Senior Hamas official says that “prisoners of the occupation will never see the light until our prisoners of freedom see it.”
Arutz Sheva Staff , Oct 16 , 2021 11:06 PM
Terrorists releasedFlash 90
Khalil al-Haya, a member of the Hamas Politburo and a senior member of the movement in the Gaza Strip, sent a strong message to Israel amid continuing difficulties in negotiating an exchange deal in which captive IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians will be returned in exchange for the release of Palestinian Arab security prisoners.
In an interview with Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV channel, al-Haya said that “prisoners of the occupation will never see the light until our prisoners of freedom see it”, emphasizing that Hamas has adhered to its demand for a new deal and is ready to carry it out if Israel carries out its obligations. Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar recently hinted that Hamas would demand the release of 1,111 security prisoners.
He warned Israel against continuing the “criminal” policy towards security prisoners in Israeli prisons and in a message to security prisoners said: “We stand by your side, we will never leave you alone in the confrontation with the actions of the occupation and harm committed against you.”
In another context, al-Haya said that Hamas would not agree to grant Israel an unconditional ceasefire and demanded, and could even forcibly extract, the complete lifting of the siege on the Gaza Strip. Al-Haya threatened that if Israel did not act in accordance with Hamas’ demands, Hamas would re-escalate the security situation
BAGHDAD — Standing at a podium with an Iraqi flag by his side, the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr looked the part of a statesman as he read a postelection address.
In the 18 years since he formed the Mahdi Army militia to battle occupying U.S. forces, the onetime firebrand has refined his delivery. His formal Arabic is more proficient, and his voice more assured. Looking up to address the camera, he raised a finger in emphasis in remarks carefully crafted to send messages to both the United States and Iran after his party picked up seats in last week’s parliamentary election.
In 2004, as Mr. al-Sadr’s fighters took on U.S. forces with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades in Baghdad and across the southern provinces, the United States pledged to kill or capture the Shiite cleric.
Next to Al Qaeda, he posed the biggest threat to the American occupation in Iraq, miring U.S. troops in fighting in the streets and alleys of Iraqi cities as the military fought both Sunni and Shiite-based insurgencies.
Although still unpredictable, the cleric is consistently an Iraqi nationalist and now seems to be emerging as an arm’s-length American ally, helping the United States by preventing Iraq from tilting further into Iran’s axis.
“All embassies are welcome, as long as they do not interfere in Iraqi affairs and government formation,” Mr. al-Sadr said in a reference aimed at the United States, whose embassy was stormed two years ago by what were believed to be members of Kitaib Hezbollah, one of the biggest Iranian-backed Iraqi militias. “Iraq is for Iraqis only.”
In preliminary results from last Sunday’s elections, the Sadrist Movement gained roughly 20 seats, giving it up to 73 seats in the 329-member parliament. That leaves Mr. al-Sadr with the biggest single bloc in Parliament and a decisive voice in choosing the next Iraqi prime minister.
In his remarks, the cleric made a pointed reference to Iranian-backed militias, some of which have grown more powerful than Iraq’s official security forces and pose a threat to the United States in Iraq.
“From now on, arms must be restricted in the hands of the state,” he said in the address, broadcast on Iraqi state television. “The use of weapons shall be prevented outside of the state’s framework.” Even for those claiming to be the “resistance” to the U.S. presence, he said, “it is time for the people to live in peace, without occupation, terrorism, militias, kidnapping and fear.”
The self-styled resistance groups are the same Iranian-backed militias that launched drone and rocket attacks on the American Embassy and U.S. military bases after the U.S. killing of a leading Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and a senior Iraqi security official in Baghdad last year.
An aide to the Shiite cleric said disarming groups that are not under government control would also apply to Mr. al-Sadr’s own militia forces.n=0
“No country wants forces that are stronger than its army,” said Dhia al-Assadi, a former top official in the cleric’s political movement. He said Mr. al-Sadr would leave it to the incoming government to decide whether U.S. forces should remain in Iraq.
The United States has agreed to withdraw all combat troops from the country by Dec. 31, although Washington does not consider its troops there currently to be on a combat mission. Under that agreement, the number of U.S. forces — about 2,000 in Iraq at Baghdad’s invitation — is expected to remain the same.
“That is labeling or classifying the troops as trainers and not fighters,” said Mr. al-Assadi, who served as the head of Mr. al-Sadr’s former Ahrar political bloc. “The decision should be revisited again and decided by Parliament and the government.”
Mr. al-Assadi said he does not foresee any change in an existing ban on senior officials of the Sadrist Movement from meeting with U.S. or British officials.
Once a fierce sectarian defender of Iraq’s Shiite majority, Mr. al-Sadr has expanded his reach in recent years, reaching out to Sunnis, Christians and other minorities. After telling his followers to protect Christians, young men from Mr. Sadr’s stronghold in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad’s Sadr City began wearing large crosses around their necks in a sign of solidarity. In a previous election, the Sadrists formed an alliance with the Communist Party, which is officially atheist.
Externally, he has fostered relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at a time when those countries’ Sunni Arab rulers were hostile to Iraq’s Shiite-led government. Domestically, one of his main demands is to clean up Iraq’s dysfunctional and deeply corrupt political system, which appoints people to senior government posts on the basis of party loyalty rather than competence.
“He has grown and evolved,” said Nabeel Khoury, a former U.S. State Department official who served in Iraq in 2003. “But I think to some extent we underestimated him in the very beginning.”
Mr. Khoury said that he was approached in 2003 by Mr. al-Sadr’s aides as Iraq’s first governing council was being decided.
“We had coffee, we talked and they said Sadr was interested in playing a political role,” said Mr. Khoury, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. But Iraqi political figures who had returned from exile did not want Mr. al-Sadr involved, Mr. Khoury said, and the United States followed their counsel.
