The Sixth Seal Is Long Overdue (Revelation 6:12)

ON THE MAP; Exploring the Fault Where the Next Big One May Be WaitingBy MARGO NASHPublished: March 25, 2001Alexander Gates, a geology professor at Rutgers-Newark, is co-author of ”The Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes,” which will be published by Facts on File in July. He has been leading a four-year effort to remap an area known as the Sloatsburg Quadrangle, a 5-by-7-mile tract near Mahwah that crosses into New York State. The Ramapo Fault, which runs through it, was responsible for a big earthquake in 1884, and Dr. Gates warns that a recurrence is overdue. He recently talked about his findings.Q. What have you found?A. We’re basically looking at a lot more rock, and we’re looking at the fracturing and jointing in the bedrock and putting it on the maps. Any break in the rock is a fracture. If it has movement, then it’s a fault. There are a lot of faults that are offshoots of the Ramapo. Basically when there are faults, it means you had an earthquake that made it. So there was a lot of earthquake activity to produce these features. We are basically not in a period of earthquake activity along the Ramapo Fault now, but we can see that about six or seven times in history, about 250 million years ago, it had major earthquake activity. And because it’s such a fundamental zone of weakness, anytime anything happens, the Ramapo Fault goes.Q. Where is the Ramapo Fault? A. The fault line is in western New Jersey and goes through a good chunk of the state, all the way down to Flemington. It goes right along where they put in the new 287. It continues northeast across the Hudson River right under the Indian Point power plant up into Westchester County. There are a lot of earthquakes rumbling around it every year, but not a big one for a while.Q. Did you find anything that surprised you?A. I found a lot of faults, splays that offshoot from the Ramapo that go 5 to 10 miles away from the fault. I have looked at the Ramapo Fault in other places too. I have seen splays 5 to 10 miles up into the Hudson Highlands. And you can see them right along the roadsides on 287. There’s been a lot of damage to those rocks, and obviously it was produced by fault activities. All of these faults have earthquake potential.Q. Describe the 1884 earthquake.A. It was in the northern part of the state near the Sloatsburg area. They didn’t have precise ways of describing the location then. There was lots of damage. Chimneys toppled over. But in 1884, it was a farming community, and there were not many people to be injured. Nobody appears to have written an account of the numbers who were injured.Q. What lessons we can learn from previous earthquakes?A. In 1960, the city of Agadir in Morocco had a 6.2 earthquake that killed 12,000 people, a third of the population, and injured a third more. I think it was because the city was unprepared.There had been an earthquake in the area 200 years before. But people discounted the possibility of a recurrence. Here in New Jersey, we should not make the same mistake. We should not forget that we had a 5.4 earthquake 117 years ago. The recurrence interval for an earthquake of that magnitude is every 50 years, and we are overdue. The Agadir was a 6.2, and a 5.4 to a 6.2 isn’t that big a jump.Q. What are the dangers of a quake that size?A. When you’re in a flat area in a wooden house it’s obviously not as dangerous, although it could cut off a gas line that could explode. There’s a real problem with infrastructure that is crumbling, like the bridges with crumbling cement.There’s a real danger we could wind up with our water supplies and electricity cut off if a sizable earthquake goes off. The best thing is to have regular upkeep and keep up new building codes. The new buildings will be O.K. But there is a sense of complacency.MARGO NASH

Pakistan Tests New Homegrown Nuclear Weapon:Daniel 8

The test comes days after longtime rival India tested its own next-generation nuclear-capable ballistic missile, Agni-P.

Pakistan test fires home-grown cruise missile with enhanced range

The indigenously developed Babur cruise missile has a range of more than 900 kilometres, twice the distance of an earlier version.

The test comes days after longtime rival India tested its own next-generation nuclear-capable ballistic missile, Agni-P. ()

Pakistan has “successfully” test-fired a version of its indigenously developed Babur cruise missile 1B with enhanced range.

It has a range of more than 900 kilometers, twice the distance of an earlier missile of the same model, a statement said on Tuesday.

An earlier version had a limited capacity to travel just 450 kilometres.

The missile’s extended range further enhances nuclear-armed Pakistan’s military capability.

