Palestinian Hamas calls for all-out confrontation outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Palestinian Hamas calls for all-out confrontation to curb Israeli regime aggression

News Code : 1119859

The Hamas Movement has affirmed that an all-out confrontation with the Israeli occupation state is the only way to curb its ongoing aggression.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): The Hamas Movement has affirmed that an all-out confrontation with the Israeli occupation state is the only way to curb its ongoing aggression.

Commenting on Israel’s attack on Syria last night, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem described it as part of its crimes and its aggressive behavior in the region.  

“The Zionist entity’s persistence in practicing such terrorism reflects the logic of bullying, expansion and aggression that has accompanied this entity since its emergence and will not stop unless the entire nation engages in an all-out confrontation with it,” spokesman Qasem underscored.

The Syrian army said Israel conducted a rocket attack Sunday evening on targets in the vicinity of Damascus.

Its statement said the attack came from the Golan Heights and that it downed most of the missiles.

The China Nuclear Horn Prepares for Nuclear War: Daniel 7

China said to speed up move to more survivable nuclear force

By ROBERT BURNS , Associated Press

March 01, 2021 – 5:35 AM

WASHINGTON — China appears to be moving faster toward a capability to launch its newer nuclear missiles from underground silos, possibly to improve its ability to respond promptly to a nuclear attack, according to an American expert who analyzed satellite images of recent construction at a missile training area.

Hans Kristensen, a longtime watcher of U.S., Russian and Chinese nuclear forces, said the imagery suggests that China is seeking to counter what it may view as a growing threat from the United States. The U.S. in recent years has pointed to China’s nuclear modernization as a key justification for investing hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming two decades to build an all-new U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Biden strikes on Syrian sites may threaten the Iran nuclear deal

Biden strikes Syrian sites: What impact on Iraq and Iran nuclear deal?

Ellen Laipson

| The Daily Star

In its sixth week in office, the Biden administration has already used military force in the Middle East. Seven bombs were dropped on a group of buildings in Syria associated with pro-Iran Shiite militias, allegedly responsible for a recent attack on a US and coalition base outside Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. The attack has been characterized as carefully calibrated; the president chose one of the less aggressive options presented to him, with the goal of keeping the damage inflicted proportional to the attacks that triggered the action.

Over the past year, Shiite militias have lobbed rockets against the large US Embassy compound in Baghdad, inflicting property damage but no significant casualties. The February Irbil attack, which wounded several and killed one non-US-citizen contractor, appeared to be a continuation of a pattern. In response, the US targeted a compound of multiple buildings used by several Shiite militias to support their operations in Iraq. US defense officials explained that the operation was defensive in nature, to protect US and allied personnel, and “our Iraqi partners.

This formulation is an interesting departure from the approach of the Trump administration, which scolded and bullied the Iraqi government when such attacks occurred, threatening in 2020 to close the US Embassy in Baghdad if the Iraqi security forces could not protect Americans present in the country. Biden is sending a very different signal, that the US presence in Iraq is for the shared mission of preventing terrorism from Daesh (ISIS) or other extremists, and building greater capacity and stability in Iraq.

The choice of a facility in Syria and the vague attribution to the Irbil attack could generate criticism in coming days. The compound the US bombed was very close to the border of Iraq, southwest of Irbil, but arguably could be seen as an offensive act against a state that did not cause the original harm.

While the US may not feel obliged to follow diplomatic protocols related to the Syrian regime, it was Russia, Syria’s main security partner, which reacted badly to the attack, complaining that the US gave Moscow only an hour’s notice before sending fighter aircraft into the territory that Russia helps control. In addition, US officials have said that Iraq will investigate the Irbil attack to determine the perpetrators, yet the US believed it had sufficient intelligence to select the target and carry out the raid. The group that actually claimed responsibility, Awliya Al-Dam, or Guardians of the Blood, is one of several offshoots of the main Shiite militia Kataeb Hezbollah.

Some early commentators have questioned whether this sequence of events could derail the nascent pas de deux between Biden and Iran over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran nuclear deal. They worry that any escalation of tensions between the US and Iranian proxies will undermine or at least slow down the diplomatic efforts to return to full compliance with the 2015 JCPOA. Both Washington and Tehran will need to take clear steps to restore the status of the agreement, but there is much jockeying about sequencing and reciprocity.

For the US, reversing Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to leave the agreement is complicated by the legalities of US sanctions policies, and by the conviction that it is Iran that has to demonstrate its continued commitment to the terms of the agreement. Iran, for its part, has been playing hard ball, declaring that it cannot reverse its recent enrichment activities that violate its JCPOA obligations until the US removes all sanctions. The Biden administration has taken one tentative step, by agreeing to participate in an EU-hosted meeting with all the JCPOA signatories. Iran has not yet signaled its intention to attend such a meeting.