A few months later, the cleric formed his Mahdi Army militia to fight occupying troops.
When U.S. forces had an opportunity to kill Mr. al-Sadr during a battle in Najaf, Washington told them to stand down, also on the advice of the Iraqi expatriate politicians, said Mr. Khoury, adding: “They knew if Sadr was killed it would become a big problem for them.”
Mr. al-Sadr, 47, is the youngest son of a revered cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein in 1999 after demanding religious freedom for Iraq’s Shiites. The Sadr family commands the loyalty of millions, many of them poor and disposed, most of whom believe his election win was ordained by God.
In Sadr City, the Sadrist organization provides food, support for orphans and widows and many other services the Iraqi government fails to deliver.
“He would like to achieve certain objectives, and the main objective is social justice,” said Mr. al-Assadi of the cleric’s aims. He likened Mr. al-Sadr’s goals to those of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Ghandi.
But unlike the Black civil rights leader or India’s pacifist icon, Mr. al-Sadr has overseen an armed militia that has waxed and waned but never entirely gone away.
The Mahdi Army has been blamed for fueling Iraq’s past sectarian violence. As it battled with Sunni fighters of Al Qaeda for supremacy in Iraq between 2006 and 2008, Mr. al-Sadr’s fighters were accused of running death squads and conducting sectarian cleansings of Baghdad neighborhoods.
Mr. al-Sadr has said that not all the fighters were under his control.
In 2008, after losing a fight with Iraqi government forces for control of Basra, Mr. al-Sadr — who lacks the religious credentials of his father — abruptly left for Iran to pursue his theological studies.
Yet he has long had an uneasy relationship with Tehran, and while he cannot afford to antagonize its leaders, he advocates an Iraq free of both Iranian and American influence.
“I think he has his own space in which he walks, and his base is not dictated by any country, especially not the Iranians,” said Elie Abouaoun, a director at the United States Institute of Peace, a U.S. government-funded think tank. “I think that he is much less sectarian than many, many others because he has a nationalist vision of Iraq.”
BY JOSEPH DETRANI, OPINION CONTRIBUTORThe views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill
The recent death of Abdul Qadeer Khan, a national hero in Pakistan who was the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb program, is an appropriate time to reflect on how an individual or network can provide nuclear technology and know-how to rogue states and terrorist organizations seeking nuclear weapons.
A.Q. Khan was trained in Europe as a metallurgical engineer and employed by the Anglo-Dutch-German nuclear engineering consortium Urenco, where he gained unique access to and expertise working with uranium centrifuges. He brought this knowledge, and documentation, to Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program.
Iraq and Syria were approached, but it was Iran, North Korea and Libya that aggressively pursued a relationship with Khan. Libya eventually abandoned its pursuit of nuclear weapons, in return for international legitimacy and normalized relations with the United States and United Kingdom. Iran and North Korea have persisted with their programs.
The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran – signed by Iran and China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S., before Donald Trump withdrew our participation in May 2018 – requires Iran’s compliance with halting numerous nuclear programs for a certain period, to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran has breached the accord several times.
North Korea reportedly provided Syria with training, materials and assistance in the construction of a plutonium nuclear reactor in Al-Kibar. Israel bombed this facility in September 2007, just prior to its going into operation. Al Qaeda reportedly also attempted to acquire nuclear weapons and fissile materials from North Korea for a dirty bomb.
There is appropriate current concern that other nation-states will try to acquire nuclear weapons capability, usually for deterrence purposes. Indeed, if North Korea is permitted to retain its nuclear weapons, South Korea, Japan and others in the region may decide that, despite U.S. nuclear deterrence commitments, they need their own nuclear weapons.The same applies to Iran. If it pursues a nuclear weapons program, it’s likely that countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey will pursue their own nuclear weapons programs, despite U.S. nuclear deterrence commitments.It’s logical to assume that al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations continue to seek nuclear and biological weapons to attack the U.S., its allies and partners. And the Taliban’s return to leadership in Afghanistan – and their complicity with 9/11 by permitting al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to reside in Afghanistan and plot against the U.S. – must be of immediate concern to the U.S. and its allies.nullKhan showed the world that one serial proliferator can provide the technology and know-how necessary to a few nation-states interested in acquiring nuclear weapons. Ensuring that Iran doesn’t acquire a nuclear weapon and that North Korea denuclearizes completely and verifiably is necessary if we want to ensure that other countries – especially in East Asia and the Middle East – do not pursue their own nuclear weapons programs.The proliferation of nuclear states, and the likelihood that a nuclear weapon or fissile material for a dirty bomb is acquired by a rogue state or terrorist organization, must be of the highest concern to the United States and our allies.Joseph R. DeTrani was the former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea and the former director of the National Counterproliferation Center. The views expressed in this publication are his and do not imply endorsement of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or any other U.S. government agency.
Military vehicles carrying hypersonic missiles DF-17 travel past Tiananmen Square during the military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People’s Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2019.(photo credit: REUTERS/JASON LEE)
China made significant strides in space weapons capabilities in August as they secretly tested an advanced nuclear-capable hypersonic missile, The Financial Times reported on Saturday night.The report said the Chinese military launched a rocket carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle that flew through low-orbit space, circling the globe before cruising toward its target, which it missed by about 25 miles.
The new missile reportedly caught the US by surprise, with a source telling FT that China’s hypersonic capabilities are “far more advanced than US officials realized.”China’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment from Reuters on Sunday.
The hypersonic weapons, also tested by the US and Russia, include glide vehicles that fly at five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) – approximately one mile per minute – and are launched into space on a rocket, orbiting the Earth under their own momentum.The Pentagon logo is seen behind the podium in the briefing room at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., January 8, 2020.