The ordinance is capable of striking both land and sea targets with “high accuracy,” the statement said.

This comes days after longtime rival India tested its own next-generation nuclear-capable ballistic missile, Agni-P.

‘Strategic deterrence’

Addressing the launch ceremony, Lieutenant General Nadeem Zaki Manj, who heads the Pakistani army’s Strategic Plans Division, said the test would further strengthen Pakistan’s “strategic deterrence.”

President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and three services chiefs also congratulated the scientists and engineers on conduct of “successful launch.”

The two arch-rivals, locked in a decades-long arms race, have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – since they were partitioned in 1947, two of which were fought over the disputed Kashmir valley.

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. 

A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Antichrist’s men celebrate: Revelation 13

Hassan Al-Adari, head of the political body of the Sadrist bloc and Sadrists delegation, right, meets with Hoshyar Zebari, head of the Kurdish delegation, left, to negotiate forming a new government, taken on November 5, 2021. Photo: Hadi Mizban / AP Photo

Sadrists celebrate as Coordination Framework works to repeat the 2010 scenario

The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) sent the final results of Iraq’s October 10 election to the Federal Court on November 1 for approval. Sadrists and other election winners welcomed the news, while political parties within the Coordination Framework vowed to resort to the Federal Court amid protests and sit-ins in front of the Green Zone gate, occasionally threatening to enter the fortified area.

The Sadrist Movement and the ecstasy of victory 

The Sadrist Movement has 74 seats, representing nearly 40% of the Shiite seats and 22% of the total Parliament seats, leaving the Sadrists and their leader Muqtada al-Sadr euphoric. IHEC has confirmed that they won 73, plus one former Sadrist member (Burhan al-Maamori) has joined them from Diyala which takes them to 74.

This remarkable victory prompted the Sadrist Movement to announce its intention to form a majority government, as Sadr tweeted on October 31, 2021, saying, “I see that the first thing that needs to be done for the future for the country is a national majority government.” 

Sadr counted on the allies he engaged with before the elections and entered into in-depth negotiations, namely with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani and the Taqadum Alliance, headed by Mohammed al-Halbousi. However, both parties took the position that al-Sadr needs to reach an understanding with other forces within the Shiite house before entering into any serious alliances to form a national majority government. 

Sadr, for his part, announced his intention to negotiate with the Coordination Framework and invited them to visit Najaf and meet in his father’s house, the late Mohammad Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr. The Coordination Framework asked him to send a delegation to discuss the issues before visiting Najaf.

Sadr surprised them with an agreement to visit them himself and, in December, they met in the house of the Fatih Alliance leader Hadi al-Amiri. However, the meeting ended with no agreement reached, and Sadr tweeted, “Neither Eastern nor Western, national majority government.” 

Related: Najaf could unlock deadlock between Sadrists and Framework

The leaders of the Coordination Framework were supposed to return Sadr’s visit with a similar visit to Najaf within a week. Sadr relaxed and waited for the framework visit and the approval of the final results of the elections. At the same time, Sadr maintained the ban on the Sadrist Political Commission to engage with any political party to discuss coalition formations.

The Sadrist media machine has also fallen silent, content with their leader’s tweets from time to time, which have declined significantly from 19 tweets between October 10 and 31, compared to about nine tweets during November, with only one tweet so far in December.

In contrast, the Coordination Framework has adopted a transparent strategy to keep the Sadrists waiting while they move to further delay the ratification of the election results, pressure political parties to join the Framework, and prevent the potential coalition partners from going with Sadr.  

The Coordination Framework moves in all directions 

As soon as the political forces within the Coordination Framework passed the shock stage of their disappointing results, they began to salvage what they could, and aimed to control the political scene by adopting a strategy of pressure and openness. Its first steps were to organize angry demonstrations followed by ongoing mass sit-ins in front of the Green Zone gate, calling for a manual recount and threatening to enter the Green Zone. Furthermore, they resorted to the Federal Court to block the approval of the results and pressure them to cancel the elections in their entirety. 

On the other hand, these forces were keen to keep the Coordination Framework unified, prevent the withdrawal of any bloc, and invite independent winners to join the framework and attend their meetings. It contributed to pushing Sunni blocs and personalities to establish a new alliance (Azm) to compete with Taqadum Alliance over the post of Iraq’s Parliament Speaker.

