Iran About to Cross the Redline (Revelation 6:6)

Iran may have been behind attack on Iraq’s Balad base: U.S. State Dept official

Friday, December 06, 2019 1:38 p.m. CST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran may have been behind Thursday’s attack on Iraq’s Balad air base, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Friday, but added that Washington was awaiting further evidence.

Iraqi military on Thursday said that two Katyusha rockets landed inside Balad air base, which hosts U.S. forces and contractors and is located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

No casualties or damages were reported in the attack for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

“We’re waiting for full evidence, but if past is prologue then there’s a good chance that Iran was behind it,” David Schenker, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, told reporters in a briefing.

On Tuesday, five rockets landed on Ain Al-Asad air base, which hosts U.S. forces in Anbar province in western Iraq without causing any casualties.

Schenker called the increasing attacks something of “great concern,” and said Iran has become more aggressive over the past five to six months.

“The Iranians often times, or have certainly in the past, taken aggressive action when they feel under pressure,” he said.

The United States ratcheted up economic sanctions against Iran after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear pact between Tehran and world powers to choke Iran’s oil exports and isolate its economy.

In response, Tehran has remained defiant and rolled back commitments it made under the 2015 deal aimed at keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran also has been angry over a lack of European protection from U.S. sanctions.

Some analysts have warned that cornering Tehran could make it more aggressive. Tensions in the Gulf in recent months have spiked after attacks on oil tankers and a September air strike on Saudi oil facilities, which the United States blamed on Iran, but that Tehran has denied.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Iran is Enabling the Iraqi Horn With Nukes

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Reports: Iran is secretly transporting missiles into Iraq that may have nuclear capability

Phil Shiver

Iran has been taking advantage of recent political unrest in Iraq by secretly stockpiling short-range missiles inside the country, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

The buildup is part of Iran’s widening effort to assert dominance in the Middle East and could pose a threat to American troops as well as allies in the region such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, U.S. sources told the Times.

Both Iraq and Iran have been gripped by deadly protests in recent months, with more than 1,000 people reported dead as a result of protests in Iran. But public unrest has not seemed to slow Iranian leadership down from engaging in what the Times calls a “shadow war.”

Iran has been attacking countries in the Middle East of late but disguising the origin to diminish the chances of counterattacks. Iran’s stockpiling of short-range missiles in Iraq also serves as a strategic deterrent. If Iran were to face an attack, it could potentially strike back with the missiles stored outside its borders.

The missiles have an estimated range of 600 miles and are capable of reaching Jerusalem from outside Baghdad.

The missiles might be nuclear-capable

The same day that the news broke, a letter was released from the French, German, and British ambassadors to the United Nations alleging that Iran now has nuclear-capable missiles.

According to CNN, in the letter, “the ambassadors listed four examples of activity indicating nuclear-capable missiles, adding that ‘Iran’s developments of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and related technologies is inconsistent’ with a UN resolution restraining the country from doing so.”

The U.N. resolution the letter cited endorsed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of in 2018 but which is still supported by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia.

The letter cited footage of a flight test for a new Shahab-3 ballistic missile — which has a range of about 600 miles — equipped with a maneuverable re-entry vehicle that makes it “technically capable” of delivering a nuclear weapon.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has denied the allegation on social media.

These moves come amid a growing presence of U.S. military in the Middle East. About 14,000 troops have been sent to the region since May, and reports Wednesday said that the Trump administration is considering sending 14,000 more, though the Pentagon has denied the claim.

Trump warns of a ‘major event’

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Trump says it will be hard to unify country without a ‘major event’

By — Yamiche Alcindor

Politics Jan 30, 2018 4:37 PM EST

Hours before his first State of the Union, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he wants to unite the country amid “tremendous divisiveness” and hopes he can do so without a traumatic event affecting Americans.

Trump spoke about creating a more united country during a lunch with a number of television news anchors. Trump said the United States has long been divided, including during the impeachment of former president Bill Clinton. Trump also said that Americans usually come together during times of suffering.

“I would love to be able to bring back our country into a great form of unity,” Trump said. “Without a major event where people pull together, that’s hard to do. But I would like to do it without that major event because usually that major event is not a good thing.”

The president also said the country’s divisions date back to both Republican and Democratic administrations, citing the scandals that led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House in 1998.

“I want to see our country united. I want to bring our country back from a tremendous divisiveness, which has taken place not just over one year, over many years, including the Bush years, not just Obama.” he said.

Trump went on to say that uniting people would also be hard because of issues like health care, because some people want “free health care paid by the government” and others want “health care paid by private, where there’s great competition.”

The comments came as the president was putting the finishing touches on his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.

According to a White House official, Trump’s speech will be about 50 minutes long, and was written with help from H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor, Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary, Gary Cohn, the chief economic advisor, Stephen Miller, the senior policy advisor, and Ross Worthington and Vince Haley, who are both speechwriters.