One could argue that the specific issue of defending US and coalition bases and facilities in Iraq is quite separate from diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear activities. In addition, the explicit demonstration by the new president of his willingness to use force could send an important signal to Iran. During the Obama administration, some interpreted the failure of the US to follow through on its tough rhetoric on the Syrian civil war as evidence that achieving a diplomatic success with Iran was the paramount American interest. Staying out of Syria was seen as avoiding a source of tension with Iran that could hurt the nuclear talks.

That perception is probably off the mark; Obama had made some strategic choices about Syria that were more complicated than just considering their impact on Iran. But the Biden team has now avoided such ambiguity. It will protect and defend its basic interests in the region, while working the nuclear negotiations on their own merits.

If Iran wanted to signal back to Washington, it could rein in the militia or take other steps to try to disavow these particular anti-American actions. By some accounts, Iran may not be in complete control of the Shiite militia. While the groups have surely benefitted from Iranian political, military and financial support, they operate in an Iraqi context. Past Iraqi political leaders have used and misused these militias in power struggles that were not necessarily part of a master plan from Tehran. 

At times, the US and Iran have found common ground in support of Iraq. They worked in parallel to defeat Daesh’s occupation of Mosul and other territories in northern Iraq. They have sometimes indirectly found ways to signal their preferences for the same candidates in past protracted negotiations over government formation after elections in Iraq. Both parties can be pragmatic when it comes to Iraq.

But when it comes to US-Iran relations, put your money on the more pessimistic interpretation. Iran is already prickly about Biden’s overtures, and faces presidential elections in June. The brutal experience with Trump and the volatile cycles in US presidential politics have made Iran more cynical about engaging Washington. And the January 2020 US assassination of Qasem Soleimani on Iraqi soil may not have been avenged, in Iran’s view. The activities of the Iraqi Shiite militias may retain considerable value to Iran in this ongoing asymmetric struggle.

Ellen Laipson, a former vice chair of the US’s National Intelligence Council, is currently director of the international security program at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Virginia. She is a former president and CEO of the Stimson Center in Washington. The Daily star publishes this commentary in collaboration with Syndication Bureau.

Religiosity Will Lead to the First Nuclear War: Revelation 8

Pakistan expert: Religiosity aiding spike in militancy

Posted: February 27, 2021 – 3:46 AM KATHY GANNON

Ishtiaq Mahsud / AP

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Militant attacks are on the rise in Pakistan amid a growing religiosity that has brought greater intolerance, prompting one expert to voice concern the country could be overwhelmed by religious extremism.

Pakistani authorities are embracing strengthening religious belief among the population to bring the country closer together. But it’s doing just the opposite, creating intolerance and opening up space for a creeping resurgence in militancy, said Mohammad Amir Rana, executive director of the independent Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies.

“Unfortunately, instead of helping to inculcate better ethics and integrity, this phenomenon is encouraging a tunnel vision” that encourages violence, intolerance and hate, he wrote recently in a local newspaper. “Religiosity has begun to define the Pakistani citizenry.”

Militant violence in Pakistan has spiked: In the past week alone, four vocational school instructors who advocated for women’s rights were traveling together when they were gunned down in a Pakistan border region. A Twitter death threat against Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai attracted an avalanche of trolls. They heaped abuse on the young champion of girls education, who survived a Pakistani Taliban bullet to the head. A couple of men on a motorcycle opened fire on a police check-post not far from the Afghan border killing a young police constable.

In recent weeks, at least a dozen military and paramilitary men have been killed in ambushes, attacks and operations against militant hideouts, mostly in the western border regions.

A military spokesman this week said the rising violence is a response to an aggressive military assault on militant hideouts in regions bordering Afghanistan and the reunification of splintered and deeply violent anti-Pakistan terrorist groups, led by the Tehreek-e-Taliban. The group is driven by a radical religious ideology that espouses violence to enforce its extreme views.

Gen. Babar Ifitkar said the reunified Pakistani Taliban have found a headquarters in eastern Afghanistan. He also accused hostile neighbor India of financing and outfitting a reunified Taliban, providing them with equipment like night vision goggles, improvised explosive devises and small weapons.

India and Pakistan routinely trade allegations that the other is using militants to undermine stability and security at home.

Security analyst and fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Asfandyar Mir, said the reunification of a splintered militancy is dangerous news for Pakistan.

“The reunification of various splinters into the (Tehreek-e-Taliban) central organization is a major development, which makes the group very dangerous,” said Mir.

