Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating EarthquakeRoger BilhamQuakeland: New York and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)Given recent seismic activity — political as well as geological — it’s perhaps unsurprising that two books on earthquakes have arrived this season. One is as elegant as the score of a Beethoven symphony; the other resembles a diary of conversations overheard during a rock concert. Both are interesting, and both relate recent history to a shaky future.Journalist Kathryn Miles’s Quakeland is a litany of bad things that happen when you provoke Earth to release its invisible but ubiquitous store of seismic-strain energy, either by removing fluids (oil, water, gas) or by adding them in copious quantities (when extracting shale gas in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or when injecting contaminated water or building reservoirs). To complete the picture, she describes at length the bad things that happen during unprovoked natural earthquakes. As its subtitle hints, the book takes the form of a road trip to visit seismic disasters both past and potential, and seismologists and earthquake engineers who have first-hand knowledge of them. Their colourful personalities, opinions and prejudices tell a story of scientific discovery and engineering remedy.Miles poses some important societal questions. Aside from human intervention potentially triggering a really damaging earthquake, what is it actually like to live in neighbourhoods jolted daily by magnitude 1–3 earthquakes, or the occasional magnitude 5? Are these bumps in the night acceptable? And how can industries that perturb the highly stressed rocks beneath our feet deny obvious cause and effect? In 2015, the Oklahoma Geological Survey conceded that a quadrupling of the rate of magnitude-3 or more earthquakes in recent years, coinciding with a rise in fracking, was unlikely to represent a natural process. Miles does not take sides, but it’s difficult for the reader not to.She visits New York City, marvelling at subway tunnels and unreinforced masonry almost certainly scheduled for destruction by the next moderate earthquake in the vicinity. She considers the perils of nuclear-waste storage in Nevada and Texas, and ponders the risks to Idaho miners of rock bursts — spontaneous fracture of the working face when the restraints of many million years of confinement are mined away. She contemplates the ups and downs of the Yellowstone Caldera — North America’s very own mid-continent supervolcano — and its magnificently uncertain future. Miles also touches on geothermal power plants in southern California’s Salton Sea and elsewhere; the vast US network of crumbling bridges, dams and oil-storage farms; and the magnitude 7–9 earthquakes that could hit California and the Cascadia coastline of Oregon and Washington state this century. Amid all this doom, a new elementary school on the coast near Westport, Washington, vulnerable to inbound tsunamis, is offered as a note of optimism. With foresight and much persuasion from its head teacher, it was engineered to become an elevated safe haven.Miles briefly discusses earthquake prediction and the perils of getting it wrong (embarrassment in New Madrid, Missouri, where a quake was predicted but never materialized; prison in L’Aquila, Italy, where scientists failed to foresee a devastating seismic event) and the successes of early-warning systems, with which electronic alerts can be issued ahead of damaging seismic waves. Yes, it’s a lot to digest, but most of the book obeys the laws of physics, and it is a engaging read. One just can’t help wishing that Miles’s road trips had taken her somewhere that wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.Catastrophic damage in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1964, caused by the second-largest earthquake in the global instrumental record.In The Great Quake, journalist Henry Fountain provides us with a forthright and timely reminder of the startling historical consequences of North America’s largest known earthquake, which more than half a century ago devastated southern Alaska. With its epicentre in Prince William Sound, the 1964 quake reached magnitude 9.2, the second largest in the global instrumental record. It released more energy than either the 2004 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off Japan; and it generated almost as many pages of scientific commentary and description as aftershocks. Yet it has been forgotten by many.The quake was scientifically important because it occurred at a time when plate tectonics was in transition from hypothesis to theory. Fountain expertly traces the theory’s historical development, and how the Alaska earthquake was pivotal in nailing down one of the most important predictions. The earthquake caused a fjordland region larger than England to subside, and a similarly huge region of islands offshore to rise by many metres; but its scientific implications were not obvious at the time. Eminent seismologists thought that a vertical fault had slipped, drowning forests and coastlines to its north and raising beaches and islands to its south. But this kind of fault should have reached the surface, and extended deep into Earth’s mantle. There was no geological evidence of a monster surface fault separating these two regions, nor any evidence for excessively deep aftershocks. The landslides and liquefied soils that collapsed houses, and the tsunami that severely damaged ports and infrastructure, offered no clues to the cause.“Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about present-day vulnerability.” The hero of The Great Quake is the geologist George Plafker, who painstakingly mapped the height reached by barnacles lifted out of the intertidal zone along shorelines raised by the earthquake, and documented the depths of drowned forests. He deduced that the region of subsidence was the surface manifestation of previously compressed rocks springing apart, driving parts of Alaska up and southwards over the Pacific Plate. His finding confirmed a prediction of plate tectonics, that the leading edge of the Pacific Plate plunged beneath the southern edge of Alaska along a gently dipping thrust fault. That observation, once fully appreciated, was applauded by the geophysics community.Fountain tells this story through the testimony of survivors, engineers and scientists, interweaving it with the fascinating history of Alaska, from early discovery by Europeans to purchase from Russia by the United States in 1867, and its recent development. Were the quake to occur now, it is not difficult to envisage that with increased infrastructure and larger populations, the death toll and price tag would be two orders of magnitude larger than the 139 fatalities and US$300-million economic cost recorded in 1964.What is clear from these two books is that seismicity on the North American continent is guaranteed to deliver surprises, along with unprecedented economic and human losses. Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about the present-day vulnerability of US infrastructure and populations. Engineers and seismologists know how to mitigate the effects of future earthquakes (and, in mid-continent, would advise against the reckless injection of waste fluids known to trigger earthquakes). It is merely a matter of persuading city planners and politicians that if they are tempted to ignore the certainty of the continent’s seismic past, they should err on the side of caution when considering its seismic future.
