President Barack Obama withdrew American combat forces from Iraq in 2011, and by 2014, they would be deployed to assist the Iraqi forces in their fight against the Islamic State in northern and western Iraq.
Iranian-supported militias were allies with the U.S.-backed Iraqi troops, and President Trump’s decision to deploy a U.S. naval carrier group and bomber planes to the Persian Gulf – because of what seems an unsubstantiated Iranian threat – has the potential to be a real game-changer in this region. Iraq is caught between Iran and the U.S. in a potential power play. This recent escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf is transpiring in the aftermath of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Agreement.
Leaked evidence include photos of Iranian Revolutionary Guards uploading missiles, presumably to attack American and Allied shipping that passes through the Straits of Hormuz. It is no secret much of the world’s oil supplies pass through this waterway that is only 24 miles wide, and the U.S. has been down this road before regarding tensions in the Persian Gulf that threaten crude oil on the global market. In the 1980s, despite the fact that the Reagan administration knew Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iran in the Iran-Iraq War, the much larger concern was protecting Iraqi oil from attacks by Iran. Iran had felt the brunt of the American alignment with Saddam Hussein during that conflict, as Iranian patrol boats had been attacked, and Iranian oil platforms were being destroyed by U.S. forces. A U.S. warship in 1988 shot down an Iranian Airbus, killing nearly 300 civilians.
Many Iranians have a deep-seated hatred of Americans, and it goes far beyond U.S. military intervention in the Iran-Iraq War, backing out of a nuclear deal, or the deployment of U.S. forces to a region with a history of U.S. involvement. The 1953 coup that brought about the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh helped to sow the seeds of resentment toward the American government when President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the green light for CIA covert action that resulted in propping the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the legitimate ruler.
Once the Shah was in power, Pahlavi set out on a bold infrastructure improvement plan, and while this included transportation and irrigation systems and health care, many Iranians resented the Western influence. They saw the regime was based on U.S. power and greed, as well as what some viewed as a regime antithetical to Islam. Many Iranians rejected the authoritarian rule, and dissent was suppressed by the Savak, the secret police force. By the early 1970s, as oil revenues were increasing in Iran, many were enraged at the income disparity tied to oil wealth. Discontent among the Shiite clergy, lower classes, and students would lead to a revolution, and by January 1979, the Shah fled Iran.
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton has said, „The U.S. is not seeking war with the Iranian regime.“ Yet Bolton has spoke of a U.S. military response in the event of an attack by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, regular Iranian forces, and proxy groups to include Iran’s renowned proxy, Hezbollah. While the U.S. military might eclipse Iran in numbers and overall military infrastructure, Iran does not require a mammoth navy to impede shipping through the Straits of Hormuz, which could paralyze the supply of oil on a global level, and ravage economies.
Brent Been is a Tahlequah educator who is currently teaching at Alice Robertson Junior High in Muskogee.
(NEWSER) – Plans to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East to counter threats from Iran were unveiled at what appears to have been an exceptionally leaky meeting of national security aides last week, reports the New York Times, which cites more than half a dozen sources. The sources say Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented updated military plans that had been ordered by a group of administration hardliners led by national security adviser John Bolton. The 120,000 figure was the upper limit in a range of options in case Iran attacks US forces or steps up its nuclear plans, none of which included an actual invasion of Iran, the sources say.
Insiders say White House aides are divided over how to respond to intelligence reports that Iran’s proxy forces may be preparing to attack US forces in the region. The Times notes that it’s unclear whether the options were presented to President Trump, nor whether he would be willing to deploy such a large number of troops to the Middle East. Trump said Monday that Iran could face a „bad problem“ after reports that oil tankers were sabotaged in the Persian Gulf, USA Today reports. „They’re not going to be happy,“ he said. When asked what he meant by a „bad problem,“ Trump replied: „You can figure it out yourself.“ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has discussed tensions with Iran with several European and Middle Eastern leaders over the last week and will meet Vladimir Putin in Russia on Tuesday, the Guardian reports. (Last month, Trump labeled Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.)
Living on the Fault Line
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.”
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.
National security hawk John Bolton may finally have his opening to overthrow the Ayatollah.
As the Pentagon explores the possibility of deploying 120,000 troops to Iran, with President Donald Trump threatening the mullahs’ regime over Twitter, Bolton has a unique opportunity to imprint his own vision on the region. Neither Bolton, nor any Trump official, however, has discussed what an alternative to Ali Khamenei’s regime would look like—leaving a giant question mark over whether a president who campaigned on a non-interventionist platform intends to wage his own variant of the Iraq War.