The TTP claimed responsibility for the 2012 shooting of Yousafzai. Its former spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, who mysteriously escaped Pakistan military custody to flee to the country, tweeted a promise that the Taliban would kill her if she returned home.

Iftikar, in a briefing of foreign journalists this week, said Pakistani military personnel aided Ehsan’s escape, without elaborating. He said the soldiers involved had been punished and efforts were being made to return Ehsan to custody.

The government reached out to Twitter to shut down Ehsan’s account after he threatened Yousafzai, although the military and government at first suggested it was a fake account.

But Rana, the commentator, said the official silence that greeted the threatening tweet encouraged religious intolerance to echo in Pakistani society unchecked.

The problem is religiosity has very negative expression in Pakistan,” he said in an interview late Friday. “It hasn’t been utilized to promote the positive, inclusive tolerant religion.”

Instead, successive Pakistani governments as well as its security establishments have exploited extreme religious ideologies to garner votes, appease political religious groups, or target enemies, he said.

The 2018 general elections that brought cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan to power was mired in allegations of support from the powerful military for hard-line religious groups.

Those groups include the Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, whose single-point agenda is maintaining and propagating the country’s deeply controversial blasphemy law. That law calls for the death penalty for anyone insulting Islam and is most often used to settle disputes. It often targets minorities, mostly Shiite Muslims, who makeup up about 15% of mostly Sunni Pakistan’s 220 million people.

Mir, the analyst, said the rise in militancy has benefited from state policies that have been either supportive or ambivalent toward militancy as well as from sustained exposure of the region to violence. Most notable are the protracted war in neighboring Afghanistan and the simmering tensions between hostile neighbors India and Pakistan, two countries that possess a nuclear weapons’ arsenal.

“More than extreme religious thought, the sustained exposure of the region to political violence, the power of militant organizations in the region, state policy which is either supportive or ambivalent towards various forms of militancy … and the influence of the politics of Afghanistan incubate militancy in the region,” he said.

Mir and Rana both pointed to the Pakistani government’s failure to draw radical thinkers away from militant organizations, as groups that seemed at least briefly to eschew a violent path have returned to violence and rejoined the TTP.

Iftikar said the military has stepped up assaults on the reunited Pakistani Taliban, pushing the militants to respond, but only targets they can manage, which are soft targets.

But Mir said the reunited militants pose a greater threat.

“With the addition of these powerful units, the TTP has major strength for operations across the former tribal areas, Swat, Baluchistan, and some in Punjab,” he said. “Taken together, they improve TTP’s ability to mount insurgent and mass-casualty attacks.”

America Can’t Ignore the First Nuclear War: Revelation 8

America Can’t Ignore the Next Indo-Pakistani Crisis

Two years ago this week, I touched down in New Delhi, groggy from my intercontinental flight from Washington, D.C. I looked forward to a quiet two-day layover en route to a South Asian crisis wargame that I was hosting in Sri Lanka. The next morning I awoke to the news that India had just conducted the first cross-border airstrike on Pakistan’s mainland in five decades, and found myself in the midst of a serious, real-life crisis.

Over the next 48 hours, India and Pakistan would exchange airstrikes resulting in the shooting down of two aircraft and the capture of a pilot against the backdrop of reported missile threats and readied nuclear forces. Privately, many American officials expressed alarm that events would spin out of control, and some later acknowledged that senior U.S. officials basically ignored the crisis. Escalation was controlled, mostly by luck.

While yesterday’s announcement of a ceasefire by India and Pakistan offers a welcome development after almost two years of dangerously escalating violence and fraught tensions, this does not warrant complacency. Those who work on South Asian security issues expect another crisis is inevitable — one that will test the Biden administration.

While Washington has made a strategic wager on India to reap dividends for U.S. competition with China, it still retains a significant interest in ensuring future South Asian crises do not spiral out of control and risk even a limited nuclear exchange. Such a course of events would jeopardize fundamental U.S. interests, including the non-use of nuclear weapons, the lives of U.S. citizens, and that very strategic bet on India itself. If the 2019 crisis has taught us anything, it is that being an impartial bystander is not an option.

U.S. official strategy documents identify India as a vital and critical node in Washington’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific to balance China’s rise. But the region within which it resides remains one of the most risk-prone. The nuclear-armed Indian-Pakistani rivalry has produced several crises testing the last five presidents, and since the end of the Cold War, this rivalry composes the most commonly recurring pair in the International Crisis Behavior database. Thirty years ago, the intelligence community judged this region the “most probable” location for a nuclear exchange, a judgment that was reinforced after the 2019 near miss.

