Moqtada al-Sadr, the maverick Shia cleric who staged an insurrection after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, came first in Iraqi general elections on Sunday. This confirmed his position as probably the country’s most powerful and popular figure. Whether this will make it any easier to govern Iraq, a prostrate state contested between the US and Iran, and a frequent arena of Sunni jihadist carnage, is questionable.
In October 2019, young activists launched a civic uprising that brought down the previous government. They were driven from the streets by the Tehran-affiliated militias and security forces, who killed nearly 600 demonstrators. This suppression meant many young Iraqis (two-thirds of the population are under 30) spurned Sunday’s polls, though a dozen candidates from the Tishreen (October) movement that they formed appear to have won seats.
The backlash against the militias and Fatah coalition, and widespread loathing of Iran’s attempt to turn Iraq into a protectorate, even among the majority Shia, is a political setback to Tehran. But the current prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has struggled to bring these private armies under state control. They played a leading role in defeating Isis after it took a third of Iraq into its caliphate in 2014, and remain a power in the land. Seeing the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, moreover, the militias — which have duelled with US forces for years — may believe the time is ripe to drive out the 2,500 remaining American soldiers.
Moqtada al-Sadr, scion of the clerical aristocracy that opposed the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, toppled in 2003, and formerly champion of the Shia dispossessed, has reinvented himself as an Iraqi nationalist who wants the Americans and Iranians out of Iraq. He has nurtured a populist image by railing against Shia rivals and corruption. As an Islamist he appeals to higher authority and pretends to be above politics, while ruthlessly pursuing power.
Since 2019, Sadr has emulated some of the tactics of Hizbollah and colonised Iraq’s institutions and ministries with his cadres. They all but control departments such as defence, interior and communications, as well as heading the cabinet secretariat that apportions top positions. Although Sadr notionally disbanded his Mahdi Army in 2008, he revived it — under the name of Peace Companies — in 2014 as Isis forces approached Baghdad and the Shia shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala.
Iraq’s next prime minister will either be nominated by him or require his consent.
Kadhimi, the sitting premier and former intelligence chief, who came to power after the protests that toppled his predecessor, is on a bit of a roll. Although his real challenge is to domesticate the lawless Shia militias, he claimed success for the recent capture of Sami Jassim al-Jubouri, the Isis number two and moneyman. Last month Total, the French oil company, committed to investing $27bn in Iraqi energy. Kadhimi also convened a summit in Baghdad on regional de-escalation, attended by arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as Turkey and Egypt — which won him kudos in the US, Europe and the Gulf, where he is seen as a safe pair of hands.
Kadhimi wants to continue as prime minister. What Sadr thinks about that is unclear. What has been abundantly clear until now, though, is that while ordinary Iraqis are scrabbling to live and demanding decent government, their leaders have been unwilling or unable to share power and resources. In a zero-sum equation they cannot even agree on a national narrative and social compact. If Sadr really is a nationalist his first job is to eschew factional and sectarian advantage and put Iraq and Iraqis first
BAGHDAD—Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the onetime leader of a rebellion against U.S. forces following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is poised to become the country’s key political power broker after his movement won the largest share of seats in Sunday’s parliamentary election.
The formation of a new government could be subject to weeks of political horse-trading with no clear leader in view. Mr. Sadr, an independent-minded nationalist, faces fierce competition from Shiite political rivals and pro-Iran hard-liners who wish to pull the country into closer orbit around Tehran.
In Iraq’s political system, the largest bloc in Parliament chooses who becomes prime minister. With a fractured field, it could take some time for Mr. Sadr or other leaders to assemble a majority coalition. After the last vote in 2018, a new government wasn’t installed for eight months.
Initial results released on Monday by Iraq’s election commission showed Mr. Sadr’s movement won 73 seats in the 329-seat Parliament, up from the 54 seats won by a multiparty alliance he led in 2018.
In a surprise setback for Tehran, the Fatah Alliance, broadly aligned with Iran-backed militias demanding the withdrawal of U.S. forces, lost ground in Sunday’s vote, weakening its potential negotiating power in talks toward forming a government. The alliance emerged with 14 seats in the new parliament, down from 48, according to the initial results.ADVERTISEMENT – SCROLL TO CONTINUEhttps://c036c91f67f03561c826fe1bf94d21b6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
One of Iraq’s largest Iranian-backed militias, the Hezbollah Brigades, rejected the election result. Without citing any evidence, the group’s spokesman called the election “the biggest fraud operation in Iraq’s modern history” in a tweet. The militia vowed to “stand firmly and strongly to bring back things to the correct track and will not allow anyone to humiliate Iraqi people,” he said.
The United Nations, which deployed observers to monitor the election throughout the country, said the vote “proceeded smoothly and featured significant technical and procedural improvements.”
In a televised victory speech on Monday night, Mr. Sadr played up his core themes of Iraqi independence and political reform, vowing to usher in a new government free from the influence of both the U.S. and Iran.
“We thank God for supporting reform through its biggest bloc which is an Iraqi bloc, neither eastern nor western,” he said.
Mr. Sadr’s supporters and analysts credited his movement’s well-organized election campaign, including candidate recruitment and voter mobilization efforts, for helping it appeal to a broad cross-section of Iraqis and pull ahead in the low-turnout election.
“Sadr is an Iraqi loyalist nationalist and does not listen or get influenced by foreign pressure,” said Badr Al Zayadi, a former lawmaker from Mr. Sadr’s movement. “He listens to Iraq only.”
Mr. Sadr’s expanded influence over the government will offer him an opportunity to seek inroads into sections of the Iraqi state where he doesn’t already hold sway. Some Sadrists aspire to take control of the premiership, but doing so would mean taking on the risks of being identified with failing government services. Mr. Sadr, as a cleric, has often avoided being closely associated with day-to-day politics.
“At the end of the day there’s a question if they would want to take on the responsibility and potential accountability of dominating the government completely,” said Lahib Higel, a senior Iraq analyst at International Crisis Group.
Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition won 37 seats in Parliament. Mr. Maliki was widely blamed for corruption and sectarian rule that helped fuel the rise of Islamic State in 2014, when he resigned.
The initial results don’t include votes cast by members of the security forces and others who participated in a separate day of voting. The final vote count could result in a small shift in the allocation of seats but is unlikely to alter the overall balance of power
Pro-Iran militias have stepped up attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, countered by U.S. airstrikes, and their political supporters attempted to make the issue the centerpiece of the election campaign.
Mr. Sadr kept a sharper focus on the country’s economic crisis during the election campaign, and is regarded as more moderate than some of the Shiite factions that lean toward Iran.
U.S. officials say a government under Mr. Sadr’s sway would be less likely to take steps to accelerate a full American withdrawal, despite his history as one of the U.S. leading adversaries following the invasion that uprooted the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Sunday’s election was held earlier than scheduled as a concession to protesters angered over Iraq’s cratering economy and endemic corruption. It was billed in some quarters as a test for democracy, and while the vote itself went off relatively peacefully despite a handful of shootings, the turnout was low at 41%—down from 44% in 2018’s ballot—pointing to widespread disillusionment with the political system.
Separately on Monday, the current leader, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, said the country’s security forces captured a top Islamic State leader during an operation in Turkey.
Mr. Kadhimi said in a tweet that security forces had captured Sami Jasim, an official in charge of the militant group’s finances and a former deputy of the group’s slain leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Mr. Jasim was wanted by the U.S. government for organizing Islamic State’s illicit trade in oil, gas, antiquities and minerals. Those sources of revenue helped fuel the group’s rise as it took over a swath of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Fadhil Abu Radheef, a security analyst close to Iraq’s intelligence services, said Mr. Jasim, a former member of al Qaeda in Iraq, fled the country in 2017 and was arrested last week in cooperation with Turkish authorities. Turkish officials didn’t immediately comment on the arrest.
Islamic State lost its last foothold of territory in Syria in 2019 following years of military operations in both Iraq and Syria backed by the U.S. military and a separate campaign by Iranian-backed forces.