According to an expert on Chinese nuclear weapons policy, the newly tested weapon, armed with a nuclear warhead, will help China “negate US defense systems that are designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles,” FT said.America’s defense systems, which are focused on the North Pole, could be completely disregarded as the new weapon could potentially fly over the South Pole, according to FT.Advertisementhttps://69d722ee720fb23f0d7ae54de0558193.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0“We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue: capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.The US and Russia are also developing hypersonic missiles, and North Korea said last month that it had test-fired a newly developed one.
At a 2019 parade, China showcased advancing weaponry including its hypersonic missile, known as the DF-17.Ballistic missiles fly into outer space before returning on steep trajectories at higher speeds. Hypersonic weapons are difficult to defend against because they fly toward targets at lower altitudes but can achieve more than five times the speed of sound, or about 6,200 kph (3,850 mph).
When it comes to prospects for restarting talks with Tehran aimed at restoring the tattered 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the tone in Washington this week has been decidedly downbeat.
“With every passing day and Iran’s refusal to engage in good faith, the runway gets short,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday as he met in Washington with foreign ministers from Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
The top U.S. diplomat then delved into a little saber-rattling. “We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course” – meaning if Iran doesn’t put a halt to continuing advances in its nuclear program and get back to the negotiating table.
But beneath the public pessimism and tough talk are a number of economic and regional political factors that suggest a resumption of diplomacy between two arch adversaries – and revival of the 2015 international agreement that temporarily closed Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon – is still more likely than not.
Those factors include big-ticket pressures like Iran’s need for relief from U.S.-imposed economic sanctions and President Joe Biden’s hopes of avoiding a nuclear crisis that could overtake his domestic agenda.
A range of factors
But other, more subtle factors favoring diplomacy include Iran’s growing relations with two big regional powers – Russia and China; Iran’s fraught but budding relations with its Persian Gulf neighbors, including Saudi Arabia; and Israel’s less strident opposition to a U.S. return to a deal former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
Even the spike in global energy costs is contributing to mounting pressure on Iran to return to indirect talks with the United States on restoring the nuclear accord, some analysts argue.
How do oil prices fit into a list of glimmers favoring diplomacy?
Consider this: China, one of six powers that signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, with Iran, finds its economy hampered by energy shortages and rising prices. Beijing would welcome the eased access to Iran’s oil that would accompany a revived deal.
At the same time, oil-producer Iran – its economy stuck in the doldrums despite recent modest growth – would very much like to reap the benefits from the rising prices that a return to licit oil sales would offer, some international analysts say.
And as Tehran’s recent accession to membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation suggests, the Iranians have been putting more of their economic eggs into the China basket and are aiming for bilateral economic ties to flourish.
The alternative serves no one
Yet even with all those factors contributing, the key driver of a return to talks is going to be a decision from the two main protagonists – the U.S. and especially Iran – that the alternative to dialogue serves no one.
“The bottom line is that restoring the deal serves the best interests of both Iran and the United States,” says Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association in Washington.
“If the talks to restore the JCPOA fail, the likelihood of a nuclear crisis, the likelihood of a return to a coercive sanctions strategy, the likelihood of military strikes, all of it goes up,” she adds. “But those likelihoods don’t benefit [Iranian President Ebrahim] Raisi, and they don’t benefit Biden.”
President Biden entered the White House pledging to restore the JCPOA, and earlier this year it appeared that a U.S. return to the deal – and returning Iran to compliance with the deal’s nuclear limitations – was imminent. (Once the U.S. pulled out in 2018, Iran questioned the deal’s validity and eventually returned to prohibited activities. Those include spinning increasingly sophisticated centrifuges delivering a higher purity of highly enriched uranium, a key step on the road to building a nuclear weapon).
But the sixth round of talks ended in April without an agreement, and then the hard-liner Mr. Raisi was elected president in June.
Speculation over a return to Vienna for a seventh round of talks has since followed the path of a roller coaster, with sudden ascents of optimism followed by chutes of despair.
The last two weeks are a case in point. Last week Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said in Moscow that Iran was finalizing diplomatic consultations and “will soon restore our negotiations in Vienna.” But that was followed this week by plummeting hopes and warnings from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then Secretary Blinken, that the diplomatic window is closing.
“The Americans keep talking about how hopes for diplomacy are growing dim, opportunities are diminishing, a window is shutting, but ultimately their rhetoric doesn’t sync with their behavior, and what their behavior says is that they really are trying very hard to keep the door open,” says Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow specializing in Iranian security and political issues at Washington’s Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
In response, he adds, Iran’s new class of hard-liners is finding a “certain glee” in “turning the superpower into the supplicant” and “trying to tempt Washington into premature sanctions relief.” Those in power in Tehran now are “more risk tolerant and escalation friendly, and more keen to drive a harder bargain.”
This does not mean Tehran won’t eventually return to the Vienna talks and even the JCPOA, Mr. Ben Taleblu says. But he says Iran is demonstrating the objective it intends to pursue if it does return to the negotiating table: “Get more but offer less.”
Still, not all Iranians are on board with the Raisi government’s maximalist approach to nuclear diplomacy.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, the former foreign minister who was former Secretary of State John Kerry’s Iranian counterpart in negotiating the JCPOA, said in a public online chat last week that Iran had an “opportunity” to return to the deal “while keeping its dignity intact,” according to the Amwaj.media website.
Mr. Zarif also quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin telling him that, “If, when the U.S. declares that it wishes to return to the JCPOA, Iran takes a hard line, then the whole world will turn against” Iran – something Mr. Putin added was already happening.
Iran’s “Eastern orientation”
The role of Russia and China in getting Tehran to “yes” may be crucial. Mr. Ben Taleblu notes that the Iranians have long talked about an “Eastern orientation” of their foreign policy as a way to offset Western influence. And while that reorientation may be a long-term goal, he says it points to where Iran is headed – and suggests that Tehran may prefer not to alienate either Moscow or Beijing by precipitating a regional crisis.
