Korean Nuclear Horn Tests Its First Hydrogen Bomb

By Euan McKirdy, CNN
Updated 11:50 PM ET, Tue January 5, 2016
Hong Kong (CNN)In summary:
The U.S. says it may take days to confirm the claim
Countries in the region issue strong condemnation and hold emergency meetigs
North Korea says it has successfully carried out a hydrogen bomb test, which if confirmed, will be a first for the reclusive regime and a significant advancement for its military ambitions.
A hydrogen bomb is more powerful than plutonium weapons, which is what North Korea used in its three previous underground nuclear tests.
“If there’s no invasion on our sovereignty we will not use nuclear weapon,” the North Korean state news agency said. “This H-bomb test brings us to a higher level of nuclear power.”
A senior U.S. administration told CNN it could take days to obtain the scientific data to determine whether this was a successful test.
The South Korean defense ministry said it too could not immediately confirm the tests’s success, but the country’s foreign ministry hastily convened an emergency meeting. Officials in Japan were also holding discussions.
The test took place at 10 a.m. local time, the regime said in a televised statement.
A big ‘if’
In the past, North Korea has tested fission weapons, which break large atoms like plutonium, into smaller atoms, creating considerable energy.
Fusion weapons, such as hydrogen bombs, use fusion to combine small atoms — such as hydrogen — to create much larger amounts of energy.
Nuclear weapons based on fission typically have a yield of around 10 kilotons, while nuclear weapons employing fusion can have a yield measured in megatons.
The North Koreans have signaled for some time the test was a possibility, said Mike Chinoy, with the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California.
“Kim Jong Un made public statement a few weeks ago saying that (the country was) developing a hydrogen bomb.”
But, said Bruce Bennett, North Korea’s claims ought to be taken with a grain of salt. Bennett is a senior defense analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp.
“North Korea appears to have had a difficult time mastering even the basics of a fission weapon,” he said. “This suggests that unless North Korea has had help from outside experts, it is unlikely that it has really achieved a hydrogen/fusion bomb since its last nuclear test, just short of three years ago.”
Regional response
The development illustrates the continuing challenge North Korea poses to its neighbors and the world.
“We have consistently made clear that we will not accept it as a nuclear state,” said a spokesman for the National Security Council. “We will continue to protect and defend our allies in the region, including the Republic of Korea, and will respond appropriately to any and all North Korean provocations.”
The North Koreans have signaled for some time the test was a possibility, said Mike Chinoy, with the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California.
Being more warm and cordial was hoped to restrain North Korea but now this places the Chinese authorities in a big dilemma.
South Korea has also said a fourth test would be a watershed moment that would warrant a response, Chinoy said.
There is currently no diplomacy from the U.S. to restrain the nuclear development, so this test “also puts the U.S. on the spot.
“Will any of their steps do anything to restrain North Korea? My guess is probably not.”
Japan quickly issued a strong condemnation, saying the test was a “serious threat” to its security.
“It clearly violates the UNSC resolution and is a serious challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation efforts,” said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Heavily militarized country
North Korea’s internationally isolated regime is a heavily militarized state with a huge standing army of 1.2 million active soldiers and 7.7 million reservists.
But its conventional weaponry is dated, with limited effectiveness, and it has looked to developing its nuclear capabilities to project power internationally.
The country declared it had nuclear weapons in 2003, and conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.
In May last year, it said it had the ability to miniaturize nuclear weapons, a development that would allow it to deploy nuclear weapons on missiles. A U.S. National Security Council spokesman responded at the time that the United States did not think the North Koreans had such a capability.
David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector, told CNN last year that Pyongyang could already have 10 to 15 atomic weapons, and that it could grow that amount by several weapons per year.
He said he believed Pyongyang had the capability to miniaturize a warhead for shorter missiles, but not yet for intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Sunni Vs Shia Horns (Daniel 7-8)

1/4/2016 5:18PM
Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric on Jan. 2, prompting Iraqi protestors led by Muqtada al Sadr to take to the streets, part of a backlash that unfolded throughout the region. WSJ’s Matt Bradley reports. Photo: AP