Who Does Bolton Want to Replace the Mullahs?
Over the past decade, Bolton has endorsed regime change in Tehran at the hands of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK).
Founded in 1965 as an opposition movement to the Pahlavi monarchy comprised mostly of younger members of Iran’s traditional middle-class intelligentsia, the group worked alongside Iran’s former Supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini to overthrow the Shah, who the United States supported and later provided asylum to after his overthrow. The MEK’s intellectual foundation is rooted in a secular interpretation of Islam mixed with Marxism, and many of the movement’s founding members were opposed to United States interventionism—Massoud Rajavi, whose wife Maryam Rajavi now leads the MEK, once called U.S. imperialism the “main threat” facing the people of Iran. The group, both in its founding and up to the present day, advocates for violence—a summit hosted last fall featured blown up poster-boards emblazoned with the words “Death to Khamenei.”
After the group fell out of favor with Khomeini’s clerical leadership, MEK members organized demonstrations against the Islamic Republic. At the height of the group’s power, particularly in June 1981, the MEK could assemble crowds of tens of thousands of protestors, even 500,000, according to Iranian historian Ervand Abrahamian. As Khomeini executed and imprisoned MEK activists, the group’s leaders fled to Paris and installed the NCRI—an international lobbying organization which has courted support from Western powers—though the group was later expelled from France after the French government attempted unsuccessfully to curry favor with Tehran.
“The policy of the NCRI, since its inception in 1981, has been this regime needs to change,” Ali Safavi, a member of the NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told Observer. “The West has always weighed in and said its time this imbalance is rectified. The international community stands with the people of Iran and the Iranian resistance for the legitimate and rightful demands to have this regime replaced.”
Following exile from Iran and Paris, the MEK relocated to Iraq and provided Saddam Hussein’s regime support against Iran. By MEK’s own estimate, it killed over 50,000 Iranian troops—a decision seen as a betrayal by many Iranians, which Tehran continues to weaponize as a narrative against the group.
MEK’s relationship with the U.S. government is complicated, mostly due to a string of bombings which resulted in the death of six Americans during the 1970s. The State Department in 1992 described the MEK as inciting a “swath of terror” in its designation of the group as a terrorist organization, prompting the NCRI to mount a lobbying campaign—according to the organization, the bombings were the work of a breakaway Marxist faction, though some State Department directors refute this narrative and note a line of succession between the attacks and current MEK leadership. In 2005, a Human Rights Watch report found the MEK allegedly committed “physical and psychological abuses” to its members.
Only in 2012 did the State Department delist the MEK as a terrorist group, faced with the increasing likelihood that the Iraqi government would slaughter them in the absence of U.S. leadership in the region.
“I supported the delisting for the simple reason that it was a humanitarian necessity. It was humanitarian to prevent them from getting slaughtered, and not because they had become a peaceful group or the United States believed they were completely without a nefarious design. Would the MEK have been delisted absent the situation in Iraq? I don’t [think] there’s any question they would not have been,” Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s counterterrorism director at the time who worked on the delisting effort, told Observer. “They have often mischaracterized the delisting to show that it was all a big mistake and that Washington came to its senses and saw them as staunch supporters of a free Iran.”
“I think Daniel Benjamin has a lot to answer for because the delay to delist the MEK gave [former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] free reign to slaughter the MEK. From 2009 until the MEK was delisted, 140 MEK members were killed in Iraq,” countered Safavi.
Currently the MEK is headquartered in Albania, where it has been dogged by allegations of mistreating its members. According to the MEK’s vision, the Islamic Republic will inevitably collapse under mass unpopularity, prompting MEK members and the NCRI to establish the Democratic Republic of Iran.
It’s “the NCRI that would establish an interim government, and they have a plan with regard to timelines for a general election,” former President Barack Obama’s national security advisor General James Jones, who now speaks at the NCRI’s events, told Observer in a statement.
Trump Administration’s Ties to MEK
Many lawmakers and policy architects have promoted MEK’s interests in Washington.
Democratic Representatives Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) pushed heavily for the State Department to delist the group, the latter calling the decision “very important for the American people.”
But MEK’s biggest supporters are tasked with making foreign policy in the White House. Bolton has spoken at MEK events, touting regime change for over a decade, and as recently as 2017 promised the mullahs’ regime would collapse “before 2019.”