“Politically Moscow matters to Iran, but economically Beijing matters much more, and the Iranians can’t easily disregard that right now” given their weak economy, he says.
Ms. Davenport of the Arms Control Association adds that even if China is unwilling to exert Moscow’s style of overt pressure on Tehran, Beijing clearly prefers a return of the JCPOA.
“The greater access to the Iranian oil market that would accompany a deal would clearly benefit China in a variety of ways,” she says, adding that “from the big-picture perspective, Chinese interests suffer if there’s an escalation of tensions and conflict in the region.”
Just how much that kind of external factor matters to Tehran remains to be seen.
For Mr. Ben Taleblu, the U.S. needs to move beyond rhetoric and show some teeth if it wants to get Iran back to Vienna. And he’s not alone in thinking something has to happen soon.
For now, Ms. Davenport says she sees Iran’s nuclear advances as aimed primarily at “increasing Iran’s leverage” in eventual talks. But she worries that some of the advances Iran is making are getting to a point of no return.
“My concern is that the advances Iran is making will become more difficult to reverse over the next few months,” she says. And if over that period Iran’s hard-liners continue to play hard to get and meet the Americans with new demands, she says, “that delay could be fatal.”
Staff writer Scott Peterson in London contributed to this report.
“This is a new world,” President Joe Biden declared, when justifying his pullout from Afghanistan and explaining his administration’s war on global terrorism in an August 31 speech. It will go “well beyond Afghanistan,” he alerted the world, focusing on “the threats of 2021 and tomorrow.”
The president will not have to look too far. Bordering Afghanistan, now again under Taliban rule, is Pakistan, one of America’s oddest “allies.” Governed by a shaky coalition of ineffective politicians and trained military leaders trying desperately to contain the challenge of domestic terrorism, Pakistan may be the best definition yet of a highly combustible threat that, if left unchecked, might lead to the nightmare of nightmares: jihadis taking control of a nuclear weapons arsenal of something in the neighborhood of 200 warheads.
Ever since May 1998, when Pakistan first began testing nuclear weapons, claiming its national security demanded it, American presidents have been haunted by the fear that Pakistan’s stockpile of nukes would fall into the wrong hands. That fear now includes the possibility that jihadis in Pakistan, freshly inspired by the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, might try to seize power at home.
Trying, of course, is not the same as succeeding. If history is a reliable guide, Pakistan’s professional military would almost certainly respond, and in time probably succeed; but only after the floodgates of a new round of domestic warfare between the government and extremist gangs has been opened, leaving Pakistan again shaken by political and economic uncertainty. And when Pakistan is shaken, so too is India, its less than neighborly rival and nuclear competitor.
Former President Barack Obama translated this challenge into carefully chosen words: “The single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short term, medium term and long term,” he asserted, “would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon.” (Author’s italics).
The nation that has both nuclear weapons and a dangerous mix of terrorists was — and remains — Pakistan.
No problem, really, Pakistan’s political and military leaders have quickly assured a succession of anxious presidents. Whether it be Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehreek-e-Labaik, al-Qaida, or the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura — these terrorist organizations have always been under our constant surveillance, checked and rechecked. We keep a close eye on everything, even the Islamic madrassas, where more than 2 million students are more likely studying sharia law than economics or history. We know who these terrorists are and what they’re doing, and we’re ready to take immediate action.
These official assurances have fallen largely on deaf ears at the White House, principally because one president after another has learned from American intelligence that these same Pakistani leaders have often been working surreptitiously with the terrorists to achieve common goals. One such goal was the recent defeat of the Kabul regime, which had been supported by the U.S. for 20 years. During this time, the victorious Taliban secretly received political and military support from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Shortly after 9/11, for example, the terrorist mastermind, Osama bin Laden, escaped U.S. capture, in part because sympathetic of ISI colleagues. Bin Laden fled to the one place where his security could be assured — Pakistan. In 2011, when the U.S. finally caught up with bin Laden and killed him, Obama chose not to inform Pakistani leaders of the super-secret operation, even though the target was down the street from a Pakistani military academy, fearful that once again bin Laden would be tipped off and escape.
The U.S. has learned over the years not to trust Pakistan, realizing that a lie here and there might be part of the diplomatic game but that this level of continuing deception was beyond acceptable bounds. That Pakistan was also known to have helped North Korea and Iran develop their nuclear programs has only deepened the distrust.
Indeed, since the shock of 9/11, Pakistan has come to represent such an exasperating problem that the U.S. has reportedly developed a secret plan to arbitrarily seize control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal if a terrorist group in Pakistan seemed on the edge of capturing some or all of its nuclear warheads. When repeatedly questioned about the plan, U.S. officials have strung together an artful, if unpersuasive, collection of “no comments.”
Even though U.S. economic and military aid has continued to flow into Pakistan — reaching $4.5 billion in fiscal 2010, though on other occasions capriciously cut — America’s concerns about Pakistan’s stability and reliability have only worsened. Since the debacle in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s barely disguised role in it, serious questions have been raised about America’s embarrassing predisposition to look the other way whenever Pakistan has been caught with its hand in a terrorist’s cookie jar. How long can America look the other way?
The anguishing problem for the Biden administration is now coming into sharper focus: Even if the president decided to challenge Pakistan’s dangerous flirtation with domestic and regional terrorism, what specific policies could he adopt that would satisfy America’s obvious desire to disengage from Afghan-like civil wars without at the same time getting itself involved in another nation’s domestic struggles with terrorists? Disengagement has become the name of the game in Washington.
One approach, already widely discussed, is that the U.S. can contain the spread of terrorism in South Asia by relying on its “over-the-horizon” capabilities. Though almost every senior official, including Biden, has embraced this approach, it’s doubtful they really believe it’s a viable substitute for “boots on the ground.”