Babylon the Great Sending Several Thousand More Troops to Mideast

In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Rouhani says Tehran hasn’t closed the window on talks with the U.S. but reiterated his government’s standing condition that the…  (Associated Press)

US considers sending several thousand more troops to Mideast

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is considering sending several thousand additional troops to the Middle East to help deter Iranian aggression, amid reports of escalating violence in Iran and continued meddling by Tehran in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the region.

John Rood, defense undersecretary for policy, told senators Thursday that Defense Secretary Mark Esper “intends to make changes” to the number of troops deployed in the region. Other officials said options under consideration could send between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East, but they all stressed that there have been no final decisions yet. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The troop deliberations follow several decisions since spring to beef up the U.S. presence in the Middle East because of a series of maritime attacks and bombings in Saudi Arabia that the U.S. and others have blamed on Iran.

President Donald Trump has approved those increases, even though he also routinely insists that he is pulling U.S. troops out of the Middle East and withdrawing from what he calls “endless wars” against extremists. In October, Trump told his supporters that despite the sacrificing of U.S. lives in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, the region is less safe and stable today. “The single greatest mistake our country made in its history,” he said, “was going into the quicksand of the Middle East.”

Asked about a possible troop increase, Trump told reporters Thursday that, ”We’ll announce whether we will or not. Certainly there might be a threat. And if there is a threat, it will be met very strongly. But we will be announcing what we may be doing — may or may not be doing.”

Military leaders have argued that the U.S. needs to increase its presence in the region in order to deter Iran from conducting more and broader attacks. Rood provided no details to back up why the additional troops are needed, but said the U.S. is concerned about recent intelligence indications suggesting an increased threat from Iran.

Rood was asked several times about reports that 14,000 more troops could be sent to the region. He repeatedly said Esper hasn’t made a decision yet, but didn’t specifically confirm or deny the number, so his answers appeared only to confuse senators. Shortly after the hearing, Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah sent out a statement flatly denying the 14,000 number, saying Esper told the Senate committee chairman Thursday morning that “we are not considering sending 14,000 additional troops” to the region.

The troop discussions came as the Trump administration on Thursday accused Iranian security forces of killing more than 1,000 people in crackdowns against recent protests that have swept the country.

The estimated death toll is significantly higher than previously estimates from human rights groups and others, and the administration did not present documentary evidence to back up the claim. But Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told reporters the tally was based on a variety of reports coming out of Iran as well as intelligence analyses.

Speaking at the State Department, Hook said the U.S. had received and reviewed video of one specific incident of repression in the city of Mahshahr in which the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps had mowed down at least 100 protesters with machine-gun fire.

He said the video was one of tens of thousands of submissions the U.S. has gotten since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed last month for Iranians to submit evidence of atrocities by the authorities in putting down the protests. In it, he said IRGC forces can be seen opening fire on protesters blocking a road and then surrounding those who fled to nearby marshlands where they were sprayed with bullets.

“In this one incident alone the regime murdered as many as 100 Iranians and possibly more,” Hook told reporters at the State Department. He did not display the video but said the actions it depicted corresponded to accounts of a brutal nationwide crackdown on the demonstrations, which started in response to gasoline price increases and rationing.

“We have seen reports of many hundreds more killed in and around Tehran,” he said. “And, as the truth is trickling out of Iran, it appears the regime could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens since the protests began.” The dead include 13- and 14-year-old children, he said.

Speaking at the White House, Trump said Iran had “killed hundreds and hundreds of people in a very short period of time” and called for international pressure to be applied. “They are killing protesters. They turned off their internet system. People aren’t hearing what’s going on,” he told reporters while hosting a lunch for the ambassadors of U.N. Security Council members.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and there was no immediate comment on state media in Iran.

There was no known public video that supported Hooks’ allegation of a massacre in Mahshahr, although he said the State Department had gotten more than 32,000 responses to Pompeo’s appeal for videos and other evidence using the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which is popular in Iran.

Nor has there been any widely accepted claim matching Hook’s death toll of more than 1,000. Amnesty International believes at least 208 people have been killed and that the number could be higher. Iran has disputed that figure, but has refused to offer any nationwide statistics of the number of injuries, arrests or deaths from the unrest.

However, Hook’s numbers appear to match a figure put out late Wednesday by the Iranian exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which has paid Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for speeches at its events in the past.

The MeK alleged late Wednesday that more than 1,000 people had been killed. It published a list of 320 people it said it had identified so far as having been killed but did not provide proof.

Iran has alleged MeK supporters and those backing exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, the son of the country’s late shah, of being behind the unrest alongside foreign powers. It has not offered evidence to support those allegations.

In addition to the deaths, Hook said more than 7,000 protesters had been detained, with many sent to two prisons. Hook said that Pompeo had notified Congress on Thursday that both prisons would be hit with U.S. sanctions for gross human rights abuses. It was not immediately clear when those designations would occur.

Hook’s comments come as the U.S. steps up its “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran that it began after withdrawing from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal last year. That campaign has been highlighted by the imposition of increasingly tough sanctions and an increase in rhetoric critical of Tehran and its leadership.