“There is a viable opposition to the rule of the ayatollahs,” Bolton told an MEK gathering in Paris at the time. “And that opposition is centered in this room today.”
The national security hawk’s actions over the past year indicate he is looking for a fight with Tehran. Last week, Bolton ordered the Pentagon to draw up military preparations for the possible deployment of 120,000 to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or ramp up production on its nuclear weapons, according to a New York Timesreport. A video uploaded to the White House’s Twitter page in February featured Bolton accusing Tehran of “terrorizing [its] own people.”
“You could really say that since the Islamic Revolution this is certainly the hot watermark of MEK’s influence,” Benjamin told Observer. “My guess is that they’re feeling pretty good about all the investments they’ve made to build their influence in Washington. Bolton has continued to make video messages that echo what he was saying before to MEK groups.”
Another member of President Donald Trump’s inner-circle who has spoken at MEK events at home and abroad includes Rudy Giuliani—who last fall told Iranian dissidents in Times Square that regime change is “going to happen.” When asked by Observer about the group’s controversial history said to include violence against Americans, he echoed the group’s narrative that an unaffiliated group of Marxist dissidents were behind the attacks.
“What you’re referring to happened over 30 years ago,” Giuliani told Observer during a press conference after his speech. “It happened during the overthrow of the Shah. It was a group of people that were not connected to the MEK. This particular organization has been extraordinarily friendly to the United States, embraced by the United States military.”
A spokesperson for Bolton at the National Security Council did not return Observer’s request for comment on whether he saw the NCRI’s vision as a suitable replacement for Tehran’s regime.
Recent NCRI Lobbying Campaign
As the Trump administration escalates its rhetoric toward Iran and hints at possible military action in the region, the NCRI has seized on the conversation surrounding regime change to promote itself as an alternative to the Ayatollah.
“Decades of human rights abuses and domestic suppression need to be dealt with now,” reads a blog post uploaded to the organization’s website last week. “The regime is in the most vulnerable place it has ever been and this is when it could potentially be dangerous so the policy of exerting the maximum pressure should go on and the international community should more than ever listen to the only viable alternative which is the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) with its president elect Maryam Rajavi.”
Earlier in May, a former NCRI lobbyist launched an advertising campaign on Facebook to promote a Washington Timesarticle about an NCRI event, which quoted the organization’s deputy director of U.S. operations, according to The Daily Beast.
The organization has been careful not to advocate explicitly for a U.S. military invasion and has walked a fine line in promoting regime change, while recognizing Trump’s aversion to interventionism. Representatives for the NCRI also reject the narrative that the U.S. is aggravating Iran and point to the regime’s sponsorship of state terrorism throughout Europe. One policy they are in favor of is a continued push of the White House’s maximum pressure campaign.
“The regime is having a lot of problems domestically. It is also isolated regionally and internationally,” Safavi told Observer. “The maximum pressure policy hasn’t yet run its complete course. There are other areas where the regime should be sanctioned, in particular the petrochemical and gas industry. Another step that we see is necessary is to designate the Ministry of Intelligence as a voluntary terrorist organization because it qualifies as such.”
“I’d be surprised if they want to oppose Trump in any vocal way,” added Benjamin. “That would only diminish their fanning.”
What Will Happen If the MEK Rises to Power?
The NCRI’s ten-point plan for Iran outlines a future free of nuclear weapons, Sharia law and the death penalty. The organization promotes universal suffrage, an independent judiciary and free market economics. Gen. Jones has praised the points as “Jeffersonian principles.”
Although the NCRI and MEK anticipate droves of Iranian activists flooding Tehran to support them should Khamenei’s regime fall—all cheering “Iran is Ravaji, Ravaji is Iran”—the group’s possible ascendance to power is likely to be met with fierce resistance from many Iranians who still see the group as traitorous given its support for Saddam Hussein.
“Any effort by the MEK to reinsert itself back into politics in Tehran would be met with a pretty violent reaction,” continued Benjamin. “We’re talking about an extremely marginal group with no support in Iran. It has some support in the diaspora, and there have been plenty of lawmakers who have carried their banner for them, but in terms of pushing for a regime change policy, we haven’t been this close since the invasion of Iraq… Absent an occupation, there is little chance of the government falling. Unless the U.S. manages a regime change, the MEK doesn’t have many prospects in Iran, and if there were regime change, the U.S. would have to put the MEK in the driver’s seat to have any role.”