Another possibility would be the Central Intelligence Agency striking a new under-the-table deal with the ISI that would set new goals and guidelines for both services to cooperate more aggressively in the war against domestic and regional terrorism. Unfortunately, prospects for such expanded cooperation, though rhetorically appealing, are actually quite slim. Veterans of both services shake their heads, reluctantly admitting it is unrealistic, given the degree of distrust on both sides.
But even if Biden, despite knowing better, decided to continue to look the other way, hoping against hope that Pakistan would be able to contain the terrorists and keep them from acquiring nuclear warheads, he will find that Prime Minister Imran Khan is not a ready and eager ally, if he ever was one. Lately he’s been painting the Biden administration as damaged goods after its hurried exit from Afghanistan. And he has been rearranging Pakistan’s regional relationships by strengthening his ties with China and extending a welcoming hand to Russia. Also Khan may soon discover that his pro-Taliban policy runs the risk of backfiring and inspiring Pakistani terrorists to turn against him. To whom would he then turn for help?
Khan, who won his mandate in 2018, surely knows by now that he runs a decidedly unhappy country, beset by major economic and political problems, waves of societal corruption and the no-nonsense challenge coming from domestic terrorists eager to impose a severe Islamic code of conduct on the Pakistani people. Sixty-four percent of the population are under the age of 30 and more desirous of iPhones and apps than of religious zealotry.
Pakistan is a looming problem with no satisfactory solutions. For Biden, no matter what policies he pursues, it remains a recurring nightmare, the stuff of a paperback thriller: a scary mix of terrorists who may one day be able to seize power and, with it, control over the nation’s stockpile of nuclear warheads — all of this happening in a shaky, strategically-located country that was once an ally.
Since the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, geostrategic relationships on the Asian subcontinent have been undergoing important changes. Pakistan has tilted its future towards a closer relationship with China, while its principal adversary, India, has tightened its ties to the United States, both of them sharing an already deep distrust of China. In this increasingly uneasy atmosphere, the U.S. remains concerned about Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile falling into terrorist hands. If this seemed to be happening, the U.S. would feel the need to intervene militarily to stop it. Pakistan would likely turn to China for help, setting the stage for the U.S. and China, because of Pakistan’s nukes, to head towards a direct and possibly deadly confrontation which neither superpower wants or needs
BAGHDAD–Firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr may be Iraq’s big election winner but he will still have to haggle with his opponents, linked to armed pro-Iranian groups, to forge a new government.
War-scarred Iraq, an oil-rich country plagued by corruption and poverty, last Sunday held its fifth parliamentary elections since the 2003 US-led invasion toppled president Saddam Hussein.
Sadr, a Shia preacher who once commanded an anti-US militia, had campaigned as a nationalist and criticised the influence of big neighbour Iran, which has grown strongly since Saddam’s fall.
The political maverick had initially vowed to boycott the polls but then sent his movement into the race, proclaiming in recent months that it will be he who chooses Iraq’s next prime minister.
At first glance, his bloc’s election win would seem to reinforce that view. The Sadrists won 70 out of the assembly’s 329 seats, according to preliminary results, boosting their lead from the previous parliament.
But analysts say Sadr will now have to come to terms with his adversaries, the pro-Iran Shia parties linked to the Hashed al-Shaabi network of paramilitary forces.
The Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, Hashed’s political wing, lost more than half of its 48 deputies, according to preliminary results.
“The results give Sadr an upper hand when it comes to politics and his negotiating position, but that is not the only thing that is important here,” said Renad Mansour of the Chatham House think tank.
The Hashed “has lost political power by losing seats, but they still have coercive power and that will be used in the bargaining,” he said of the movement, which according to estimates has over 160,000 men under arms.
Despite the implicit “threat of violence” Mansour does not predict an escalation, but he warned, “That doesn’t mean that each side won’t use threats and sometimes violence … to show that they have that power.”
Iraqi politics have been dominated by factions representing the Shia majority since the fall of Saddam’s Sunni-led regime.
They are, however, increasingly split, especially on their attitude toward powerful Shia neighbour Iran, which competes with the United States for strategic influence in Iraq.
The Hashed were formed in 2014 to fight the Sunni-extremist Islamic State (ISIS) group and entered the legislature for the first time in the 2018 vote, after playing a major role in defeating ISIS.
Opposition activists accuse Hashed’s armed groups, which are now supposedly integrated into Iraq’s state security forces, of being beholden to Iran and acting as an instrument of oppression against critics.
A youth-led anti-government protest movement that broke out two years ago ended after hundreds of activists were killed and the movement has blamed pro-Iranian armed groups for the bloodshed.
Washington, meanwhile, accuses Tehran-backed armed groups of being behind rocket and drone attacks on its military and diplomatic interests.
Among many Iraqis, the mood over Iranian interference has soured and Sadr voiced that sentiment after the election.
He attacked “the resistance,” the name pro-Iran armed groups give themselves in the Middle East.
“Arms should be in the hands of the state and their use outside of that framework prohibited, even for those who claim to be from the resistance,” he said in a clear reference to Hashed.
Rejecting election results
The Hashed and their allies denounced the election outcome as a “scam.”
“These elections are the worst Iraq has known since 2003,” charged the head of Houqouq, a party close to the Hezbollah Brigades which are under the Hashed umbrella.
The faction’s military spokesman accused Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi of being the “sponsor of electoral fraud.”
Amid the heated rhetoric, the political blocs are seen to be starting the process of post-election haggling aimed at forming parliamentary blocs ahead of finding a prime minister.
One pro-Iran figure and Hashed partner made surprising gains, former Prime Minister Nuri Maliki, who served from 2006 to 2014 and whose State of Law Alliance can count on more than 30 seats.
Fatah is looking at Maliki’s party and smaller groups to create the largest parliamentary bloc and nominate him as prime minister, said Hamdi Malik, of the Washington Institute for Near East Study.