As part of the pressure campaign, Hook announced that the U.S. is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the whereabouts of a top IRGC commander now believed to be supporting rebels in Yemen. He said Abdul Reza Shahalai was responsible for numerous attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and had been behind a foiled plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States in a Washington restaurant.

___

Lolita C. Baldor, Robert Burns and Deb Riechmann in Washington and Jon Gambrell in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

The END Happens When Everyone’s Trying to Get Nukes (Revelation 16)

What Happens When Everyone’s Trying to Get Nukes?

Israel’s ‘Begin Doctrine,’ a commitment to prevent rival regional powers from acquiring nuclear weapons, risks becoming unenforceable—but it’s not clear what comes next

For more than 50 years, Israel’s national security has been guided by the Begin Doctrine, named after the country’s sixth prime minister. It holds that no regional enemy committed to destroying the Jewish state can be allowed to obtain weapons of mass destruction. To that end, Israel’s air force destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s al Kibar plutonium-producing facility in 2007.

Today’s cascade of nuclear technologies across the Middle East, however, is raising serious questions about Israel’s ability to enforce this mandate going forward. The debate over the Begin Doctrine’s viability will not only have a profound impact on Israel, but also on security in the broader Middle East. Israel has proven more than once to be the only regional player willing to curtail by force the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue states, despite the international opprobrium the Jewish state has reaped for its actions. But current concerns inside Israel reflect just how much the threat of nuclear proliferation has increased in recent years as the countries of the Middle East have changed and transformed the region.

Israel views Iran as by far the most likely regional power to acquire nuclear weapons in the near term and has openly vowed to use military force to stop it. But a slew of other Mideast countries, some nominally Israel’s allies or strategic partners, have also made significant advances in their nuclear programs. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly warned in September that Ankara could seek to develop atomic weapons in response to its changing relationship with the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto leader, Mohammed bin Salman, has said his country would match any nuclear technologies that Iran, Riyadh’s arch rival, acquires.

Israeli officials and analysts say that, as a result of these evolving threats, the tools required to enforce the Begin Doctrine will need to change. Israel deployed cyber weapons, in collaboration with the U.S., to attack Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities in the late 2000s. The operation destroyed thousands of centrifuge machines, but Tehran’s overall nuclear-fuel production quickly returned to pace. Israel also signed on to the U.S. sanctions campaign that has used financial warfare to pressure Iran into giving up or constraining its nuclear activities. The strategy helped birth the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the Obama-helmed Iran nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, which President Donald Trump pulled out of last year with the backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both leaders believed the deal offered, at best, only a short-term solution to the Iranian nuclear threat while forfeiting the sources of economic leverage that may have forced Iran to accept more permanent restraints.

But the standard tools of economic and military coercion, even including the high tech instruments of cyberwar, might not be enough any longer to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East as countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia—both official U.S. strategic allies—grow their own nuclear programs. Israel has diplomatic relations with Turkey, which remains an active member of NATO and houses 50 American nuclear weapons at the U.S. military base in Incirlik. But the Israeli-Turkish relationship has been strained under Erdogan’s Islamist government and by conflicting approaches to the Syrian civil war on their respective borders. Israel has also developed a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, with the on-and-off foes, united by a common enemy, now sharing intelligence and technology to try and constrain Iran’s regional activities.

The Trump administration is currently negotiating a nuclear-cooperation agreement with Mohammed bin Salman’s government that could allow the Saudis to develop sensitive nuclear technologies, such as uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, in exchange for Riyadh accepting expansive international oversight of its program to prevent the nuclear program from being weaponized. But whatever the technical terms are in a prospective agreement, there’s still no guarantee Saudi Arabia won’t seek to develop weapons at some stage or that the ruling Saud family will remain in power.

“The Begin Doctrine has to be somewhat rephrased: ‘Israel will do its utmost to prevent, or at least delay, any hostile Middle East country from obtaining a military nuclear capability,’” says Ephraim Asculai, a 40-year veteran of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. “The means of prevention would vary from diplomatic and treaty diplomacy to covert, low-key sabotage, to open overt military action, if possible, depending on the regional politics at the time. Success cannot be really assured, but the effort should be made.”

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Iran’s announcement in November that it’s resuming uranium enrichment at its Fordow underground nuclear facility has alarmed the Israeli security establishment. The Netanyahu government vehemently opposed the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, stressing that it was only a temporary obstacle to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. But some Israeli officials had hoped the accord could keep the Iranian nuclear program in check long enough for U.S. and European diplomats to strengthen the deal’s core elements through a renegotiation with Iran.

One of the JCPOA’s core tenets was that Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel would be kept below the levels required for the country to build a single atomic bomb within a year. But with the resumption of enrichment at Fordow, Israeli and American nuclear analysts believe this timeline has already shrunk to between six and 10 months. Meanwhile, Iran has also begun enriching uranium at levels closer to weapons grade.