Violence Eruptes Between The Sunni And Shia Horns

Iraqi Sunni mosques attacked in apparent retaliation for Saudi execution

Date published: Tuesday, 5 January 2016 – 10:08am IST | Place: Baghdad | Agency: Reuters
Iraqi Shi’ites protesting the January 2 execution of Saudi Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr separately marched in Baghdad and southern cities, while a powerful Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia group pressured the government to sever ties with Riyadh. Iraq’s Interior Ministry confirmed the attacks on Sunni mosques late Sunday in Hilla, around 100 km south of Baghdad.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi blamed them on “Daesh (Islamic State) and those who are similar to them,” without further explanation. He ordered provincial authorities “to chase the criminal gangs” who attacked the mosques. Iraq has faced sectarian bloodletting for years, mainly between minority Sunnis and a Shi’ite majority empowered after the US-led invasion in 2003.
The battle against Sunni Islamic State militants who control large swathes of the north and west has only exacerbated those tensions. The spark for Sunday’s attacks appears to have been Nimr’s execution a day earlier, which triggered angry reactions in Shi’ite-led Iraq and Iran.
Saudi Arabia cut ties with regional rival Iran on Sunday after protesters attacked the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran. Bahrain, the Shi’ite-majority Gulf state ruled by a Sunni family, and Sudan followed suit on Monday. The attack on a mosque in central Hilla destroyed its dome and several walls, according to a Reuters TV cameraman who visited the site. Provincial council member Falah al-Khafaji and a police source said a guard in the building was killed.
“We saw smoke rising from the dome of the mosque. We found all the walls destroyed and the furniture inside in shambles,” said resident Uday Hassan Ali. Another mosque in Hilla’s northern outskirts was also attacked, and a Sunni cleric was killed in a separate incident in Iskandariya, about 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, Khafaji and the police source said. “We have leads and security measures will be taken near mosques,” said Khafaji, pledging to rebuild the buildings.
Prominent religious and political leaders in Iraq have called on the government to cut ties with Saudi Arabia, which reopened its Baghdad embassy last week after closing it in 1990 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. While Abadi and Iraq’s foreign ministry have condemned Nimr’s execution, they have given no indication of a more severe response.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a powerful Shi’ite militia backed by Iran, on Monday warned the government against inaction. “We demand the government expel the Saudi ambassador… (otherwise) the government will be responsible for the popular backlash,” it said in an online statement calling for the implementation of death sentences issued against Saudi “terrorists”.
The group said it was speaking on behalf of the “Islamic resistance”, a term commonly used for Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, but did not specify which groups it represented. Earlier thousands of protesters marched in Baghdad and Shi’ite cities in southern Iraq, heeding calls by prominent Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to protest against Nimr’s execution.
In Baghdad, demonstrators carrying portraits of Nimr, wearing a grey beard and a white turban, rallied outside the heavily fortified Green Zone housing government departments and diplomatic representations, including the newly reopened Saudi embassy.
Police guarding the zone pushed back a group of protesters trying to cross a line of barbed wire as they chanted “damned, damned be Al Saud,” referring to the Saudi ruling family. Similar protests were held in Basra, southern Iraq’s biggest city, and in the Shi’ite holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala.

The China Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Goodbye Second Artillery Force; hello PLA Rocket Force.
By Shannon Tiezzi
January 05, 2016
On December 31, China inaugurated three new military forces: a general command for the army, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force, and the PLA Rocket Force. The latter, which replaces the Second Artillery Force, will be in charge of China’s nuclear arsenal.
General Wei Fenghe was named the new force’s first commander. Wei has a long history with the Second Artillery Force; he served as its chief of staff from 2006-2012 and then as commander-in-chief from 2012 until the service was reconfigured as the Rocket Force.
The creation of the Rocket Force is part of a larger move to restructure China’s military with a streamlined command under the direct control of the Central Military Commission. The new force is considered the fourth branch in China’s military, on equal footing with the PLA Army, Navy, and Air Force, according to Global Times. Unlike the Second Artillery Corps, the Rocket Force will command all three legs of China’s nuclear triad, rather than just controlling land-based nuclear missiles. The Rocket Force will also be in charge of conventional missiles. Global Times reported that the force has already held its first drills, practicing mobile combat operations and missile launches.
In the inauguration ceremony on Thursday, President Xi Jinping (who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission) called the PLA Rocket Force the “core force of strategic deterrence, a strategic buttress to the country’s position as a major power, and an important building block in upholding national security.” He tasked the new force with enhancing China’s nuclear deterrence and counter-strike capabilities, and thus maintaining a strategic balance. He also urged the Rocket Force to improve China’s ability to conduct medium- and long-range precision strikes.
Yang Yujun, spokesperson for China’s Defense Ministry, emphasized on Friday that China’s nuclear policy and strategy will not change under the PLA Rocket Force. China remains committed to its no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons, and will keep its “nuclear capability at the minimum level required for safeguarding its national security,” Xinhua paraphrased Yang as saying.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2015 report on the Chinese military, the Second Artillery Force had 50 to 60 inter-continental ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, China was devoting more energy to developing sea-based nuclear platforms, such as the Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).
As the report notes, “Further increases in the number of mobile ICBMs and the beginning of SSBN deterrence patrols will force the PLA to implement more sophisticated command and control systems and processes that safeguard the integrity of nuclear release authority for a larger, more dispersed force.” The creation of the PLA Rocket Force may herald further changes to China’s command and control systems for nuclear forces.