Mr. Kadhimi, who was appointed prime minister last year, didn’t run for reelection but has been positioning himself for possible reappointment in the talks that are expected to follow Sunday’s election.
Iraqis headed to the polls Sunday for just the fifth parliamentary election since the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Turnout was just 41%, with many Iraqis refusing to vote. This is Hussein Sabeh, a 20-year-old Iraqi from Basra.
Hussein Sabeh: “I did not vote, to be honest. It is not worth it. There is nothing that would benefit me or others. I see youth that have degrees and no jobs. Before the elections, they all came to them. After the elections, who knows?
There has been no sign as to when nuclear talks with Iran may recommence. But after weeks of consultations, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have reached a deal on “the way and the timing” for UN nuclear inspectors to service cameras installed at Iran’s nuclear facilities. This patchwork agreement has kept alive the possibility of recovering a complete picture of Iran’s nuclear program and of reviving the Iran nuclear deal since Iran cut inspector access in February. It is also the first real sign of cooperative engagement by Iran since President Ebrahim Raisi came to power in August.
The Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the latest experiment in how much UN nuclear inspector access states will tolerate. However, it is under exceptional stress from those who believe military coercion is more effective than systems of denial in stemming proliferation. Days after the least competitive presidential election in the Islamic Republic’s history, a drone attack at a centrifuge production facility on June 23 damaged the IAEA’s monitoring and surveillance equipment. While the Israeli government did not comment on the attack, the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, located in the city of Karaj, was reportedly“on a list of targets that Israel presented to the Trump administration early last year.” Now, Iran has allowed the IAEA to service cameras in every location but the Karaj site.
Acts of sabotage are diametrically opposed to the global nuclear verification regime because states need to believe that punishment will cease if they comply with the agreed-to framework. Further, failure to revive the nuclear deal could remove the possibility of applying the verification tools gained to other proliferation challenges like North Korea or the next nuclear threshold state. The loss of these techniques would undermine efforts to improve the global nonproliferation regime. As the United States’ experiences in leaving Afghanistan make clear, accurate intelligence is critical to making informed decisions and avoiding a crisis. The wrong assumptions can have dire consequences.
Verification evolution: Iraq and the old gold standard. The current nuclear verification protocols are the strongest in history and prioritize the non-diversion of nuclear materials over sovereign jurisdiction; however, many of these legal instruments were born out of crisis and remain voluntary, not mandatory. For instance, the investigative powers of the IAEA were substantially expanded by the creation of the Additional Protocol in 1997 to ensure that states’ declarations are both correct and complete.
This protocol has its origin in the Middle East. In the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the IAEA realized it could not detect if nuclear material used in a civilian nuclear program was diverted to a covert nuclear weapons program. International inspectors were stunned to find Iraq’s nuclear program, under Saddam Hussein, could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon in 12-18 months, instead of the previous prediction of four to five years. This revelation was the impetus to create the Model Additional Protocol in May 1997, which substantially increased the IAEA’s oversight of a comprehensive safeguards agreement.s
The United States used unsubstantiated and incorrect intelligence claims to back its assertion that Iraq had resurrected its nuclear weapons program despite the assessment of the IAEA. The 2003 invasion would prove that Iraq had not, in fact, reconstructed its weapons program.Today, 137 states have brought an Additional Protocol into force, but for those countries that have not accepted the protocol—like Argentina, Brazil, Egypt and Saudi Arabia—no one can be sure whether their civilian nuclear programs divert materials for weapons use. In the case of Iran, the Additional Protocol was implemented in 2015 on a provisional basis as outlined in the Iran nuclear deal and planned to be fully adopted in 2023. It has not been fully implemented since late February.The additions of the Iran nuclear deal. The consistent revision and evolution of the global nuclear order is arguably its greatest success. The adoption of the comprehensive safeguards agreement, Additional Protocol, and the numerous multilateral institutions to protect, restrict, and monitor all nuclear commerce have strengthened the confidence in IAEA assessment. But those mechanisms were not enough to satisfy concerns about the Iranian nuclear program. Despite its politicization in Congress, the Iran nuclear deal represents the next-generation nuclear verification design to prevent any country from cheating its way to a nuclear weapon in a hurry.Specifically, the Iran nuclear deal caps the quantity and level of enrichment of uranium as well as the number and sophistication of the centrifuges that are operating and limits heavy water production. It also provides continuous monitoring of centrifuges and centrifuge rotor tubes, continuous access to Natanz, the monitoring of the production or acquisition of any uranium ore concentrate and enhanced managed access, meaning the IAEA can inspect a suspected violation.RELATED: US courts say Iran owes terrorism victims billions. That’s an obstacle to a new Iran nuclear deal.The deal also instilled two key principles that should be universalized. First, a civilian nuclear program should be commensurate to its energy or related needs. Second, the IAEA has the right to monitor a ban on “weaponization” activities, which are activities related to developing or procuring equipment for developing nuclear weapons. This is the first agreement ever that defines a set of prohibited activities associated with weaponization, and it set up a procurement channel to monitor the materials and technologies Iran seeks to acquire that could be diverted to a secret program. These blocking efforts and verification tools are the most robust in the world, but extending the timeline for these activities, known as the sunset clauses, or applying them to other countries will require reviving the nuclear deal and preventing further acts of nuclear sabotage.These measures, at least until the deal expires, will provide a high degree of confidence that weapons-related activity is not occurring. They could also be promoted as a model for other countries wanting to give confidence in the peaceful nature of their own nuclear facilities. Presently, the IAEA is investigating several locations for the presence of nuclear particles of “anthropogenic” origin, meaning materials that have been processed beyond their natural state, but this should not be sufficient grounds for losing monitoring altogether. Iran could assuage such concerns in the future through voluntary transparency, if it is sincere in its contention that it has halted progress toward nuclear weapons. It is in Iran’s national self-interest to assure the world they have no secret nuclear agenda.Politicization of technical assurances. Imagine if every country in the world were subject to continuous monitoring of sensitive nuclear facilities and provided access upstream in the fuel cycle to activities such as mining, milling and conversion. Such access would demonstrably reduce the likelihood that materials gained for ostensibly civilian purposes could be siphoned off to a clandestine program. However, failure to revive the deal risks relegating these additional measures to history.If the politics of the Iranian nuclear program are too challenging, then the new verification tools will not be useful to solve a real crisis if one crops up in Iran or elsewhere. The great arms control theorist and developer of game theory Thomas Schelling opened his book Arms and Influence with the reflection: “One of the lamentable principles of human productivity is that it is easier to destroy than to create.” Let’s hope the groundbreaking verification and monitoring tools of the Iran nuclear deal are not a casualty of human initiative.