With Bolton and Giuliani promoting the MEK, and other hardliners like State Secretary Mike Pompeo endorsing regime change, the group is the closest its ever been to claiming Tehran from the mullahs.
“They’ve got their man in the White House pushing dangerously hard against the opposition of his boss,” said Benjamin. “Their cult-like behavior, the abusive treatment of their members, their absolute refusal to acknowledge their past, all of those things cast a big shadow on the group.”
IRAN stoked the flames of conflict with the US after its supreme leader promised children they would “witness the demise” of Washington and Israel.
His comments come as the US bolsters its forces in the region.
US President Donald Trump vowed to increase its presence with around 120,000 troops to be stationed in the Middle East.
Trump has warned Iran on numerous occasions that conflict would “officially end” the country.
The growing tension between the US and Iran aroused after Trump opted to try and cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up its forces in the Middle East.
He decided to increase the military after he claimed Iran had made “threats” to the US.
However, the US has not publicly shown any evidence of what the specific intelligence on the Iranian threat is.
The US military carried out exercises in the Arabian Sea to show Washington’s strength in the region.
The military did that in the face of an Iranian army which is one of the most powerful in the world.
Iran boasts one of the most powerful militaries in the world – and the second-strongest in the Middle East – according to shock analysis by warfare experts.
Global Fire Power (GFP) reviewed Iran’s military strength this year and ranked it 14 out of the 137 nations analysed so far.
GFP said Iran’s potential manpower totalled almost 48 million people, with a total of almost 40 million fit for service.
The total military personnel is believed to amount to an estimated 873,000 people, with 523,000 of them active and the rest believed to be reserve personnel.
If the past is any indication, New York can be hit by an earthquake, claims John Armbruster, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
According to the New York Daily News, Lynn Skyes, lead author of a recent study by seismologists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory adds that a magnitude-6 quake hits the area about every 670 years, and magnitude-7 every 3,400 years.
A 5.2-magnitude quake shook New York City in 1737 and another of the same severity hit in 1884.
Tremors were felt from Maine to Virginia.
There are several fault lines in the metro area, including one along Manhattan’s 125th St. – which may have generated two small tremors in 1981 and may have been the source of the major 1737 earthquake, says Armbruster.
„The problem here comes from many subtle faults,“ explained Skyes after the study was published.
He adds: „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.“
„Considering population density and the condition of the region’s infrastructure and building stock, it is clear that even a moderate earthquake would have considerable consequences in terms of public safety and economic impact,“ says the New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation on its website.
Armbruster says a 5.0-magnitude earthquake today likely would result in casualties and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
„I would expect some people to be killed,“ he notes.
GENEVA (Reuters) – The risk of nuclear weapons being used is at its highest since World War Two, a senior U.N. security expert said on Tuesday, calling it an “urgent” issue that the world should take more seriously.
Renata Dwan, director of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), said all states with nuclear weapons have nuclear modernization programs underway and the arms control landscape is changing, partly due to strategic competition between China and the United States.
Traditional arms control arrangements are also being eroded by the emergence of new types of war, with increasing prevalence of armed groups and private sector forces and new technologies that blurred the line between offense and defense, she told reporters in Geneva.
With disarmament talks stalemated for the past two decades, 122 countries have signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, partly out of frustration and partly out of a recognition of the risks, she said.
“I think that it’s genuinely a call to recognize – and this has been somewhat missing in the media coverage of the issues – that the risks of nuclear war are particularly high now, and the risks of the use of nuclear weapons, for some of the factors I pointed out, are higher now than at any time since World War Two.”
The nuclear ban treaty, officially called the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, was backed by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
The treaty has so far gathered 23 of the 50 ratifications that it needs to come into force, including South Africa, Austria, Thailand, Vietnam and Mexico. It is strongly opposed by the United States, Russia, and other states with nuclear arms.
Cuba also ratified the treaty in 2018, 56 years after the Cuban missile crisis, a 13-day Cold War face-off between Moscow and Washington that marked the closest the world had ever come to nuclear war.
Dwan said the world should not ignore the danger of nuclear weapons.
“How we think about that, and how we act on that risk and the management of that risk, seems to me a pretty significant and urgent question,” she said.
She added that it was not being adequately addressed in arms control talks or multilateral bodies such as the U.N. Security Council nor by bilateral arrangements between states.
On Wednesday, China’s disarmament ambassador in Geneva accused Washington of sabotaging and tearing up deals and having a “Cold War mentality”, and said Washington displayed bullying behavior.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Frances Kerry