This heightened nuclear threat comes after Iran has spent years developing Syria as a base of operations to launch drone and missile strikes against Israel. Israeli officials believe Tehran is consolidating a “ring of fire” around the Jewish state’s borders by arming and funding militias in Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, and Yemen. In response, Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian proxies in recent months in Syria and as far away as Iraq, and is hoping the Trump administration’s financial campaign of “maximum pressure” will force more far-reaching nuclear concessions from Tehran down the road. There’s some hope as well that Iran is weakening from within after weeks of nationwide protests driven by the government’s slashing of energy subsidies.These are happening at the same time that political uprisings have erupted in Iraq and Lebanon driven, in part, by opposition to Iran’s overweening political and military influence in those Arab countries.

Still, current and former Israeli officials are skeptical Iran can be brought back to the negotiating table. And they voice concern that Tehran is sequencing the renewed growth of its nuclear program with the extension of its proxy network to Israel’s borders. This in turn is prompting warnings from Israel’s national security establishment that it’s prepared to strike Iran directly to enforce the Begin Doctrine. “If we have to do it again, we’ll do it again,” Yaakov Amidror, a retired general and Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, said at a recent security conference in Tel Aviv, referring to Israel’s earlier attacks on Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear installations.

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Nuclear threats from Turkey’s President Erdogan have also caught Israel’s attention in recent months. Speaking to members of the ruling AK Party in September, he warned that it was unacceptable that Turkey couldn’t develop nuclear weapons when so many of the world’s great powers had them or possessed the technologies to build them. Israel is believed to have a large atomic weapons arsenal, but has never confirmed or denied its existence. “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But [they tell us] we can’t have them. This, I cannot accept,” Erdogan told a conference in eastern Turkey, Reuters reported. He added: “We have Israel nearby, as almost neighbors. They scare [other nations] by possessing these. No one can touch them.”

Turkey has been pursuing civilian nuclear power for decades, and broke ground on its first reactor, which is being built by Russian companies, last year. Israel hasn’t publicly voiced alarm about Turkey’s nuclear ambitions to date, because the country has historically been an ally and has pledged its adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, the United Nations covenant that bans the development of atomic bombs by countries others than the five original nuclear weapons states. Ankara, as a NATO member, also is protected by the nuclear umbrella provided by the U.S.

But Turkey’s future NATO membership, and its alliance with the U.S., has grown increasingly unstable in recent years as Erdogan has shown a greater willingness to challenge, if not break, from the West’s foreign policy objectives. Erdogan’s decision in September to invade northern Syria, and assault the Kurdish forces there, was staunchly opposed by the U.S. Defense Department and ran the risk of sparking a direct confrontation between Turkish and American troops. Some members of Congress are now calling for economic sanctions on Ankara and the removal of the American nuclear weapons deployed at Incirlik. Relations between Israel and Turkey have also sharply deteriorated in recent years, as Erdogan has positioned himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause and an ally of Iran.

In this environment, Israeli officials and analysts are concerned that Erdogan might make good on his rumblings to develop nuclear bombs as he continues to lead his country away from the West. Even before his September nuclear pronouncements, Turkey had repeatedly rebuffed Western calls for it to rule out developing the capability to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, the key technologies for weapons development. Ankara’s nuclear cooperation with Moscow also limits the West’s ability to use diplomatic or economic pressure to constrain Turkey’s nuclear ambitions. Military threats or sabotage to enforce the Begin Doctrine, Israeli analysts acknowledge, are less effective against a country as developed as Turkey and as integrated into the global economy. Turkey’s not isolated, or viewed as a rogue state, like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Assad family’s Syria, or the Islamic Republic of Iran. Which leaves the question, if the old policy no longer works, what exactly can be done?

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Saudi Arabia’s nuclear advancements pose perhaps the most delicate proliferation challenge for Israel and the Begin Doctrine. For most of the Jewish state’s history, Riyadh was viewed as a foe due to its support for the Palestinian cause and exporting of its fundamentalist brand of Islam, known as Wahhabism. Saudi Arabia sent troops to fight Israeli forces during the 1973 Yom Kippur war and used oil as a weapon against those countries that supported the Jewish state during the conflict.

But relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have improved dramatically over the past five years, driven, in large part, by their shared focus on the Iranian threat. The two countries have yet to formally normalize diplomatic relations. But they’re sharing intelligence and technology to try and constrain Tehran, according to Israeli and Arab officials, including by tracking Iranian activities in Yemen and the Red Sea. Israeli diplomats are now openly visiting Saudi Arabia’s allies in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, in what’s widely viewed as a precursor for more overt Israeli-Saudi contacts.

Saudi Arabia, with an eye on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, has been developing its own program. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last year bluntly proclaimed his country was committed to acquiring whatever nuclear technologies Tehran does. The Saudi government has embarked on an ambitious effort to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years, and is currently finishing the construction of a research reactor with Argentine help. “Saudi does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Crown Prince Mohammed told CBS News last year.