BOOK REVIEW: Blown to Hell: America’s Deadly Betrayal of the Marshall Islanders
By: Walter Pincus / Diversion Books
Reviewed by James Lawler
The Reviewer: James Lawler devoted more than half of his career as a CIA case officer to penetrating and disrupting foreign weapons of mass destruction programs. As Chief of the A.Q. Khan Nuclear Takedown Team, which resulted in the disruption of the most dangerous nuclear weapons network in history, Mr. Lawler was the recipient of one of the CIA’s Trailblazer Awards in 2007. He is the author of Living Lies, an espionage novel about the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and the novel, In the Twinkling of an Eye, about recruiting a spy at the heart of a covert Russian-North Korean genetic bioweapons program to be released April 25.
Review: “The horror! The horror!” murmured Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz as he dies in The Heart of Darkness. Those words and their thinly-veiled reference to European colonial brutality towards indigenous tribes in Africa, echoed in my mind as I read Walter Pincus’s Blown to Hell, a gripping description of U.S. nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific. Altogether, there were 67 such tests from 1946 until 1958 in what is now the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
When we contemplate the almost unimaginable fury of nuclear weapons, it’s usually about the awesome blast of heat, the terrible shock wave near the speed of sound and immense radiation from the fireball, but not the ultrafine and frequently invisible scourge of radioactive fallout that is produced by a ground burst or near-ground burst. Rather than the very brief duration – milliseconds to a few seconds – of a fireball, however, the lingering devastation of fallout can persist for decades with silent and deadly effect. Perhaps it is fitting in this pandemic time of another invisible killer, that we have Pincus’s new, masterful and tragic account of these tests, which were conducted too close to a relatively primitive culture of peaceful islanders, whose lives focused on fishing and processing coconuts and its copra biproduct.
Pincus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post on intelligence and national security issues for fifty years and now a Senior National Securty Columnist for The Cipher Brief, never accuses the U.S. government of intentionally exposing the Marshall Islanders to this highly radioactive fallout, but his meticulously documented book carefully builds a case for reparations and the damages inflicted on the victims through miscalculations of nuclear yield and weather effects of trade winds and rain, which can be callously summed up by the classic bureaucratic understatement: “mistakes were made.” Indeed, he takes his book’s title from a joke by Bob Hope in 1947, after the Crossroads series of nuclear tests: “As soon as the war ended, we located the one spot on earth that hadn’t been touched by war and blew it to hell.” After you read this book, however, you won’t be laughing.
Pincus expertly discusses nuclear weapon designs and testing as well as radiation effects that the lay reader can easily understand. For example, the pernicious radiation contamination cycle is described as lagoon algae absorbing radioactive particles, which are consumed by small fish, which, in turn are consumed by larger fish, and then is returned to the algae when the larger fish died and the cycle begins again with the long-lived fission products. After the Bikini Atoll tests, scales from the skin of some lagoon fish could emit enough radiation to create an x-ray picture.
The Navy was not completely unmindful of the nuclear weapons effects and did relocate various groups of islanders away from the test sites, but these relocation efforts sometimes far underestimated the yield of the weapon and the distance that fallout would spread on the unpredictable winds.