Azm Alliance and the Sunni Taqadum Alliance met twice. They issued a joint statement on December 14 announcing the formation of “a unified negotiating delegation… to negotiate with the rest of the partners,” thus cutting off the path for Halbousi to join Sadr alone. 

A high-level delegation from the framework is scheduled to visit Erbil and Sulaimani soon to consult and discuss with the Kurdish political forces. Meanwhile, a delegation from the KDP headed by Hoshyar Zebari met with the Fatih Alliance on December 14; a statement issued by Fatih said that Zebari told them, “Our position is clear, we will not be with any party without the other… You are our allies, and we have had jihadist, political, and governmental relations for decades. We have [an] understanding of the rest of the political forces, and we are working with everyone to resolve tensions and problems in the current political situation.” 

It has become evident that the Coordination Framework has succeeded so far in preventing the Kurds and Sunnis from allying with the Sadrist Movement to form an alliance that will lead to the formation of a majority government.

Will the 2010 scenario be repeated?

The political forces within the framework have grown more confident after passing the critical stage. They are now behaving like those who draw the features of the upcoming political map, leaving everyone awaiting their steps, which have come slowly amid the absence of any time limitation until the final results are approved. 

There are close similarities between what the Coordination Framework is doing and what the State of Law Coalition did after the elections of March 7, 2010. The State of Law used the Federal Court to explain the largest bloc after losing the election to Iraqi National List, headed by Ayad Allawi. In a move to prevent Allawi from claiming victory and forming a government, the Court granted the State of Law what it wanted on March 25, 2010.

The State of Law also challenged the election results, demanding a manual count and obliging the IHEC to do so. Re-counting and sorting took place for Baghdad only, and the announcement of the results was suspended until the end of May 2010, approximately two months following the election. The Federal Court ratified the election results in early June 2010; then, the State of Law agreed to begin political negotiations to form the largest bloc. The first party they engaged was the Iraqi National List. Their negotiations continued for nearly three months, ending without an agreement.

At the same time, the leader of State of Law, Nuri al-Maliki, was keen to negotiate with the Kurdish forces, which resulted in a bilateral agreement with the leader of the KDP called the Erbil Agreement on August 8, 2010, which gained the Kurdish vote that allowed him to remain in power. State of Law also began to negotiate with the Shiite blocs to form a significant Shiite alliance and to agree with the National Iraqi Alliance to nominate Maliki as prime minister for a second term on October 2, 2010. Thus, the State of Law and its leader Maliki succeeded in blocking the way for the Iraqi National List to form an alliance with the rival political blocs, instead attracting them to sign up with State of Law to form the largest bloc and secure his candidacy.

The similarity and comparison between State of Law’s political moves and maneuvers in 2010 and those of the Coordination Framework in 2021 is inescapable.

The flip side is also comparable; the silence of the Sadrist Movement is the same as the position of the Iraqi National List and its failure to form a large coalition to secure government formation in 2010.

It is worth mentioning that a member of Sadr’s inner circle, Jalil al-Nouri, tweeted on October 12, 2021, saying, “Sadr is not Allawi.” This means that the similarities are present in the minds of the Sadrist Movement, even if they believe that the Sadrist Movement is not the Iraqi National List.

End game scenarios 

If the 2010 negotiations are a compass for what will happen in the coming days, the approval of the Federal Court will not be far-fetched and may occur shortly. The political forces will sit at the dialogue table to agree on a specific scenario to share the pie.

In the past two weeks, political events have indicated that the Sadrist Movement is unlikely to achieve its endeavors to form a government of the national majority headed by the Sadrists. 

Alternative scenarios to reaching a political resolution

The first scenario, then, is that Sadr goes to the opposition. Thus the government becomes a national majority government with solid opposition from the Sadrists and independent blocs, which is estimated at over 100 deputies.

The second scenario is the formation of a total consensus government in which everyone participates, although this is unlikely if Sadr refuses to take part. 

The third scenario is that Sadr agrees with part of the Shiite Framework (whether with the State of Law or the Fatih Alliance) and selects a consensual prime minister.