Earthquakes May Endanger New York More Than Thought, Says Study A study by a group of prominent seismologists suggests that a pattern of subtle but active faults makes the risk of earthquakes to the New York City area substantially greater than formerly believed. Among other things, they say that the controversial Indian Point nuclear power plants, 24 miles north of the city, sit astride the previously unidentified intersection of two active seismic zones. The paper appears in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. Many faults and a few mostly modest quakes have long been known around New York City, but the research casts them in a new light. The scientists say the insight comes from sophisticated analysis of past quakes, plus 34 years of new data on tremors, most of them perceptible only by modern seismic instruments. The evidence charts unseen but potentially powerful structures whose layout and dynamics are only now coming clearer, say the scientists. All are based at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which runs the network of seismometers that monitors most of the northeastern United States. Lead author Lynn R. Sykes said the data show that large quakes are infrequent around New Yorkcompared to more active areas like California and Japan, but that the risk is high, because of the overwhelming concentration of people and infrastructure. “The research raises the perception both of how common these events are, and, specifically, where they may occur,” he said. “It’s an extremely populated area with very large assets.” Sykes, who has studied the region for four decades, is known for his early role in establishing the global theory of plate tectonics. The authors compiled a catalog of all 383 known earthquakes from 1677 to 2007 in a 15,000-square-mile area around New York City. Coauthor John Armbruster estimated sizes and locations of dozens of events before 1930 by combing newspaper accounts and other records. The researchers say magnitude 5 quakes—strong enough to cause damage–occurred in 1737, 1783 and 1884. There was little settlement around to be hurt by the first two quakes, whose locations are vague due to a lack of good accounts; but the last, thought to be centered under the seabed somewhere between Brooklyn and Sandy Hook, toppled chimneys across the city and New Jersey, and panicked bathers at Coney Island. Based on this, the researchers say such quakes should be routinely expected, on average, about every 100 years. “Today, with so many more buildings and people, a magnitude 5 centered below the city would be extremely attention-getting,” said Armbruster. “We’d see billions in damage, with some brick buildings falling. People would probably be killed.” Starting in the early 1970s Lamont began collecting data on quakes from dozens of newly deployed seismometers; these have revealed further potential, including distinct zones where earthquakes concentrate, and where larger ones could come. The Lamont network, now led by coauthor Won-Young Kim, has located hundreds of small events, including a magnitude 3 every few years, which can be felt by people at the surface, but is unlikely to cause damage. These small quakes tend to cluster along a series of small, old faults in harder rocks across the region. Many of the faults were discovered decades ago when subways, water tunnels and other excavations intersected them, but conventional wisdom said they were inactive remnants of continental collisions and rifting hundreds of millions of years ago. The results clearly show that they are active, and quite capable of generating damaging quakes, said Sykes. One major previously known feature, the Ramapo Seismic Zone, runs from eastern Pennsylvania to the mid-Hudson Valley, passing within a mile or two northwest of Indian Point. The researchers found that this system is not so much a single fracture as a braid of smaller ones, where quakes emanate from a set of still ill-defined faults. East and south of the Ramapo zone—and possibly more significant in terms of hazard–is a set of nearly parallel northwest-southeast faults. These include Manhattan’s 125th Street fault, which seems to have generated two small 1981 quakes, and could have been the source of the big 1737 quake; the Dyckman Street fault, which carried a magnitude 2 in 1989; the Mosholu Parkway fault; and the Dobbs Ferry fault in suburban Westchester, which generated the largest recent shock, a surprising magnitude 4.1, in 1985. Fortunately, it did no damage. Given the pattern, Sykes says the big 1884 quake may have hit on a yet-undetected member of this parallel family further south. The researchers say that frequent small quakes occur in predictable ratios to larger ones, and so can be used to project a rough time scale for damaging events. Based on the lengths of the faults, the detected tremors, and calculations of how stresses build in the crust, the researchers say that magnitude 6 quakes, or even 7—respectively 10 and 100 times bigger than magnitude 5–are quite possible on the active faults they describe. They calculate that magnitude 6 quakes take place in the area about every 670 years, and sevens, every 3,400 years. The corresponding probabilities of occurrence in any 50-year period would be 7% and 1.5%. After less specific hints of these possibilities appeared in previous research, a 2003 analysis by The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation put the cost of quakes this size in the metro New York area at $39 billion to $197 billion. A separate 2001 analysis for northern New Jersey’s Bergen County estimates that a magnitude 7 would destroy 14,000 buildings and damage 180,000 in that area alone. The researchers point out that no one knows when the last such events occurred, and say no one can predict when they next might come. “We need to step backward from the simple old model, where you worry about one large, obvious fault, like they do in California,” said coauthor Leonardo Seeber. “The problem here comes from many subtle faults. We now see there is earthquake activity on them. Each one is small, but when you add them up, they are probably more dangerous than we thought. We need to take a very close look.” Seeber says that because the faults are mostly invisible at the surface and move infrequently, a big quake could easily hit one not yet identified. “The probability is not zero, and the damage could be great,” he said. “It could be like something out of a Greek myth.” The researchers found concrete evidence for one significant previously unknown structure: an active seismic zone running at least 25 miles from Stamford, Conn., to the Hudson Valley town of Peekskill, N.Y., where it passes less than a mile north of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The Stamford-Peekskill line stands out sharply on the researchers’ earthquake map, with small events clustered along its length, and to its immediate southwest. Just to the north, there are no quakes, indicating that it represents some kind of underground boundary. It is parallel to the other faults beginning at 125th Street, so the researchers believe it is a fault in the same family. Like the others, they say it is probably capable of producing at least a magnitude 6 quake. Furthermore, a mile or so on, it intersects the Ramapo seismic zone. Sykes said the existence of the Stamford-Peekskill line had been suggested before, because the Hudson takes a sudden unexplained bend just ot the north of Indian Point, and definite traces of an old fault can be along the north side of the bend. The seismic evidence confirms it, he said. “Indian Point is situated at the intersection of the two most striking linear features marking the seismicity and also in the midst of a large population that is at risk in case of an accident,” says the paper. “This is clearly one of the least favorable sites in our study area from an earthquake hazard and risk perspective.” The findings comes at a time when Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, is trying to relicense the two operating plants for an additional 20 years—a move being fought by surrounding communities and the New York State Attorney General. Last fall the attorney general, alerted to the then-unpublished Lamont data, told a Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel in a filing: “New data developed in the last 20 years disclose a substantially higher likelihood of significant earthquake activity in the vicinity of [Indian Point] that could exceed the earthquake design for the facility.” The state alleges that Entergy has not presented new data on earthquakes past 1979. However, in a little-noticed decision this July 31, the panel rejected the argument on procedural grounds. A source at the attorney general’s office said the state is considering its options. The characteristics of New York’s geology and human footprint may increase the problem. Unlike in California, many New York quakes occur near the surface—in the upper mile or so—and they occur not in the broken-up, more malleable formations common where quakes are frequent, but rather in the extremely hard, rigid rocks underlying Manhattan and much of the lower Hudson Valley. Such rocks can build large stresses, then suddenly and efficiently transmit energy over long distances. “It’s like putting a hard rock in a vise,” said Seeber. “Nothing happens for a while. Then it goes with a bang.” Earthquake-resistant building codes were not introduced to New York City until 1995, and are not in effect at all in many other communities. Sinuous skyscrapers and bridges might get by with minimal damage, said Sykes, but many older, unreinforced three- to six-story brick buildings could crumble. Art Lerner-Lam, associate director of Lamont for seismology, geology and tectonophysics, pointed out that the region’s major highways including the New York State Thruway, commuter and long-distance rail lines, and the main gas, oil and power transmission lines all cross the parallel active faults, making them particularly vulnerable to being cut. Lerner-Lam, who was not involved in the research, said that the identification of the seismic line near Indian Point “is a major substantiation of a feature that bears on the long-term earthquake risk of the northeastern United States.” He called for policymakers to develop more information on the region’s vulnerability, to take a closer look at land use and development, and to make investments to strengthen critical infrastructure. “This is a landmark study in many ways,” said Lerner-Lam. “It gives us the best possible evidence that we have an earthquake hazard here that should be a factor in any planning decision. It crystallizes the argument that this hazard is not random. There is a structure to the location and timing of the earthquakes. This enables us to contemplate risk in an entirely different way. And since we are able to do that, we should be required to do that.” New York Earthquake Briefs and Quotes: Existing U.S. Geological Survey seismic hazard maps show New York City as facing more hazard than many other eastern U.S. areas. Three areas are somewhat more active—northernmost New York State, New Hampshire and South Carolina—but they have much lower populations and fewer structures. The wider forces at work include pressure exerted from continuing expansion of the mid-Atlantic Ridge thousands of miles to the east; slow westward migration of the North American continent; and the area’s intricate labyrinth of old faults, sutures and zones of weakness caused by past collisions and rifting. Due to New York’s past history, population density and fragile, interdependent infrastructure, a 2001 analysis by the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranks it the 11th most at-risk U.S. city for earthquake damage. Among those ahead: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. Behind: Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Anchorage. New York’s first seismic station was set up at Fordham University in the 1920s. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, N.Y., has operated stations since 1949, and now coordinates a network of about 40. Dozens of small quakes have been felt in the New York area. A Jan. 17, 2001 magnitude 2.4, centered in the Upper East Side—the first ever detected in Manhattan itself–may have originated on the 125th Street fault. Some people thought it was an explosion, but no one was harmed. The most recent felt quake, a magnitude 2.1 on July 28, 2008, was centered near Milford, N.J. Houses shook and a woman at St. Edward’s Church said she felt the building rise up under her feet—but no damage was done. Questions about the seismic safety of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which lies amid a metropolitan area of more than 20 million people, were raised in previous scientific papers in 1978 and 1985. Because the hard rocks under much of New York can build up a lot strain before breaking, researchers believe that modest faults as short as 1 to 10 kilometers can cause magnitude 5 or 6 quakes. In general, magnitude 3 quakes occur about 10 times more often than magnitude fours; 100 times more than magnitude fives; and so on. This principle is called the Gutenberg-Richter relationship.