Pincus rightfully focuses a lot of attention on the 1954 Bravo test of a thermonuclear weapon. The initial predicted yield was six megatons (i.e. six million tons of TNT), but it was in fact fifteen megatons, or two and a half times as powerful. This was one thousand times as powerful as the “Little Boy” fission weapon, which destroyed Hiroshima, killing an initial 80,000 people and tens of thousands more who later died from radiation exposure. To add to the hellacious explosive effect, Pincus points out that Bravo “vaporized an estimated three hundred million tons of sand, mud, coral and water in a mushroom cloud that within five minutes, went through both the troposphere and into the stratosphere.” The uppermost cloud was at one-hundred-thirty thousand feet. One cannot even imagine the huge dispersal area of that radioactive fallout.
The Marshall Islanders, however, suffered no such deficit of imagination as the fallout rained down on them, and over the next several decades contributed to deaths, miscarriages, shortened lifespans and various cancers. To compound their misery, they were frequently relocated to remote uninhabited islands, which were highly unsuitable for their way of life and means of survival. As early as 1948, a decade before Pacific testing was ended, the Honolulu Star Bulletin quoted a Navy official as saying, “The Navy is running out of deserted islands on which to settle these unwitting, and perhaps unwilling, nomads of the atomic age.”
Pincus details the strenuous efforts of the Marshall Islanders over the decades to obtain compensation for their loss of life and lifestyle, health, and happiness. Some U.S. compensation has in fact been made, and then recalculated, and further contributions made over the years. It appears from his account, however, to remain woefully insufficient, and at times only grudgingly made. One should contrast these relatively tiny amounts of money with the many billions, indeed trillions, of dollars spent on our nuclear weapons program and how the Marshall Islanders’ sacrifices contributed ultimately to our national security.
On the penultimate page, Pincus states, “I want to remind people of the long-term health and environmental damage these weapons could cause if ever again used in war…The tiny islands…for the most part, still cannot be inhabited, despite attempts to decontaminate them, more than sixty-five years later…I hoped to show how much is owed to Marshall Islanders who were living simple, isolated lives far away in the South Pacific but who…are symbols of what would be the unthinkable short- and long-term medical results should nuclear weapons ever again be used.”
I should add that, although I abhor nuclear weapons and their horrific devastation and long-lasting radiation damage, I am not so naïve as to favor unilateral nuclear disarmament, especially when confronted by authoritarian and confrontational nuclear weapons states such as Russia, China or North Korea. I have also walked several times on Frenchman’s Flat at the Nevada Test Site, where fourteen above-ground and several below-ground tests were conducted, and personally experienced Conrad’s “fascination of the abomination.” This only added, however, to my sincere belief that intelligence operations to counter the spread of nuclear weapons (or biological weapons) are psychologically righteous. I believe that Walter Pincus would agree.
Human rights organisation B’Tselem has highlighted the massive increase in Israel’s attacks against the Palestinians in 2021, the deadliest year since Israel’s criminal assault on Gaza in 2014.
According to B’Tselem, Israel’s security forces killed 313 Palestinians in the Palestinian territories it has illegally occupied since the 1967 Arab Israeli war: 236 in the Gaza Strip, almost all during the 11-day assault in May, and 77 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Another six were killed either at the hands of soldiers or armed settlers. A further 25 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by rockets fired at Israel that landed within Gaza, while it was unclear whether another eight were killed by Israeli forces or Palestinian rocket fire. In the West Bank, Israel’s de facto subcontractors, the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces, killed two Palestinians during their arrest.
Of the 232 Palestinians killed by the military during the May assault on Gaza, at least 137 were non-combatants, including 53 minors and 38 women, many of whom were killed during the criminal bombardment of densely populated areas, a consistent feature of Israel’s operations. While senior Israeli officials claim that lethal fire is used as a “last resort” in accordance with Israeli and international law, this is clearly routine with no one held accountable.
B’Tselem investigated 336 incidents of settler violence, up from 251 in 2020, that resulted in at least eight Palestinian civilian deaths, including two minors, at the hands of security forces or settlers that occurred during the weeks of protests against the establishment of the illegal Eviatar outpost on Palestinian land. Violence was not simply a case of a few unruly settlers out of control, but a strategy aimed at taking over more and more Palestinian land with the full support of the military and the government.
Following an agreement with the government in June, the 50 settlers at Eviatar agreed to leave and allow Israeli troops to establish a base in the area, while the defence ministry studied land claims to assess whether to recognise a future settlement.
Since then, Israeli soldiers have prevented Palestinian farmers from accessing hundreds of dunams (one dunam is equal to one quarter of an acre) of their own land, blocked agricultural roads and repeatedly damaged them. On July 9, soldiers fired on Palestinian protesters, injuring nearly 400 people, making it clear that that the settlement will get government approval.