The fourth scenario is a seven-way consensus government (the Sadrists, Fatih, the State of Law, Taqadum and Azm Alliance, the KDP and PUK) with small blocs and independents going to opposition, and a consensual prime minister chosen.

The fifth scenario is a semi-consensual government that includes the Sadrists, the Fatih Alliance, and parts of the Kurds and Sunnis, with the selection of a consensual prime minister.

The sixth scenario is the continuation of the situation as it is – that is, a political impasse. The caretaker government will continue for some time to come, as happened in Lebanon.

The final scenario would be a total failure of the political forces to reach any agreement as outlined above. This means the worst scenario will lead to paralysis of the political process and the entry into a constitutional vacuum. With it, we will be faced with numerous unexpected possibilities, including a political coup, internal fighting between armed groups of all shades, and economic collapse amid the return of popular demonstrations against the ruling political class, not to mention the return of terrorism. 

Farhad Alaaldin is the Chairman of the Iraqi Advisory Council. He was the political adviser to former Iraqi President Fuad Masum, the former chief of staff to the KRG prime minister from 2009 to 2011, and former senior adviser to the KRG prime minister from 2011 to 2012.

Russia confirms readiness to deploy nuclear weapons to Europe

Russia confirms readiness to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus

Russia confirms readiness to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus

 20.12.2021 20:25 World 

The Kremlin announced its readiness to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus. According to Dmitry Peskov, an official spokesman for the Kremlin, Russia will proceed to act so should the USA and NATO refuse to provide Russia with any security guarantees.

“It is no secret to anyone that, of course, the deployment of various types of NATO weapons near our borders, which may pose a threat to us, will require appropriate steps in order to balance the situation. A variety of options are possible here,” said Dmitry Peskov.

Experts note that the deployment of nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus may reduce the time for a nuclear strike on NATO by several tens of minutes. Apparently, it goes about medium and shorter-range missiles, which have a high efficiency in hitting targets.

Earlier, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that he was ready to give Russia the right to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus. At the same time, it turned out that all previously existing nuclear facilities used by the USSR were unusable, and the construction of new facilities, including the infrastructure for them, could cost hundreds of billion of rubles.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier that if Germany was going to refuse to provшву its territory for the deployment of this type of weapons, they may end up being deployed in other European countries, including to the east of the German borders.

“In this case, I will offer Putin to return nuclear weapons to Belarus,” Lukashenko said in response to Stoltenberg’s remarks.

When asked to clarify what kind of nuclear systems they could be exactly, Lukashenko noted: “We will agree, which ones they will be.”

“The nuclear weapons that will be most effective in such a contact. We are ready for this on the territory of Belarus. I, as a prudent owner, pardon me, have not destroyed anything. All the sheds are still standing,” he added.

After the collapse of the USSR, there were dozens of warheads for Topol strategic intercontinental missiles and more than a thousand tactical nuclear warheads in Belarus. Minsk agreed to the withdrawal of weapons after the signing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
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Iran Prepares for Israeli Attack

the iranian flag waves in front of the international atomic energy agency iaea headquarters in vienna austria may 23 2021 photo reuters

Iran has warned of a “crushing” response to any Israeli move against the Islamic Republic


Iran said on Monday that sounds heard near its Bushehr nuclear power plant were related to an air defence drill, Iranian state media reported, while warning Tehran would give a “crushing response” to any Israeli attack.

“This air defence exercise took place at 5 a.m. local time (0130 GMT) with full preparation and coordination with the armed forces,” Bushehr’s deputy governor Mohammadtaqi Irani told Iranian state media.

Earlier, some media outlets reported that anti-aircraft fire was heard in the area.

Iran has accused Israel of several attacks on facilities linked to its nuclear program and killing its nuclear scientists over the past years. Israel has neither denied nor confirmed the allegations.

Opposing efforts by world powers to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear, Israel has long threatened military action against its arch enemy, Iran, if diplomacy fails to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear bomb. The Islamic Republic says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

READ Iran warns of ‘heavy price’ after report of US-Israeli military drill plans

Iran has warned of a “crushing” response to any Israeli move against the Islamic Republic.