Russia has been working for several years on a long-range anti-ballistic missile system named Aerostat. The fact that it is being developed by the country’s sole manufacturer of solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles suggests that it may very well have a range allowing it to double as a counterspace system. The oddly named ABM system (“aerostat” is a general term for unpowered balloons and airships) has never been mentioned in the Russian press or openly discussed by Russian military analysts, but its existence and basic design features can be determined through open-source intelligence.
There has been much debate over whether Nudol is primarily an anti-missile system with a complementary counterspace role or vice versa.
Aerostat has shown up in a number of openly accessible official documents, the first being the 2013 annual report of the Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defense Corporation, established in 2002 to unify dozens of companies producing missiles, anti-aircraft systems, radars, naval artillery, and other systems. As can be learned from other publicly available documents, Almaz-Antey was assigned prime contractor for the project by the Ministry of Defense on July 12, 2013. A court document published last July literally describes the purpose of the July 2013 contract as “the development of a long-range intercept complex for the anti-missile defense of the Russian Federation in the period 2013-2018” and identifies the missile as 106T6. Aerostat is not the first such long-range ABM system developed under the supervision of Almaz-Antey. Another one, named Nudol, has been undergoing test flights for several years and is likely seen primarily as a direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon.
Nudol (also known as 14Ts033) is named after a small place some 100 kilometers northwest of Moscow that was one of the deployment sites for the long-range missiles of Moscow’s former A-35M missile defense system. Its main element is a road-mobile solid-fuel rocket called 14A042, developed by OKB Novator in Yekaterinburg. This company belongs to Almaz-Antey and has produced a wide range of surface-to-air and cruise missiles. US intelligence data indicate that the 14A042 missile has flown at least ten test flights from the Plesetsk launch site in northwestern Russia since 2014, but no targets seem to have been involved in any of those.
There has been much debate over whether Nudol is primarily an anti-missile system with a complementary counterspace role or vice versa. US intelligence considers it a direct-ascent anti-satellite system, as is clear from statements placed on the website of US Space Command following the latest two Nudol tests in April and December 2020. It has also been characterized as an anti-satellite system by at least two Russian officials, namely the deputy head of a Ministry of Defense research institute and Russia’s deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov. Another factor pointing in the direction of an ASAT role for the 14A042 missile is that the 14A designators are typically used for space launch vehicles (for instance, 14A14 is the Soyuz-2 rocket.) 14A042 is indeed termed a “rocket for space-related purposes” in two official documents that outline safety precautions that need to be taken when the rockets fly over the Nenets Autonomous District east of Plesetsk. Moreover, one court document mentions communications systems needed to connect Nudol with the headquarters of Russia’s space surveillance network in Noginsk-9 (code-named 3006M.)
An analysis of online procurement documents shows that Almaz-Antey was named prime contractor for the project by the Ministry of Defense on August 10, 2009, and awarded a contract to OKB Novator for the development of the 14A042 rocket on the same day. For some reason, Almaz-Antey received a new contract for the project on April 10, 2015.
While OKB Novator is responsible for integrating the rocket, the individual stages are manufactured by NPO Iskra in Perm. The designators 14D807 and 14D809 seen in some documents are likely the ones used for the first and second stage. Nudol appears to have a kinetic kill vehicle that contains a “multispectral electro-optical homing head” (MOEGSN or 14Sh129) developed by KB Tochmash. The State Institute of Applied Optics (GIPO) supplies what is called a “combined frameless television/infrared channel” for 14Sh129. This part of the payload, apparently named TTPS, is presumably described in several technical articles published by GIPO, where the spectral ranges are given as 0.4–0.7 microns (visible) and 3.0–5.0 microns (mid-infrared.) Both KB Tochmash and GIPO also have a role in the air-launched Burevestnik ASAT system.
Aerostat’s organizational background
Almaz-Antey’s main subcontractor for Aerostat is the MIT Corporation (MIT standing for “Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology”), which specializes in solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles. Unlike OKB Novator, it is part of the Roscosmos State Corporation and is a newcomer to the field of anti-ballistic missile defense.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the MIT Corporation fielded the Topol-M, YARS, and Bulava ICBMs (the latter a submarine-launched missile.) In the 1990s, it also converted Soviet-era Topol ICBMs into space launch vehicles called Start and Start-1, which were used to launch a number of small satellites into low Earth orbit between 1993 and 2006. The company is also working on the solid-fuel emergency escape system for Russia’s new piloted spacecraft Oryol.
Other subcontractors that can be identified from online sources are:
– KB Tochmash and GIPO: the two companies play the same role as in Nudol, providing the electro-optical system of the missile’s homing head. Actually, some procurement documents indicate that the system is identical or at least very similar to the MOEGSN/14Sh129 system carried by Nudol’s 14A042 rocket. It also includes a diode-pumped laser rangefinder. KB Tochmash has also built laser rangefinders for some of its surface-to-air missiles and several years ago was planning to deliver a laser rangefinder “for spacecraft dockings” to an unidentified foreign partner, most likely China.
– NPTsAP imeni N.A. Pilyugina (further referred to here as the Pilyugin Center): this company produces guidance and control systems for launch vehicles and most likely performs the same task for Aerostat. It has built a test stand called Aerostat that is almost certainly intended for the project.
– GOKB Prozhektor: a company belonging to the MIT Corporation that builds autonomous power supply systems for the corporation’s ICBMs. Aerostat is listed among other MIT Corporation missiles in two of the company’s annual reports.
– PAO Radiofizika: a company under Almaz-Antey, involved among other things in building ground-based radar systems that provide targeting data for anti-missile systems. Aerostat is mentioned in PAO Radiofizika’s annual reports for 2018 and 2019 and in a book dedicated to the company’s 55th anniversary. The 2020 annual report mentions work related to “Product 103T6”, an index similar to 106T6. It is not clear if this is yet another missile or whether there is a typo in one of the two indexes.
– GosNIIAS (State Research Institute of Aviation Systems): this appears to build one or more test stands for Aerostat, including one used to simulate the infrared background against which the missile’s homing head will have to track its targets.
– ÐÐž VIKor: a company that provides technical support and consulting for various military projects. Its website mentions work done in 2019 on research projects called Aerostat-Ts-MIT and Aerostat-S-MIT-Nadyozhnost (the latter word meaning “reliability”).
Aerostat may have been discussed in an article written by Almaz-Antey’s deputy general director Pavel Sozinov in a 2017 issue of the corporation’s quarterly journal. It deals with mathematical modeling techniques to simulate the performance of various “air and space defense systems.” One of those is literally called “an advanced long-range intercept complex,” with Sozinov hinting that it has a range considerably exceeding that of existing systems. The simulations were needed to “justify technical decisions made to develop the system” and “determine its combat efficiency.” It can be learned from the article that its targets will be both “complex ballistic targets” (a term usually used for multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) and satellites (included in the models were “calculations of satellite orbits” as well as data provided by the ground-based space surveillance network.) It cannot be ruled out that Sozinov was writing about Nudol, but he portrayed the research as being linked to a future system, whereas Nudol was already making test flights at the time of writing.