Several studies over the past decade have assessed that South Asia is acutely prone to false optimism, miscalculation, and conflict escalation, even to the nuclear level. The close geography of both countries compresses time for decision-making in crises and incentivizes quick reactions. Conventional, precision-strike capabilities at standoff distances are at the ready and lure officials into thinking punitive or retaliatory strikes can be easy and clean. Both countries also appear to be embracing more aggressive nuclear doctrines. Another feature of the subcontinent is intensified nationalism. South Asian leaders may be more sensitive to public pressure for escalation even as Indian and Pakistani publics may be increasingly supportive of nuclear weapons use.

Much has changed since the last crisis in 2019. Washington and New Delhi have drawn even closer strategically as cooperative prospects with Beijing have diminished for both since the COVID-19 pandemic and the Sino-Indian border crisis. America is also on a trajectory to exit Afghanistan — even if there is a six-month extension of the timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal — allowing it to reassess and reset its relationship with Pakistan, because it would no longer need to rely on Islamabad for air and ground lines of communication to support deployed U.S. troops. Most importantly, the Biden administration has prioritized competition with China, which appears to pick up on the last administration’s efforts but with greater competence, coherence, and strategy.

Despite these shifts and calls for the United States to stop playing referee between India and Pakistan, U.S. policymakers understand that the rivalry in South Asia is an extraordinary one because of the nuclear dynamics at work. Though U.S. leaders have to calibrate carefully about how they signal these interests to avoid creating perverse incentives — e.g., “too nuclear to fail” — the United States continues to hold a major stake in how crises unfold in South Asia. Not only would the global precedent-setting of nuclear use or the humanitarian and environmental consequences be devastating generally, such use would directly threaten U.S. “critical interest[s],” including the safety of its citizens and partners.

The Balakot Crisis

The most recent crisis is instructive. On Feb. 14, 2019, a Kashmiri suicide bomber killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops, an attack for which the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed credit. The Indian military retaliated against Pakistan 12 days later with an airstrike on what it claimed was a terrorist training camp within undisputed Pakistani territory. The next day Pakistani jets dropped munitions on empty fields near an Indian brigade headquarters close to the Line of Control and an aerial skirmish ensued, resulting in the downing of an Indian MiG-21 and Pakistan’s capture of the Indian pilot. In the fog and friction of war, an Indian Mi-17 helicopter with six soldiers aboard was also accidently shot down by an Indian air defense unit. Tensions escalated as India reportedly threatened missile strikes and demanded the immediate return of the pilot, while Pakistan threatened retaliation “three times over.” Indian naval nuclear assets may have also been activated.

Since the end of the Cold War, Washington has served as the indispensable crisis manager on the subcontinent. But during the last crisis, it was luck, not U.S. crisis management, that saved the day. The Trump administration was mostly missing in action until events nearly spun out of control. Luckily, the downed Indian pilot survived and his capture seemed to pause the cycle of escalation. His prompt return and ambiguity over the exchange of damage that had unfolded allowed for a face-saving de-escalation by both sides.

Both India and Pakistan were able to declare victory during the last crisis, but that may tie leaders’ hands in the future. The next crisis is poised to involve airpower duels and deep strikes the way the rivals have employed artillery barrages, not just within but beyond the disputed territory of Kashmir. Both sides have internalized some dangerously optimistic lessons about the last crisis. The “new normal” is not risk averse. The assumption that escalation is “easy to control” has taken hold.

Meanwhile, incentives for conflict and escalation may be growing. Soon after the 2019 crisis, the Indian prime minister was politically rewarded in an electoral landslide, largely attributed to his national security choices. New Delhi also enjoyed the geopolitical rewards of international diplomatic support in international fora while political pressure ratcheted up on its adversary. Pakistan too feels deeply aggrieved because of what it perceives as India’s August 2019 unilateral annexation of disputed territory of Kashmir and the abrogation of its autonomy. Pakistan may also sense a window of opportunity as the United States is once again reliant on Islamabad to help deliver the Afghan peace process while India appears embattled and stretched with a much hotter second front since the summer 2020 border crisis with China.

Certainly the recent ceasefire is a welcome pause, but its durability remains uncertain and crises can still flare up. The rivals have renewed commitments to a ceasefire agreement many times only to lapse back to fighting. The last ceasefire declaration in May 2018 portended a tempering of border hostilities but was followed months later by the Balakot crisis.