Civilian deaths and Israel’s rules of engagement
As well as killing and wounding Palestinian protesters, soldiers killed at least 36 Palestinians, including four minors and five women, accused of attacking or attempting to attack Israeli security forces or civilians with a car, knife, firearm or even stones. B’Tselem cited two of the most egregious examples of such unlawful shootings: the killing of Osama Mansur, who was not endangering the soldiers’ lives and was mistakenly suspected of trying to run them over; and of Fahmeyeh al-Hrub, 60, who was moving slowly towards the soldiers who killed her.
Together with right-wing settler groups’ demands that the military stop “tying the hands” of Israeli soldiers in the West Ban, citing such attacks provides the context for last month’s decision of the military, which has for years granted its soldiers near-total immunity and little legal accountability, to revise its Rules of Engagement (RoE) in relation to its open-fire policies in the occupied West Bank. Under the new rules, Israeli soldiers may shoot, even kill, fleeing Palestinians, including children, for allegedly throwing rocks at Israeli “civilian” cars, even when they no longer pose any danger. By “civilians,” the new army manual means the armed settlers who have taken over land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and killed and wounded numerous Palestinians over the decades. The new RoE do not apply to armed settlers that assault or attempt to assault soldiers.
The security forces now have carte blanche to shoot-to-kill, without any fear of retribution in the courts since they are acting in accordance with the army’s manual of operations. This enables Israel to plead in any investigation into human rights violations and war crimes in the occupied territories by the International Criminal Court that no war crimes have taken place, since the killing of Palestinians have been carried out in accordance with Israel’s military code and judicial system.
Israel’s soldiers and police have become judge, jury and executioner, free of all restraint.
Israeli authorities demolished 295 residential buildings in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, the highest number since 2016, making 895 Palestinians, 463 of them children, homeless; in addition to 548 non-residential buildings, including warehouses, agricultural structures, cisterns, businesses and public structures, the highest number since 2012.
Israel uses the Emergency Statutes of 1945, left over from the British Mandate, in the occupied territories to claim these demolitions were a matter of “law enforcement” as the homes and structures were built without permits. In the 1950s Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun terrorist gang and future Likud prime minister, deemed this legislation when used against Jews as “worse than the Nazi legislation.”
The use of these laws serves to block almost all Palestinian development in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while greenlighting settlement expansion. The Palestinians have no option but to build without a licence, providing the pretext for the Israeli authorities to issue demolition orders.
Last month, Menachem Mazuz, a former attorney general and judge in Israel’s highest court, told Ha’aretz that he considers house demolitions as collective punishment, illegal and immoral, as well as ineffective. His frustration over the issue was a major reason for his leaving the court in 2020, some five years before his tenure expired.
Arrests, imprisonment and administrative detention
A report by several Palestinian organisations, including the Commission of Detainees Affairs, the Palestinian Prisoner Society (PPS), Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, and Wadi Hilweh Information Center, revealed that the Israeli army had arrested nearly 8,000 Palestinians in 2021, including more than 1,300 minors and 184 women.
There were around 4,600 prisoners and detainees, including 34 women and a girl and about 160 children and minors, in Israeli jails. Some 547 prisoners were serving life sentences. According to the Palestinian News and Information Agency (WAFA), Israel holds 10 journalists in its prisons, while 384 Israeli violations against journalists in the West Bank were registered in 2021.
Addameer said that there about 500, including nine members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and four minors, in administrative detention—open-ended detention by the military authorities based on secret evidence without charge or trial. This is a practice that Michael Lynk, the United Nations human rights expert monitoring the occupied territories, has called “an anathema in any democratic society that follows the rule of law.”
Last month, Israeli military officials, concerned that the death of 40-year-old Hisham Abu Hawash—who had been on hunger strike for four months to protest his open-ended detention—would spark civil unrest in the West Bank and Gaza, suspended his detention saying his failing health meant he no longer posed a danger to the state.
Nearly 600 prisoners were sick, including several with cancer. On Tuesday, rallies took place in the West Bank in a show of solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israel, with calls to free Nasser Abu Hamid, battling cancer in detention. Qadura Fares, the head of the PPS, a prisoners’ rights advocacy group, said that Israel “is practicing slow killing” of Palestinian prisoners through “medical negligence.”