The computer models simulated the operation of a “central radar complex” to acquire and track the targets and benefited from experience gathered with a mobile radar system named Demonstrator. This was a truck-mounted phased array radar first demonstrated at various air shows in 2013–2014 and described at the time by PAO Radiofizika’s general director Boris Levitan as a prototype of bigger radar stations needed for space surveillance (although it could also be used for detecting airborne targets.)
What can be concluded from the available information is that Aerostat’s 106T6 rocket is probably a multistage solid-fuel launch vehicle that inherits elements from one or more of the MIT Corporation’s ICBMs.
The “central radar complex” could be the Don-2 battle management radar currently used by Moscow’s A-135 anti-ballistic missile system or another one known as 14Ts031 or Object 0746-M that is situated near Chekhov, some 60 kilometers southwest of Moscow. This is a modified version of the Dunai-3U radar complex originally built for the earlier A-35M missile defense system and consists of a transmitting and a receiving antenna separated by about three kilometers. In documentation it is called “a specialized space surveillance radar for the detection and monitoring of small-size space objects”. PAO Radiofizika has been closely involved in modernizing the radar complex since early last decade under a project called Razvyazka. Although the radar system has usually been linked to Nudol, it could obviously support Aerostat as well. According to a brochure distributed by PAO Radiofizika at the recent MAKS-2021 aerospace show near Moscow, the modernization of the radar complex has been completed and the main purpose of the P-band phased array radar is to catalog space objects and detect satellites in high orbits.
The receiving antenna of the 14Ts031 radar complex is seen on the right side of this image taken from orbit in June 2020. Source: Google Earth.
Grainy ground-based picture of the receiving antenna. (Source)
In the same article, Sozinov also discussed techniques to simulate the flight of a multistage solid-fuel rocket carrying a “multispectral electro-optical homing head” (possibly the MOEGSN/14Sh129 system jointly developed by KB Tochmash and GIPO.) He didn’t specifically link the rocket to the “long-range intercept complex,” but the computer models took into account Earth limb background effects, suggesting the rocket is designed to operate outside the Earth’s atmosphere. It has a third stage whose flight path can be corrected using tracking information on the target and its homing head is described as a “two-dimensional tracking system with independent control for each channel” needed to determine the angular velocity of the line of sight. Sozinov’s description of this system is virtually copied and pasted in a paper presented in 2018 by a researcher of the Pilyugin Center (a subcontractor for Aerostat) who has also co-authored several articles as well as a patent on a method to control the thrust of a solid-fuel upper stage. Presumably, targeting data obtained by the sensors will be used by the rocket’s guidance and control system to regulate the upper stage’s thrust.
The link with Aerostat is further supported by the fact that the specific Russian term used for “upper stage” in one of these Pilyugin Center articles (dovodochnaya stupen’, sounding somewhat similar to “kick stage” in English) is seen virtually only in publications of the MIT Corporation. Also, one of the co-researchers, Gennadiy Rumyantsev, is a veteran of the Pilyugin Center who was involved in developing the guidance and control system for the MIT Corporation’s Start launch vehicles back in the 1990s.
These rockets, derived from the Topol ICBM and launched from transporter erector launchers, came in four-stage and five-stage configurations (called Start-1 and Start respectively), with both carrying an additional low-thrust kick stage to deliver the payloads to their final orbits (so strictly speaking they were five-stage and six-stage rockets.) The kick stage had Ð° thrust control system as well as a gas reaction control system to ensure accurate orbital injection of the satellites. In earlier publications, Rumyantsev has pointed out that such kick stages can be used either as an ICBM post-boost stage to deploy nuclear warheads or as the upper stage of a space launch vehicle. Most likely, exactly the same type of stage could be modified to guide an exoatmospheric kill vehicle to its target.
Schematic representation of the Start launch vehicle’s “kick stage”. A similar stage may serve as the basis for Aerostat’s kinetic kill vehicle. (Source)
The MIT Corporation has recently proposed to revive the Start project using decommissioned Topol ICBMs, at least several dozens of which are left. The renewed interest in Start is also reflected by a handful of patents of the MIT Corporation that have appeared online in recent years. MIT has also studied modified versions of solid-fuel upper stages . Although impossible to prove, it is tempting to believe that these proposals at least partly draw on work done as part of Aerostat since 2013.
The Start-1 rocket. Source: MIT Corporation.
Aside from Sozinov’s 2017 article, Almaz-Antey has published two other articles that may be related to Aerostat. One discusses computer simulations of the launch of a “multistage rocket” which “exits the Earth’s atmosphere” and uses both on-board sensors and ground-based radar systems to detect and track its targets. One of its authors has also written an article on modeling the Earth limb’s infrared background radiation as seen by “space-based electro-optical systems.” Considering Almaz-Antey’s background, the research hardly had anything to do with a civilian space project.
There can be little doubt that Russia considers counterspace weapons an integral part of this system, which is often depicted as being targeted against “air-based and space-based attack systems”. From the Russian perspective, one such potential space-based attack system is the US Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane.
What can be concluded from the available information is that Aerostat’s 106T6 rocket is probably a multistage solid-fuel launch vehicle that inherits elements from one or more of the MIT Corporation’s ICBMs (Topol-M, YARS, Bulava, or possibly a lightweight version of YARS known as Rubezh.) Judging by Sozinov’s article, it may use the first two stages of an existing ICBM topped by an exoatmospheric kill vehicle consisting of a solid-fuel “kick stage” (the “third stage” mentioned by Sozinov) and a homing system that relies on data fed by ground-based radars and an on-board visible/infrared sensor.
Situating Aerostat in the Russian ABM program
So where does Aerostat fit in Russia’s anti-ballistic missile program? In May 2016, MIT Corporation general director Yuri Solomonov acknowledged his company’s leading role in a missile defense project, but did not provide additional details other than calling it analogous to the American Aegis system. Aegis is the Navy component of the US missile defense system and is geared toward defending against short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles during their midcourse phase. It also has a limited counterspace capability, which was demonstrated in 2008 when an Aegis Standard Missile-3 was used to destroy a derelict US reconnaissance satellite to prevent it from re-entering the atmosphere in one piece and possibly causing harm to people on the ground (or that, at least, was the official explanation.) While Aegis is primarily a sea-based system, it also has a land-based component (Aegis Ashore) which began deployment in Eastern Europe in 2016. This has drawn strong criticism from Russia, which considers it a breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, arguing Aegis Ashore can also be used to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles against targets on Russian territory.
Ð¢he evidence presented above is not consistent with Aerostat being a theater missile defense system like Aegis. Presumably, Solomonov was referring to Aegis as a well-known example of a US missile defense system rather than meaning to say MIT’s missile defense system is in the same category.
MIT Corporation general director Yuri Solomonov. (Source)
Protection against theater missiles is currently provided by the S-300 and S-400 air defense systems. The only ABM system capable of intercepting ICBMs is A-135, deployed around Moscow to intercept incoming warheads targeting the city and its surrounding areas. This was declared operational in 1995 and is the successor to the original A-35 system deployed in the 1970s in compliance with the 1972 ABM Treaty (which limited both the US and the Soviet Union to having only one ABM site, but was abandoned by the US in 2002.) Currently, A-135’s main elements are the Don-2N battle management phased array radar and several dozen short-range 53T6 (NATO reporting name “Gazelle”) endoatmospheric nuclear-tipped missiles developed by OKB Novator. Also part of A-135 was 51T6 (NATO reporting name “Gorgon”), a long-range nuclear-tipped exoatmospheric missile, which has now been retired.
In 2014, Almaz-Antey’s Pavel Sozinov said that Russia’s missile defense system was being considerably upgraded and would comprise equivalents of America’s THAAD and GMD systems. THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) is intended to intercept short- and medium-range missiles at the end of the midcourse stage and in the terminal stage of flight. GMD (Ground-Based Midcourse Defense) is designed to counter ICBMs in the midcourse stage. According to Sozinov, the THAAD-type system would target medium-range ballistic missiles and have a limited capability against ICBMs as well. The other system would be “somewhat similar to GMD”, but would be mobile and have a “higher intercept efficiency.”  In 2017, the chief designer of Russia’s missile early warning system, Sergey Boyev, declared that a “multi-layered national missile defense system” would be deployed by 2025, calling it a response to the “direct threat” posed by the US Aegis Ashore missiles deployed in Eastern Europe.