U.S. Crisis Management Stakes

Will the Biden administration, like Trump’s “America First” approach, adopt a hands-off strategy in the next South Asian crisis? That would be a mistake, even if doing so risks some friction with India, which is jealous of its sovereignty and prefers to deal with Pakistan bilaterally. When the next flare-up in South Asia inevitably occurs, Joe Biden and his team will need to dust off the crisis management “playbook.” Someone with experience, expertise, and relationships in the region will need to be the designated point person to coordinate the flow of high-level visits and phone calls. U.S. interests and expectations need to be communicated well in advance. Travel advisories, evacuation plans, intelligence sharing options, and penalties need to be prepared to shape incentives for restraint and de-escalation. Not to do so invites uncontrolled escalation and jeopardizes U.S. interests in preventing a mushroom cloud.

Crisis management efforts are critical, not orthogonal, to U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific. Some have proposed the United States simply pick a side and criticized U.S. efforts to play a “neutral arbiter” role in a future crisis. Washington is no longer a neutral arbiter between India and Pakistan, as it has placed a big “strategic bet” on New Delhi. Nevertheless, the United States is still essential as a crisis manager when border and air clashes threaten to spiral out of control. Beijing might help, but Washington can’t count on nor bargain for it. A proactive U.S. crisis management approach is needed to prevent the use of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent.

Even a small nuclear exchange risks unfathomable loss of life in a densely populated region. After the immediate blast effects, firestorms, emissions, and radiation would persist, all with devastating environmental and humanitarian impacts. The breaking of the “nuclear taboo” would have profound consequences for U.S. national security interests and for other nuclear-armed rivals.

Over 750,000 American citizens live in India and Pakistan. Most are concentrated in urban centers that would be the most likely targets of nuclear strikes. The United States has numerous foreign policy priorities in Asia but foremost among them is protecting American citizens abroad. Even the recently declassified 2018 memo on the “Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” that laid out the logic of great-power competition in the region identified the highest interest was defending “the homeland and American citizens abroad,” followed by nuclear risks in the region.

A forward diplomatic approach is also consistent with an Indo-Pacific strategy that counter-balances China. Beyond the staggering loss of life, a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would devastate the Indian economy and its military capacity. Any nuclear detonation would trigger a humanitarian catastrophe, damage drinking water and the food supply, and have a chilling effect on foreign investment and trade that would decommission India from great-power competition for at least a decade. An India significantly weakened by even a limited nuclear exchange would be in no position to help balance China or play the anchoring role in the Indo-Pacific that U.S. strategy has envisioned. Moreover, not rising to the occasion of crisis management would confirm concerns about the shrinking ambit of U.S. diplomacy and diminish confidence that the United States could promote peace and prosperity.

Qualifications

Undoubtedly there is a moral hazard problem where India and Pakistan run risks while counting on the United States or the international community to bail them out as they have in the past. This is a real concern that U.S. policymakers have to weigh carefully, but there are creative methods to both defuse a crisis while also disincentivizing parties from instigating or escalating one again in the future.

There are several pathways by which another crisis on the subcontinent could occur. However, if triggered once again by Pakistan-based terrorists, there are ways to hold the sponsoring parties accountable short of greenlighting conflict escalation. Washington has many tools at its disposal to help de-escalate the next crisis and deter future ones. These include diplomatic pressures and financial sanctions. The United States could wield the prospect of enhancement or withdrawal of intelligence sharing, counter-terrorism cooperation, or even direct and tailored military assistance.

The United States has much to lose by letting an escalatory nuclear spiral run its course in the heart of Asia and much to gain from arresting such a chain of events. Much is at stake here, beginning with the norm against the use of nuclear weapons in warfare, the well-being of U.S. citizens, and the future of Asian geopolitics. For that reason the Biden administration would do well to expunge hesitations and prepare its crisis management playbook.

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Sameer Lalwani is a senior fellow and South Asia director at the Stimson Center, a Washington-based policy research institute, and the editor of Investigating Crises: South Asia’s Lessons, Evolving Dynamics, and Trajectories.

Image: U.S. Army (Photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

Biden orders airstrikes against the Iranian Horn

Biden orders airstrikes in Syria, retaliating against Iran-backed militias

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday the bombing caused “casualties” but said it was too early to say how many fighters were killed or wounded.

Dan De Luce is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit. Mosheh Gains is a Pentagon producer for NBC News.Charlene GubashCharlene Gubash is an NBC News producer based in Cairo. Gubash, a native Minnesotan, has lived and worked in the Egyptian capital since 1985.Kristen Welker is chief White House correspondent for NBC News.Ali Arouzi, Amin Hossein Khodadadi and Adela Suliman contributed.

Feb. 25, 2021, 5:58 PM MST / Updated Feb. 26, 2021, 1:31 PM MST

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered airstrikes on buildings in Syria that the Pentagon said were used by Iranian-backed militias, in retaliation for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in neighboring Iraq.