“If Israel carries out attacks against Iran, our armed forces will immediately attack all centres, bases, routes, and spaces used to carry out the aggression,” Iranian commander Gholamali Rashid said, according to Nournews. 

Indirect talks between Iran and the United States to reinstate the nuclear pact have made little discernible progress since they resumed last month for the first time since Iran’s hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June.

The talks are expected to resume this year, while some officials have mentioned Dec. 27 as a tentative date.

The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Tehran in return for tough restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities aimed at extending the time Tehran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it chose to – so-called breakout time – to at least a year from roughly two to three months.

In response to Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran in 2019 started breaching the deal’s nuclear restrictions and pressing ahead further with its atomic activities. Tehran says its nuclear steps are reversible if all sanctions are lifted in a verifiable process.

Iran’s Horn holds military drill amid tension

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard holds military drill amid tension

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard staged a major military exercise across the country’s south on Monday amid heightened tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program, state TV reported.

The Guard’s aerospace division, ground troops and naval forces joined in the five-day drill, the report said, with maritime forces set to maneuver in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the narrow gateway for 20% of the world’s traded oil.

The exercise comes days after talks to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers broke up in Vienna. Iran has accelerated its nuclear advances as negotiations to return to the accord struggle to make headway.

When asked by a reporter during a press briefing whether Iran would consider enriching uranium to weapons-grade 90% purity, the foreign ministry spokesman gave a vague response.

“The level, amount and quality of enrichment are in line with the needs of Iran’s peaceful nuclear program,” Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “All these measures have been taken with the knowledge of the International Atomic Energy Agency and will continue to be so in the future.”

His comment came after Iran’s hard-line Kayhan newspaper published an editorial arguing that Iran should enrich uranium up to 90% purity and become a “world nuclear power” if negotiations in Vienna fail to grant the country sanctions relief.

Since former President Donald Trump pulled America out of the nuclear deal and reimposed crushing sanctions, Tehran has started enriching uranium up to 60% purity — a short technical step from the 90% needed to make an atomic bomb. 

Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful. But the country’s steps away from its obligations under the 2015 accord have alarmed its archenemy Israel and other world powers. Israel has repeatedly threatened unilateral action against Iran’s nuclear program.

On Monday, Gen. Gholamali Rashid, a top Guard commander, vowed a harsh response to any Israeli military action against Iran.

Iranian forces will launch “a crushing attack on all bases, centers, paths and space used to carry out the aggression without delay,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.

“Any threat to Iran’s nuclear and military bases by the Zionist regime is not possible without the green light support of the United States,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, residents in Bushehr, some 700 kilometers (440 miles) south of Iran’s capital, Tehran, reported seeing a light in the sky and hearing a loud explosion near the Bushehr nuclear power plant. 

It was the second time this month that sudden anti-aircraft firing erupted the middle of the night near an Iranian nuclear facility, which Iranian forces hours later described as drill for its surface-to-air missile defense system.

Tensions Rise Between Babylon the Great and Iran

U.S. soldiers during a joint military exercise with the Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria on Dec. 7.

Tensions rising between U.S. and Iran; New Year’s seen as potential flashpoint

The growing tension has sparked debate in the Biden administration about how to respond to attacks by Iran and its proxies, current and former U.S. officials said.

U.S. soldiers during a joint military exercise with the Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria on Dec. 7.Getty Images fileDec. 20, 2021, 1:47 PM MST / Updated Dec. 20, 2021, 7:47 PM MSTBy Courtney Kube and Dan De Luce

The Biden administration and U.S. military leaders are increasingly concerned about rising tensions with Iran, and they are looking at the new year as a potential flashpoint, according to two defense officials and two administration officials familiar with the matter. 

The growing confrontation with Iran has prompted a debate inside the administration about how to respond to attacks and provocative acts by Iran and its proxies in the region, current and former U.S. officials said.

Tensions ratcheted up after the attack on the U.S. military base known as At Tanf Garrison in southern Syria on Oct. 20, when five so-called suicide drones packed with explosives and shrapnel were launched at the base. No U.S. troops were killed in the assault, but several structures were badly damaged.