There can be little doubt that Russia considers counterspace weapons an integral part of this system, which is often depicted as being targeted against “air-based and space-based attack systems”. From the Russian perspective, one such potential space-based attack system is the US Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane, which, according to Sozinov, could carry up to three warheads into space and then deliver them to their targets after evading early warning systems. Even President Vladimir Putin himself has alluded to the offensive potential of the X-37B, saying that “re-usable shuttle type spacecraft” can give the US an edge in the militarization of space and that the deployment of what he called “combat complexes” in orbit poses a greater threat to world security than that of medium-range missiles in Europe. In 2017, Sozinov acknowledged Almaz-Antey’s involvement in the development of counterspace weapons, more particularly electronic warfare systems to be used against radar reconnaissance, optical reconnaissance, and communications satellites, as well as systems for “the direct functional destruction of elements deployed in orbit,” an apparent reference to kinetic ASAT weapons.
The US Air Force X-37B is seen by Russia as a potential “space-based attack system”. Source: USAF.
What Sozinov called “the Russian THAAD” appears to be the S-500 system (also known as Prometey and Triumfator-M). As explained by Sergey Surovikin, the commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the S-500 system is aimed against both “aerodynamic targets” (including drones and hypersonic vehicles) and “ballistic targets.” Its main goal, he said, is to destroy medium-range ballistic missiles, but if needed it can also intercept ICBM-launched warheads in the terminal stage. He added that, in the future, it will also be able to destroy low orbiting satellites and “space-based attack systems.” Little has been revealed about S-500, but available information suggests that it includes the 40N6M missile (with a reported range of 400 kilometers) for use against aircraft and cruise missiles and the more powerful 77N6-N and 77N6-N1 (with an estimated range of 500–600 kilometers) to counter ballistic missiles and satellites. All these missiles are products of MKB Fakel.
If used in an ASAT capacity, Aerostat should have a range considerably higher than that of Nudol and, hence, be capable of taking out satellites in higher orbits.
The “Russian GMD” is most likely the upgraded Moscow ABM system known as A-235. Work on this began back in 1991 under the strange code-name “Samolyot-M” (“samolyot” means “aircraft”), but progress has been very slow. The short-range component of A-235 appears to be an improved variant of OKB Novator’s 53T6 missile called 53T6M, which has been making test flights from the Sary-Shagan test range in Kazakhstan since early last decade. The long-range component, the replacement for the decommissioned 51T6, has long been rumored to be Nudol, with numerous sources (including Wikipedia) going as far as claiming that Nudol actually is another name for the entire A-235 system (which is clearly not the case.) In reality, there is no convincing documentary evidence that Nudol will become part of A-235.
The index used for Aerostat’s missile (106T6 or possibly 103T6, the same nomenclature as 53T6 and 51T6) does point to it being a future element of A-235. It would have several advantages over 51T6. Likely having a longer range, it would be able to intercept ICBMs earlier in the midcourse phase than has been possible so far. Rather than being installed in silos, it should be mobile (the MIT Corporation’s ICBMs can be launched from transporter erector launchers) and its advanced homing system should allow it to kinetically destroy its targets instead of disabling them by detonating a nuclear warhead in their vicinity.
Nudol’s place in all this remains uncertain (its exact range is unknown). Possibly, A-235 will be a three-tier system with short-range missiles (53T6M), medium-range missiles (Nudol/14A042) and long-range missiles (Aerostat/106T6). Original plans formulated for A-235 in the 1990s did in fact call for such a three-tier system. It is also possible that Nudol is a specialized ASAT system with no anti-missile role at all (the 14A042 index of the Nudol missile is not indicative of it being part of A-235).
Possible counterspace role
So is Aerostat designed to attack satellites as well? If Sozinov was writing about Aerostat in his 2017 article, then it would appear it is. The fact that Aerostat and Nudol seem to share the same tracking sensors may also point in that direction. If used in an ASAT capacity, Aerostat should have a range considerably higher than that of Nudol and, hence, be capable of taking out satellites in higher orbits. In the absence of more specific information on the design, it is difficult to estimate exactly how much higher.
As a rule of thumb, the apogee that a ballistic missile can reach when launched vertically is approximately one half of its maximum horizontal range. Therefore, a missile like Topol, which has a horizontal range of around 11,000 kilometers, would be able to reach a maximum altitude of roughly 5,500 kilometers. By replacing the nuclear warheads with a much lighter kinetic kill vehicle and adding one or more stages (as done on the Start rockets), that ceiling can be significantly increased. Recall that China conducted a high-altitude missile test in May 2013 that was officially billed as a scientific sounding rocket mission, but was later assessed by the Pentagon to have been a possible “test of technologies with a counterpace mission in geosynchronous orbit.”
However, it is highly questionable that Aerostat would be able to reach such altitudes or even those used by America’s GPS/Navstar navigation satellites (around 20,000 kilometers.) Moreover, it would take hours for a direct-ascent ASAT weapon to reach such targets, giving them ample time to perform evasive maneuvers. A more efficient way of disabling satellites in such orbits is by using electronic warfare systems, several of which are known to have been deployed by Russia. Any other US military satellites that could be worthwhile targets for anti-satellite systems orbit the Earth no higher than about 1,000 kilometers, more specifically the KH-11 optical reconnaissance satellites, the X-37B spaceplanes, the Onyx (Lacrosse) and Topaz radar reconnaissance satellites, and the NOSS-3/Intruder ocean reconnaissance satellites. Also added to the list could be a series of European military observation satellites. All of these would likely fall within the range of Aerostat.
Future tests of Aerostat may be complicated by the fact that Russia’s main test range for anti-missile systems (Sary-Shagan) is located in neighboring Kazakhstan.
In short, within several years Russia may possess as many as three anti-missile systems that could double as direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons (S-500, Nudol and Aerostat), whatever the rationale behind that may be. That goal has, in fact, been officially acknowledged for S-500 and Nudol, with the latter possibly even being a dedicated ASAT system. In addition to those, Russia probably already has operational ground-based electronic warfare and laser systems for counterspace purposes and is also working on co-orbital ASAT systems, which already seem to have made test flights under the Burevestnik and Nivelir projects.
Some insight into the original test schedule for Aerostat is provided by the earlier mentioned court document published this July. The July 2013 contract between the Ministry of Defense and Almaz-Antey and later supplements to the contract called for finishing the preliminary design by November 2014 and conducting a “live experiment” in October 2017. So-called “preliminary tests” were to be completed by November 2020 and followed by “state tests,” after which the system was to be declared ready for serial production in November 2021.
“Preliminary tests” and “state tests” are terms inherited from the Soviet days denoting the test phases that a military product has to go through before it is declared operational. “Preliminary tests” are defined as tests needed to determine if experimental versions of a military product meet technical specifications. “State tests” are needed to establish whether the product meets technical requirements “in conditions as close as possible to those experienced in the field” and to decide whether it can be approved for operational use and serial production.
According to the document, the “live experiment” was eventually carried out on December 26, 2017. No further details are given, but on that day Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces launched a Soviet-era Topol ICBM on a test flight from the Kapustin Yar test range near Volgograd (most likely toward the Sary-Shagan range in Kazakhstan.) In a statement released the same day, the Ministry of Defense announced the flight was designed to test new ballistic missile defense countermeasures. The same goal has also been reported for other Topol test flights from Kapustin Yar and was not unique to this mission. In this particular case, the test may have been aimed at testing ways of evading countermeasures taken by the enemy to prevent its missiles from being intercepted by ABM missiles. The fact that the Aerostat-related test was carried out with a Topol missile does not at all imply that Aerostat itself will also be based on Topol. The aging Topol missiles are used to demonstrate technology for newer ICBMs.