“This is very hard to achieve, but it can form their starting point to enter into negotiations with Sadr to secure a lot of positions in the next government,” Malik said.
The most likely outcome, the analyst added, is “a compromise PM with a lot of Sadrist control over him”.
Political scientist Ali al-Baidar said that, whatever happens, Hashed won’t be content sitting in opposition.
“There is no culture of opposition in Iraqi politics,” he said. “Everyone wants some of the power.”
The development of hypersonic weapons has made it difficult to distinguish between nuclear weapons and non-nuclear strategic weapons. Yet, it has made it clear that hypersonic weapons cannot be taken lightly. The strategic instability created by these weapons has triggered a hypersonic arms race between the US, China, and Russia. The author, Syed Alyaan Kazmi, notes that each state views the other two with suspicion and fears a pre-emptive strike, thus triggering a security dilemma. The existence of hypersonic weapons greatly influences the decision-making process due to their unpredictability. Fearing the destabilization of the arms race between the nuclear states, the author suggests the establishment of new multilateral agreements to limit the development and proliferation of hypersonic weapons.
Syed Alyaan Kazmi is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in strategic and nuclear studies from the National Defence University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region and South Asia.
Despite disagreements, the majority of the experts from the US, China, Russia, and Europe agree that the advancements in military technology have the potential to exacerbate the complexity of deterrence and strategic stability, and intensifying the hypersonic arms race. Until the end of the Cold War, the entire construct of deterrence rested upon the presumption of survivability of credible nuclear forces to launch a counter nuclear strike, in retaliation to the first strike.
In recent years, advances in military technology—predominantly, the development of hypersonic weapons—have obscured the distinction between nuclear weapons and non-nuclear strategic weapons. Since hypersonic missiles can carry both nuclear and non-nuclear warheads at intercontinental ranges, their incredible speed and maneuverability enable them to incapacitate the adversary’s strategic forces like the nuclear command, control, and communication facilities without even crossing the nuclear threshold of the opponent.
Consequently, this warhead ambiguity might encourage a pre-emptive counterforce strike to limit the damage inflicted by the first strike. Hence, triggering an unstable hypersonic arms race leading to uncontrollable escalation, threatening the global strategic stability.
Hypersonic missiles, touted by many experts as the demolishers of anti-missile systems, travel at a speed faster than Mach 5 (about 5000-25000 km/hr) which makes them invulnerable to any missile defense system in the world. Presently, there are two main well-tested types of hypersonic missiles: hypersonic boost-glide vehicles (HGVs) and hypersonic cruise missiles (HCMs). Both have different working principles from traditional ballistic missiles.
HGVs are unpowered vehicles that glide at hypersonic speed in the upper atmosphere at an altitude above 50 km. Being equipped with propulsion systems, an HGV travels with greater maneuverability, having greater self-orientation and directional control.
The glide vehicle upon reaching about 100 km of altitude (depending upon the target location) separates from the booster and skims through the atmosphere by the momentum gained due to its aerodynamic shape. Moreover, an HGV follows an unpredicted non-ballistic trajectory, maneuvering at the hypersonic speed which makes it invulnerable to any missile defense system.
The second type, hypersonic cruise missile, uses a Supersonic Combustion Ramjet Engine (SCRAMJET engine) which generates supersonic airflow thrust. An HCM needs to gain a supersonic speed of about 4 to 5 Mach before the engine starts working and for this purpose, booster rockets are used.
Furthermore, land, aircraft, and ship-based launchers are used to launch an HCM, traveling at a low altitude of 12 to 30 miles, above the earth’s surface. Due to its high speed and unpredictable trajectory, an HCM poses a serious threat to most defense systems. Depending upon its speed, weight, and material stiffness, a hypersonic cruise missile possesses the capability to destroy any underground facility, solely through its kinetic energy, with high precision.
Russia is the only country having hypersonic missiles developed and fully operationalized in its arsenal, while some are reaching operational status. At present, three main hypersonic missiles in the Russian arsenal pose serious threats to the US missile defenses. Firstly, the Avangard, an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-launched hypersonic glide vehicle that can travel at a velocity of more than 20 Mach—20 times faster than the speed of sound.
Avangard is fitted to carry both nuclear and conventional warheads capable of delivering a yield of 2 megatons. The defense minister of Russia, Sergei Shoigu, in a press release on December 27, 2019, confirmed the entry of Avangard HGV into the service of Russian rocket forces.
Another missile, the Kinzhal Kh47-M2, is an air-launched hypersonic ballistic missile that can travel at the velocity of 10 Mach, capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional warheads at the distant ranges of 2,000 km. A TU-22M3, a maritime strike fighter, and MIG-31K interceptor aircraft provide a reliable platform for its possible launch. Kinzhal, because of its maneuverability, is highly valuable to strike naval targets such as aircraft carriers. In December 2017, it entered into the Russian rocket force service.
Lastly, Tsirkon 3M22 (Zircon) is a ship-launched hypersonic cruise missile that can fly at the speed of up to Mach 9 with a range of 1000 km. In July 2021, Russia successfully tested Zircon HCM from Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate on the Barents sea coast, which President Vladimir Putin described as a great event for Russia. Moreover, Russia is also pursuing a submarine version of Tsirkon HCM, which will further enable it to strike key US command and control centers with a slight warning.
For the United States, the development of hypersonic weapons remains the highest technical priority. At first, the US actively pursued the hypersonic missiles development program for its conventional use, however, the Pentagon had to drop the plans fearing their possible perception as nuclear warheads, triggering a nuclear response.