Three U.S. defense officials and two administration officials said that Iran was behind the attack and that it launched it through proxy forces with the intention of killing U.S. troops. In an interview with Time magazine, the commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, did not blame Iran for the attack. He said whoever conducted it “was clearly trying to kill Americans.”

Iran launched the attack in retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed and wounded several Iranian citizens, the U.S. officials said. The Israeli strike targeted a shipment of advanced missile parts intended for Iranian-backed groups operating in Syria.

The U.S. military had warning that the drones were inbound, and it was able to move most of the 200 U.S. soldiers away from the base to avoid any casualties, according to the five officials.

Within hours of the attack, McKenzie briefed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on options to retaliate against Iran. The options were largely kinetic, the five officials said, including airstrikes against targets in Iran that could lead to the deaths of Iranians. But senior Biden administration officials worried that killing Iranians would escalate the situation and asked for more options.

CENTCOM came back with a second round of options that included airstrikes and cyber possibilities, which Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley, briefed to the White House. Ultimately, the interagency team decided to respond with diplomacy, sending a message to Iran rather than delivering airstrikes or a cyberattack, according to one of the defense officials and one of the administration officials familiar with the response.

“The interagency reviewed more options available to send Iran to make clear to Iranians how seriously we would take any future lethal strikes,” the administration official said.

Despite the U.S. message, the At Tanf base was threatened again this week, when two drones breached the immediate area around the garrison. A British fighter jet fired an air-to-air missile to shoot down one drone, while the other flew away. Defense officials are not certain whether it was an attempted attack that was thwarted or whether the drones were probing U.S. defenses. Either way, the incident only intensified concerns that threats to Americans will escalate in the coming weeks, two U.S. military officials said. 

The attack on At Tanf and other incidents — including a drone assault on a commercial oil tanker, the MT Mercer Street, in August off Oman, which the U.S. and Britain blamed on Iran — have sparked a debate inside and outside the administration about how to deter Iran without igniting an all-out war, with some senior military officers favoring a tougher line, according to two current and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions.

Asked for comment, the White House referred NBC News to a conference call it conducted last week, when a senior administration official said that after months of attacks by Iran against Americans in Iraq under the Trump, the Biden administration “used a combination of deterrence, including two rounds of airstrikes, and also a lot of diplomacy to both deter and also de-escalate some of these tensions.”

“So, since July, we’ve had about five months of calm — so the longest period of calm we’ve had in Iraq, I think, really in three years. And we’re looking for that to continue,” the official said. “But we very much anticipate, heading into the first part of next year, there’s the anniversary of the Soleimani strike, there’s Iraq’s government formation process and a few other milestones, that some of these attacks might start up again. But we’ll be very ready for that and prepared.”

One of the main reasons U.S. officials believe Iran and Iranian-backed groups will increase attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria around the new year is that the U.S. military is scheduled to officially end its combat mission in Iraq on Dec. 31, according to an agreement between the U.S. and Iraq.

On Dec. 9, the Iraqi government announced that U.S. troops had ended their combat mission. In reality, U.S. troops in Iraq made the transition to a training mission in July 2020, and thousands of U.S. troops will remain in both Iraq and Syria in this advisory role into 2022. The announcement was meant to ease pressure on the Iraqi government by Iranian-backed groups, according to two defense officials and two U.S. military officials.

The commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Sardar Qaani, warned Americans this month that it will take action against U.S. troops still in the region after the deadline.

“After January 1st, all bets are off,” a U.S. defense official said. 

U.S. officials are also watching the second anniversary on Jan. 3 of the U.S. assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, then the leader of the Quds Force, as another possible flashpoint.

“We are aware of potential threats that could increase in the coming weeks, and we are making sure we are going to be ready for them,” an administration official said.

Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who tracks Iranian-backed militia activity, said he expects the militias to mark the anniversary of Soleimani’s death and the new year, when they believe U.S. troops should be completely withdrawn from the country. But he said it is unclear how far they will go.

The drone flight last week over At Tanf and drone flights this month in Erbil in northern Iraq, where U.S. forces are located, suggest that the militias are probing U.S. defenses at military outposts, Knights said.