The strikes killed at least 22 people, London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday, citing unconfirmed local reports.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby portrayed the bombing in eastern Syria as carefully calibrated, calling it “proportionate” and “defensive.”

Kirby told reporters Friday the bombing caused “casualties” but said it was too early to say precisely how many militia fighters might have been killed or wounded.

“We have preliminary indications of casualties on site, I’m not going to go any further than that,” Kirby said.

The operation was the first known use of military force by the Biden administration, which has for weeks emphasized plans to focus more on challenges posed by China.

The president’s decision appeared aimed at sending a signal to Iran and its proxies in the region that Washington would not tolerate attacks on its personnel in Iraq, even at a sensitive diplomatic moment.

Three rocket attacks in one week in Iraq, including a deadly strike that hit a U.S.-led coalition base in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil, presented a test for Biden only weeks after assuming the presidency. The rocket assaults coincided with a diplomatic initiative launched by the administration to try to revive a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers.

A worker cleans shattered glass outside a damaged shop following a rocket attack the previous night in Irbil on Feb. 16.Safin Hamed / AFP – Getty Images file

Kirby said two F-15 fighter jets dropped seven precision guided munitions on buildings used by the Iranian-backed militias, totally destroying nine structures and partially destroying two. The buildings were located in Abu Kamal, near the Iraqi border, a location known as a hub for the Iraqi Shiite militias supported by Iran, he said.

“This location is known to facilitate Iranian-aligned militia group activity,” Kirby said.

The airstrikes were ordered in response to a series of rocket attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, “and to ongoing threats to those personnel,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Thursday evening.

The buildings near the border were used by militias including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, according to the Pentagon.

Iranian officials did not immediately react to the strikes.

The Syrian government condemned the attack Friday, calling it “cowardly U.S. aggression” in a statement from the country’s foreign ministry that was published by state media.

The strikes violate international law and “will lead to consequences that will escalate the situation in the region,” the foreign ministry said, according to state news agency SANA.

Russia, one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chief backers, said it was given just four or five minutes’ warning before the strikes.

“This kind of notification does nothing when the strike is literally already on its way,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

The U.S. was operating in Syria “illegally,” he said, and called for better communication with the Biden administration.

The Pentagon defended the legality of the strikes, arguing Article II of the Constitution grants the president powers as commander in chief, and citing article 51 of the U.N. charter, providing countries the right to “self-defense” in response to an attack.

“I would tell you that the president acted well within his constitutional authorities under Article II as commander in chief of the United States to protect American service members involved in operations. Clearly, there’s a constitutional authority here,” Kirby told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell on Friday.

The Biden administration did inform Russia in advance of the air raid, Kirby said, but indicated it could not do so too far in advance without jeopardizing “operational security.”

The strikes provoked criticism from some Democrats in Congress, who questioned the legal rationale and demanded to know why the White House did not consult with lawmakers more closely beforehand.

“The American people deserve to hear the Administration’s rationale for these strikes and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress,” said Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees.

“Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances,” he said. “Congress must be fully briefed on this matter expeditiously.”

The administration said officials did brief congressional leadership before the air strikes.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of the 22 people killed in the bombings were members of Iraqi militias. The monitoring group did not provide details about how it obtained that figure but Rami Abdulrahman, head of the rights organization, told NBC News it was based on speaking to sources inside Syria.

He added that the death toll was expected to rise, due to the number of people seriously wounded.

Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB news, meanwhile, said 17 “resistance fighters” were killed in the strikes, but also didn’t provide detail about the source of that figure other than citing “reports.”

A senior U.S. defense official told NBC News on Thursday evening that the target was a transit hub near the Iraqi-Syrian border used by the militia fighters, and it was too early to say what casualties might have been inflicted on the militants.

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“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” the Pentagon said on Thursday.

Shortly after the strike, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters travelling with him that the administration had been “very deliberate about our approach.”

“We’re confident that target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes,” Austin said, referring to the recent rocket attacks in Iraq on U.S. and coalition personnel.

The Pentagon had said previously that it was awaiting the results of an Iraqi investigation into the Irbil rocket attack.

“We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence and that was very helpful to us in refining the target,” said Austin, who spoke en route to Washington after a visit to California and Colorado.

Biden had approved the operation on Thursday morning, he said.

A civilian contractor was killed in the Irbil rocket assault, and a U.S. service member and others were wounded. At least two 107mm rockets landed on the base, which also hosts Irbil’s civilian international airport.

NBC News had previously reported that Iranian-backed militias were most likely behind the Irbil rocket attack, and that the weapons and tactics resembled previous attacks by the Iranian-linked militias. However, it was unclear if Iran had encouraged or ordered the rocket attack.