Despite the improving relations between the two countries, Israeli officials are still worried about Saudi Arabia acquiring nuclear capabilities—as they are with all of the regional powers. But as in the case with Turkey, the tools to deter the House of Saud are seen as limited. Few in Israel believe military action or sabotage can be used against Riyadh. And Israel hasn’t sought to rally congressional opposition in Washington against the Saudi program, mindful of the close U.S. alliance and its own improving relations with the kingdom.

The Netanyahu government, instead, has been backing a Trump administration proposal to overtly share nuclear technology with Riyadh in exchange for Saudi Arabia backing away from plans to acquire uranium-enrichment and plutonium-separation technologies. Outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been holding negotiations with Saudi officials to forge a formal nuclear-cooperation agreement based on this “gold standard.” But it’s unclear if the Saudis will accept the terms, and Riyadh has concurrently been discussing purchasing reactors from Russia, China, and South Korea as a way to work around American pressure.

U.S. and Israeli officials are also concerned that Saudi Arabia could simply buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan should the conflict with Iran intensify. Riyadh is believed to be the primary financier of Islamabad’s so-called Sunni Bomb and also provides substantial energy support to the South Asian country. Pakistani troops, in turn, have been deployed to Saudi Arabia to help enforce security. “In a scenario of an Iranian breakout to a nuclear weapon, the Pakistani commitment to maintain the Kingdom’s security could be expressed through the transfer of nuclear warheads…or the stationing of nuclear weapons,” writes Israeli security analyst Yoel Guzansky of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Israel’s national security establishment, though, views Iran as the fulcrum through which to try and stanch the cascading spread of nuclear weapons across the Mideast. Permanently constraining Tehran’s capability, they argue, will drastically reduce the desire of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and even Egypt, to militarize their nuclear power programs. If Iran, however, becomes a threshold weapons state, which it was on track to do even under the JPCOA, Israel and the West will have diminishing tools to reverse this course. A campaign of cyber warfare, supply-chain sabotage and economic sanctions may be in the works. But there’s no guarantee they’ll work, and the Begin Doctrine could be rolled back.

What’s At Stake? Damaging the Wine (Revelation 6:6)

An Iraqi demonstrator chants as she takes part in an anti-government march in the center of the southern city of Basra on December 2, 2019. Iraq’s rival parties were negotiating the contours of a new government today, after the previous cabinet was brought down by a two-month protest movement demanding more deep-rooted change. (AFP)

The US accuses Iran of secretly sending missiles to Iraq. What’s at stake?

Iran is accused of using its paramilitary proxy group to move missiles in turmoil-hit Iraq, which is caught in a tug of war between Iran and the US.

Tehran has discreetly built an arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq, taking advantage of the ongoing political turmoil in the country, the New York Times reported on Thursday, quoting the US intelligence and military officials.

It’s been over two months since Iraqis in Baghdad and the Shia-majority south have been protesting against a lack of basic services, jobs and years-long corruption that they blame on the government as well as holding Iran responsible for undermining the country’s progress.

Widening Iranian influence in Iraq

The news comes as the latest of Tehran’s efforts to assert power in Iraq — a potential sign that Tehran has no intention of stepping back even after 400 Iraqis were gunned down in protests. The protesters hold the Iraqi security forces and Iran-backed militias responsible for the bloodbath.

According to the New York Times report, Iran-backed Hashd al Shaabi, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was used by Tehran to move and hide missiles in Iraq. The armed group has played a key role in helping Iran increase its influence in Iraq.

The Iranian influence in the military grew especially with the PMF playing a key role in defeating Daesh in Iraq. The militia was gradually integrated with Iraq’s paramilitary forces, a move widely seen as a boost to Tehran’s control over Baghdad.

The PMF also made a political foray with its commander Hadi al Ameri running as a candidate as the leader of Fatah alliance. In what was dubbed ‘a compromise’ it took two major political fronts, Islah and Bina, five months to form a government.

Many Iraqis think Iran’s involvement in the country’s inner workings went too far. Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has sworn in as prime minister only a year ago, resigned after the protesters entered the Iranian consulate and burnt down the entire building.

Iraqis celebrated the PM’s exit as a step towards an independent parliament, but the process of choosing a new PM is a difficult one. The Iran-backed Fatah alliance claims the right to choose the new PM, while Sairoon, headed by the populist cleric Muqtada al Sadr, says his party has the right to do so. 

Iraqis say they wouldn’t welcome a new PM close to the country’s political elite. But reports say Qasim Sulaimani, Major General of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has attended meetings over the next PM, pushing his own favourite.

The US slammed Sulaimani for interfering in the process.

A further US-Iran strain in relations over Iraq may follow

Iraq has become a centre of a tug of war between Baghdad’s two allies, Washington and Tehran. While the two sides, known archrivals, are pursuing their own interests, the Iraqi government is struggling to find its feet and reconstruct the post-war country.

When the US restored its sanctions against Iran last year in May, and asked Iraq to abide by them, Iraq found itself between a rock and a hard place.