X-51A Waverider during its fourth and final mission on May 1st, 2013
Similarly, in China, hypersonic technology has become the focus of aeronautical research. To counter the US technological monopoly, China is also pursuing hypersonic weapons for military use. Since 2014, China has conducted several successful tests of DF-17 HGV, which can achieve a velocity of Mach 5-10 with a range of 1600-2400 km. Currently, China is also considering the development of hypersonic cruise missiles, which can be deployed by the mid of 2023. For Instance, DF-21D—an intermediate-range missile also known as “carrier killer”—can penetrate the deck of the US aircraft carriers at the range of more than 1,500-2,600 km.
Crisis stability is the situation between two nuclear states when both sides consider their nuclear forces as invulnerable, breaching any missile defense system an enemy may develop. Moreover, both sides assure that they are fully capable of massive retaliation if one side decides to launch the first nuclear strike.
In contrast, crisis instability, according to Thomas C. Schelling, is the fear of a pre-emptive counter-force strike by any side in a crisis. For crisis instability, two weapons are implicated— counter-force weapons and ballistic missile defense systems (BMDs). The former include ballistic missiles, MIRVs (multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicles), and hypersonic missiles. In the 21st century, hypersonic missiles possess such prevailing capabilities having the potential to severely impact crisis stability between global nuclear powers.
After the American withdrawal from the ABM treaty, Russia believed that the United States would develop conventional counter-force weapons to launch a first strike on Russia, and then, through advanced missile defenses, the US will circumvent the damage of Russian retaliatory strikes. Therefore, hypersonic missiles, armed with nuclear warheads, having rapid speed and maneuverability might assist in restoring the Russian logic of strategic stability.
For Russia, the strategic rationale behind hypersonic missiles development was to evade the US missile defense systems to secure second-strike capability. In February 2019, the Trump administration announced the decision to suspend US obligations under the landmark 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. The treaty led to the elimination of cruise missiles and ground-launched ballistic missiles of range 500 – 5000 kilometers.
Russia views NATO enlargement as an existential threat to its national security. To address the advanced conventional capabilities of NATO, Russia is developing a land-based intermediate-range version of the Tsirkon-3M22 hypersonic cruise missile. Due to the unpredictable trajectory, high speed, and low altitude, the intermediate-range Zircon HCM can even circumvent the US Aegis-class system. Also, Russian theater-range hypersonic missiles as an essential part of the anti-access/area-denial strategy is a major threat to the forward-deployed US forces in the European theater.
Chinese experts argue that the US’ CPGS strategy can undermine the credibility of China’s nuclear deterrent. China maintains a “minimum credible deterrence” nuclear posture and has a no-first-use nuclear policy. Therefore, China believes that the US hypersonic weapons as a part of its CPGS tactic can decapitate its small strategic forces in a pre-emptive decapitation strike, ultimately weakening China’s counter-strike capability.
For that reason, China, like Russia, is also pursuing hypersonic weapons as a part of its anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) strategy to counter the US weapons. The US decision to deploy BMDs and advanced radar systems in the Asia-Pacific region produces incentives for China to shift on a policy of launch-on-warning and deploy intermediate-range hypersonic missiles as a part of the A2AD strategy.
The utility of hypersonic weapons in a crisis involves many implications for the crisis stability because the hypersonic weapons possess some exceptional features which enable them to create security dilemmas between the hostile nuclear states. The hypersonic speed of these missiles severely impacts the decision-making timelines.
Decision-makers, after a hypersonic weapon has been detected, would have to act in a very short time after receiving initial intel from detection radars. The whole chain of command would be under greater pressure under the tainted environment of compressed timelines. For instance, a hypersonic missile like Avangard, capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads, approaching at the speed of more than 25 Mach, would give little time to US decision-makers to detect and analyze the intelligence received from the radars.Also Read: Civil War in Myanmar and Human Rights Violations
Consequently, the warhead ambiguity could encourage a nuclear response to a conventional strike due to inefficient decision-making in a degraded decision-making environment, triggering a nuclear crisis. Similarly, target ambiguity is another challenge for the decision-makers because the hypersonic weapons can maneuver even before the point of contact with the target. It makes it impossible for the radars to track the trajectory of an incoming hypersonic missile.
As a consequence, decision-makers will be facing a “use-it or lose-it dilemma” because a delay of a minute in decision-making can result in the decapitation of the entire command and control center. Hence, the increased degree of unpredictability could result in miscalculated pre-emptive nuclear response which will ultimately start a nuclear conflict.
Nevertheless, this inefficient decision-making will have other serious implications on the organization of strategic forces. For instance, regional commanders of strategic forces might be given full authority to make independent decisions in a state of crisis. This decentralization of command and control might result in miscalculated nuclear launches resulting in uncontrollable nuclear escalation.
The advent of hypersonic weapons is most likely to be destabilizing for the arms race behavior of nuclear states. The contemporary world is entering into an age of great uncertainty because the advent of hypersonic weapons is further intensifying the offense-defense dynamic of the arms race. For instance, in this arms race, China and Russia are developing new offensive strategic hypersonic missiles to evade the US missile defense systems.
At the same time, the US is investing heavily in the means to counter this new hypersonic threat. For this purpose, the US has awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman and L3Harris to develop prototypes of hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensors (HBTSS). To avoid this new hypersonic arms race there is a need to negotiate new multilateral agreements limiting the development and proliferation of hypersonic weapons. However, major world powers, unfortunately, are less likely to negotiate any new treaty limiting the use of hypersonic weapons.
In this age of great power competition and a hypersonic arms race between the US, China, and Russia, it seems impossible that any treaty or an agreement could limit the development of these disruptive technologies. However, the establishment of a mechanism to prevent conflicts and ensure confidence-building measures to limit the incentives for the first use of hypersonic weapons could be the first step towards negotiating a new multilateral agreement between the world powers and maintaining global strategic stability
BEIJING, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) — The United States should refrain from deploying nuclear weapons in the South Pacific or spreading nuclear weapons to regional countries.