The US embassy condemned the attack, attributing it to “terrorist groups attempting to undermine Iraq’s security, sovereignty, and international relations”.Friday 14/01/2022
A file picture shows Iraqi Counter Terrorism Forces standing guard outside the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. (AFP)
At least four rockets targeted the US embassy compound in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone on Thursday, Iraqi security officials said. The area is home to diplomatic missions and the seat of the Iraqi government.
Three of the missiles struck within the perimetre of the American embassy, the officials said. Another hit a school located in a nearby residential complex.
An Iraqi military statement said the rockets had been launched from the Dora neighbourhood of Baghdad.
“Three rockets were fired towards the Green Zone,” a high-ranking Iraqi official said on condition of anonymity, adding that two of the wounded were children.
“Two of those fell on the grounds of the American embassy, and the other on a school nearby, injuring a woman, a girl and a young boy.”
Another security source who did not wish to be identified said there were no injuries or damage inside the US embassy compound.
The US embassy in Baghdad said in a statement that its compound had been attacked by “terrorists groups attempting to undermine Iraq’s security, sovereignty and international relations.” The embassy’s C-RAM defence system, supposed to detect and destroy incoming rockets, artillery and mortar shells, was heard during the attack.
The attack is the latest in a series of rocket and drone attacks that have targeted the American presence in Iraq since the start of the year, following the second anniversary of the US strike that killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Last Thursday, a series of attacks targeted American troops in Iraq and Syria. Rockets struck an Iraqi military base hosting US troops in western Anbar province and the capital.
Pro-Iran Shia factions in Iraq have vowed revenge for Soleimani’s killing and have conditioned the end of the attacks on the full exit of American troops from the country.
The US-led coalition formally ended its combat mission supporting Iraqi forces in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group last month. Some 2,500 troops will remain as the coalition shifts to an advisory mission to continue supporting Iraqi forces.
The top US commander for the Middle East, Marine General Frank McKenzie, warned in an interview last month that he expects increasing attacks on US and Iraqi personnel by Iranian-backed militias determined to get American forces out.
Sadr’s Push to Sideline Iran-Backed Iraqi Factions Risks Clash
Friday, 14 January, 2022 – 11:15
Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks after preliminary results of Iraq’s parliamentary election were announced in Najaf, Iraq October 11, 2021. (Reuters)Asharq Al-Awsat
Iraq might for the first time in years get a government that excludes Iran-backed parties if Shiite populist cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, who dominated a recent election keeps his word, Iraqi politicians, government officials and independent analysts say according to Reuters.
But moves by Sadr to sideline rivals long backed by Tehran risks the ire of their heavily armed militias that make up some of the most powerful and most anti-American military forces in Iraq, they say.
The surest sign of Sadr’s new parliamentary power and his willingness to ignore groups loyal to Iran came on Sunday when his Sadrist Movement, together with a Sunni parliament alliance and Kurds, reelected a parliamentary speaker opposed by the Iran-aligned camp with a solid majority.
Parliament must in the coming weeks choose the country’s president, who will call on the largest parliamentary alliance to form a government, a process that will be dominated by the Sadrist Movement whoever it chooses to work with.
“We are on track to form a national majority government,” Sadr said in a statement this week, using a term that officials say is a euphemism for a government made up of Sadrists, Sunnis and Kurds but no Iran-backed parties.
Sadr’s politicians, buoyed by their easy victory in parliament last week, echoed their leader’s confidence.
The Iran camp “should face reality: election losers can’t make the government,” said Riyadh al-Masoudi, a senior member of the Sadrist Movement.
“We have a real majority, a strong front that includes us, the Sunnis, most of the Kurds and many independents and can form a government very soon.”
Iraqi politicians and analysts say the rise of Sadr and political decline of the Iranian camp, long hostile to the United States, suits Washington and its allies in the region, despite Sadr’s unpredictability.
But excluding the Iran camp from government risks a violent backlash.
“If the Sadrists get their national majority government … those who oppose them will view this as splitting the Shiites and threatening their power,” Ahmed Younis, an Iraqi political and legal analyst, said.
“They will do all they can to avoid losing that grip.”
Shiite groups have dominated Iraqi politics since the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. They span an array of parties, most with armed wings, but fall broadly now into two camps: those that are pro-Iran and those that oppose Tehran’s influence in Iraq.
The Shiite elite have shared control over many ministries, with Iran-aligned groups holding the upper hand until the recent rise of Sadr, the biggest winner in the Oct. 10 election which dealt a crushing blow to the Iran camp.
For the first time post-Saddam, the Iran-aligned groups could see themselves in opposition in parliament.
Events since the election have showed how dangerous the sharpening divide between Sadr and his Iran-backed opponents has become.