Iraqi President Barham Salih stated his discomfort from the escalation, saying the sanctions were hurting the entire region, not only Iran. He urged the US to de-escalate.

“We cannot afford our country to be dragged into a conflict,” he said.

Meanwhile, the US has sent 14,000 additional troops to the region since May, the month when the US sanctions on Iran made a brutal comeback. For the US, the aim was to counter threats such as attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf which Washington previously blamed on Iran.

A report from the Wall Street Journal claimed the US was considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East as a countermeasure to Iran. The Pentagon strongly denied the claim, however.

The Rising of the Chinese Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

See This Strange Picture? This Is How China Is Stepping Up Its Nuclear Weapons Game

Key point: China’s nuclear weapons arsenal is small, but growing larger.

Welcome to the newest U.S.-China arms race: giant machines that test nuclear weapons.

China is building a device that’s equivalent to America’s Z Machine, a device that reproduces the conditions of a nuclear bomb – but in the controlled safety of the laboratory. Except that China says that it’s machine will be bigger than America’s.

The Z Pulsed Power Facility “is the world’s most powerful and efficient laboratory radiation source,” according to the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “It uses high magnetic fields associated with high electrical currents to produce high temperatures, high pressures, and powerful X-rays for research in high energy density science.”

“The Z machine creates conditions found nowhere else on Earth,” Sandia claims.

But those conditions may soon be found in the city of Mianyang, in southwest China, where the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics develops nuclear weapons.

China’s Z machine is “designed to produce about 60 million joules of energy in an instant – roughly 22 times the 2.7 million joules generated at the Sandia facility,” according to the South China Morning Post. “It does this by firing powerful electrical pulses at a target about the size of a spool of thread consisting of hundreds of tungsten wires, each thinner than a human hair. When the pulses pass through the wires, the tungsten explodes, evaporates and creates a plasma with a magnetic field so strong that the exploded particles are forced inward. The particles collide, producing intense radiation – mostly X-rays – and creating conditions that more accurately reflect a real nuclear explosion.”

“With so much energy, we can heat a target to more than 100 million degrees Celsius,” boasted one Chinese nuclear physicist. “It will dwarf the machine in Sandia.”

The National Interest contacted the Sandia laboratory; a spokesman replied that while U.S. researchers were aware of the Chinese project, they could not comment on it.

Building facilities to develop better nuclear bombs comes as tensions are rising between the U.S. and China. President Trump has threatened to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty between the U.S. and Soviet Union. The treaty banned most medium- and short-range nuclear missiles. Trump accuses Russia of violating the treaty by deploying new missiles: Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to retaliate by building more nuclear weapons.

These developments haven’t been lost on Beijing. “China Youth Daily reported in May that the academy [of Engineering Physics] aimed to beat the US in nuclear weapon development,” noted the South China Morning Post. “’Must surpass the US’ has become a motto for scientists and engineers working in the top-secret research facilities, the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League said.

Even if China’s machine is bigger than America’s, as with so much of the nuclear arms race, it is not clear how much advantage Beijing would derive. The U.S. has almost 7,000 nuclear warheads to destroy China and Russia as functioning societies: Russia has a similar number to return the favor to America. With an estimated 300 nuclear warheads, China’s arsenal is distinctly smaller, but not small enough that it couldn’t severely damage the U.S.

More efficient nuclear bombs may kill more people, but they won’t change the underlying equation of mutually assured destruction.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook. This article first appeared in 2018.

Image: Sandia Labs.

IRGC May Be Trying To Cross The Redline (Revelation 6:6)

U.S. Military Base Hit By New Rocket Attack as Iraq Unrest Continues Without Prime Minister

By Tom O’Connor On 12/3/19 at 3:38 PM EST

A U.S. military base in western Iraq has been hit by a new rocket attack as the country’s unrest persisted in the wake of the prime minister’s resignation.

The Iraqi security forces’ media cell reported Tuesday that “five rockets fell within the Ayn al-Asad Air Base in Anbar Province, without significant losses, and we will share with you the details later.” The attack is only the latest in a string of unclaimed rocket strikes often targeting positions affiliated with the U.S. presence in the country.

The U.S. military first entered Iraq to beat back the invading forces of longtime leader Saddam Hussein from neighboring Kuwait in 1991 and to enforce a no-fly-zone. A decade later, in 2003, the U.S. led its own invasion, overthrowing Hussein and ultimately setting up a new government, which has gone on to foster ties with both the U.S. and its top regional foe, Iran.

Washington and Tehran both collaborated with Baghdad to defeat the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), but have since turned on one another as President Donald Trump’s administration exited a 2015 nuclear deal, imposed sanctions on Tehran and sought to restrain its growing influence across the Middle East, leading to new bouts of unrest across the region.

Adding to tensions, the Iraqi people have taken to the streets in unprecedented demonstrations that have forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to step down and have targeted the influence the U.S., Iran and others seeking to take advantage of the once-powerful Arab nation still in ruins after decades of conflict.