Spokesperson Zhao Lijian made the remarks at a daily press briefing. It was recently reported Samoa’s representative to the United Nations pointed out the United States is the only one among the five nuclear-weapon states refusing to ratify the Protocols to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (SPNFZ) Treaty. Kiribati’s president has expressed concerns about Australia’s development of nuclear submarines.
In response, Zhao said the mentioned concerns are “justified and legitimate.” Facts have proved that the U.S.-UK-Australia submarine cooperation is very unpopular and has caused alarm and rejection among regional countries and the international community.
These three countries not only blatantly instigated confrontation and division and undermined regional peace and stability but also violated the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Zhao said.
“What they have done once again proves geopolitical purposes and military confrontation. These countries wantonly go against the regional countries’ will and trample on their rights and interests,” Zhao added.
Citing historic tragedies incurred by nuclear trials carried out by the three countries, Zhao said these trials and nuclear waste severely damaged the local ecological environment and people’s health.
“The United States should heed the call from the regional countries, ratify the SPNFZT as soon as possible, earnestly implement obligations under the treaty, and refrain from deploying nuclear weapons in the region or proliferating any to the regional countries,” said the spokesperson.
For years, the United States, the UK, and Australia have been calling themselves leaders of international non-proliferation efforts, but the fact is quite the opposite, said Zhao. Zhao urged them to discard an outdated zero-sum game mentality, revoke the relevant wrong decisions, faithfully implement international obligations of non-proliferation, and contribute more to regional peace and stability.
Last Sunday, Moqtada al-Sadr pulled on a black face mask and climbed into a decrepit-looking silver Mitsubishi. The militia leader-cum-cleric was heading to cast his ballot in Iraq’s general elections. Within 48 hours, he would command the biggest bloc in parliament.
The poll confirmed Sadr’s ability to marshal more electoral clout than any other Iraqi leader. His bloc grew from 54 seats in 2018, to 73 of the 329 available today. In a victory speech on Monday, he combined religion and nationalism with pledges to clean up the political system that his own followers are enmeshed in.
Militant, self-proclaimed champion of the downtrodden, kingmaker and scion of a revered clerical family from Iraq’s Shia majority, the mercurial Sadr has reinvented himself many times. Now 47 with a white beard, he no longer resembles the younger man who in 2004 led an insurrection against occupying British and American troops, and the sectarian bloodletting that followed.
Although he still commands the Peace Brigades, a paramilitary whose supporters insist they are a state-sponsored militia, Sadr intoned this week that: “It is now time for the people to live peacefully without occupation, terrorism, or militias that kidnap, terrorise, and detract from the role of the state.”
Dhiaa al-Asadi, a senior figure in the Sadrist Movement, first met Sadr when he was working for his father in his twenties. Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most revered Shia clerics, had instigated a religious revivalist movement blending Shiism with social justice. He openly challenged then-president Saddam Hussein, who oppressed the Shia. Fearing the ayatollah’s huge network of followers, Saddam had him assassinated in 1999, as he was driving with two other sons in a Mitsubishi — the same model Sadr symbolically rode in to cast his vote last week.
Asadi described the young Sadr as “very serious.” Despite having a lighter side — he once compared the Sadrist Movement to a football team — he largely remains private and austere.
While lacking his father’s scholarly qualifications, Sadr inherited his movement after the 2003 US-led invasion. Unlike other Shia opposition figures, Sadr had stayed in Iraq during Saddam’s reign. His bastion was the sprawling Shia slum in Baghdad originally known as Saddam City — renamed Sadr City after the leader’s demise. Highly popular among working-class Shia Iraqis, Sadr built a seemingly “cult-like following that almost no other leader in the Arab world has . . . largely because of his father’s legacy”, despite being “unpredictable, recalcitrant, moody, undisciplined”, says a researcher who met him several times during the occupation and requested anonymity.
After initially supporting Saddam’s ouster, Sadr soon fell foul of the occupiers, who issued a “kill or capture” warrant for him over his suspected involvement in the 2003 murder of a pro-western Shia cleric. By 2004, he had decided to fight back. But the anti-US insurgency soon became bloody civil strife, with fighting between Sunni and Shia extremist groups, Iraqi state forces and foreign troops. Sadr’s Mahdi Army, with help from Iran, “was the cutting edge of the Shia military offensive against the Sunni”, according to Patrick Cockburn, author of Moqtada al-Sadr and the Battle for the Future of Iraq.
Sadr stood down the Mahdi Army in 2008 after the Iraqi government, supported by the US, launched a major offensive against it. He has since had an ambiguous relationship with Tehran, positioning himself as a nationalist opposed to all foreign influence while periodically studying and taking shelter in Qom, Iran’s Shia holy city.
When he moved into politics, Sadr portrayed himself as a champion of the downtrodden. As Iraqis grew disillusioned with their kleptocratic politicians, he deployed street muscle in anti-corruption protests. In 2016, his supporters stormed the Green Zone — a walled off square-mile in central Baghdad housing embassies and Iraq’s parliament — and roughed up lawmakers. His growing influence attracted attention. In 2017, another young populist, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, invited Sadr to Saudi Arabia.
But despite his outsider image, Sadr’s partisans have become part of the Iraqi state. In 2018 elections, he won the most parliamentary seats, giving his party control of ministries and top civil service positions, allowing it to distribute jobs and benefits to supporters. When widespread anti-establishment demonstrations erupted in late 2019, Sadr initially backed them. But he later turned on the youthful protesters, leaving them distrustful of the Sadrist movement.
Sadr’s appeal is now limited to his diehard base. Yet his party’s electoral machine “skilfully [took] advantage of the new electoral system and fully [used] its voting power,” according to analyst Harith Hasan. Despite controlling parliament’s largest bloc, Sadr must haggle over a new cabinet with other factions, some of which are armed and reject the election results. And with many Iraqis arguing that his own people are corrupt, Sadr’s claim that “all the corrupt will be held accountable” will now be tested.