In November, protests opposing the election result by supporters of those parties turned violent and an armed drone attack blamed on Iran-linked factions struck a residence of outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, widely viewed as a close Sadr ally.
On Friday an explosion hit the Baghdad party headquarters of newly re-elected parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi.
It was not immediately clear if this was linked to Halbousi’s election by parliament on Sunday or who was responsible. There was no claim of responsibility. One Iran-aligned group issued a warning this week after the parliament’s decision that Iraq could see a spiral of violence.
An Iraqi government official, who declined to be named, said he expected those in the Iran camp to use the threat of violence to get a place in government, but not to escalate into a full-scale conflict with Sadr.
Other observers, however, say Sadr’s insistence on sidelining Iran-aligned parties and militias could be a dangerous gamble.
“The question is, does he (Sadr) realize how potentially destabilizing this is and is he ready for the violent push back?” said Professor Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics.
“The (Iran-backed) militias are increasingly overtly threatening violence, and Sadr is saying they cannot do this. It’s a scary moment.”
Halbousi’s election was viewed as an easy victory for the Sadrists. But the stakes will be higher in selecting a president and a prime minister.
Politicians on both sides of the Shiite divide show little sign they might soften their positions.
“The Sadrists … marginalizing parts of the Shiite political class could lead to boycotts of the government, protests in the street and armed violence,” said Ibrahim Mohammed, a senior member of the Iran-aligned Fatah political alliance.
A second Sadrist politician, who declined to be named on orders from his party, said: “We’re powerful, we have a strong leader and millions of followers who are ready to take to the streets and sacrifice themselves.”
APIn this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, North Korea in December.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday fired at least one possible ballistic missile in its third weapons launch this month, officials in South Korea and Japan said, in an apparent reprisal for fresh sanctions imposed by the Biden administration for its continuing test launches.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapon was fired toward the east but did not immediately say where it landed or provided other details.
Japan’s Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry said also said they detected the North Korean launch and said it was possibly a ballistic missile.
The Japanese coast guard issued a safety advisory, saying an object had possibly landed already. It urged vessels between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, as well as the East China Sea and the North Pacific, to “pay attention to further information and to keep clear when recognizing falling object.”
The Biden administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on five North Koreans over their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs in its response to the North’s missile test this week. It also said it would seek new U.N. sanctions.
The announcement by the Treasury Department came just hours after North Korea said leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a successful test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday that he claimed would greatly increase the country’s nuclear “war deterrent.”
Tuesday’s test was North Korea’s second demonstration of its purported hypersonic missile in a week. The country in recent months has been ramping up tests of new, potentially nuclear-capable missiles designed to overwhelm missile defense systems in the region, as it continues to expand its military capabilities amid a freeze in diplomacy with the United States.
In a statement carried by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesperson defended the North’s launches of purported hypersonic missiles as a righteous exercise of self-defense.
The spokesperson said the new sanctions underscore hostile U.S. intent aimed at “isolating and stifling” the North despite Washington’s repeated calls for Pyongyang to resume diplomacy that has stalled over disagreements about sanctions relief and nuclear disarmament steps.
The spokesperson accused the United States of maintaining a “gangster-like” stance, saying that the North’s development of the new missile is part of its efforts to modernize its military and does not target any specific country or threaten the security of its neighbors.
“Nevertheless, the U.S. is intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring the DPRK’s just activity to the UN Security Council,” the spokesperson said, using an abbreviation of North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“This shows that though the present U.S. administration is trumpeting about diplomacy and dialogue, it is still engrossed in its policy for isolating and stifling the DPRK … If the U.S. adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it,” the spokesperson said.
Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose a crucial challenge to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability.
Such weapons were on a wish-list of sophisticated military assets Kim unveiled early last year along with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, solid-fuel long-range missiles and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.
Still, experts say North Korea would need years and more successful and longer-range tests before acquiring a credible hypersonic system.
The Biden administration, whose policies have reflected a broader shift in U.S. focus from counterterrorism and so-called rogue states like North Korea and Iran to confronting China, has said it’s willing to resume talks with North Korea at any time without preconditions.
But North Korea has so far rejected the idea of open-ended talks, saying the U.S. must first withdraw its “hostile policy,” a term Pyongyang mainly uses to describe the sanctions and joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.
In an interview with MSNBC, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the North’s latest tests “profoundly destabilizing” and said the United States was deeply engaged at the U.N. and with key partners, including allies South Korea and Japan, on a response.