Russia Nuclear Horn Establishes Its Presence In The Middle East

Two of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-25s at Bassel Al-Assad International Airport in Latakia, Syria, one type of ground attack aircraft involved in the Syrian intervention. Source: Mil.ru, Wikipedia Commons.
By Fadi Elhusseini*
Since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising, Russia has limited itself to its traditional role of providing arms as well as military and logistical experts to its Arab allies. As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime weakened, the Russians intensified their military support dramatically. Recently, the Russian ‘Caesar’ opted to expand his role in Syria to include direct intervention against enemies of the regime. The move towards direct intervention constitutes a revolution in Russia’s role in the Middle East and portends a deeper shift in the region.
Russia has claimed that its intervention in Syria was intended to destroy IS after the US-led campaign proved to be an “abject failure”, according to an unnamed US military official speaking to CBS News. Well acquainted with terrorism, one might argue that Moscow is undertaking a pre-emptive war against Islamic extremist groups. But some have linked the intervention to the Ukrainian crisis as well as the desire for increased leverage in the Middle East and more power at the negotiating table.
Thus Russia’s stated intentions have been met with skepticism about the real motive behind the decision to intervene directly. One widespread opinion is that Russia wants to secure a military presence on warm- waters – the Mediterranean Sea. While this sounds plausible, Russia has been enjoying this presence for some time already. Warm-water ports are of great geopolitical and economic interest and they are the ports where the water does not freeze in wintertime. Those ports have long played an important role in Russian foreign policy. The Russian Empire fought a series of wars with the Ottoman Empire in a quest to establish a warm-water port. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I didn’t give Russia any further control. The Soviet Union enjoyed access to naval bases throughout the Mediterranean, yet its collapse brought an end to that access, except for the base in Tartus in Syria. Since 1971, Russian naval has had presence in Tartus and with Russia’s recent intervention, this port enjoyed unprecedented fame.
So what really lies behind the dramatic shift in Russian foreign policy?
In fact, Russia’s recent direct intervention in Syria gave a goodbye kiss to the conventional regional order that ruled the Middle East for ages. Traditionally and even at the peak of the Cold War, Russia’s (either the Soviet Union or the Russian Federation) role was limited to sending arms, military and logistical experts to its Arab allies. The current intervention constituted a revolution in Russia’s role and marked an extraordinary heavy military intervention.
The recent Russian intervention coincided with a number of important events. First is the Iranian nuclear deal which gives Iran a more prominent regional role, especially when considering the economic potentials this deal left Iran with. Second is the US gradual withdrawal from the region, which was symbolized in the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, handing over Iraq’s destiny to the Iranians, cooling off efforts in the Palestinian- Israeli conflict that led to the emergence of other initiatives (e.g. the French, the New Zealand), and finally its decision to withdraw the defensive shield from Turkey (for technical reasons according to the US announcement). Giving up its historical allies in Egypt (Mubarak) and Tunisia (Ben Ali), in addition to leaving the Saudis and the Gulf to fight Iran’s influence in Yemen alone are other signs of US declining role in the Middle East.
A few years ago, the president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, Richard N. Haass, wrote that the era of the United States’ domination in the Middle East was coming to an end and that the region’s future would be characterized by reduced US influence. Many observers do not believe the US will voluntarily abandon its role in the region, but the actions of other nations, combined with the Russians’ plans in Syria, clearly point in this direction.
Under the slogan «fight against terrorism», China sent aircraft carrier “Liaoning-CV-16” to Tartus and sources revealed that Beijing is heading to reinforce its forces with “J-15 Flying Shark” jets and “Z-18F & Z-18J” helicopters equipped with anti-submarine, in coordination with Tehran and Baghdad. France and Britain followed suit; the latter announced that it would mobilize reinforcements and military capabilities to the Mediterranean and Paris said it would send “Charles de Gaulle” aircraft carrier to participate in operations against ISIS in addition to six Rafale Jets in the United Arab Emirates and six Mirage aircraft in Jordan.
For its part, the US, whose aircraft carriers have been absent from the region since 2007, ordered a mere 50 special operations troops to Syria in order to help coordinate ‘local’ ground forces in the north of the country. US President Barack Obama condemned Russia’s direct intervention strategy, saying it was “doomed to fail”. And yet in a press conference in August 2014, he acknowledged that the United States “does not have a strategy” in Syria.
Media talks aside, Washington cannot have been taken by surprise when the Russians commenced their operations in Syria. Assuming that the Obama- Putin summit, which came hours before the Russian earliest move in Syria, did not tackle Russia’s intervention plans, there were many clues that prove US prior knowledge of Moscow’s decision.