U.S. Army soldiers, with Task Force Jazeera and a Norwegian officer observe artillery impacts during a live-fire training exercise at Ayn al-Asad Air Base, Iraq, August 15. The site was hit by up to five rockets in an unclaimed December 3 attack as unrest continues to grip the nation. Specialist Zachary Myers/U.S. Army

Two years after Iraq officially declared victory over ISIS, much of Iraq’s infrastructure has yet to be repaired and corruption has run rampant in a sectarian political system many citizens feel was imposed by the U.S., which has at least 5,000 troops deployed throughout the country, and was later exploited by Iran, which has close ties to largely Shiite Muslim militias and political leaders. Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who succeeded former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi last October, sought to balance the two.

Since nationwide demonstrations began in October, hundreds of Iraqis have been reported killed in clashes with security forces. Abdul-Mahdi had reportedly succumbed to the pressure of the deteriorating situation weeks ago but retained the support of both the U.S. and Iran.

At home, he found himself stuck between two top political figures and militia leaders. Influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr broke last month broke with Abdul-Mahdi, urging him to resign, while rival Hadi al-Amiri reportedly called on him to stay in power.

Ultimately, Abdul-Mahdi offered his resignation Friday and, on Sunday, the parliament accepted the move.

A senior State Department official said Monday that the U.S. will “continue to engage with the Iraqi government,” including Abdul-Mahdi and “a broad range of Iraqi political personalities.” The official also commented on the U.S. and Iran’s interests in the nation.

“I think it’s Adil who says famously—the prime minister—’Iran is our neighbor, you are our friend, right?’ I think we have been a reliable partner to Iraq. I expect that we will continue to be a reliable partner, helping to build their capacity to defend themselves and to exert their sovereignty, to help defeat ISIS and can you prevent a resurgence of ISIS in Iraqi territory,” the official added. “So I would expect that we will continue to have that kind of relationship with the Iraqi government and also have economic investments in the country, etc. going forward.”

An Iraqi anti-government protester waves a national flag close to a concrete barricade amidst clashes with security forces along the capital Baghdad’s Rasheed street near Al-Ahrar bridge on November 29. Demonstrations have continued in the wake of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

The official expressed support for Iraqis’ “legitimate demands—reform, anti-corruption” and called for “an end to the violence.” While protesters on the ground welcome Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation, scenes of unrest have continued as rioters set fire Sunday to Iran’s consulate in the city of Najaf for the second time in less than a week.

“Generally speaking—and specifically speaking—the United States believes [in] the inviolability of the diplomatic facilities,” the official said.

Ayn al-Asad Base is one of a number of facilities jointly operated by Iraqi and U.S. military personnel. Vice President Mike Pence paid a Thanksgiving visit to the site just last week and President Donald Trump traveled there last year to celebrate the day after Christmas with U.S. soldiers.

Both high-profile visits stirred some resentment among Iraqis who felt the unannounced visits were a violation of the nation’s sovereignty. The country has also expressed frustration over a recent string of unclaimed airstrikes against Iran-partnered Iraqi militias and widely attributed to Israel.

The Iranian people struggle against the Iranian Horn

Iran, Despite Crackdown the “Resistance Units” Continue the Uprising

03 December 2019

Despite the Iranian regime’s bloody crackdown on the people, the rebellious youths, organized as resistance units, continue the uprising.

Protests

Despite a bloody crackdown on the protesters in Iran, the resistance units of Iran’s main opposing group the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK) continue their activities in major cities in Iran.

On December 3, 2019, the Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran released a statement in regards to these activities.

“On Sunday, December 1, 2019, despite the state of full alert on the part of the regime’s suppressive forces, the Resistance Units posted large portraits carrying the messages of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and Mr. Massoud Rajavi, the Leader of the Iranian Resistance, in different parts of Tehran, including Saeedi, Azadegan and Imam Ali expressways, Pirouzi, Shariati and Sabalan streets and Sohrevardi Park.” The NCRI’s statement reads adding:

“The banners read, ‘More flames on the way. Uprising for freedom is ablaze,’ ‘Regime cannot stop the uprising with killings and arrests,’ ‘Rebellious youth have made life like hell for you,’ ‘Tremors of overthrow shake the ruling theocracy to its foundations,’ ‘Victorious strategy of Liberation Army was tested in rebellious units, districts, and cities,’ ‘The overthrow of the anti-human enemy is certain,’ ‘Rebellion continues. The only response to the Sheikh is fire. Ignite the flames,’ and ‘Death to Khamenei, hail to Rajavi. Khamenei must know, he will be overthrown very soon.”

The mullahs’ regime reacted to the uprising very bloody and it is reported that over 750 protesters have been killed by the regime’s security forces. On December 2, 2019, London based Amnesty International reported that the “death toll from a bloody crackdown on protests rises to 208.”

“The number of people believed to have been killed during demonstrations in Iran that broke out on 15 November has risen to at least 208, said Amnesty International, based on credible reports received by the organization. The real figure is likely to be higher.” Amnesty International said in a report.