“I think some of this is North Korea trying to get attention. It’s done that in the past. It’ll probably continue to do that,” Blinken said. “But we are very focused with allies and partners in making sure that they and we are properly defended and that there are repercussions, consequences for these actions by North Korea.”
A U.S.-led diplomatic push aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program collapsed in 2019 after the Trump administration rejected the North’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Kim Jong Un has since pledged to further expand a nuclear arsenal he clearly sees as his strongest guarantee of survival, despite the country’s economy suffering major setbacks amid pandemic-related border closures and persistent U.S.-led sanctions. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
A senior Russian diplomat has refused to rule out a Russian military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela if tensions with the United States over Ukraine and NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe mountBy VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and MATTHEW LEE Associated PressJanuary 13, 2022, 2:22 PM• 7 min read
High-stakes discussions between US and RussiaThe first round of crisis talks between Russia and the U.S. over Ukraine and NATO expan…Read MoreThe Associated Press
MOSCOW — Russia raised the stakes Thursday in its dispute with the West over Ukraine and NATO’s expansion when a top diplomat refused to rule out a military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela if tensions with the United States escalate.
“It all depends on the action by our U.S. counterparts,” the minister said in an interview with Russian television network RTVI, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning that Moscow could take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the U.S. and its allies fail to heed its demands.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan dismissed the statements about a possible Russian deployment to Cuba and Venezuela as “bluster in the public commentary.”
Ryabkov led a Russian delegation in talks with the U.S. on Monday. The negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels took place in response to a significant Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that the West fears might be a prelude to an invasion.
Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014, has denied having plans to attack the neighboring country. The Kremlin reacted to the suggestion by accusing NATO of threatening its territory and demanding that the military alliance never embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet nations as new members.
Washington and its allies firmly rejected the demand this week as a nonstarter, but the NATO and Russian delegations agreed to leave the door open to further talks on arms control and other issues intended to reduce the potential for hostilities.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Sullivan said that “allied unity and transatlantic solidarity were on full display and they remain on full display” during this week’s talks with Russia, which he described as “frank and direct.”
“We stuck to our core premise of reciprocity,” the national security adviser said. “We were firm in our principles and clear about those areas where we can make progress and those areas that are non-starter.”
Sullivan noted that no further talks have been scheduled, but “we’re prepared to continue with diplomacy to advance security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic.”
“We’re equally prepared if Russia chooses a different path,” he added. “We continue to coordinate intensively with partners on severe economic measures in response to a further Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
Asked about Ryabkov keeping the door open to basing troops and equipment in Latin America, Sullivan responded: “I’m not going to respond to bluster in the public commentary.”
He noted that the issue wasn’t raised during this week’s talks and added that “if Russia were to move in that direction, we would deal with it decisively.”
Ryabkov last month compared the current tensions over Ukraine with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis — when the Soviet Union deployed missiles to Cuba and the U.S. imposed a naval blockade of the island.
That crisis ended after U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed that Moscow would withdraw its missiles in exchange for Washington’s pledge not to invade Cuba and the removal of U.S. missiles from Turkey.
Putin, in seeking to curtail the West’s military activity in Eastern Europe, has argued that NATO could use Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes. He warned that Russia could gain a similar capability by deploying warships armed with the latest Zircon hypersonic cruise missile in neutral waters.
Soon after his first election in 2000, Putin ordered the closure of a Soviet-built military surveillance facility in Cuba as he sought to improve ties with Washington. Moscow has intensified contacts with Cuba in recent years as tensions with the U.S. and its allies mounted.
In December 2018, Russia briefly dispatched a pair of its nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela in a show of support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro amid Western pressure.
Ryabkov said a refusal by the U.S. and its allies to consider the key Russian demand for guarantees against the alliance’s expansion to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations makes it hard to discuss the confidence-building steps that Washington says it’s ready to negotiate.
“The U.S. wants to conduct a dialogue on some elements of the security situation … to ease the tensions and then continue the process of geopolitical and military development of the new territories, coming closer to Moscow,” he said. “We have nowhere to retreat.”
Ryabkov described U.S. and NATO military deployments and drills near Russia’s territory as extremely destabilizing. He said U.S. nuclear-capable strategic bombers flew just 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Russia’s border.
“We are constantly facing a provocative military pressure intended to test our strength,” he said, adding that he wondered how Americans would react “if our bombers fly within 15 kilometers off some U.S. bases on the East or the West Coast.”