The court document does not shed any light on further technical progress made in the Aerostat project after the December 2017 test. The subject of the court case was a lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Defense against Almaz-Antey for delays in the “live experiment” and the delivery of design documentation and software for the project (with the MIT Corporation mentioned only as a third party.) The court also granted a request from the Ministry of Defense to terminate the July 2013 contract, but that does not necessarily mean that the project has been canceled. The contract covered work on Aerostat in the 2013–2018 period and its official termination may have been no more than a bureaucratic move. In fact, procurement documents show that the Ministry of Defense signed a new contract with Almaz-Antey for Aerostat on April 26, 2018 and further work seems to have taken place only under that contract. A similar pattern was seen in the Nudol project, where the government contract with Almaz-Antey was renewed after six years.
The work known to have been performed under the new contract does carry the label “NIR”, which is Russian short for the research phase of a project that precedes actual systems development (referred to as “OKR”.) This may indicate that at least some systems have encountered technical problems that have forced designers back to the drawing boards.
Future tests of Aerostat may be complicated by the fact that Russia’s main test range for anti-missile systems (Sary-Shagan) is located in neighboring Kazakhstan. One anonymous “highly-placed source” in the Russian defense industry told a Russian news outlet in June last year that this is causing problems for tests of long-range air and missile defense systems, particularly S-500. To some extent, the source said, this also applied to Nudol, although the main stumbling block for Nudol were “some unresolved technical issues” that were expected to keep it from entering combat duty until 2021 “at the earliest.” Still, if Nudol and Aerostat have a hit-to-kill capability, that likely would have to be demonstrated before they are declared operational. Russia may prefer to do that using ballistic targets rather than orbiting satellites, considering the vast amounts of space debris that would be generated by such tests. Since it uses the same type of tracking sensors, Nudol could also serve as a pathfinder for Aerostat.
What seems to be a new test range for anti-missile systems (Object 2142) is being constructed near the town of Severo-Yeniseiskiy in the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia. It is part of a project called Ukazchik-KV, which in one document was associated with “a test range and internal flight path for tests of anti-missile systems and anti-missile countermeasures” (“internal flight path” probably meaning a flight path that doesn’t cross Russia’s borders.) Planned for installation at the new test range are radars and optical tracking systems similar to those used at Sary-Shagan. One map of the test range shows (simulated) warheads coming in from the northwest, indicating the new “internal flight path” will be from Plesetsk to Severo-Yeniseiskiy and complement or replace the currently used flight path from Kapustin Yar to Sary-Shagan. Late last year, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said the site near Severo-Yeniseiskiy was needed for tests of the new Sarmat liquid-fuel ICBM, but it clearly will be used for other purposes as well.
Map of the “Object 2142” test range, scattered over a large area near Severo-Yeniseiskiy. The arrow in the upper left corner indicates the direction of travel of incoming warheads. (Source)
Ukazchik-KV was assigned to Almaz-Antey on the very same day as Aerostat (July 12, 2013), as was yet another missile defense project called Selektsiya, which seems to be aimed at creating an integrated command structure for Russia’s air and missile defense systems. It is not entirely clear though if there is any connection between these three projects, which were initiated under three different government contracts. But even if Aerostat does not need the new test range, it seems to have fallen far behind the schedule originally set out for it and may still be a long way from reaching operational status.
Under the 2015 agreement China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States had agreed to lift some sanctions against Iran if Tehran cut back its nuclear program.
US president Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal in 2018, and Tehran has progressively abandoned its commitments under the agreement, while the United States has imposed fresh sanctions in response.
On Friday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said he was optimistic that talks on reviving the 2015 deal would make progress, provided Washington fully resumed its commitments.
The book spared no details. It described mass torture and massacre of Israelis, execution of captive soldiers, abuse of Israeli women, cruel assassinations of Israeli leaders, and even the creation of institutions that would replace those of the Jewish state.
Inspired by such literature, Palestinian and Muslim extremists have written their fair share of similar “end of days” documents, the latest of which was inspired and sponsored by the Hamas terrorist organization.
Written on Sept. 30, Promise of the Hereafter – Post-Liberation Palestine includes almost all of the elements the Newsweek journalists used in their book over half a century ago, like the genocide of the Jews and the creation of a “right of return” for Palestinians, who would build their homes on the ruins of Israel.
It is crucial for the world to know about the existence of such “literature,” for many in Europe, the United States and other countries around the world have recently ceased to treat Hamas as a terror group. The first to do so was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has often stated that Hamas is “a resistance movement working to liberate the occupied territories of the Palestinians” rather than a terrorist organization. And Erdogan is just the tip of the iceberg.
Two years ago, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry conducted an investigation into Hamas’ conduct in Western countries and revealed that it operated through hundreds of civil society organizations to advance its radical agenda. The ministry expressed concern that some of these organizations’ budgets, state grants and donations – especially to Palestinian, British and American ones – were funding well-known terror groups, including Hamas.
Not a lot has changed since the time the report was published and Israel struggles or does not try hard enough to take action against such conduct by Hamas. What the Jewish state must do is make the Hamas document known to embassies around the world, in the exact countries Hamas is aided by civil society organizations. According to the latest data, there are over 300 such groups.
This, of course, is just one way to persuade Western countries and international organizations to sever ties with Hamas whose ultimate goal – as it often states – is to destroy the State of Israel, exile and murder most of its residents, and bring about the return of Palestinians “from the Diaspora.”
Islamabad and Pyongyang exchanged technology, cash, and expertise.
By Mike Chinoy, a nonresident senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s U.S.-China Institute.
OCTOBER 11, 2021, 2:13 PM
In light of A.Q. Khan’s death on Sunday, the following is an adaptation from the 2008 book Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis.
A.Q. Khan, who died on Oct. 10 of COVID-19 at age 85, is celebrated in Pakistan as a national hero who built the country’s nuclear bomb program. Internationally, though, he became infamous not as a nuclear scientist but as a nuclear smuggler—including playing a key role in boosting North Korea’s weapons program.
As the head of Khan Research Laboratories, A.Q. Khan presided over his own nuclear fiefdom, which in the late 1980s and early ’90s spearheaded Pakistan’s development of highly enriched uranium. In 1998, Pakistan carried out a successful test of a nuclear bomb. Yet, confronted with the nuclear prowess of its neighbor and rival India, Pakistan still urgently needed a missile to deliver its bomb, and it was looking for a shortcut to avoid having to develop one on its own.
It is widely believed that a visit to Pyongyang by Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 1993 was the critical first step in an accelerating pattern of cooperation between Islamabad and Pyongyang. Bhutto reportedly returned home with design details for a North Korean Rodong missile. She consistently maintained it was purely a cash transaction—Pakistani money for North Korean missile technology.
Following her visit, defense contacts between the two countries multiplied, leading, in either 1996 or 1997, to the delivery by North Korea’s Changgwang Sinyong Corp. of key missile components—or possibly an entire missile. The Pakistanis eventually rechristened the 900-mile intermediate-range missile the Ghauri, after a medieval Muslim conqueror in northern India, and successfully tested it in 1998. Western analysts noted that the Ghauri was a close replica of the Rodong, although with some modifications.
By the mid-1990s, however, Pakistan was facing a financial crisis as its foreign exchange reserves plunged. It was at this point that the first real evidence emerged that Khan was offering nuclear know-how to the North Koreans. Khan reportedly visited North Korea 13 times and appears to have proposed a barter deal, under which Pakistan would compensate North Korea for ballistic missiles with uranium-enrichment technology. Some of the equipment was then transported on Pakistani military aircraft, with the flights cleared by Pakistani air controllers.
At the time, U.S. intelligence was monitoring the flights and at least some of Khan’s visits. Aware of the expanding contacts, Washington did not yet have sufficient details to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Moreover, with the more immediate threat of Pyongyang’s plutonium weapons program frozen under the 1994 Agreed Framework deal, a possible North Korean uranium effort—which at this stage appeared to be more at the level of research and development rather than full-scale production—was not a top priority. The Clinton administration, according to officials who handled nonproliferation matters at the time, did decide, in the context of a broader thaw, to address the uranium issue with the North Koreans, but time ran out before it could do so.
