its efforts to build pressure. But given the current threat level, Iran has little room to maneuver. Each day that passes without a return to the JCPOA increases the likelihood that Iran will miscalculate U.S. risk tolerance and take actions that tips the United States to determine that the clock has run out on the JCPOA. That Iran feels compelled to ratchet up its nuclear activities in response to Israel’s acts of sabotage, which are likely to continue and escalate as Tehran’s program expands, further jeopardizes prospects for the deal and increases the likelihood of escalation.

If Biden makes that choice, there are no good alternatives.

There Is No Good Plan B

The Biden administration is already signalingthat if talks to restore the JCPOA fail, it will turn to the typical U.S. playbook for countering proliferation—a combination of sanctions pressure and diplomatic isolation paired with an open door to negotiate an off-ramp and the threat of military action should such efforts fail. The Obama administration and its partners successfully utilized this strategy to build global support for the sanctions that influenced Iran’s decision to negotiate. But 2022 is not 2013. The United States cannot expect the same level of international support this time around—particularly given that the Trump administration instigated this crisis by withdrawing from the JCPOA when Iran was complying with its obligations. That move, which diminished U.S. credibility, combined with the rift between the West and Russia over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and frustration with U.S. sanctions overreach, all suggest that Washington would be hard pressed to build an effective international campaign to sanction and isolate Iran.

The same is not true of Iran, which will be in a stronger position than it was when JCPOA negotiations commenced in earnest in 2013. If Tehran judges that talks are in its interest, it will come to the table with new nuclear capabilities, a larger program that it can leverage for further concessions. Iran’s oil and gas reserves will also become increasingly attractive as the energy crisis deepens, further strengthening Iran’s hand. This suggests that any future deal will be more favorable to Iran than the JCPOA.

Building pressure is also a time-consuming process, increasing the risk that spoilers or deliberate provocations prevent diplomacy or drive an escalatory tit-for-tat spiral toward conflict.

There are multiple flashpoints that could trigger a cycle of escalation, including Israel’s continued campaign of sabotaging Iranian nuclear facilities, assassinating scientists affiliated with Tehran’s nuclear program, and conducting sustained cyber attacks. It is highly likely that Israel, or even the United States, will ramp up covert efforts to roll back Iran’s nuclear program should talks fail.

The likelihood of conflict also increases significantly if Iran’s nuclear ambitions cross a redline for the United States or Israel. Tehran, for instance, is openly discussing enriching uranium to 90 percent, which is considered weapons grade material. And while such a move would be unlawful unless Iran engages in an actual armed attack (or an armed attack is truly imminent) there is a risk that the United States or Israel may be unwilling to tolerate the increased risk posed by crossing that threshold and consider military action to prevent and Iranian bomb.

But if past is prologue, kinetic action will only buy time in the short term and, in the long term, spur Iran’s nuclear activities to new levels and result in Tehran hardening its facilities against future attacks. For instance, after the Natanz uranium enrichment facility was sabotaged in April 2021, Iran announced it would begin enrichment to 60 percent. After Iranian scientist and the so-called father of Iran’s pre-2003 organized nuclear weapons program, Mohsen Fakrizadeh, was assassinated in November 2020, Tehran responded by passing a law that accelerated its enrichment program and reduced IAEA monitoring.

The best of all of the bad plan B options would be to try for an interim deal, or have Washington and Tehran agree to a series of steps that would reduce tensions and buy time to restore the JCPOA or negotiate a new agreement. While this is the “best” plan B option, it still stands a poor chance of succeeding. The European Union, which has served as an interlocutor between Washington and Tehran during the past year of talks, pursued an interim agreement early in the negotiations before giving it up as too time consuming and complicated.

Pursing that strategy now would likely face the same challenges—both Washington and Iran will seek significant concessions from the other side while trying to retain their most significant sources of leverage. On the U.S. side, Congress also will want to review any deal, even an interim accord, under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, and could block Biden’s ability to waive sanctions if a resolution disapproving the agreement is passed by both Chambers. An interim deal that buys time for negotiations without the promise of restoring the JCPOA, or reaching a new comprehensive agreement, may be a hard sell in Congress.

Despite these significant challenges, an interim deal still is preferable to the inevitable escalation that would occur as a result of pursuing other plan B options.

Restoring the JCPOA is the Best and Only Good Choice

The increasingly serious proliferation risks posed by Iran’s expanding nuclear program and the futility of the plan Bs underscore the imperative of seizing the moment to restore the JCPOA now, before Iran’s nuclear advances and a growing monitoring gap significantly reduce the nonproliferation benefits of the accord.

If President Biden is unwilling to bite the bullet and delist the IRGC (which it should reconsider), it behooves his administration to find another, creative way to get to yes on a deal to restore the JCPOA. A serious new proposal might spur Iran to refrain from further nuclear provocations and preserve space for the accord and send a signal that Tehran remains serious about restoring the nuclear deal. But if Biden fails to act he will share the responsibility alongside Trump for allowing Iran to become a nuclear power.

Editor’s note: watch this space tomorrow for additional JCPOA coverage, including proposals for resolving the current impasse in negotiations. 

Image: Iranian flag on metal wall (via Getty Images).

Iran Horn’s enriched uranium stockpile 18 times over 2015 deal limit: Daniel 7

Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile 18 times over 2015 deal limit: IAEA

Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile 18 times over 2015 deal limit: IAEA

Updated 30 May 2022 

AFP 

May 30, 2022 14:45

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog said Monday that it estimated Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to more than 18 times the limit laid down in Tehran’s 2015 deal with world powers.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said in its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program that it “estimated that, as of May 15, 2022, Iran’s total enriched stockpile was 3,809.3 kilograms.”
The limit in the 2015 deal
was set at 300 kg (660 pounds) of a specific compound, the equivalent of 202.8 kg of uranium.
The report also says that Iran is continuing its enrichment of uranium to levels higher than the 3.67 percent limit in the deal.
The stockpile of uranium enriched up to 20 percent is now estimated to be 238.4 kg, up 56.3 kg since the last report in March, while the amount enriched to 60 percent stands at 43.1 kg, an increase of 9.9 kg.
Enrichment levels of around 90 percent are required for use in a nuclear weapon.
Iran has always insisted its nuclear program is peaceful.
A diplomatic source said the amount of uranium enriched to 60 percent now exceeded the IAEA’s threshold of a “significant quantity,” defined by the agency as an approximate amount above which “the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive cannot be excluded.”
However, the same source pointed out that
some uranium would be lost during the process of further enrichment, meaning that in reality “you would need more than 55 kilograms” for that purpose.
In a separate report also issued on Monday, the IAEA reiterated that it still had questions which were “not clarified” regarding previous undeclared nuclear material at three sites named as Marivan, Varamin and Turquzabad.
This is despite a long-running series of attempts by the IAEA to get Iranian officials to explain the presence of this material.
The report said Iran has offered the explanation of an “act of sabotage by a third party to contaminate” the sites, but added no proof had been provided to corroborate this.
The diplomatic source said that an act of sabotage was “not easy to believe” given “the distribution of the material” that had led to the IAEA’s questions.
The latest reports come as talks to revive the landmark
2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers remain deadlocked after stalling in March.