The high-stakes diplomacy took place as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops with tanks and other heavy weapons are massed near Ukraine’s eastern border. On Thursday, Sullivan reiterated concerns that Moscow may be laying the groundwork for invading Ukraine by fabricating allegations that Kyiv is preparing to act against Russia.
He said the U.S. would be making public some of the reasons for that assessment in the coming days.
Earlier Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rebuffed the West’s calls for a troop pullback from areas near Ukraine.
“It’s hardly possible for NATO to dictate to us where we should move our armed forces on Russian territory,” he said.
Peskov said this week’s talks produced “some positive elements and nuances,” but he characterized them as unsuccessful overall.
“The talks were initiated to receive specific answers to concrete principal issues that were raised, and disagreements remained on those principal issues, which is bad,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
He warned of a complete rupture in U.S.-Russia relations if proposed sanctions targeting Putin and other top civilian and military leaders are adopted. The measures, proposed by Senate Democrats, would also target leading leading Russian financial institutions if Moscow sends troops into Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov likewise denounced the proposed sanctions as a reflection of U.S. “arrogance,” adding that Moscow expects a written response to its demands from the U.S. and NATO next week in order to mull further steps.
Tensions revolving around Ukraine and Russia’s demands on the West again appeared on the table at a Thursday meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Vienna.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, who assumed the position of the OSCE’s chairman-in-office, noted in his opening speech that “the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years.”
Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and in 2014 also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between the Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces.
Asked whether he’s worried about possible confrontation, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “it is absolutely essential that the dialogue that is taking place find a way allowing for de-escalation of tension … to avoid any kind of confrontation that will be a disaster for Europe and for the world.”
Lee reported from Washington. Emily Schultheis in Vienna, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nastions and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.
Hamas’ attempts, led by Saleh Arouri, to infiltrate the West Bank, worry not only Israel but Ramallah and Jordan as well. Hamas’ efforts are currently the common denominator for the cooperation required of Israel and Jordan. Israeli and Palestinian Authority forces are already operating in the Jenin region of the West Bank.
This is an opportunity to examine what is happening in Jordan. Developments there should be troubling King Abdullah II. Although Jordan is currently calm domestically, and there are no violent events like in Jenin, the Jordanian parliament is giving the king stress. According to comments from journalists close to the palace, the king views the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas’ umbrella organization) as the source of the unrest.
In mid-December, the Jordanian parliament challenged the government’s far-reaching water and electricity agreements with Israel.2 Then, on December 28, 2021, a brawl took place while the lawmakers discussed changing the fundamental laws to ensure gender equality. When it deliberated whether to attach the Arabic feminine form of the word “Jordanian [Jordanienne (sic)]” alongside the masculine form of “Jordanian,” an uproar erupted that included swearing and an exchange of blows.3
Eventually, a compromise was reached, under which the Arabic feminine form of the word “Jordanienne” entered the fundamental laws.
The parliament passed amendments that enabled the king to appoint top public security and judicial officials, along with the grand mufti and royal advisers. An amendment was also approved to establish a National Security Council controlled by the king, which would handle all issues related to defense and security. But it came at a price. In an unprecedented move, the parliament removed the king as the head of the parliamentary security committee.4
Jordanian journalists close to the royal palace accused the Muslim Brotherhood of planning the provocations in parliament.5
The veteran leader of the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Jordan, Laith Shubeilat, did not hesitate to accuse the Brotherhood’s new generation of having ties to foreign entities – namely Iran. Shubeilat is no lapdog for the Hashemite regime; he had a strained relationship with King Hussein and was arrested several times. In a recording released on January 3, 2022, Shubeilat was heard attacking the Brotherhood leadership’s corruption: “You preserved the organization, and you did not preserve the religion.”
Jordanian publicist Ahmed Salama reported that when King Abdullah allowed Khalid Mishaal and Ismail Haniyeh to attend the funeral of a senior member of the Brotherhood, Ibrahim Ghosheh, in August 2021, they used this humane gesture to persuade mourners to recognize the two Hamas figures as leaders of Jordan’s own Islamic faction. “The funeral turned into a pledge of allegiance to Hamas and its leaders,” Salama wrote. Moreover, their incitement “was an embarrassment to the government’s alliance with the Ramallah authority.” The goal of the Brotherhood, according to Salama, is to fragment Jordan as they have divided the Palestinians. Its logic is clear: just as they opened the door to Iran in Gaza, they want to divide Jordan to allow Iran’s infiltration as well.6
Arouri’s attempts to infiltrate the West Bank are understood in Jordan as part of an Iranian mission also to infiltrate the “East Bank.” Faced with this Hamas strategy, Jordan must coordinate with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.