In the final year of the Clinton administration, however, enough alarm bells had begun to sound about Khan’s proliferation activities that it triggered an ambitious joint U.S.-British intelligence operation to target the Pakistani nuclear scientist. The effort involved not just access to an incriminating paper trail but actually placing agents inside the Khan proliferation network.
After George W. Bush took office as U.S. president, the intelligence operation intensified. The initial target was Libya, which had become the focus for Khan’s most elaborate effort thus far, involving an order from Muammar al-Qaddafi for large numbers of centrifuges and 1.87 tons of uranium hexafluoride. Penetration of the network would lead Qaddafi to abandon his nuclear ambitions in return for better ties with the United States and Britain in 2003. Qaddafi’s turnabout also yielded an intelligence bonanza, giving the United States enough incriminating details to force Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf to place Khan under house arrest in early 2004 and assist in the dismantling of what was known of Khan’s network.
In 2002, however, the investigation was still at an earlier stage. But it was already giving the CIA a better understanding not just of Khan’s dealings with Libya but of the alarming fact that his network had other clients—including North Korea and Syria.
“Once we got inside that network it gave us windows into all of these countries, including North Korea,” former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin confirmed in an interview.
In his book At the Center of the Storm, former CIA Director George Tenet wrote, “Patiently, we put ourselves in a position to come in contact with individuals and organizations that we believed were part of the overall proliferation problem. … We discovered the extent of Khan’s hidden network, which stretched from Pakistan, to Europe, to the Middle East, to Asia. We pieced together a picture of the organization, revealing its subsidiaries, scientists, front companies, agents, finances, and manufacturing plants. Our spies gained access through a series of daring operations over several years.”
One sinister episode from 1998 provides a revealing glimpse of the murky netherworld in which North Korea’s nuclear acquisitions operatives—and their adversaries in Western intelligence services—operated. On June 7, 1998, 10 days after Pakistan’s first underground nuclear test, a North Korean woman named Kim Sa Nae was shot to death a few yards from Khan’s official residence in an upscale neighborhood of Islamabad. Officially, Kim was identified as the wife of Kang Thae Yun, a midlevel diplomat at the North Korean Embassy.
More than a year later, though, Pakistani officials leaked word to Paul Watson and Mubashir Zaidi of the Los Angeles Times that Kim had actually been a member of a 20-person delegation of North Korean experts invited by Khan to witness the nuclear test and learn more about the construction of uranium-based nuclear bombs. Her supposed husband, Kang, officially the North Korean Embassy’s economic counselor, worked for North Korea’s state-run Changgwang Sinyong Corp., a company that continually featured in U.S. assessments of Pyongyang’s missile export business. His presence in Pakistan appears to have been linked to the trade of North Korean missiles for Pakistani uranium-enrichment technology.
Publicly, the Pakistani authorities said almost nothing about Kim’s death. When pressed, they offered vague and unconvincing accounts. One suggested she’d been accidentally killed when a gun belonging to a neighbor’s cook went off. Another said that a different neighbor had accidentally discharged a firearm while cleaning it. Privately, Pakistani intelligence sources told the journalists from the Los Angeles Times that Kim had been suspected of spying for the United States. Her contact with unnamed Western diplomats caught the attention of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence military intelligence service, which shared its suspicion with the North Korean Embassy. Her killing soon followed.
Pakistani officials told the reporters that three days after Kim’s death, her body was flown back to Pyongyang on a U.S.-built C-130 military cargo plane—the same kind of aircraft whose repeated flights into and out of North Korea from 1997 to 2002 had set off alarm bells among U.S. intelligence officials. The reporters were told that along with Kim’s body, the plane carried both P-1 and the more sophisticated P-2 centrifuges, drawings, sketches, and technical data for centrifuges and warhead designs, as well as depleted uranium hexafluoride gas, which can be converted into weapons-grade material in centrifuges.
Reportedly, the plane was a charter flight operated by Shaheen Air International, a company set up in 1993 and run by retired officers from the Pakistani Air Force. It may not have been a coincidence that one of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles was also called the Shaheen. Named after a white falcon celebrated in Persian literature, the medium-range missile could carry conventional or nuclear payloads of up to 2,200 pounds.
By June 2002, it became clear that the Khan network had provided North Korea with the “designs for Pakistan’s older centrifuges, and for newer, more efficient models,” Tenet wrote in At the Center of the Storm.
“What was happening was, we had massive amounts of raw intelligence—signals intelligence, human intelligence … on North Korea’s massive procurement efforts to buy everything they needed to develop nuclear weapons through uranium enrichment, based on the A.Q. Khan P-2 centrifuge model,” said one former senior official with access to the information. “And so the A.Q. Khan piece tipped us off that the North Koreans had gotten the blueprints to make one of these things, including a shopping list of what you need to make it.”
“He gave them designs,” added a senior U.S. military intelligence official. “He gave them actual functioning centrifuges, both type one and type two. I think that the deal was not just to give them the technology but also the drawings and all the components of the program as well as the know-how.”
In 2006, Musharraf confirmed that Khan had given the North Koreans “nearly two dozen” centrifuges, both the P-1 and the more advanced P-2. The designations P-1 and P-2 refer to two Pakistani types of centrifuges, one more sophisticated than the other.
The designs for both had been stolen by Khan when he was working at the Dutch company Urenco in the 1970s. While such a small number of centrifuges was far short of the thousands required for the cascades necessary for nuclear weapons, with Khan’s detailed list of the remaining components, North Korea was now in a position to procure the necessary equipment to produce a uranium bomb.
Mike Chinoy is a nonresident senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s U.S.-China Institute and a former senior Asia correspondent at CNN. He is the author of four books, including Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis, and has visited North Korea 17 times.
According to the most renowned experts, the only thing separating Iran from a nuclear weapon is a political decision from its leaders. Indeed, in recent years Iran has enriched enough uranium to make a bomb, and even if it hasn’t done so yet and hasn’t developed the ability to launch one on a ballistic missile, this is still just a technical matter requiring just a few weeks of effort, rather than an actual obstacle.
Iran could also choose not to declare it has a nuclear bomb, and suffice instead with a situation where everyone knows it is capable of building one. This would provide it the deterrence it desires, along with a whip to menace its enemies. And in the future, the moment it senses the time is right, it can turn its capabilities into an operational weapon.
Israel must stop fighting the wars of the past. The clandestine campaign Israel has waged, despite significantly delaying the Iranian project, has failed to stop it. Generally speaking, meanwhile, we need to admit that Iran has found counters to all of Israel’s moves – attacking ships under Israeli ownership in response to attacks attributed to Israel on Iranian oil tankers, or targeted attacks against Israeli businessmen across the globe in response to attacks on Iranian scientists on Iranian soil.
What’s needed, of course, is a new approach, out of the box, in light of the new reality and Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state. Israel must also prepare for the moment that Iran declares, publicly for the world to hear, that it has a nuclear weapon.
A nuclear Iran is a problem, even an existential one. Israel, however, has dealt with deadlier threats before. We must keep in mind that Israel is ahead of Iran, and according to foreign reports acquired these capabilities in the 1960s. This is a significant gap, which led Shimon Peres, the father of Israel’s nuclear program, to say in the past that by flaunting the nuclear option Iran is first and foremost putting itself and its citizens in danger.
On the other hand, it’s important to emphasize Israel’s network of relations with Gulf states and other countries surrounding Iran, all of which feel threatened by the ayatollah regime. It’s not for nothing that the Iranians decried the possible Israeli security presence in Azerbaijan. Iran might be tough in Gaza or Yemen, but it too has a soft underbelly along its borders.
Unlike the cases in Iraq or Syria, it’s hard to know if it’s true that destroying Iran’s nuclear program is impossible militarily, as its facilities are dispersed, hidden and well protected across the country. The current challenge for the Israeli government, however, is to change its way of thinking and formulate a new strategy against Iran, and this will be its greatest test.