The militias’ track record over the past year “shows they’re quite cautious” and have tried to avoid killing U.S. troops or personnel, as that would be likely to trigger a U.S. military response, Knights said. 

“My gut feeling is they are going to try to do non-lethal things — to do the minimum to placate the support base,” he said.

Militants escaped from Al-Tanf handed over to Syrian government
Arms and ammunition of militants who escaped from the U.S. military base at At Tanf were handed over to Syrian government troops and the Military Intelligence Directorate in April 2020.Sergei Levanenkov / Getty Images file

For the U.S. and its allies, the question of how best to respond to Iran and its proxies is closely tied to efforts to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons through diplomacy and economic pressure. 

Some U.S. officials worry that retaliating to every provocative Iranian action could prove counterproductive and derail talks between Iran and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear agreement. But others, including former Democratic lawmakers and some prominent former Obama administration officials, argue that only the threat of military force will ensure that diplomacy succeeds.

“Without convincing Iran it will suffer severe consequences if it stays on its current path, there is little reason to hope for the success of diplomacy,” said a statement released Friday by former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta, former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, former Democratic lawmakers Jane Harman and Howard Berman, retired Gen. David Petraeus, former senior diplomat Dennis Ross and commentator Robert Satloff.

The group called for high-profile military exercises and for responding to attacks by Iran or its proxies, citing the attack on the At Tanf base in October.

“There’s a need for them to see that we will respond to some of these attacks,” said Dennis Ross, who crafted Middle East policy under several presidents. Iran’s “readiness to do these things shows a loss of fear,“ he said.

The 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, eased sanctions on Iran in return for strict limits on its nuclear activities. But President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. Iran has since breached the restrictions on its nuclear program, enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, using advanced centrifuges and hampering the work of U.N. inspectors. 

Participants of Iran nuclear deal meet under EU chairmanship
Parties to the Iran nuclear deal meet Friday in Vienna.Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Talks in Vienna on the nuclear accord have stalled since the election of a hard-line cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, as Iran’s president in June. Iran and the other parties finally agreed to an agenda for the discussions on Friday, but U.S. and European officials struck a pessimistic tone.

“So we made some progress, not enough, certainly, at a pace that will not be sufficient to get to where we need to go before Iran’s nuclear advances render the JCPOA a corpse that cannot be revived,” a senior State Department official told reporters Friday.

“There is a diplomatic path. It is a preferred path,” the State Department official said. “If it’s not chosen, then unfortunately, we will have to look at other tools to ensure that the president’s goal, his commitment, which is that Iran will not acquire nuclear weapon, is realized.”

Another administration official said that the Biden administration is not going to allow a nuclear Iran on it watch and that it will have to act soon. 

“The options are closing down, and people are starting to see that,” the administration official said. 

The U.S. still has about 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria. While some equipment and capabilities have shifted in recent weeks, there are no plans to change the footprint in either country, U.S. military officials said. The U.S. still has defensive capabilities in place, the officials stressed. 

Experts and former U.S. officials say it could be only a matter of months before Iran reaches the stage where it becomes a nuclear threshold state, with the technical ability to quickly build nuclear weapons if it chose to. 

The State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not comment directly on the At Tanf incident, but it said U.S. troops stationed in Syria were violating that country’s sovereignty.

“The position of the Islamic Republic of Iran on its presence in Syria has always been abundantly clear. Iran is in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate, UN-recognized government of the Syrian Arab Republic and plays an advisory role there. It is, in fact, the United States — as the violator of Syrian sovereignty — that should be aware that itself has direct responsibility for any such trespass,” Iran’s U.N. mission said in an email.

The Israeli government worries that Iran could soon conceal aspects of its nuclear work in a way that would make it impossible for the outside world to verify whether it had nuclear weapons or was on the verge of a nuclear capability, said Jacob Nagel, who was acting national security adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We are getting down to the decision point,” Nagel said.

Israel’s embassy in Washington declined to comment. 

David Barnea, the chief of Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, said this month that Israel will do “whatever it takes” to ensure that Iran never builds a nuclear weapon. 

During a visit to the U.S. last week, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he had informed U.S. officials that he had ordered the Israeli military to prepare for a potential strike against Iran.