An obscure group called Saraya Awliya al-Dam, or Custodians of the Blood, claimed responsibility for the Irbil attack. But former diplomats and regional analysts said the group was merely a front organization created by the main Shiite militias in Iraq.

Following the rocket attack on the Irbil base, Iraq’s Balad air base came under rocket fire days later, where a U.S. defense firm services the country’s fighter jets, and then two rockets landed near the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.

Iran has rejected any connection to the rocket attacks.

In a phone call Tuesday between Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the two leaders agreed that “that those responsible for such attacks must be held fully to account,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.

Dennis Ross, a former senior U.S. diplomat who worked on Middle East policy under several presidents, said the administration had lowered the risk of causing friction with the Iraqi government by hitting targets in Syria.

“By striking facilities used by the militias just across the border in Syria, the risk of blowback against the Iraqi gov is reduced,” Ross tweeted.

Dan De Luce, Mosheh Gains and Kristen Welker reported from Washington; Ali Arouzi and Adela Suliman reported from London; Amin Hossein Khodadadi reported from Tehran; and Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo.

The Associated Press contributed.

Iran condemns Babylon the Great’s strikes

Iran condemns U.S. strikes in Syria, denies attacks in Iraq

(Reuters) – Iran on Saturday condemned U.S. air strikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria, and denied responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq that prompted Friday’s strikes.

Washington said its strikes on positions of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group along the Iraq border were in response to the rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq.

Western officials and some Iraqi officials have blamed those attacks on Iran-backed groups.

However, Tehran has denied any involvement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday condemned the U.S. strikes as “illegal and a violation of Syria’s sovereignty” in a meeting with his visiting Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, Iran’s state media reported.

“Zarif said some recent attacks and incidents in Iraq are suspect, and could be designed to disrupt Iran-Iraq relations and Iraq’s security and stability,” the media reports said.

“We emphasize the need for the Iraqi government to find the perpetrators of these incidents,” Zarif was quoted as saying.

Hussein gave assurances that “Baghdad will not allow incidents in this country to be used to disrupt the excellent relations between the two countries”, state media reported.

Progress has been made in talks on Iran’s frozen funds and Baghdad would facilitate Tehran’s access to its funds, Hussein added. Some $6 billion in Iranian funds have been blocked in Iraq because of U.S. sanctions.

Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, met Hussein earlier and said Friday’s U.S. air strikes encouraged terrorism in the region.

Hussein is in Iran “to discuss regional developments, including ways to balance relations and avoid tension and escalation” with Iranian officials, according to an Iraqi foreign ministry statement.

An Iraqi militia official close to Iran said the U.S. strikes killed one fighter and wounded four. U.S. officials said they were limited in scope to show President Joe Biden’s administration would act firmly while trying to avoid a big regional escalation.

Washington and Tehran are seeking maximum leverage in attempts to save Iran’s nuclear deal reached with world powers in 2015 but abandoned in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump, after which regional tensions soared.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry and Mark Potter)

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Babylon the Great strikes ‘Iranian-backed militant’ site

US strikes ‘Iranian-backed militant’ site in Syria: Pentagon

26/02/2021 – 02:22

A rocket attack on a military complex inside Arbil airport that hosts foreign troops deployed as part of a US-led coalition caused serious damage – KURDISTAN 24 CHANNEL/AFP/File

Washington (AFP)

The US military launched an airstrike on facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran-backed militia Thursday, in retaliation for recent rocket attacks on US troop locations in Iraq, the Pentagon said.

“At President Biden’s direction, US military forces earlier this evening conducted airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria,” said spokesman John Kirby in a statement.

These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel,” he said.

The US military did not say whether there were any casualties in Thursday’s attack.

Kirby said the target was a border control point used by Iranian-backed armed Iraqi groups including Kataeb Hezbollah and Kataeb Sayyid al-Shuhada.

It followed three rocket attacks on facilities in Iraq used by US and coalition forces fighting the Islamic State group.

One of those strikes, on a military complex in the Kurdish region’s capital Arbil on February 15, killed a civilian and a foreign contractor working with coalition forces, and injured several US contractors and a soldier.

The attacks in Iraq by groups believed operating under Iran’s direction had laid down a challenge to the new Biden administration just as it opened a door to resumed negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.

The Biden administration says it wants to revive the 2015 accord designed to freeze Iran’s nuclear development.

But it also sees Tehran as a continuing security threat across the Middle East.

Kirby called Thursday’s strikes “proportionate” and said it “was conducted together with diplomatic measures,” including consultation with US partners in the anti-IS coalition.

But he also said that it was designed to de-escalate the situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.

The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel,” he said.