“This alarming death toll is further evidence that Iran’s security forces went on a horrific killing spree that left at least 208 people dead in less than a week. This shocking death toll displays the Iranian authorities’ shameful disregard for human life,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“Those responsible for this bloody clampdown on demonstrations must be held accountable for their actions. Since the Iranian authorities have previously shown they are unwilling to carry out independent, impartial and effective investigations into unlawful killings and other arbitrary use of force against protesters, we are calling on the international community to help ensure accountability.”

In a related issue, on December 2, 2019, Italy’s foreign ministry announced that the visit of the Iranian regime’s foreign minister to Italy is canceled. Javad Zarif, the regime’s foreign minister was scheduled to visit Italy on December 5. Earlier Italian human rights organizations denounced this visit and asked the Italian government to cancel the visit, and condemned Iranian regimes crackdown on the protesters.

Babylon the Great runs dangerous and chaotic approach toward nuclear weapons

Trump runs dangerous and chaotic approach toward nuclear weapons

By Laura Kennedy, opinion contributor

December 03, 2019 – 06:00 PM EST

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

The decision to abruptly withdraw United States forces from Syria is one of the most recent dangerous illustrations of the flawed foreign policy of President Trump and the chaos it has generated abroad. As a diplomat who served for nearly 40 years and under seven presidents, I am aware of how these impulsive and undisciplined actions have left allies reeling with American interests hobbled. His approach toward nuclear weapons and arms control is similar, but with even graver possible consequences.

His nuclear agenda reflects the same pattern of alliance mismanagement, American unreliability, and chaotic decision making. Instead of bailing on bilateral and multilateral arms control efforts, the United States should preserve remaining treaties like the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the observation regime offered by the Open Skies Treaty, which promote our interests abroad and avoid introducing destabilizing and unnecessary nuclear weapons in a heated international competition.

The Iran nuclear deal was the first nonproliferation agreement to be axed by Trump, followed by the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. By recklessly withdrawing from the successful limits imposed on the Iranian nuclear program, Trump undercut our reliability with some of our closest allies and raised global tensions. Withdrawing from the latter agreement rather than continuing efforts to resolve violations by Moscow has shifted the onus away from Russia while removing constraints. The insecurity from withdrawal of these agreements is exacerbated by the prospect of blowing up the other key foundations of our arms control architecture.

Next may be the Open Skies Treaty. It is a useful transparency regime which was instituted by the United States and 33 other nations. The agreement allows these nations to conduct observation flyovers of the territories of each of the signatories, providing critical insight into military deployments and possible military buildups. While some might argue that new technology makes such flyovers unnecessary, that overlooks the advantage offered by the framework. It is difficult to ignore evidence when all states have access to the same intelligence. Leaving this deal would end those benefits, poorly serve Ukraine, and send yet another message to our allies and adversaries of our diplomatic unsteadiness.

Such a counterproductive step would be massively compounded if the United States does not extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which caps American and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons and is set to expire in early 2021. The predictability, transparency, and access it provides is unparalleled. Its regime of notifications, information exchange, and onsite inspections has been lauded on both sides of the aisle and by numerous military and civilian officials. In addition to losing this level of certainty on Russian strategic nuclear weapons, the United States could face an expensive and destabilizing arms race, beyond the major $1 trillion nuclear program already authorized by President Obama.

In fact, the Trump administration has called for the development of a new “low yield” submarine launched ballistic missile deemed more “usable” for the military. Critics argue it would be difficult to distinguish from existing high yield variants and would increase the risk of nuclear miscalculation. The House has included a provision in the annual defense authorization bill earlier this year that prohibits the deployment of such a submarine weapon. As the conference negotiations continue, the Senate ought to recognize the risks of this unnecessary and destabilizing addition to our already massive nuclear arsenal and ensure it remains in the final bill.

Russia and China indeed pose risks, and we must seek to have serious strategic dialogues with both. But as we pursue such talks, we should use them to build on existing agreements, most notably the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and not scrap historical agreements in favor of a complex new effort to include additional weapons and actors such as China. Such a comprehensive deal, which the Trump administration says it is pursuing, would take years to negotiate. Russia does not believe there is time to negotiate a new arms control agreement prior to the expiration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and China has emphatically rejected joining such a trilateral endeavor. Any potential negotiations are further complicated by the fact that the State Department has dumped its under secretary and assistant secretary in charge of arms control policy.

When it comes to international agreements, ignoring legislative, military, and civilian expert advice and picking fights with American allies leads to chaos, frayed alliances, and increased instability, as we have witnessed in Syria, Ukraine, Turkey, and across the world. The United States simply cannot afford to let that happen when it comes to nuclear weapons.

Laura Kennedy is a member of the board of directors of Foreign Policy for America. She served as United States permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, was a diplomat for the United States Mission to International Organizations, and served as the deputy assistant secretary for European Affairs with the Department of State.