In July 2015 Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani visited Moscow to coordinate the Russian military intervention and thus forging the new Iranian-Russian alliance in Syria. According to a Reuters report, Soleimani’s visit was preceded by high-level Russian-Iranian contact and meetings to coordinate military strategies. Two months later, Iraq, Russia, Iran and Syria agreed to set up an intelligence-sharing committee in Baghdad in order to harmonize efforts in fighting ISIS.
A senior US official confirmed on 18 September that more than 20 Condor transport plane flights had delivered tanks, weapons, other equipment, and marines to Russia’s new military hub near Latakia in western Syria, followed by 16 Russian Su-27 fighter aircraft, along with 12 close support aircraft, four large Hip troop-transport helicopters and four Hind helicopter gunships. Hence, it is clear that the US administration was at least aware of the Russian massive preparations and yet opted to keep its presence to the minimum. In this vein, it can be strategically said that this decision goes in line with the aforementioned US grand plan in the region and marks a calculated strategic gain when securing a small share in a Russian traditional sphere of influence: Syria.
The stated Russian motivation behind this involvement does not match for the facts on the ground. In other words, fighting ISIS, who does not have fighter jets or missile defense systems, does commensurate neither with the sophisticated air defenses that the Russians installed at the “Humaimam” base (such as SA15 and SA22 surface-to-air missiles) nor the Russian announcements that 40 naval “combat exercises” were due to start in the eastern Mediterranean, including rocket and artillery fire at sea and airborne targets. For that reason, some other experts found in Russia’s intervention as part of its new maritime strategy, that was published on 26 July 2015. The new maritime doctrine of the Russian Federation to 2020 is a comprehensive state policy for governing all of Russia’s maritime assets, military fleets, the civilian fleet, merchant marine, and naval infrastructure.
Russia therefore might be looking to kill as many birds as possible with one stone:
1- Moscow will first and foremost dictate its political will on any future solution in Syria and the inclusion of Iran and Russia in Vienna talks is just a case in point. Better, Secretary of State John Kerry now concedes that the longtime Russia’s ally Bashar Al-Assad might indeed be allowed to retain power for a period, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel said that the West will have to engage with Assad if it is to have any chance of resolving the Syrian civil war and the British indicated a similar shift in policy.
2- Second, Russia has now guaranteed a bigger role in the formation of a new Syrian government, even if Assad is pushed out of power and any nascent regime would seriously consider Russia’s role and presence in the country; including military, investment and commercial interests (e.g. in 2011 Russia invested $19 billion in Syria).
3- Third, Russia is underway to expand its military presence; not only in Syria, but also in the region and the announced intelligence sharing agreement demonstrates this goal. For example, Russia offered a large array of military hardware to Iraq (such as military helicopters in 2013 and Su25s fighter aircraft) that the US has refused to sell.
4- Fourth, although it looks like Russia and Iran have a common goal in Syria, Russia’s blatant involvement ceased Iran’s monopoly over the Syrian file.
5- Fifth, Russia is making pre-emptive war against Islamic extremist groups from which Russia has long suffered. Russia can’t tolerate the return of Chechens or other fighters who joined ISIS and is concerned that the West may use those radicals against Russia in a similar scenario to the Afghani case.
6- Sixth, the Russian intervention came amidst confirmed military sources that the longtime Russian ally – the Syrian regime – is about to fall when it controlled only 18 percent of the country and its army exhausted 93 percent of the stock.
7- Seventh, the mounting leverage of Russia in the region will give Russia a bigger seat at the Ukrainian negotiations table.
8- Finally, Russia aims at the revival of its military industries market as it was able to promote itself as an international player that can be relied upon to contain Iran, to prevent the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, to contribute actively in the fight against terrorism, and to sell technologies for peaceful energy in the Middle East. For example, the Russian Defense Ministry is working currently on major deals with Gulf Arab states in order to develop the Marine Corps, and air defense systems, techniques of unmanned aircrafts, armored vehicles and signal systems. Russia is now building two nuclear facilities in southern Iran and in February Russia agreed to build nuclear reactors in Egypt. Moscow is negotiating as well with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Jordan for deals to develop nuclear power, the largest deal was on 19 June 2015 when Moscow agreed to establish 16 nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia.
In short, Russia must now be taken seriously as a major player on the Middle East scene. The Russian recent intervention is Syria was not the first move in that direction and regional powers have reached the same conclusion even before. That said, it was not outlandish to see that Middle Eastern leaders visiting Moscow in no time.