© 2021 AFP

Russia’s New Doomsday Nuke: Daniel 7

New Details of Russian Belgorod ‘Doomsday’ Submarine Revealed

H I SuttonFebruary 25, 2021 3:26 PM

Illustration of Belgorod submarine. H I Sutton Image used with permission

Russia’s latest super-sized submarine, Belgorod, has been a conundrum for interested observers. While its existence is far from secret, Moscow has gone to great pains to keep certain key details out of the public domain. While navies traditionally hide the screw, or propeller, from the cameras, in Belgorod’s case the reverse was true: the screws were on display at the 2019 launch ceremony, but no photographs of the forward section were ever published.

Belgorod’s secret is its arrangement of the primary weapon system: a new class of nuclear-tipped torpedos. Russian state media Izvestia reported on Feb. 11 that Belgorod is being prepared for tests with the new weapon called Poseidon, a massive nuclear torpedo which is shot forward out of the front of the submarine.

The Izvestia article’s timing matches fresh satellite imagery of the submarine in the northern Russian submarine base in Severodvinsk, which may show part of the tests.

In the absence of official photographs, commercial satellite imagery has become a primary source of information. Though the long Arctic nights and thick clouds have limited access to new imagery for many months, now as the Arctic winter is waning, commercial imagery satellites are once again more active over Severodvinsk.

On Feb. 10, an Airbus satellite took a high-resolution image of the harbor. Moored next to the quay is Belgorod with its torpedo tube doors appearing to be open. These tubes are not for ordinary torpedoes but rather the Poseidon nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed torpedo. It is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s so-called wonder weapons, together with hypersonic missiles and a nuclear-powered cruise missile.

Poseidon Torpedo. Russian Defense Ministry Photo

The satellite imagery clearly shows two large openings in the bow. Each opening is roughly six feet (two meters) across, approximately three times the diameter of the openings for regular 21-inch (533mm) torpedoes. This is because the Poseidon weapon is about 20 to 30 times the size of a traditional heavyweight torpedo.

Revealed in 2015, the school-bus sized torpedo is a strategic weapon that is designed to slip under the U.S. ballistic missile defense network. The weapon is designed to “destroy important economic installations of the enemy in coastal areas and cause guaranteed devastating damage to the country’s territory by creating wide areas of radioactive contamination, rendering them unusable for military, economic or other activity for a long time,” according to a 2015 translation of the initial document by the BBC.

Previous reports indicate that Belgorod will be armed with six Poseidons. Being so large and nuclear powered, these are likely carried externally to the main pressure hull, so it is unclear whether all six tubes will have their own shutter doors or if they will be able to cycle through the two shutters seen in the satellite images.

One takeaway from the images is Belgorod probably has a forward hull between the two open shutter doors. This could allow regular torpedo tubes to be mounted in the bow, shooting over top of the sonar.

Although some reporting on the Poseidon implies Belgorod will be conducting test launches imminently, this is unlikely. It’s unclear if the submarine has ever conducted submergence testing, and just today the TASS Russian news agency reported the submarine is preparing to sail to sea for the first time.

The tests that the Izvestia article referenced are likely in-port mating and mechanical checks between the submarine and the weapon, which matches the satellite imagery showing the outer shutters open. This would likely be conducted with inert surrogate rounds where possible, given the safety implications of testing a nuclear-powered weapon with what is likely a minimally shielded reactor at the pier.

While the public image of Belgorod is becoming clearer, the particulars of the new Russian boat are still shrouded in mystery. Nope

Democrats are Castrating their own man

Democrats ask Biden to cede authority on nuclear launches

President Joe Biden speaks about the 500,000 Americans that died from COVID-19, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

By Victor Morton – The Washington Times – Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A group of more than 30 House Democrats is asking President Biden to give up his sole control of U.S. nuclear weapons.

In a letter led by Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California, the Democrats ask that their party’s leader alter the command-and-control structure surrounding America’s nuclear arsenal so that no single person can launch the weapons.

“Vesting one person with this authority entails real risks,” the letter states. “Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.”

The letter suggests such changes to the command of the U.S. arsenal as  requiring approval also from officials in the constitutional line of succession, specifically including the vice president and the House speaker, “neither of whom can be removed by the president if they disagree.”

The U.S. nuclear codes, carried in the famous ”football,” allow the president to launch America’s nuclear arsenal, a change that was made during the Cold War because nuclear weapons theoretically could begin and end a war within an hour, before there would be time to go through the traditional process of declaring war and mobilizing an army.

The nearly three dozen Democrats though more fear a U.S. president starting a war on his own.

“While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so,” the letter adds. “The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S. nuclear forces, that attack would happen in minutes.”